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September 30, 2008

Urban school superintendents hard to hang onto

Betsy Taylor:

t. Louis is looking for its eighth school superintendent since 2003. Kansas City is on its 25th superintendent in 39 years.

Despite good salaries and plenty of perks, a recent study found that the average urban superintendent nationwide stays on the job only about three years -- which educators say isn't enough time to enact meaningful, long-lasting reform.

"Would you buy Coca-Cola if they changed CEOs every year?" asked Diana Bourisaw, who left as St. Louis superintendent in July after two years in the top job. "The answer is no. I wouldn't."

On Friday, Kelvin Adams signed a three-year contract with the St. Louis district worth $225,000 annually plus bonus incentives, a day after his hiring was approved by a state-appointed board that oversees the district.

Adams figures he can buck the trend of superintendent turnover.
"I am absolutely focused on one thing -- student achievement," Adams said.

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Buffett's Chinese Investment: Seeking Engineers

Keith Bradsher:

MidAmerican also sees promise in BYD's battery technologies for storing wind energy and solar energy, Mr. Sokol said. Difficulties in storing energy for when the wind is not blowing or the sun is not shining have limited the deployment of these renewable energy technologies.

More broadly, Berkshire Hathaway wants to tap into China's engineering talent and is doing so through BYD, which has 11,000 engineers and technicians among its 130,000 employees.

Mr. Buffett did not attend the news conference, but said in a statement that he was impressed with Mr. Wang's record as a manager.

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Evaluating Charter School Impact on Educational Attainment in Chicago and Florida

Kevin Booker, Tim R. Sass, Brian Gill, Ron Zimmer:

Unlike past charter school studies, which focus on student achievement, the authors analyze the relationship between charter high school attendance and educational attainment. They find that charter high schools in Florida and in Chicago have substantial positive effects on both high school completion and college attendance. Controlling for observed student characteristics and test scores, univariate probit estimates indicate that among students who attended a charter middle school, those who went on to attend a charter high school were 7 to 15 percentage points more likely to earn a standard diploma than students who transitioned to a traditional public high school. Similarly, those attending a charter high school were 8 to 10 percentage points more likely to attend college. Using the proximity of charters and other types of high schools as exogenous instruments for charter high school attendance, they find even stronger effects in bivariate probit models of charter attendance and educational attainment. While large, their estimates are in line with previous studies of the impact of Catholic high schools on educational attainment.

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India's Cram-School Confidential: Two Years, One Test, 40,000 Students

Eric Bellman:

Town Fills With Teens Studying Full-Time For a College Entrance Exam; 'Bansalites Rock'

KOTA, India -- Hoping to boost his chances of getting into a top college, Rohit Agarwal quit his high school and left home.

The 16-year-old moved from the far northeast corner of India in June, with two suitcases and a shoulder bag. He took a two-hour flight and a six-hour train ride to the dusty town of Kota, India's cram-school capital.

More than 40,000 students show up in the arid state of Rajasthan every year, looking to attend one of the 100-plus coaching schools here. These intensive programs, which are separate from regular high school, prepare students for college-entrance exams. In Kota, most of the schools focus on the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology.

The seven IITs nationwide are statistically tougher to get into than Harvard or Cambridge. While around 310,000 students took the entrance exam this April, only the top 8,600 were accepted. A whopping one-third of those winners in the current academic year passed through Kota's cramming regimen.

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For Kids' Sake, Power to Fire Teachers Crucial

Jay Matthews:

Sarah Hayes, principal of the KIPP DC:KEY Academy, realized that two new teachers were not working out. Their résumés and recommendations had been good. They were nice people. But their classes were disorganized, their standards low. Efforts to help them improve had little effect.

If KEY were a traditional school, Hayes's only reasonable option would have been to mentor the teachers, note her dissatisfaction on their evaluations and recommend that they not be kept after a two-year probation. That is the way it goes in most school systems. Staffing rules, tenure agreements and low expectations tend to favor weak teachers unless they do something awful.

But KEY is a public charter school, one of many in the District that do not have such rules. Hayes was able to get the teachers out of her middle school by Christmas and replace them with proven talents, who were freed from other duties at KEY because of flexibility allowed such schools.

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Carol Ann Tomlinson explains how differentiated instruction works and why we need it now.

Anthony Rebora:

Differentiated instruction--the theory that teachers should work to accomodate and build on students' diverse learning needs--is not new. But it's unlikely that anyone has done more to systematize it and explicate its classroom applications than University of Virginia education professor Carol Ann Tomlinson.

A former elementary school teacher of 21 years (and Virginia Teacher of the Year in 1974), Carol Ann Tomlinson has written more than 200 articles, chapters, and books, including The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners and Fulfilling the Promise of the Differentiated Classroom: Strategies and Tools for Responsive Teaching. Characterized by a rigorous professionalism and a strong underlying belief in both teachers' and students' potential, her work has given many educators both practical and philosophical frameworks for modifying instruction to meet the individual needs of all students.

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Schools Sans Sodas

Jennifer Huget:

Substantial headway has been made lately in getting sugary (and high-fructose corn syrup-laden) sodas out of schools.

But that might not make much difference in kids' overall soda consumption.

Both pieces of news came across my desk as I was writing today's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column about school lunch nutrition. Together they demonstrate how daunting a goal it is to try to change eating and drinking habits -- other people's and our own.

The good news, coming from the American Beverage Association, is that sweetened soft drinks accounted for less than 25 percent of beverages sold in schools last year; that's down from 40 percent in 2004. The ABA has been working with the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation (as in former President Bill) to affect a shift toward healthier drinks -- those with fewer calories and offered in smaller portions than your standard can of pop -- in schools. Bottled water has filled much of the gap, moving from 13 percent of the beverages sold in schools in 2004 to almost 28 percent last year.

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Student Incentive Bank

Bill Turque:

Brian Betts, principal of Shaw at Garnet-Patterson Middle School, said he knew that the experimental program to pay cash for good grades and behavior, which began yesterday at 15 D.C. schools, had captured his students' imaginations when they began asking about the economic crisis.

" 'I heard about this banking stuff,' " Betts recalled one saying the other day. " 'Are we still going to have this money?' "

The answer is yes. The Northwest Washington school's 307 students are among the roughly 3,000 middle-schoolers eligible to earn as much as $100 every two weeks -- to a maximum of $1,500 for the academic year -- for showing up on time, not disrupting class and getting high grades.

Students have been buzzing about the pilot program, called Capital Gains, since they learned in late August that their school had been selected. The school now includes students from Shaw, which closed in June.

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Working Without a Safety Net: How Charter School Leaders Can Best Survive on the High Wire

Christine Campbell & Betheny Gross, via a kind reader's email:

When charter school directors step into the job, they step onto a high wire with no safety net below them. Though they take on a broader set of responsibilities than traditional public school leaders, charter directors rarely have the "back office" administrative support of a district central office. Instead, it is up to them to secure and manage facilities, recruit students and teachers, raise and manage funds, and coordinate curriculum and instruction.

How are charter school leaders facing this challenge? In Working Without a Safety Net: How Charter School Leaders Can Best Survive on the High Wire, authors Christine Campbell and Betheny Gross explain that today's charter school directors, though deeply motivated by their school's mission and the students they serve, can have their confidence shaken by many of the extras they face.

Drawing from a six-state survey, the authors find that, like traditional public school principals, today's charter school directors often come to their positions from other jobs in education and with training from schools of education. However, charter school leaders tend to be younger and newer to leadership positions; many have only a couple years of experience in school administration.

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Clarke Street School is focus of new college-going effort

Alan Borsuk:

About eighty first- and second-graders at Clarke Street School are being offered a deal that could shape their lives.

Mayor Tom Barrett and a group of local philanthropists will be at the school today to say they will pay for extra help for the children, both in and out of school, and will guarantee that the children will be able to pay for college, provided the kids and their families follow through and make it that far.

It is the first Milwaukee effort of the I Have a Dream Foundation, an effort that grew out of a businessman's impulsive decision in 1981 to offer to pay for college when he spoke to a group of sixth-graders in New York's Harlem. I Have a Dream efforts are under way in 29 cities.

Barrett, who has been closely involved in putting together the effort, announced in his "state of the city" address in February that Ted and Mary Kellner, major figures on Milwaukee's charitable scene, would be the lead sponsors for the first-graders at Clarke. Barrett will announce today that the Brady Corp. Foundation will be the lead sponsor for the second grade. Other area organizations and charities, including Milwaukee Public Schools itself, also will support the effort.

The guarantee of affordable higher education is based on donors providing "the last dollar" students would need, beyond other financial help, to carry their educations beyond high school, with in-state tuition as the minimum total amount.

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2008 Education Next-PEPG Public Opinion Survey

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

Americans think less of their schools than of their police departments and post offices

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.

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September 29, 2008

Madison School Referendum Training 10/2/2008

Via a Matt Calvert email:

Community and Schools Together

Referendum Training
Thursday, October 2, 2008
7:00 PM (We'll be done at 8 so you can catch most of the v.p. debate)

MTI Conference Room
821 Williamson St. (parking available)
Familiarize yourself with the details of the referendum.
Get information to share with others.
Sign up for opportunities to meet with groups or staff tables before the November election.

RSVP to Matt Calvert at 255-9417 or

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Wilmette Agrees to a 5 Year Teacher's Contract

Chicago Tribune:

The contract includes average salary increases of 5 percent the first two years and 5.5 percent the last three, according to the release. It also adds 20 minutes per day to the schedule for kindergarten through 4th-grade teachers.
Wilmette Education Association and Wilmette Public Schools.

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Bilingual Debate: English Immersion

Lance Izumi & Bruce Fuller:

In this installment of Education Watch, Bruce Fuller and Lance T. Izumi discuss the candidates' positions on bilingual education. Go to Mr. Fuller's post.

Lance T. Izumi, a senior fellow in California studies and the senior director of education studies at the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy, is the co-author of the book "Not as Good as You Think: Why the Middle Class Needs School Choice." (Full biography.)

Making effective appeals to Hispanic voters is a tricky business. Barack Obama's education proposals are a case in point.

Mr. Obama's campaign notes that, "African-American and Latino students are significantly less likely to graduate than white students," which is true. To combat such achievement gaps, Mr. Obama's education plan specifically advocates, among other things, "transitional bilingual education" for English-learners. Yet, the question for Mr. Obama is whether his commitment to bilingual education, which emphasizes classroom instruction in languages other than English, overrides his interest in closing achievement gaps.

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Referendum Climate: A Look at the US Government Budget


NY Times Graphics.


Further proof that there is no free lunch. The ongoing calls for additional state redistributed tax dollars for K-12 public education will likely have an effect on other programs, as this information illustrates. I do think that there should be a conversation on spending priorities.The current financial system "crisis" presents parents with an excellent opportunity to chat with our children about money, banks, politics and taxes (When you deposit the baby sitting money, where does it go? What happens if the funds are no longer in the bank?). It is a rather potent mix. Much more, here.

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Disrupting Class: Student-Centric Education Is the Future

Clayton M. Christensen & Michael B. Horn:

The answer isn't simply investing more in computer equipment and technology for schools, either. The United States has spent more than $60 billion equipping schools with computers during the last two decades, but as countless studies and any routine observation reveal, the computers have not transformed the classroom, nor has their use boosted learning as measured by test scores. Instead, technology and computers have tended merely to sustain and add cost to the existing system.

That schools have gotten so little back from their investment comes as no surprise. Schools have done what virtually every organization does when implementing an innovation. An organization's natural instinct is to cram the innovation into its existing operating model to sustain what it already does. This is perfectly predictable, perfectly logical -- and perfectly wrong.

Student as Consumer

The key to transforming the classroom with technology is in how it is implemented. We need to introduce the innovation disruptively -- not by using it to compete against the existing paradigm and serve existing customers, but to target those who are not being served -- people we call nonconsumers. That way, all the new approach has to do is be better than the alternative -- which is nothing at all.

To convey what we mean, we need to briefly explain the disruptive-innovation theory. In every market, there are two trajectories: the pace at which technology improves and the pace at which customers can utilize the improvements. Customers' needs tend to be relatively stable over time, whereas technology improves at a much faster rate. As a result, products and services are initially not good enough for the typical customer, but, over time, they improve and pack in more features and functions than customers can use.

Much more on Clayton Christensen.

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Investigation into the LA School District's Administration

Beth Barrett:

Managing almost 900 schools and more than 650,000 students is a huge task. But a Daily News review of salaries and staffing shows LAUSD's bureaucracy ballooned by nearly 20 percent from 2001 to 2007. Over the same period, 500 teaching positions were cut and enrollment dropped by 6 percent.

The district has approximately 4,000 administrators, managers and other nonschool-based employees - not including clerks and office workers - whose average annual salary is about $95,000. About 2,400 administrators are among the 3,478 LAUSD employees who earn more than $100,000 annually.

Meanwhile, the average salary for an LAUSD teacher is $63,000. And the average household income in Los Angeles County is less than $73,000.

The Daily News obtained the LAUSD salaries database through the California Public Records Act. The database - searchable by name, job title and salary range - is posted at

"(The bureaucracy) grows whether it's fat or lean times," said United Teachers Los Angeles union leader A.J. Duffy, a longtime critic of the district's administrative staffing.

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DCPAC Dan Nerad Meeting Summary

A video tape of the entire presentation and discussion with Dr. Nerad may be viewed by visiting this internet link: madison_superin_10.php

Dan Nerad opened his remarks by stating his commitment to efforts for always continuing change and improvement with the engagement of the community. He outlined four areas of focus on where we are going from here.

  1. Funding: must balance district needs and taxpayer needs. He mentioned the referendum to help keep current programs in place and it will not include "new" things.
  2. Strategic Plan: this initiative will formally begin in January 2009 and will involve a large community group process to develop as an ongoing activity.
  3. Meet people: going throughout the community to meet people on their own terms. He will carefully listen. He also has ideas.
  4. Teaching and learning mission: there are notable achievement gaps we need to face head-on. The "achievement gap" is serious. The broader mission not only includes workforce development but also helping students learn to be better people. We have a "tale of two school districts" - numbers of high achievers (including National Merit Scholars), but not doing well with a lot of other students. Low income and minority students are furtherest away from standards that must be met. Need to be more transparent with the journey to fix this problem and where we are not good. Must have the help of the community. The focus must be to improve learning for ALL kids, it is a "both/and" proposition with a need to reframe the issue to help all kids move forward from where they are. Must use best practices in contemporary assessment, curriculum, pedagogy and instructional methods.
Dr. Nerad discussed five areas about which he sees a need for community-wide conversations for how to meet needs in the district.
  1. Early learning opportunities: for pre-kindergarten children. A total community commitment is needed to prevent the 'achievement gap' from widening.
  2. High schools: How do we want high schools to be? Need to be more responsive. The curriculum needs to be more career oriented. Need to break down the 'silos' between high school, tech schools and colleges. Need to help students move through the opportunities differently. The Small Learning Communities Grant recently awarded to the district for high schools and with the help of the community will aid the processes for changes in the high schools.
  3. School safety: there must be an on-going commitment for changes. Nerad cited three areas for change:
    a. A stronger curriculum helping people relate with other people, their differences and conflicts.

    b. A response system to safety. Schools must be the safest of sanctuaries for living, learning and development.

    c.Must make better use of research-based technology that makes sense.
  4. Math curriculum and instruction: Cited the recent Math Task Force Report
    a. Good news: several recommendations for curriculum, instruction and policies for change.

    b. Bad news: our students take less math than other urban schools in the state; there are notable differences in the achievement gap.
  5. Fine Arts: Cited recent Fine Arts Task Force Report. Fine arts curriculum and activities in the schools, once a strength, has been whittled away due to budget constraints. We must deal with the 'hands of the clock' going forward and develop a closer integration of the schools and community in this area.

Dr. Nerad introduced Mr. Erik Kass, Assistant Superintendent for Business Services who made the following remarks:

  1. He is leading the management team in a revisit of the budget model and looking at the financial system; how the district does business; and, how effectively are we spending the money.
  2. He will be looking to the city and county for partnerships and shared services
  3. His mission with the Board of Education and the public is to present information in ways which ensure that information is accurate, honest, understandable and accessible.
Following are questions and comments from DCPAC members and guests with responses from Dr. Nerad.
  1. John Pinto: a) what if the referendum fails? [Nerad: engage the community in priorities. He has an idea list of cuts, but is not sure if those are cuts in the right places.] b) how to get teachers less into 'politics' and more into school? [Nerad: there is a need to separate the work of teachers from politics in the schools. Continuing professional development in teaching and learning and by encouraging new teachers who make teaching their 'first' career choice.]
  2. Nancy Mistele: a) urged engaging former board members and other community people with historical perspectives, expertise, etc. to offer the district; b) Fund 41 a good idea. [Nerad: the benefit of Fund 41 will be to reduce the negative impact on the Madison property tax payers for state aid and Fund 80 will reduce the amount of tax authority outside the revenue caps]; c) what does it cost to educate a child in this state and what does it cost not to educate children properly? [Nerad: The answer to those questions are very complex and involve community priorities and the state legislature engaging in proactive efforts.]
  3. Don Severson: What are your thoughts and plans for cost/benefits/results analyses of programs and services on both sides of the house--educational and business? [Nerad: Outcome assessments should be tied to the strategic plan. He is very much interested in program evaluation - what is the cost and how it is done. He believes application of experimental research methodology for program assessment is questionable.]
  4. Jonathon Barry: Stated his thanks to Dr. Nerad for his clear enunciation of the issues and directions. Barry remarked about his involvement with the :Fresh Start" program. There are 4000 disconnected youth in our area. Stated that MMSD will not contract with Fresh Start and that the Madison Teachers contract is a barrier to the issue. [Nerad: will contact Barry to set up a meeting. He needs to evaluate and determine where the district is with alternative programs. The principals are asking for help. We need more alternatives--it is all about students.]
  5. Judy Reed: She is the principal of the Dane County Transition School, not associated with MMSD, but believes there also should be a working arrangement. Relationships are the key with the disconnected kids. Asked why does there need to be one dropout? [Nerad: will contact Reed to arrange a meeting.]
  6. Gary Schmerler: Requested consideration for MMSD involvement in the county consortium for charter schools. [Nerad: he has asked that MMSD be at the table for the consortium dealing with career-based alternatives. He raised the question for further discussion as to: why do people want charters and how can we be more responsive in our programming in the district?"]
  7. Phil Salkin: Suggested Nerad and others connect with for a statewide initiative underway to look at funding for education in Wisconsin and how individuals and groups can participate in that effort. He stated it was refreshing to hear about the initiatives for cost analyses, workforce development, etc., but the community and state must provide funding for education.
  8. Chan Stroman: Stated that the district and community can't continue to excuse the problem of school safety fixes until school finance is fixed. She also stated that it does cost more to educate students from low-income families and for special needs students.
  9. Dave Glomp: Expressed thanks to Nerad as a: breath of fresh air" and for his transparency. Requested the district to address the teacher contract as out of sync, collaborative, with the budget process. [Nerad: he will look at all of that. Also stated that teaching needs to be a profession of first choice. There also needs to be more of a balance of male and female teachers, especially at the elementary level.]
Final statement by Dr. Nerad: He is committed to keep communications open and the community engaged in the issues and problem resolutions. He urged individuals and the group to communicate with him their suggestions and needs.


Posted by Don Severson at 6:23 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The Early Education of Our Next President

Peter Meyer:

One of them, Barack Obama, was awakened at four in the morning in Jakarta to study from a correspondence course; the other, John McCain, attended grade school in old airplane hangars. Both went on to elite private high schools.

Whether it is the image of Abraham Lincoln studying by log cabin candlelight or George Washington dutifully copying the Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation into his schoolboy notebooks, presidential schooling has long been a national fascination (see Figure 1).

Today we have a graduate of Columbia College and Harvard Law (Obama) taking on a graduate of the Naval Academy and National War College (McCain). Harvard boasts seven presidents as alumni (including George W. Bush's business degree); the Naval Academy, just one (Jimmy Carter). But it is the early schooling--how did they get there?--that is most fascinating. George Washington's early education is remarkable for what is not known about it, but there is general agreement that if he had much formal education, it ended at about age 15. Teddy Roosevelt, said to have had an "uneven" education at home (strong in biology, French, and German but deficient in math, Latin, and Greek), graduated from Harvard magna cum laude. Harry Truman, the only president since 1897 who did not graduate from college, got up early too, at five in the morning, to practice piano.

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Packers Launch Anti-Steroid Initiative in 7 Wisconsin High Schools

Green Bay Packers:

The Green Bay Packers will partner with seven Wisconsin high schools to implement the NFL ATLAS & ATHENA Schools Program, a nationally-acclaimed initiative designed to promote healthy living and reduce the use of steroids and other drugs among high school athletes.

The high schools, Ashwaubenon, Columbus, De Pere, Gibraltar, New Holstein, Two Rivers and West De Pere, will complete the program sessions during the 2008-09 school year. The schools were chosen based on interviews with program administrators and school-wide commitment from the principal, athletic director and coaches.

This local opportunity was created as a result of a $2.8 million grant from the NFL Youth Football Fund to Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU). The Green Bay Packers, other NFL teams and the NFL Players Association all contribute to the NFL Youth Football Fund. The NFL grant is one of a series of improvements to the NFL and NFL Players Association's policy and program on anabolic steroids and related substances. It will be used to disseminate ATLAS and ATHENA to 36,000 high school athletes and 1,200 coaches in 80 high schools during the 2008-2009 school year. Participating teams include the Arizona Cardinals, Baltimore Ravens, Chicago Bears, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, and Washington Redskins.

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September 28, 2008

Madison 2008 Referendum: Watch List Report Card

10/6/2008 update

Active Citizens for Education presents this "Watch List Report Card" as a means of reporting relevant information, facts and analyses on topics appropriate for consideration by taxpayers in voting on the Madison Metropolitan School District referendum question November 4, 2008.

This document is dynamic in nature, thus it is updated on a regular basis with new information and data. Questions, analyses, clarifications and perspectives will be added to the entries as appropriate. Review Ratings will be applied to report the progress (or lack thereof) of the Board of Education and Administration in its plans, data, information, reports and communications related to the referendum.

The question which shall appear on the ballot is as follows:

"Shall the following Resolution be approved?

BE IT RESOLVED by the School Board of the Madison Metropolitan School District, Dane County, Wisconsin that the revenues included in the School District budget be authorized to exceed the revenue limit specified in Section 121.91, Wisconsin Statutes, for recurring purposes by: $5,000,000 beginning in the 2009-2010 school year; an additional $4,000,000 beginning in the 2010-2011 school year (for a total of $9,000,000); and an additional $4,000,000 beginning in the 2011-2012 school year (for a total of $13,000,000 in 2011-2012 and each year thereafter)."

(Source: MMSD Administration 09/15/08)

Continue reading here (277K PDF).

Posted by Don Severson at 10:52 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Effective education, kindergarten to retirement

Mitch Daniels:

Last week I wrote that building the best possible business environment in America was the key to attracting jobs and investment to Indiana. Our state has recently achieved top-tier rankings as a place to do business, with low taxes and utility costs, reduced regulation, new infrastructure investments, and the highest credit rating in history. But we will not maximize these advantages if we do not also have enough well-educated workers. Jobs and investment that would otherwise come to Indiana will wind up somewhere else if we can't provide a large enough pool of skilled labor.

As our economy diversifies, jobs in all sectors, including manufacturing, increasingly require skills and knowledge beyond high school. Right now, too many of our workers lack the education and training they need to perform -- or even qualify for -- the kinds of skilled jobs that we want to bring to or grow here in Indiana. Thousands of jobs are open and waiting in fields such as information technology, health and logistics, but are not being filled because of this skills mismatch.

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Some districts drop class ranks to improve students' college chances

Erin Richards:

At Brookfield East High School, Laura Turner is the kind of student who shouldn't have to worry about getting into the college of her choice.

She's articulate, mature and enthusiastic, a hard worker with high marks -- a 3.88 grade-point average -- who organized hundreds of students last year in Waukesha County to sleep in a parking lot and raise thousands of dollars for displaced Ugandan citizens.

But ranked against her peers in terms of GPA, Turner isn't in the top 25% of her senior class.

The stratification caused by class rank, which arguably makes a student such as Turner appear less accomplished, compelled the Elmbrook School District last week to start looking at whether its two high schools should quit tracking the data. It's a move that's been implemented within the past five years at Whitefish Bay and Shorewood high schools, where administrators say they've seen more seniors being accepted into the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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At Amherst college, 1% of first-year students have landlines, 99% have Facebook accounts

Clive Thompson:

Peter Schilling -- the director of information technology at Amherst College -- crunched the numbers on the technological habits of this year's incoming class, and discovered some fascinating stuff. He's published it online as the "IT Index", crafted in the style of a Harper's Index, and it's an intriguing snapshot of some of the technologically-driven behavioral changes that will mark the next generation.

Below are a few of my favorite stats, culled from the list. As you read, keep in mind that this incoming class has 438 students in it:

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"Open Detroit School District to Choices"

Stephen Henderson:

When I covered the Detroit Public Schools for the Free Press in the mid 1990s, writing umpteen stories about failed programs, stolen money and incompetent management, I reached a point where it seemed to me better just to shut the system down and start fresh, to build something that worked, rather than continuing with what clearly didn't.

People laughed when I would say that out loud. What would you do with the kids? You can't just give up on the whole thing.

But who'd be laughing now? If I said it's time to embrace the rapid decommissioning of the very idea of a Detroit Public Schools system, would I even get a chuckle?

The truth is that the system is imploding, and every family with the ability to roll with something other than DPS appears to be grabbing that choice. The student population plummeted by an estimated 17,000 over the past year, equal to the total number of people living in Auburn Hills.

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

Voters told new Germantown school could pay for itself

Term Kertscher:

A School Board member says voters can approve a $22.5 million school referendum without seeing an increase in property taxes - and a pro-referendum committee goes even further, saying a successful referendum could actually lower property tax bills.

The president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance has his doubts, and some Germantown School District residents question the idea that borrowing $22.5 million for a new elementary school wouldn't raise their taxes.

"It just makes people all the more suspicious," resident Anne Bastow said about the Nov. 4 referendum. "To say your (property tax) payments are going down when you're getting something new, it just doesn't jibe."

But a top official with the state Department of Public Instruction says school districts can increase their state aid - and simultaneously reduce property tax levies - by increasing enrollment.

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September 27, 2008

Wisconsin State Tax Based K-12 Spending Growth Far Exceeds University Funding


WISTAX published a fascinating chart in their most recent issue of FOCUS [Page 1, Page 2]:
However, the state pledge to provide two-thirds of schools revenues in 1996-97 changed the budget landscape. By 2006-07, state-tax support for the UW System had almost doubled during Ihe 25 years prior. However, inflation (CPI, up 115%). school aids/credits (320%). and overall slate GPR expenditures (222%) rose more.
Related:Further proof that there is no free lunch. The ongoing calls for additional state redistributed tax dollars for K-12 public education will likely have an effect on other programs, as this information illustrates. I do think that there should be a conversation on spending priorities.
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Madison Schools "Individual Endowments"

Foundation for Madison Public Schools:

The Foundation for Madison's Public Schools developed the Individual School Endowment Initiative, which is unique in the country. This initiative was designed to build an endowment fund for each of the 48 schools in the district. Through the generosity of John Taylor and the Clay-Price Fund, each school was offered a challenge grant of $5,000. Schools needed to raise $5,000 toward the establishment of an endowment fund in order to earn the $5,000 match and establish their $10,000 Individual School Endowment Fund. We are thrilled to announce that as of June, 2007, all 48 schools had met the match and established endowment funds. 32 schools have endowment fund balances greater than $20,000 and 6 schools have over $50,000 in their endowments. This initiative has raised over $1.45 million and endowment balances continue to grow. Our long-term goal is to see every school have a $50,000 endowment as well as a mutually beneficial relationship with a community partner. To that end, we have established our Adopt-A-School Program.

2008 FMPS Grants:
Madison - Our History
Dept of T/L

This proposal would support the completion of Phase II of this project to write a book, Madison-City of Four Lakes, Our History and Our Home and the accompanying curriculum for third grade history instruction for Madison schools. Phase II includes funding for the graphic artist to complete the layout for the book and printing 2000 copies and the web based construction.
AVID Summer Training
East High School

AVID is a program designed to provide underachieving and underserved populations training for skills they will need to be successful in advanced level high school courses and four year college programs. This grant would support summer training for teachers at the AVID institute.
Literacy Initiative Grant
East High School

This proposal would fund 5 and 1/2 days of training for 12 East High teachers to learn content area reading strategies across all major content areas. The professional development is part of a sustained coordinated effort to improved literacy at East. Funds would also support some of the materials necessary to implement literacy instruction.

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September 26, 2008

District Improvement Plan

East Hartford Public Schools [300K PDF]:

The East Hartford Public Schools District Improvement Plan represents the evolution of work begun five years ago. Although it has undergone several transformations as a result of extensive professional development, it continues to serve as the blueprint for action and a path to excellence.

The generally upward trajectories in student achievement confirm the application of researched-based strategies can make a difference in student achievement. This result has provided encouragement and motivation to staff.

Although pleased with the district's accomplishments and the progress we have made, sustained focus, reinforcement, and fidelity of implementation must continue to be priority. Accomplishments, along with current work in progress, encompass many important areas of focus:
Kate Farrish:
The board of education has unanimously endorsed a state-mandated district improvement plan that aims to raise standardized test scores, reduce school suspensions and narrow significant achievement gaps between black and white students and poor students and their wealthier peers.

Superintendent of Schools Marion H. Martinez will present the plan, approved Monday night, to the State Board of Education on Oct. 2. It will then be detailed for the public at a local board meeting on Oct. 6. The state requires such plans when districts or schools have been deemed "in need of improvement" under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The plan calls for raising the percentage of students reaching proficiency in reading, writing and math scores on the Connecticut Mastery Test and Connecticut Academic Performance Test by at least 15 points over the next three years. It also calls for reducing the test score gap between racial and ethnic groups and socioeconomic groups by 30 percent in the same three years. Currently, for example, there is a 30 percent average gap in reading scores between those groups in grades 3 to 9, and the plan calls for the gap to be narrowed by 9 percentage points -- a 30 percent drop -- by 2010-11.

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Beware of the Easy School Fix

Jay Matthews:

When fixing schools, beware of miracle cures. Every week people send me ideas they say will change the future of education and lead all humanity to enlightenment. So, when management expert William G. Ouchi let me look at his new work on the surprising power of total student loads per teacher, or TSL, I was skeptical.

He says when middle or high school principals are given control of their schools' budgets -- a rare occurrence in big districts -- they tend to make changes in staffing, curriculum and scheduling that sharply reduce TSL, the number of students each of their teachers is responsible for. Some urban districts have TSLs approaching 200 kids per teacher. But after principals get budgeting power, the load drops sharply, sometimes to as low as 80 kids per instructor. When that happens, the portion of students scoring "proficient" on state tests climbs. A group of New York schools had a surge of 11 percentage points after they reduced average TSL by 25 students per teacher.

I hear the mumbles out there. Yes, correlation is not causation. Test scores are not a perfect measure. Many other factors could explain the rise in achievement. For instance, the principals might be using their new powers to hire good teachers and fire bad ones.

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K-12 Outreach & Distance Education

Texas Tech University, via a kind reader's email:

TTUISD has a comprehensive curriculum - coursework is offered in all required subject areas from kindergarten through high school. Our Credit by Examinations (CBEs) allow students to test out of subjects.

TTUISD offers all courses required for a high school diploma in the state of Texas. Our elementary level lesson plans require no prior teaching experience to use, and all TTUISD courses are written by Texas-certified teachers.

TTUISD high school students may choose between a Minimum Graduation Plan and a Recommended Graduation Plan (College Preparatory Program). Students who successfully complete high school requirements and pass the exit-level TAKS will earn an accredited Texas high school diploma.

Students must take a minimum of four full courses to be considered a full-time TTUISD student. CBEs do not count when determining full-time student status.

Perhaps nearby UW-Madison will give K-12 another try?

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McCain, Obama Advisers to Debate Education

Mitchell Landsberg:

On Oct. 21, the education advisors to the two candidates -- Lisa Graham Keegan for McCain; Linda Darling-Hammond for Obama -- will face off in a debate at Teachers College, the venerable education school at Columbia University in New York. The debate, which begins at 4 p.m. PDT, will be webcast by Education Week. The moderator will be Susan Fuhrman, the president of Teachers College.

In the meantime, you can read the education platforms for McCain here and Obama here. And here is Edweek's blog on the campaign. For those who don't want to go to that much trouble, we'll helpfully reduce the platforms to fit on the head of a pin: McCain believes in school choice and local control; Obama believes in an expansion of early childhood education and increased federal funding for education.

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Use of School Budgets in State Funding Lawsuit Questioned

Laura Diamond:

Gov. Sonny Perdue has asked the attorney general's office to determine whether school districts can use state and local school money to pay for a lawsuit over how Georgia funds education.

The Consortium for Adequate School Funding in Georgia, a group of about 50 mostly rural systems, filed the suit in 2004. The trial was scheduled to begin next month, but the group withdrew the action last week after the case was assigned to a new judge. Consortium leaders, who argue insufficient state funding has resulted in low student achievement, said they will file a new lawsuit.

In a letter Perdue sent to the attorney general's office Tuesday, he cited a provision in the state constitution that requires school money be spent on schools, academics and support programs.

"Taxpayers in these school districts need to know that their education tax dollars have been used to pay lawyers suing the state instead of in their children's classrooms," Perdue said Thursday in a news release. "My hope is that in the future decisions on school funding will be made through the public policy process, not in a courtroom where the plaintiffs' lawyers are paid with local education tax dollars to battle defense lawyers paid with state tax dollars."

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September 25, 2008

[For] Crying Out Loud

September 24, 2008 By Glenn Ricketts:

Yes, yes, we know that you've been an outstanding high school history student and that you'd like to major in that subject in college, but we're not sure why you're inquiring about scholarships here. Wait, not so fast: it's certainly impressive that you've had some original research published, and your grades are indeed outstanding. But if, as you say, you're looking for a scholarship, we'd like to hear about your curve ball. Oh, you didn't play baseball in high school? Well, then how about football or basketball? No? Lacrosse, soccer, swimming, maybe? Golf, bowling, tennis? In that case, do you sing or dance? You don't appear to have any disabilities, not that we'd ask.

No, sorry, speaking fluent French is not really what we had in mind by "diversity." Do you by chance play the xylophone? What's that? History scholarships? You mean something geared specifically towards outstanding high school history students? Ho! Ho! Good one.

No, not here. Haven't heard of 'em anywhere else, either. Where'd you come up with that idea anyway? Look, we're not sure we can do anything for you at this point unless...wait a minute, did you say you were a cheerleader? Sit down. I think we're finally on to something. Yes, that's right, we have several scholarships for cheerleaders. Can you send us all of the relevant information about your high school cheerleading experience? We may also be able to direct you to other sources of support for promising college cheerleading prospects. Why didn't you tell us this at the outset, instead of getting sidetracked with all of that stuff about history? We're very busy in this office, you know. No doubt you're an outstanding history student, and by all means major in it if you like, but that's not going to get you anywhere if you're looking for a scholarship. Good thing you mentioned the cheerleading angle, especially since we have to be careful to choose only the most outstanding applicants.

I made up this little drama, but it is based on the "true facts." History scholarships are rare. Cheerleading scholarships are pretty common--even at colleges and universities that one might think value intellectual achievement over human pyramids.

Will Fitzhugh is a former high school history teacher who, frustrated with the lack of opportunities to showcase academic achievement among young students, in 1987 founded The Concord Review, ( a quarterly journal devoted entirely to outstanding research essays by high school students. Anyone who doubts the possibility of impressive research skills and consummate writing ability among some of today's secondary school students should read at least one issue of the Review, where future historians and teachers might well be making their first appearances. These students don't need remedial English, and could probably be bumped up beyond the usual introductory survey courses in history to begin work as history majors on the fast track.

Trouble is, as Will has pointed out to us, the students who write in The Concord Review don't get much recognition beyond that, to say nothing of scholarship assistance. A few colleges--most notably Reed College--have recently started supporting The Concord Review financially--which is bound to encourage some bright, highly capable students to consider attending college out in Portland, Oregon. But by and large, the prospect for students winning scholarships on the basis of outstanding ability to engage in historical scholarship isn't very bright.

The same in fact, could be said about exceptional students in other specific disciplines: foreign languages, literature, physics or mathematics, etc. Although such students may eventually receive recognition, for example, as National Merit Scholars, based on a standardized intelligence test, their outstanding work in individual fields will remain unacknowledged and unrewarded. College recruiters will come eagerly seeking athletes, musicians, dancers--and cheerleaders, but not historians, linguists or scientists. Those academically talented students may have a good chance of being admitted to top programs, but they are seldom specifically recruited. History and English professors, unlike coaches, make no attempt to scout the best prospects among outstanding high school seniors. Nor do we see private benefactors interested in sponsoring such students. As Will recently observed: "When we lament that our adolescents seem more interested in sports than in academics, we might consider how differently we celebrate and reward those activities. High school coaches who are well known to and almost treated as peers by their college counterparts, receive no attention at all for their work as teachers, no matter how unusually productive that work may happen to be. Higher Education simply does not care about the academic work being done by teachers and students at the Lower Education level." I don't in the least intend to belittle football stars, figure skaters, or distance runners. Cheerleaders--maybe a little. Yes, I know from the movies (Bring It On, 2000) how exciting and competitive cheerleading can be and how demanding the athletic skills are, but are we really to suppose that excellence in cheerleading is more important than, say, excellence in writing? We're here to cheer our winning team, Come on, everybody scream! Feel the spirit movin' in Cause tonight we're gonna win!

Cheerleading experts teach "cheering and chanting with self confidence" and "dance makeup for cheerleaders." Somehow it just doesn't seem that it would rise to the level of a Title IX crisis for American women if some of the funds for cheerleading scholarships were diverted to, say, students who think instead of scream.

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Kiselev's Geometry: Book II, Stereometry

Alexander Givental, via email:

The Stereometry book adapted from Russian by A. Givental is the second part of the legendary Kiselev's Geometry. It first appeared in 1892 as a second half of a single textbook and, for a long time, the two co-existed between the same covers. Indeed, the idea of a plane was introduced on page 1 while the last chapter of the book (that followed the stereometry part) was devoted to the geometric constructions in two dimensions. Kiselev's Geometry has demonstrated an unusual staying power, being in an uninterrupted circulation for a good part of a century. (For the historic outline, see the review of the first part.) As a matter of fact, the first part of the book met with stiffer competition so that, while its rule was weakened in the 1960s, the second part reigned in the textbook market well into the 1970s.

The combined 1980 edition came out under the title Elementary Geometry for teacher colleges with a Foreward by A. N. Tikhonov who observed, albeit with some reservations, that the pedagogical mastery with which the book was written, the simplicity and consistency of the exposition, kept the book from becoming obsolete.

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Minnesota Democrat-Farm Laborers Believe in new School "Miracle"

Norman Draper:

In the face of a strained economy and an almost-certain state budget shortfall, the party is pushing a bold new education initiative. Better schools, they say, will be an investment that counters the downturn.

When DFL state Rep. Denise Dittrich went door to door campaigning for re-election in Champlin last week, a smattering of homeowners brought up education.

One worried that the enrollment at her child's elementary school would drop so low that the school would shut down. Another fretted about property taxes that have soared, in part because voters approved increases in school funds.

One resident, Shelley Peterson, said she was equally concerned about education and the economy. She said she wants more money for education and wants to lower the high activity fees in the Anoka-Hennepin School District. But would she be willing to consider higher taxes to do that?

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Reinventing the School Lunch


Speaking at the 2007 EG conference, "renegade lunch lady" Ann Cooper shares her passionate belief in remaking the school lunch. She uses scathing language to describe how most American kids are fed at the noon bell, out of cans, boxes and plastic bags -- sowing the seeds of the obesity epidemic that is spreading from the US around the globe. But, she says, there's a coming revolution in the way kids eat at school -- local, sustainable, seasonal and even educational food. (Recorded December 2007 in Los Angeles, California. Duration: 19:42.)

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You say "accountability," I say "longitudinal study"

Milwaukee's Public Policy Forum:

In a report released last week that did not get press other than a post on the education blog of the Journal Sentinel, the Legislative Audit Bureau rehashed the first-year findings of the School Choice Demonstration Project's study of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP). Interestingly, the Bureau found the study's data cannot provide information about performance in individual schools. In response, a prominent school choice lobbying group has called for test scores to be reported annually on a school-by-school basis.

The overall findings, released last February, were not as positive as education reform supporters had anticipated. The Audit Bureau re-analyzed the data and confirmed these findings. For example, the sample of choice students in the private schools had lower reading scores on state standardized tests than a matched sample of MPS students at three of six grade levels. At all six grade levels tested, the private school students scored lower than a random sample of MPS students. In nearly all cases, however, the differences were not statistically significant.

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When Tough Times Weigh on the Kids

Sue Shellenbarger:

At a little under three years of age, Bailey Haag can't understand the turmoil on Wall Street. But last week, the little girl's brow furrowed and her face grew sad as she overheard her mother on the phone, reacting to a ripple effect of the nation's economic problems -- her father's layoff.

Although her mother, Claire Crawford Haag, had hoped to shield Bailey from stress, the child knew from her mother's voice that "it was not a good conversation," Ms. Haag says. Noticing her daughter's face crumple, Ms. Haag began fashioning in her head an explanation a small child could understand.

Amid fallout from the nation's worsening financial picture, many parents are trying to protect their children from worries about layoffs and financial hardship. But children are actually silent carriers of family financial stress, research shows. They're not only keenly aware of it, but it makes them more likely to behave badly or develop emotional problems. To help kids cope, psychologists and researchers say, parents need to communicate in ways they can understand, keep family relationships on track, and give children a role in helping solve family problems.

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Spare the Rod: Why You Shouldn't Hit Your Kids

Alan Kazdin:

The typical parent, when whacking a misbehaving child, doesn't pause to wonder: "What does science have to say about the efficacy of corporal punishment?" If they are thinking anything at all, it's: "Here comes justice!" And while the typical parent may not know or care, the science on corporal punishment of kids is pretty clear. Despite the rise of the timeout and other nonphysical forms of punishment, most American parents hit, pinch, shake, or otherwise lay violent hands on their youngsters: 63 percent of parents physically discipline their 1- to 2-year-olds, and 85 percent of adolescents have been physically punished by their parents. Parents cite children's aggression and failure to comply with a request as the most common reasons for hitting them.

The science also shows that corporal punishment is like smoking: It's a rare human being who can refrain from stepping up from a mild, relatively harmless dose to an excessive and harmful one. Three cigarettes a month won't hurt you much, and a little smack on the behind once a month won't harm your child. But who smokes three cigarettes a month? To call corporal punishment addictive would be imprecise, but there's a strong natural tendency to escalate the frequency and severity of punishment. More than one-third of all parents who start out with relatively mild punishments end up crossing the line drawn by the state to define child abuse: hitting with an object, harsh and cruel hitting, and so on. Children, endowed with wonderful flexibility and ability to learn, typically adapt to punishment faster than parents can escalate it, which helps encourage a little hitting to lead to a lot of hitting. And, like frequent smoking, frequent corporal punishment has serious, well-proven bad effects.

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September 24, 2008

"Data Driven" Education Research

Javier Hernandez:

Roland G. Fryer Jr., a Harvard economist, has often complained that while pharmaceutical companies have poured billions of dollars each year into studying new drugs and Boeing devoted $3 billion to develop the 777 jet, there has been little spent on efforts to scientifically test educational theories.

Now Dr. Fryer has quit his part-time post as chief equality officer of the New York City public schools to lead a $44 million effort, called the Educational Innovation Laboratory, to bring the rigor of research and development to education. The initiative will team economists, marketers and others interested in turning around struggling schools with educators in New York, Washington and Chicago.

Backed by the Broad Foundation, founded by the billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad, and other private groups, the research is intended to infuse education with the data-driven approach that is common in science and business, Dr. Fryer said. He compared the current methods of educational research to the prescriptions of an ineffective doctor.

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National Punctuation Day

A celebration of the lowly comma, correctly used quotes, and other proper uses of periods, semicolons, and the ever mysterious ellipsis.

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I'll Take My Lecture to Go, Please

Andy Guess:

It looks like students can be open-minded after all: When provided with the option to view lectures online, rather than just in person, a full 82 percent of undergraduates kindly offered that they'd be willing to entertain an alternative to showing up to class and paying attention in real time.

A new study released today suggests not only a willingness but a "clear preference" among undergraduates for "lecture capture," the technology that records, streams and stores what happens in the classroom for concurrent or later viewing.

The study, sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Madison's E-Business Institute, tackles the much-discussed question of students' preferences for traditional versus online learning with unusual rigor. Based on a survey of more than 29,000 undergraduate and graduate students at the university, the study had a response rate of over 25 percent. Almost half of the undergraduates -- 47 percent -- had taken a class with lectures available for online viewing.

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Is a university degree still worth the time and money it takes?

The Economist:

"MORE will mean worse," wrote an angry Kingsley Amis in 1961, contemplating plans to expand university education. His prediction has been tested past anything he could have imagined, as that era's new universities were joined by the ex-polytechnics in the 1990s, and the proportion of youngsters who go on to university rose from less than 10% to almost 40% now. The 430,000 new undergraduates heading off to freshers' weeks later this month will find themselves part of Britain's largest university cohort ever.

Similar rumblings have continued since Amis's jeremiad. With less government money (in real terms) per student than in his day, universities have to pack them in and keep them in to balance the books. Paul Buckland, an archaeology professor at Bournemouth University, resigned when administrators overruled his failing grades for ten students (last month he won a case for "constructive dismissal"). In June a barnstorming lecture by Geoffrey Alderman, of Buckingham University, gained wide attention with its claims of impotent external examiners, widespread unpunished plagiarism and a "grotesque bidding game" in which universities dished out good grades in order to claw their way up league tables.

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Weekly Update

This past week on the board I have moved in varied circles, hopefully which may lead our district in a new and better direction as we improve our connections with the broader community.

Early in the week the Madison Board of Education approved the submission of two resolutions for the state school board association's annual meeting. I was happy to be an author of one and to get assistance from the Middleton/Cross Plains board on the second.

One meeting that I'm always happy to attend is with community organizers and childcare providers working to bring quality early childhood education to all students in Madison. We met at a local business, Ground Zero coffee shop, and enjoyed much in the way of conversation and goal-setting. If you would like to learn how to get involved in this effort feel free to contact me and I will put you in touch with some great people working on behalf of young children and through an investment in our future.

In addition, I may start holding listening sessions at local businesses to better communicate with the community.

Personal blog, RSS Feed.

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Local Students Considered for National Achievement Honors

Tamira Madsen:
Four area high school students were named semifinalists for the National Achievement Scholarship Program competition and are eligible for scholarships for Black American students through the National Merit Scholarship Program.

Middleton students Zowie L. Miles and Kristina M. Teuschler, Matthew Bowie-Wilson from Madison West and Taylor M. Behnke from Madison Edgewood, along with 13 other Wisconsin students, made the list.

More than 150,000 juniors requested consideration for the 2009 National Achievement Scholarship Program competition by taking the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, a test which served as an initially screening of the applicants.
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Madison High School Students Organize and Push Referendum

Tamira Madsen:
Kaley Stroup has seen the impact school budget cuts have had on classmates and friends at La Follette High School.

Officials at La Follette were forced to drop the Italian language program from the curriculum for the 2008-09 school year, and students had to scramble to restructure their class schedules.

Stroup said elimination of the courses put many seniors like her in a tough situation when thinking ahead to college.

"Their schedules are messed up now because colleges want you to have four years of the same foreign language, and they've had to switch to French and Spanish, and it's thrown things off for them," Stroup said.

She is part of a group of Madison Metropolitan School District students intent on bolstering community approval for the school referendum so deeper budget cuts won't have to be made going forward. Leaders of the group hope to have some two dozen students getting out the word about voting "yes" on Nov. 4.
Much more on the 2008 Madison Referendum here.
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The Special Needs Kindergarten Crunch

Christine Gralow:

It's the third week of pre-school. Kids are still settling in, and many are still crying when their parents drop them off in the morning. During these first weeks of school, pre-school teachers do a lot of waiting and wondering -- waiting patiently for the separation tears to end and wondering what fascinating young characters will begin to emerge in this year's class. My students' parents, however, are already thinking about next year -- they're worried about getting their kids into kindergarten.

As a pre-school special needs teacher in New York, I've learned that the city's culture of cut-throat competition extends to kindergarten admissions. And from that, an unexpected part of my job has evolved -- providing psychological and emotional support to parents as they undertake the daunting task of finding an appropriate placement for their child. Securing a good spot in an oversubscribed New York City kindergarten, whether public or private, is difficult enough for most parents. But for the parents of children with special needs, it is especially challenging.

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"Let's You and Him Fight over School Vouchers"

Political Insider:

David Poythress called. The only announced Democratic candidate for governor wanted to pick a fight with Eric Johnson over school vouchers.

"To re-direct public money from public education into unregulated private entities with the magical expectation that somehow the private sector was going to remedy all the education problems in the state -- that's just wrong. It's not going to happen," Poythress said.

Johnson, currently the Senate president pro tem, has seized on the voucher issue as a likely ticket to the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor in 2010.

To set the stage:

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Officials Propose Large Scale Changes to the Milwaukee Public Schools

Alan Borsuk:

A chancellor who would coordinate all the schools in town, including private schools and universities?

Clamping down on busing of Milwaukee Public Schools students, high salaries in central office and other high-cost items?

Creating new programs to get disruptive students out of classrooms?

Ideas were flying Monday as the spotlight continued to shine on MPS and its financial problems.

In its specifics, the proposal endorsed by School Board members on a 6-3 vote last week to explore dissolving MPS may or may not go forward. A meeting Thursday night at which the board will consider it formally is the next main event.

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September 23, 2008

Minnesota Governor Outlines School Reform Plans

Duluth News Tribune & AP:

Gov. Tim Pawlenty is taking another stab at changing teacher pay, preparation and recruitment in a series of proposals he'll present to the 2009 Legislature.
"This is serious business," Pawlenty said during a news conference at Monaco Air Duluth this morning. "Research shows that a student who has the benefit of successive years in a row of an effective teacher has a significantly higher performance than a student who does not. Having two or three ineffective teachers in a row it can decrease a student's performance by as much as 50 percent, he said.

Pawlenty and Education Commissioner Alice Seagren are visiting Duluth, Moorhead, St. Cloud, St. Paul, Winona and Albert Lea today to release details of his K-12 education reform initiatives -- called the Teaching Transformation Act -- his first initiative for next year's session.

Via Tim Pawlenty's website:
The Teaching Transformation Act includes:
  • Tying increases in teacher pay to improved student performance.
  • Setting tougher entrance requirements for admission into teacher preparation programs. This would include setting minimum entrance requirements for college students before admission into teacher preparation programs; strengthening the state's teacher certification test, including raising cut scores for prospective teachers; revising the standards for approving college teacher preparation programs and including more rigorous standards on content, technology and instructional strategies; enhancing academic preparation that reflects challenges facing teachers today; using data to analyze student needs; utilizing technology in relevant, exciting ways; and developing strategies with higher education institutions to recruit students to become math or science teachers.
  • Creating the SMART Program (State of Minnesota Mid-Career Alternative Route to Teaching) to recruit mid-career professionals to teach in high-need subject areas in math, science and other teacher shortage areas. The program would be modeled after similar programs in New York City and Texas that have been effective in bringing mid-career professionals and other high-quality, dedicated individuals into teaching. It would be developed in partnership with non-profit organizations or universities and local school districts would be able to hire from the pool of teachers.
  • Modernizing professional development for teachers by focusing on more time for continuous training, providing teachers with performance feedback through evaluations, and encouraging teacher collaboration to better use data to improve student achievement. The Governor's proposal would improve the current system of professional development that relies too heavily on periodic seminars and programs that fail to relate directly to the classroom. Currently, two percent of the general education funding formula is utilized for staff development.

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Referendum Climate: Washington must heed fiscal alarm bell

Dave Walker:

Beyond the turmoil for banks and homeowners, however, there is a super-sub-prime crisis brewing in Washington. Our fiscal policies have created a disconnect between today's citizens and future taxpayers. Today's taxpayers benefit from high government spending and low taxes, while future generations are expected to pay the bill. Our real challenge is where we are headed on our do-nothing fiscal path.

Washington has charged everything to the nation's credit card - engaging in tax cuts and spending increases without paying for them. Washington's imprudent, unethical and even immoral behaviour is facilitated by a lack of transparency. For example, as of September 30, 2007 the federal government was in a $53,000bn dollar fiscal hole, equal to $455,000 per household and $175,000 per person. This burden is rising every year by $6,600-$9,900 per American. Medicare represents $34,000bn of this deficit and the related Medicare trust fund is set to run dry within 10 years. The Social Security programme is projected to have negative cash flow within about 10 years.

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Locke High: The Real Charter Challenge

Paul Tough:

The new union-friendly charter school in the Bronx I wrote about last week is not the only big project that Green Dot Public Schools has taken on this fall. The other is the attempted transformation of Locke High School in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. The school, which currently has about 2,500 students, has long been notorious as one of the worst in the city, with what the L.A. Times recently described as a "reputation for student fisticuffs and an appallingly high dropout rate."

Green Dot was founded by Steve Barr, a garrulous, outspoken Irish American in his late 40s who helped start Rock the Vote in 1990 and nine years later decided his role in life was to run high schools. His organization now manages 10 of them, mostly in L.A., and his new mission is to transform the way public education works in the city (and then in the rest of the country).

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Perceiving the World in Alternative Terms

Mark Edmundson:

Because really good teaching is about not seeing the world the way that everyone else does. Teaching is about being what people are now prone to call "counterintuitive" but to the teacher means simply being honest. The historian sees the election not through the latest news blast but in the context of presidential politics from George Washington to the present. The biologist sees a natural world that's not calmly picturesque but a jostling, striving, evolving contest of creatures in quest of reproduction and survival. The literature professor won't accept the current run of standard clichés but demands bursting metaphors and ironies of an insinuatingly serpentine sort. The philosopher demands an argument as escapeproof as an iron box: what currently passes for logic makes him want to grasp himself by the hair and yank himself out of his seat.

Good teachers perceive the world in alternative terms, and they push their students to test out these new, potentially enriching perspectives. Sometimes they do so in ways that are, to say the least, peculiar. The philosophy professor steps in the window the first day of class and asks her students to write down the definition of the word "door." Another sees that it's hard to figure out how the solar system works by looking at the astronomy book. So he takes his friends outside and designates one the sun, the other the earth and gets them rotating and revolving in the grassy field. (For reasons of his own, he plays the part of the moon.) The high-school teacher, struck by his kids' conformity, performs an experiment. He sends the hippest guy in the class off on an errand and while he's gone draws pairs of lines on the board, some equal, some unequal. When the hip kid comes back, the teacher asks the class, who are in on the game, which lines are the same length and which are different and, as they've been instructed, they answer the wrong way. They're surprised at how often the cool kid disobeys the evidence of his own eyes and goes along with the pack. A few hours later, at home, they're surprised at how good they were at fooling their friend and how much pleasure they took in making him the butt of the experiment.

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Questions for Charles Murray: Head of the Class

Deborah Solomon:

Although attending college has long been a staple of the American dream, you argue in your new book, "Real Education," that too many kids are now heading to four-year colleges and wasting their time in pursuit of a bachelor's degree. Yes. Let's stop this business of the B.A., this meaningless credential. And let's talk about having something kids can take to an employer that says what they know, not where they learned it.
Much more on Charles Murray, here.

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Youth express ideas and dreams through art

A. David Dahmer:

Art and working with young minds are two of Sheba McCants' passions in life. Through mural making, she has been able to combine those two passions to make a difference in the lives of some Madison-area girls.
McCants has teamed up with Madison SOS (Speak Out Sister) to create a community mural that reflects and celebrates local teen girls' vision for the future of their city. The Mural Unveiling Celebration -- the culmination of six weeks of hard work on a 32-foot wall -- will take place on Friday, Sept. 26, at the Wisconsin Youth and Family Center, 1201 McKenna Blvd.

The idea for the mural hatched about a year ago, when McCants, who works for the Urban League of Greater Madison by day, and Natalia Thompson, who is the project coordinator for Madison SOS, were talking about working on a project together. "We sent out e-mails to a lot of different people and the Wisconsin Youth and Family Center responded and said that they would love to have a mural in their gymnasium," McCants says. "Natalia was the grant writer and has helped me facilitate and coordinate the project. She has been huge, in terms of getting this all together

This summer, McCants and other high school artists have created a design for the mural that expresses the young ladies' ideas and dreams -- and then spent six weeks learning about the art of mural making, painting, and having fun with other girls who love art.

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Nobody's Waiting to Bail the Milwaukee Public Schools Out

Eugene Kane:

In a week when America's financial markets experienced a meltdown, perhaps it shouldn't have been that surprising to learn Milwaukee Public Schools was also apparently in dire financial straits.

Last week, a shake-up of major Wall Street firms sent shock waves through the stock market. The federal government announced a risky, multibillion-dollar bailout of endangered institutions amid concerns about the worst financial crisis in decades. With all that turmoil afoot, it was almost anticlimactic to learn the School Board had voted to look into ways to dissolve the public school system because of increasing financial problems.

Yes, that's right; dissolve it.

Most folks knew things were bad at MPS; nobody suspected it was that bad. At least one board member, Michael Bonds, still isn't convinced.

"I was outraged," said Bonds, who left the room shortly after a 6-3 vote by MPS board members to consider options for dissolving the state's largest school district. "Yes, that's why I left the room."

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September 22, 2008

California's new 8th-grade algebra rule gets some poor marks

Howard Blume:

The new state policy of requiring algebra in the eighth grade will set up unprepared students for failure while holding back others with solid math skills, a new report has concluded.

These predictions, based on national data, come in the wake of an algebra mandate that the state Board of Education, under pressure from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, adopted in July. That decision won widespread praise from some reform advocates and the Bush administration, putting California out front in a national debate over improving mathematics instruction.

The policy also led to a lawsuit filed this month by groups representing school districts and school administrators. They contend that the state board adopted the new rules illegally. Their underlying concern is that the algebra policy is unworkable and unfunded.

The new study, released today by the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., looked at who is taking eighth-grade algebra and how they are doing.

And there was some ostensibly good news. Nationwide, more students are taking algebra than before. Over five years, the percentage of eighth-graders in advanced math -- algebra or higher -- went up by more than one-third. In total, about 37% of all U.S. students took advanced math in 2005, the most recent year in the analysis.

More here and here.

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Schools Sour on Giving Students Sweet Rewards

Daniel de Vise:

Schools around the Washington region are quietly removing Jolly Ranchers and Tootsie Pops from the teacher's desk, ending a long tradition of rewarding classroom obeisance with candy.

In the District and many suburbs, school systems have imposed rules during the past two years that discourage teachers from using candy or other junk food as an incentive. Some policies reject any offer of food as reward, or denial of food as punishment, on the theory that students should not be taught it is a privilege to eat.

Regulation of classroom candy is part of a broader "wellness" movement that has swept public schools this decade. Federal law required school systems to establish rules by fall 2006 to govern Gummi Worms in cafeterias and sodas in vending machines, birthday cupcake parties and Halloween binges, physical education and recess, as well as the proliferation of candy and other food of questionable nutritional value in contests, promotions and everyday classroom activities.

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History Lesson

Bob McGum:

Want to read another story about the dumbing down of American students? How far SAT scores have dropped or standards fallen?

If so, look elsewhere.

We wish instead to draw your attention to one of those little starbursts of intelligence sparkling over our dreary educational landscape: The Concord Review. The first and only academic journal dedicated to the work of high school students, The Concord Review has published essays on everything from the sinking of the Lusitania to the Pullman Strike of 1894 and the Harlem Renaissance. Appropriately enough, it is published out of the same town where, more than two centuries back, embattled farmers fired the shot heard 'round the world.

The Review is the child of Will Fitzhugh, a Harvard alumnus who started publishing it out of his own home in 1987 while a high school teacher himself. The next year he quit his job and dedicated himself to the journal full-time. Not least of the spurs behind his decision was having witnessed two of his fellow Concord teachers propose an after-school program to help a select group of students prepare a serious history essay-only to be shot down by the administration on the grounds of "elitism."

Like most such academic adventures, the Review isn't going to challenge People magazine any time soon; it still has only about 850 subscribers, and among the high schools that don't subscribe are a number whose students have been published in the Review itself. But it is attracting attention. The Concord Review has received endorsements from a cross-section of prominent historians such as David McCullough, Eugene Genovese, Diane Ravitch, and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who says "there should be a copy in every high school." Another fan is James Basker, a Barnard and Columbia professor who also serves as president of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

"Students rise to the expectations you have of them," states Mr. Basker. "All you have to do is show them they are capable of writing serious historical essays, and off they go." To emphasize the point, his institute will on June 10 inaugurate three annual Gilder Lehrman Essay Prizes in American History drawn from Concord Review essayists. This year's first prize, for $5,000, goes to Hannah S. Field for her contribution about library efforts to suppress Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz.

All this acclaim notwithstanding, Mr. Fitzhugh believes today's culture retains a pronounced bias against academic achievement and excellence. He cites the example of a Concord Review essayist from Connecticut who subsequently went on to Dartmouth and will be studying medicine this fall at Harvard. When Mr. Fitzhugh paid a visit to her high school, he found that though everyone knew she was all-state in soccer, no one knew that an essay of hers had appeared in the Review, beating out hundreds of the finest student essays from not only the U.S. but other parts of the English-speaking world. It's one of the things that tells him that the need for such a journal remains strong.

"Varsity athletics and athletes are celebrated everywhere," Mr. Fitzhugh says. "We've decided to celebrate varsity academics."

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The Misplaced Math Student: Lost in Eighth-Grade Algebra

Tom Loveless:

Algebra in eighth grade was once reserved for the mathematically gifted student. In 1990, very few eighth graders, about one out of six, were enrolled in an algebra course. As the decade unfolded, leaders began urging schools to increase that number. President Clinton lamented, "Around the world, middle students are learning algebra and geometry. Here at home, just a quarter of all students take algebra before high school."1 The administration made enrolling all children in an algebra course by eighth grade a national goal. In a handbook offering advice to middle school students on how to plan for college, U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley urged, "Take algebra beginning in the eighth grade and build from there."2 Robert Moses ratcheted up the significance of the issue by labeling algebra "The New Civil Right," thereby highlighting the social consequences of so many poor and minority students taking remedial and general math courses instead of algebra.3

The campaign was incredibly successful. Several urban school districts declared a goal of algebra for all eighth graders. In 1996, the District of Columbia led the nation with 53 percent of eighth graders enrolled in algebra. From 1990 to 2000, national enrollment in algebra courses soared from 16 percent to 24 percent of all eighth graders.

The surge continued into the next decade. Eighth-grade enrollment in algebra hit 31 percent nationally in 2007, a near doubling of the 1990 proportion. Today more U.S. eighth graders take algebra than any other math course.4 In July 2008, the State of California decided to adopt an algebra test as its eighth-grade assessment of student proficiency. The policy in effect mandates that all eighth graders will be enrolled in algebra by 2011.

Related from Jay Matthews.

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Recalculating The 8th-Grade Algebra Rush

Jay Matthews:

Nobody writing about schools has been a bigger supporter of getting more students into eighth-grade algebra than I have been. I wrote a two-part series for the front page six years ago that pointed out how important it is to be able to handle algebra's abstractions and unknown quantities before starting high school. I have argued that we should rate middle schools by the percentage of students who complete Algebra I by eighth grade.

Now, because of a startling study being released today, I am having second thoughts.

Tom Loveless, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, has looked at the worst math students, those scoring in the bottom 10th on the National Assessment of Educational Progress eighth-grade test. He discovered that 28.6 percent of them -- let me make that clear: nearly three out of every 10 -- were enrolled in first-year algebra, geometry or second-year algebra. Almost all were grossly misplaced, probably because of the push to get kids into algebra sooner.

The report (to be available at ) reprints this simple NAEP problem:

There were 90 employees in a company last year. This year the number of employees increased by 10 percent. How many employees are in the company this year?

A) 9

B) 81

C) 91

D) 99

E) 100

The correct answer is D. Ten percent of 90 is 9. Add that to 90 and you get 99. How many of the misplaced students got it right? Just 9.8 percent. Not good.

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Scrap the Sacrosanct Teacher Salary Schedule

Jacob Vigdor:

On what basis should we distribute rewards to salespeople?

It seems like a silly question, doesn't it? First, "we," meaning the public at large, don't usually get to decide such matters. Second, there are obvious systems of rewards for salespeople already in place, foremost among them the system of commissions, which pays salespersons for the value they directly contribute to a firm's operation.

Replace the word "salespeople" with "teachers," however, and we move from the realm of silly questions to the arena of intense policy debate. Teachers are in most cases public employees. So we do, in theory at least, get to decide how they are paid. The commission model for teachers, variants of which have been proposed for many years, would involve compensating them for the value they provide to their school's operation, that is, the degree to which they educate their students. Unfortunately, the amount of education a student receives in a given year is much harder to quantify than the total sales recorded by a clerk in a store. Measuring student growth has been made somewhat easier by recent advances in the tracking of student performance on standardized tests over time. But the notion of paying teachers on the basis of their ability to improve test scores, often termed "merit pay," while earnestly debated by education policy researchers, is strongly opposed by teachers unions and is a political nonstarter in many parts of the country.

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College Panel Calls for Less Focus on SATs

Sara Rimer:

A commission convened by some of the country's most influential college admissions officials is recommending that colleges and universities move away from their reliance on SAT and ACT scores and shift toward admissions exams more closely tied to the high school curriculum and achievement.

The commission's report, the culmination of a yearlong study led by William R. Fitzsimmons, the dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard, comes amid growing concerns that the frenzy over standardized college admissions tests is misshaping secondary education and feeding a billion-dollar test-prep industry that encourages students to try to game the tests.

A growing number of colleges and universities, like Bates College in Maine, Lawrence University in Wisconsin, Wake Forest University in North Carolina and Smith College in Massachusetts, have made the SAT and ACT optional. And the report concludes that more institutions could make admissions decisions without requiring the SAT and ACT.

"It would be much better for the country," Mr. Fitzsimmons said in an interview, "to have students focusing on high school courses that, based on evidence, will prepare them well for college and also prepare them well for the real world beyond college, instead of their spending enormous amounts of time trying to game the SAT."

The report calls for an end to the practice of using minimum-admissions-test scores to determine students' eligibility for merit aid. And it specifically urges the National Merit Scholarship Corporation to stop using PSAT scores as the initial screen for eligibility for recognition or scholarships. The National Merit Scholarship competition "contributes to the misperception of test scores as sole measures of 'merit' in a pervasive and highly visible manner," the report says.

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The Harmful Mistakes of Sex Education in School

Minette Marrin:

Those who can, do, according to the old saying, and those who can't, teach. That has always seemed to me unfair. However, I have come to think that those who can't teach, teach sex education.

Judged by its results - not a bad way of judging - sex education has been an utter failure. The increase in sex education here in recent years has coincided with an explosion of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted disease (STD) far worse than anywhere else in Europe. Since the government's teenage pregnancy strategy was introduced in 1999, the number of girls having abortions has soared. You might well be tempted to argue that sex education causes sexual delinquency.

Only two months ago the Health Protection Agency reported that a culture of promiscuity among the young had driven the rate of STDs to a record. Almost 400,000 people - half of them under 25 - were newly diagnosed, 6% more than in 2006.

When something fails, the usual procedure is to drop it and try something else. With sex education, the worse it gets, the more people cry out for more of it and earlier. Ministers are considering whether to make schools offer more sex education, offer it earlier and deny parents the right to withdraw their children from it.

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September 21, 2008

Monona Grove Enrollment Numbers

Peter Sobol:

Preliminary 2008-9 enrollment numbers show a total of 3076 students "in seats" as of 9/10. This includes 85 4k students and community daycare sites, 107 4k students at Maywood and TP, and 133 open enrollment in (vs. 39 oe out).
It will be interesting to see County and Statewide open enrollment numbers.

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Student Music at the Madison Farmer's Market

Enterprising students from Madison's West High School. I learned that one can make well over $100 on a Saturday morning.

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Georgia School districts try to avoid 'outspoken' judge

Bill Torpy:

A consortium of rural school districts suing the state to change its funding formula withdrew its long-running case from Fulton last week and said it would refile it in another venue after it was reassigned to Schwall.

"We have been transferred to a judge who is new to the subject, and we have a judge whose political views are well-known," said Joe Martin, the group's executive director and a Democrat who has run for state school superintendent. "We could barrel ahead, but it is unlikely we would get a fair hearing" because of his political connections.

Gov. Sonny Perdue, who is fighting the school suit, appointed Schwall to the bench after Judge Roland Barnes was allegedly shot to death by Nichols in 2005. Perdue lashed out at the group's "transparent attempt at forum shopping."

Schwall, in an e-mail to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, said: "The integrity of our judicial system depends on a judge's ability to make decisions based upon the law and the facts presented, not upon politics or any other outside influence."

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Engaging students in discussion on the achievement gap

A. David Dahmer:

Two hundred students from 23 school districts across the country will convene in Madison for the annual Minority Student Achievement Network (MSAN) Student Conference Sept. 24-27. This year's theme will be "Futura De La Juventud: Laying Foundation, Affirming Our Identity, Building Relationships."

"One of the things that the conference is really focused on is engaging the kids in discussion about the achievement gap and what barriers that students of color face in their school environment," says Lisa Black, special assistant to the Superintendent for Race & Equity and the planning chair for the MSAN Conference. "Our goals really are to increase access to post-secondary options."

African American and Latino students from around the country will gather at Monona Terrace to share experiences and develop strategies for improving student academic achievement and school climate in their home districts.

Black stresses that the students have really taken ownership of the planning for the conference.

"The students really set the agenda. We shared with them what MSAN is all about and they studied the gap and all the data in the district, and they are taking it from there," she says. "It's important that their voices and views are heard, and [that] it's not always adults setting the agenda."

Each year, MSAN holds a student conference in a different city across the United States where teams of students of member district schools engage in discussion and plan for follow up activities related to improving the effectiveness of their schools in educating African American and Latino youth.

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How Well Do You Know Your State Board of Education?

Katy Vine:

Ever wonder who decides what your kids are taught in school? It's not their principals and teachers. Nor is it their school's superintendent. The Legislature, maybe? Not quite; the Legislature's responsibility is to write the education code, fund the schools, and keep the state's commitment to an accountability system. Every once in a while a lawmaker might pass a bill that authorizes Bible classes or requires daily recitation of the pledge of allegiance to the Texas flag, but the Legislature isn't responsible for curriculum. Okay, then, how about the Texas Education Agency and the commissioner of education? Sounds right, but you're wrong again. The TEA's role is simply (or not so simply) to administer the education code.

Ready for the answer? The folks who decide what Texas schoolchildren will learn are the fifteen members of the State Board of Education. Don't worry if you can't name a single one. Almost nobody can! Members of this obscure panel are elected in down-ballot races that generate about as much media attention as an appointment to the Funeral Service Commission, but they are the ones who determine the classroom content for every public- or charter-school student in Texas. The board, currently composed of ten Republicans and five Democrats, oversees the process that establishes curriculum standards--known as Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills--and adopts or rejects textbooks. Members serve four-year terms and receive no financial compensation. (You heard right: They do this for free.) So how well do you know the powerful volunteers who control your children's education? Take this quiz and see.

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Marquette University Receives $4M US Reading Grant

Dani McClain:

Spellings was in town to present the grant to Marquette University, but she used the opportunity to defend the success of Early Reading First and Reading First, two initiatives financed through the law.

"No Child Left Behind has taken a flat line in student achievement, and it's starting to tick upward," Spellings said at a meeting with the Journal Sentinel editorial board.

Congress already has cut back on the $1 billion-a-year Reading First initiative. The program's budget was reduced by 60% last year following revelations of mismanagement.

The Education Department's inspector general reported in 2006 that Reading First administrators had violated conflict-of-interest rules when awarding grants and steered contracts to favored textbook publishers. The program's director at the time, Chris Doherty, resigned shortly before the report was made public. Also, an Education Department study made public in May concluded that Reading First failed to improve reading comprehension among participating children.

Spellings said Thursday that "the ship has been righted" and that she hopes the agency will avoid further cuts to the program.

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What Happens When a School District Fails?

Jessica Calefati:

Students, families, and educators in Georgia still are struggling to make sense of how a school district recently lost its accreditation and what impact the ruling will have on the students' chances of getting into competitive colleges. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, one of the nation's major accrediting agencies, revoked the Clayton County school system's accreditation in late August after the district's leaders failed to achieve eight of nine mandates for improvement set by SACS in February. Some of the unmet mandates include establishment of a responsible school board, removal of outside influences that disrupt the district's ability to function, and adherence to a code of ethics.

SACS Chief Executive Officer Mark Elgart said the board's problems permeated the system, but that dysfunction did not directly affect the quality of learning offered by the 50,000-student district located just south of Atlanta. Revocation of accreditation, he said, was the only way to prevent further damage to that system. The last school system to lose its accreditation in the United States was Florida's Duval County in 1969.

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Referendum Climate: "Missing Step: Control Spending"

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

Wisconsin received more evidence this week that its taxes are too high.

This time the evidence arrived in a study suggesting that Wisconsin may be just a few tax cuts away from becoming one of the nation's economic hot spots.

The study, from the Pacific Research Institute in association with Forbes magazine, should give state and local policymakers new incentive to control spending so that taxes can be reduced.

The study of all 50 states, called the economic freedom index report, considered a variety of factors from tax levels to justice systems to make conclusions about how much economic freedom each state allows.

The goal was to forecast which states offer the freedom that should lead to prosperity in years to come.

The study showed that Wisconsin made the biggest leap forward among all states since a similar study was completed in 2004.

Much more on the November, 2008 Madison referendum here.

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A Look at Madison's Multi-age Classrooms

Andy Hall:

A third of the elementary classrooms in the Madison School District are multi-age. That figure, which has held steady for more than five years, makes Madison one of the biggest users of multi-age classrooms -- some educators say the largest user -- in Dane County.

Also, Madison's Sennett Middle School is in its 33rd year of offering a unique multi-age classroom setting that blends sixth, seventh and eighth graders.

"I think it really does foster that sense of family," said Sennett Principal Colleen Lodholz, who said the arrangement is so popular that several former students have returned to teach at the East Side school.

There's nothing new about putting children of more than one grade level into a single classroom.

"Look at the one-room schoolhouse. That was all multi-age. That's where we started in the United States," said Sue Abplanalp, the assistant superintendent overseeing Madison's elementary schools.

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September 20, 2008

Cultivating Algebra Enthusiasm

Michael Alison Chandler:

"Nothing like a little math to wake you up in the morning," teacher Tricia Colclaser said this month after a taxing round of word problems.

Abstract math is not known for its stirring effect on U.S. teenagers. But algebra is viewed as increasingly essential for students preparing for college or careers in a fast-changing, technology-based economy. Some advocates call it the new literacy.

Strengthening the math abilities of all students is a steep challenge. Educators must reinforce basic concepts early on, attract teachers talented enough to go beyond dictating formulas, and, not least, overcome an anti-math bias many students harbor long into adulthood, that all the hours spent mixing letters and numbers yield more punishment than possibility.

How hard can it be?

The question led this education reporter back to high school to try again, as a student in Colclaser's class. To prepare, I reviewed a recent version of Virginia's Algebra II Standards of Learning exam. The 50 questions conjured a familiar wave of anxiety but little actual math. I then fumbled through a state Algebra I test, getting at most 10 answers right.

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Education Awareness Building in Hawaii

The Learning Coalition:

Everyone seems to have an opinion about education and they seem more than happy to share it. Nelson Mandela called education the most powerful tool you can use to change the world, while Mark Twain joked that he never let his schooling interfere with his education.

One thing we can agree on: We all want our children to have the best education possible -- one that will help them to achieve their potential in life, no matter which path they choose.

Our kids in Hawaii deserve our best efforts to give them a good start on life, and we have a unique opportunity to do just that. With a culturally rich and ethnically diverse student population, Hawaii represents a microcosm of the world's future. We have teachers, principals and administrators deeply committed to equipping our children with the knowledge and skills they'll need, and parents ready to support them in their efforts. We have a Board of Education responsible for setting policies and standards to ensure all children a quality education, regardless of their economic background or ZIP code. By working together and coordinating our efforts, we have the potential to transform our island state into an educational model for others to emulate.

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Schools use treats to maximize attendance on state's annual tally date

Alan Borsuk:

It was 7:10 a.m. and the line of children and parents stretched across the gym at the Academy of Accelerated Learning, through the lobby and then down a long corridor of classrooms. Hundreds of people, families sharing a special time together, united by two things:

School and pancakes.

Oh, and one more thing: third Friday.

The pancake breakfast is a tradition at the southwest side elementary school in Milwaukee Public Schools. "There's something special about pancakes and school," said Principal Susan Miller as she cheerfully presided over the scene.

"My kids are really excited about it," said Felicia Wilson, as she waited in line with Keandra, a second-grader, and Keandre, a 5-year-old kindergartner.

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Wisconsin Governor Doyle Wants a Study of the Milwaukee Public Schools

Alan Borsuk:

Gov. Jim Doyle called Friday for "a complete evaluation of exactly where MPS is" as a first step toward any action by state government to do more for Milwaukee schools or change the way the school system is run.

"The School Board has really opened this up now," Doyle said, referring to a surprising 6-3 vote by Milwaukee School Board members Thursday night in favor of exploring the dissolving of Milwaukee Public Schools, which is under financial pressure. Such a step might leave responsibility for Milwaukee schools in the state's lap.

"I take this vote very seriously by the board and, if they are moving in this direction at all, it can only be done through state law," Doyle said in an interview. "I think we need -- everybody needs -- to have a good clear understanding of where exactly the Milwaukee schools are."

He said he wants to know whether MPS is making the best use of the money it has. He expects to announce plans for conducting such an evaluation next week.

"You can't just sort of speculate that maybe we're going to dissolve and have the state just sort of stand there," Doyle said. "We have to be prepared."

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Inside Bay Area KIPP Schools

Jay Matthews:

One of the benefits of finding public schools that work is the chance to study them and discover exactly what they are doing that other schools are not doing. Sadly, this rarely seems a blessing to the educators at those schools, who have to fill out surveys, sit for long interviews and have strangers recording their every move. Often they feel like Michael Phelps might have felt, told to take a drug test every time he won an Olympic gold medal.

I sense these often intrusive assessments have been particularly galling for many teachers at KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program). It has become the most studied school network in the country, one more indication that it is probably also the best. KIPP serves children from mostly low-income minority families at 66 schools in 19 states and the District, a network way too big for most researchers to handle. But since KIPP began to expand in 2001 from the two successful charter middle schools created by co-founders Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg, scholars have been examining pieces of the growing enterprise.

KIPP has cooperated with the research; one of its "Five Pillars" -- its philosophy of success -- is "Focus on Results." Five independent studies of KIPP have been done so far. A sixth has just been released, available at

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Some High Schools Are Dropping Out of the Advanced Placement Program

Eddy Remirez:

Some people say the AP program inhibits top teachers and students from really exploring the subject matter.

One of the nation's leading private K-12 schools, the Univer-sity of Chicago Laboratory Schools, seems poised to renounce--at least in part--the curriculum most colleges and universities look for on their applicant's transcripts: the Advanced Placement program. The school is a magnet for the children of the university's faculty; the daughters of Michelle and Barack Obama are Lab Schools students. The school believes its students might benefit more from a different history and science curriculum, one that teachers say puts less emphasis on memorization and test preparation.

But college admission officers consider the AP program to be one of the best indicators of whether students are prepared for college-level coursework. The question that high schools debating whether to stay with AP face is how to offer the most engaging experience they can while convincing admissions offices their curriculum is academically rigorous.

Dane County High School AP course offerings.

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Teens, Video Games & Civics

Amanda Lenhart Joseph Kahne Ellen Middaugh Alexandra Rankin Macgill Chris Evans Jessica Vitak:

The first national survey of its kind finds that virtually all American teens play computer, console, or cell phone games and that the gaming experience is rich and varied, with a significant amount of social interaction and potential for civic engagement. The survey was conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, an initiative of the Pew Research Center and was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The primary findings in the survey of 1,102 youth ages 12-17 include --

Game playing is universal, with almost all teens playing games and at least half playing games on a given day. Game playing experiences are diverse, with the most popular games falling into the racing, puzzle, sports, action and adventure categories.

Game playing is also social, with most teens playing games with others at least some of the time and can incorporate many aspects of civic and political life.

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Maryland Charter "School learns its lesson"

Nicole Fuller:

Since opening inside a Hanover office park three years ago, the county's only public charter school has delivered strikingly high standardized test scores and, this year, produced a semifinalist - the only one in Anne Arundel County - in a national science competition.

But Chesapeake Science Point Public Charter School has also struggled. It faced the threat of closure after it failed to adhere to the county school system's standards in special education, and in administrative and staffing matters. Fulfilling its plan to expand to include high-schoolers, the charter school expanded to ninth-graders last year but was ultimately forced to downsize back to sixth through eighth grades amid space concerns.

Though it remains on probation through June, administrators at the school said the outlook for this year is bright, pointing to improved communication with school system officials that has led to a greater understanding of expectations.

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Mentoring, in addition to metal detectors, are needed to curb violence in schools.

Milwaukee Journal - Sentinel Editorial:

The stabbing at Hamilton High School last week, in which a 15-year-old girl was attacked with a knife by another girl in a bathroom, came on the day the school was to roll out its airport-quality metal detector.

But while metal detectors can keep weapons out of schools when properly used, we believe no machine could have guaranteed this attack wouldn't have happened. Students can be attacked anywhere. In order to get a handle on violence, more mentoring is needed among at-risk youth.

The Violence-Free Zones program, now in use in seven local high schools, has been successful in reducing violence and suspensions by offering a big brother, big sister type of approach.

Police calls at and near Madison high schools: 1996-2006.

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September 19, 2008

Milwaukee Considers Dissolving School District

Alan Borsuk:

The Milwaukee School Board voted Thursday night to begin looking into dissolving the Milwaukee Public Schools system.

The completely unexpected 6-to-3 vote followed a gloomy assessment of the short- and long-term financial situation of MPS from Superintendent William Andrekopoulos and several board members.

The resolution called for the administration to examine state and federal guidelines for dissolving the school district and who would be responsible for educating children in Milwaukee if that happened.

Voting for the resolution were board members Danny Goldberg, Jennifer Morales, Jeff Spence, Bruce Thompson, Terry Falk and Tim Petersons. Voting against were Peter Blewett, Michael Bonds and Charlene Hardin.

While it is extremely far from this step to MPS going out of business -- and the action might turn out to be largely a symbolic protest of the MPS financial situation -- it was by far the board's most dramatic reaction to the pressures it is under. Those pressures include wide demands for better student achievement, a tightening money vise and the strong prospect of a double-digit increase in the property tax levy to be imposed this fall.

"We have ample evidence the current model is going to move us to ruination sooner or later," Goldberg said.

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Answer not 'No Child Left Ahead'

Cincinnati Enquirer

Advocates for gifted education say states need three things in order to serve high-ability students well: a mandate to identify them, a mandate to serve them and the money to carry out those mandates.

Very few states have all three.

Ohio is one of a handful to only have one, a mandate to identify gifted children. Indiana is one of very few to do all three, after mandating identification and service last January and putting state funds into executing those mandates. Kentucky mandates service, but under funds.

Now Ohio is stepping up its gifted education program with new standards that set minimums for minutes-per-week and students-per-classroom in gifted instruction. But some parents and gifted educators fear that, with little state money attached, schools may shrink away from serving gifted students.

It's part of a long and contentious debate on if, when and how to serve brilliant students. And it's only gotten more divisive since No Child Left Behind forced school districts to focus harder on low-achieving students or face sanctions.

Gifted advocates say the move to make everyone proficient shortchanges students who can achieve much more academically. They say there's little incentive for students to push the upper levels of achievement, and that boiling the focus down to reading and math - on which most standardized tests focus - means gifted kids often lose time in subjects they love, like science and the arts.

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College Applicants, Beware: Your Facebook Page Is Showing

John Hechinger:

High-school seniors already fretting about grades and test scores now have another worry: Will their Facebook or MySpace pages count against them in college admissions?

A new survey of 500 top colleges found that 10% of admissions officers acknowledged looking at social-networking sites to evaluate applicants. Of those colleges making use of the online information, 38% said that what they saw "negatively affected" their views of the applicant. Only a quarter of the schools checking the sites said their views were improved, according to the survey by education company Kaplan, a unit of Washington Post Co.

Some admissions officers said they had rejected students because of material on the sites. Jeff Olson, who heads research for Kaplan's test-preparation division, says one university did so after the student gushed about the school while visiting the campus, then trashed it online. Kaplan promised anonymity to the colleges, of which 320 responded. The company surveyed schools with the most selective admissions.

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History Scholar

Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review

College scholarships for specific abilities and achievements are not news. There are football scholarships and volleyball scholarships and music scholarships and cheerleading scholarships, and so on - there is a long list of sources of money to attract and reward high school students who have talent and accomplishments if those are not academic.

Consider an example: there is a high school student in Georgia, in an IB program, who spent a year and a half working on an independent study of the Soviet-Afghan War in the 1980s. This paper, a bit more than 15,000 words, with endnotes and bibliography was published in the Fall 2008 issue of The Concord Review, the only journal in the world for the academic research papers of secondary students, and it is a strong candidate for the Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize. If he were an outstanding baseball player, a number of college baseball coaches would have heard about him, and would be doing what they could to persuade him to accept an athletic (baseball) scholarship to their colleges.

But suppose he were not a HS athlete, but only a HS history students of extraordinary academic promise at the high school level. Would college professors of history know about and take an interest in his work? No. Would there be college history scholarships competing for him? No. Would his teacher, who worked with him on his independent study, attract attention from his peers at the college and university level? No.

I hope I am wrong, but based on what I have found out so far, there are no college scholarships available specifically for outstanding secondary students of history. There is abundant moaning and gnashing of teeth by edupundits and professors about the widespread ignorance of history among our young people, but when someone shows unusually strong knowledge of history at the Lower Education Level, no one pays any attention at the Higher Education Level.

In 21 years of working to publish 824 history research papers by secondary students of history from 44 states and 34 other countries in The Concord Review, I have not learned of a single instance of an author being offered a college scholarship based on their academic work in history.

When we lament that our adolescents seem more interested in sports than in academics, we might consider how differently we celebrate and reward those activities. High school coaches who are well known to and almost treated as peers by their college counterparts, receive no attention at all for their work as teachers, no matter how unusually productive that work may happen to be. Higher Education simply does not care about the academic work being done by teachers and students at the Lower Education level.

Behavioral psychology argues that by ignoring some behavior you will tend to get less of if, and by paying attention to and rewarding other behavior you are likely to find that there is more of it.

I know that students are being recruited for college scholarships in cheerleading, and I would dearly love to hear from anyone who can tell me of students being recruited for their specific academic work in a high school subject, like history, literature, physics, Chinese, chemistry and so on.

I realize there are scholarships for disadvantaged students, for students of high general intellectual ability, and the like, but where are the scholarships for specific HS academic achievement? After all, athletic and dance scholarships are not awarded on the basis of general tests of physical fitness, but because of achievement in the actual performance of particular athletic or artistic activities.

It is said that you get what you pay for, and it seems likely that you get more of what you value and reward in academics as well. If we continue to overlook and ignore the academic achievement of our secondary-level scholars of history and other subjects, that does not mean that some students will no longer work hard in their areas of academic interest. There may be fewer of them, and fewer teachers who see the point of putting in the extra coaching time with exceptionally diligent students, but if we continue down this road, at least folks in Higher Education ought to be aware that they are working just as hard to discourage good academic work at the secondary level as anyone, and they should stop complaining about the attitudes toward scholarship of the students in their classrooms, which, after all, are in part a result of their own contempt for and neglect of academic work at the secondary (aka "pre-college") level.

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

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San Diego School Board Members "Agree to Strict Behavior Rules"

Maureen Magee:

They have been mocked for being dysfunctional, chided for their infighting and, most recently, ridiculed as busybodies and micromanagers.

During the past decade, San Diego school board members have been known as much for their reforms as for their behavior on and off the dais.

Now, in the peak of campaign season - three seats are up in November - when tensions tend to run high, trustees have agreed to a strict new governence code.

Months in the making, the new policies follow several workshops and retreats aimed at improving board relations and increasing efficiency. The 46-page document outlines issues such as acceptable behavior during public forums and professional conduct in the community, with the media and in the Normal Street headquarters of the San Diego Unified School District.

Superintendent Terry Grier negotiated a "no meddling" clause in his contract, as did his predecessor Carl Cohn. But the new policies specifically elaborate on the relationship between superintendent and trustees.

For example, the superintendent "is neither obligated nor expected to follow the directions or instructions of individual board members," according to the document. Instead, directives are to come from the entire board and after a vote on any matter.

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September 18, 2008

Unprepared high school grads focus of state education hearing

Diane D'Amico:

David Morales never thought much about going to college. But in 12th grade he watched his aunt graduate from The Richard Stockton College in Galloway Town-ship.

"After seeing her succeed in everything she wanted to do and watching her face light up with her own accomplishment, this inspired me to change my mind," Morales told the state Board of Education on Wednesday.

It was too late to switch to college preparatory classes, but Morales thought that since he had received all A's and B's in his courses, he could still handle college. But when he took the Accuplacer placement test at Cumberland County College, he found he would have to take remedial courses first.

"Now I will be in school a year longer to get my degree (in radiology)," he said.

Morales was one of three current and former Cumberland County College students who spoke to the board about their high school experiences. CCC President Ken Ender brought them to the meeting to demonstrate the consequences for students who meet the current high school graduation requirements but are still not ready for college.

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Educating Migrant Children

The Economist:

How migrants fare in school, and what schools can learn from them.

MOST teachers admit that occasionally, when a lesson is going badly, they suspect the problem lies not with the subject or pedagogy, but with the pupils. Some children just seem harder to teach than others. But why? Is it because of, say, cultural factors: parents from some backgrounds place a low value on education and do not push their children? Or is it to do with schools themselves, and their capacity to teach children of different abilities?

It might seem impossible to answer such a question. To do so would require exposing similar sorts of children to many different education systems and see which does best. As it happens, however, an experiment along those lines already exists--as a result of mass migration. Children of migrants from a single country of origin come as near to being a test of the question as you are likely to find.

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Colleges spend billions to prep freshmen


It's a tough lesson for millions of students just now arriving on campus: even if you have a high school diploma, you may not be ready for college.

In fact, a new study calculates, one-third of American college students have to enroll in remedial classes. The bill to colleges and taxpayers for trying to bring them up to speed on material they were supposed to learn in high school comes to between $2.3 billion and $2.9 billion annually.

"That is a very large cost, but there is an additional cost and that's the cost to the students," said former Colorado governor Roy Romer, chair of the group Strong American Schools, which is issuing the report "Diploma to Nowhere" on Monday. "These students come out of high school really misled. They think they're prepared. They got a 3.0 and got through the curriculum they needed to get admitted, but they find what they learned wasn't adequate."

Christina Jeronimo was an "A" student in high school English, but was placed in a remedial course when she arrived at Long Beach Community College in California. The course was valuable in some ways but frustrating and time-consuming. Now in her third year of community college, she'd hoped to transfer to UCLA by now.

Like many college students, she wishes she'd been worked a little harder in high school.

"There's a gap," said Jeronimo, who hopes to study psychology. "The demands of the high school teachers aren't as great as the demands for college. Sometimes they just baby us."

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Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad's Remarks at a Dane County Public Affairs Council Event

Watch the 70 minute presentation and discussion or listen to this 29MB mp3 file

I took a few notes (with apologies for their brevity):

Dan Nerad:
Revisit strategic plan in January with local stakeholders. Preferred to lead with strategic plan but budget came first.

Hopes (MMSD) literacy programs are maintained.

He wants to listen to the community.

The District's mission is teaching and learning.

The District has several strengths and some notable weaknesses, including achievement gaps.

Schools have a broader mission than workforce development, including helping students be good people.

Achievement gap is a significant issue. There is a compelling need to face an issue that affects Madison's viability. These are not quick fix kind of issues. We need to talk more openly about this.

If I speak openly, I hope that people will be supportive of public education.

He wishes to reframe conversation around improvements for all students.

Five areas of discussion:

  1. 4k community conversation
  2. SLC grant (More here).  Use the grant to begin a conversation about high schools. The structure has been in place for over 100 years. Discussed kids who are lost in high school.
  3. Curriculum can be more workforce based. Green bay has 4 high schools aligned with careers (for example: Health care).
  4. Revisit school safety
  5. Curriculum
    - safety plan and response system
    - schools should be the safest place in the community
    - technology is not the complete answer
    - math task force; Madison high school students take fewer credits than other Wisconsin urban districts
    - reaffirms notable  math achievement gap
  6. Fine Arts task force report: Fine arts help kids do better academically,
Erik Kass, Assistant Superintendent of Business Services:
Discussed budget gaps.

Plans to review financial processes.

He previously worked as a financial analyst.

Goal is to provide accurate, honest and understandable information.

Jonathan Barry posed a useful question (46 minutes) on how the current MTI agreement prohibits participation in alternative programs, such as Operation Fresh Start ("nobody shall educate that is not a member of Madison Teachers"). Barry mentioned that a recent United Way study referenced 4,000 local disconnected youth (under 21). This topic is relevant in a number of areas, including online learning and credit for non-MMSD courses. This has also been an issue in the local lack of a 4K program.

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September 17, 2008

Wisconsin Task Forces on Arts and Creativity

New, critical support for arts education is mounting from business, government, and education. Wisconsin leaders are capitalizing on these opportunities in unparalleled ways.
For more information, read

WI Forces for 21st Century Arts Education.pdf by Karin Wolf, Arts Program Administrator, Madison Arts Commission, City of Madison, Wisconsin

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Issues 08: Education

Tom Ashbrook @ OnPoint:

Crisis in the financial markets on a scale not seen since the Great Depression. And Americans awakening to challenges that go to the bedrock of the nation's strength.

Nothing is ultimately more bedrock than the education of our children -- the readiness of our citizens and coming generations to compete and lead in a global economy. To carry the responsibilities of democracy.

Where do McCain and Obama stand? This hour, we'll ask their top advisers where McCain and Obama would lead on a basic issue for America -- education.

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Madison's Leopold Elementary School's Overcrowding in the News

Click to view a map displaying Leopold and nearby schools.

Tamira Madsen:

Five days after Madison Metropolitan School District and Madison School Board officials learn if voters approved a referendum to help finance the district budget, they're expected to vote on options to ease overcrowding at Leopold Elementary.

And those fixes, especially the long-range ones, won't be cheap.

Overcrowding at the largest elementary school in the district has been a hot-button topic the past several years, and the School Board has put the issue at the top of its priority list. Leopold had 718 students last year (new figures aren't available yet), making it more than double the size of many district elementary schools and larger even than all but one middle school.

A decision can't come quickly enough for the Leopold community, as evidenced by the 130 parents, teachers and faculty who attended a meeting Sept. 9 at the school. District officials were there to outline a variety of options (see them at they're considering for the south Madison school located on Post Road.

Distance from Leopold Elementary to:

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New school year, new programs in Minneapolis, St. Paul

James Sanna:

As a host of new charter schools opened this year in the metro area, trying to lure disaffected parents away from public school systems, both Minneapolis and St Paul public schools are rolling out new programs and programming changes to keep these families - and the state funding dollars that come with them - in the school systems. In particular, Minneapolis public schools have fired the opening salvo in a multi-year offensive against their poor reputation, with a thorough-going re-design of district high schools.

St Paul

Fortunately for St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS), the district does not have as serious a credibility problem as Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS). St Paul school board members Tom Goldstein and Keith Hardy told this reporter in July that district leadership believes not all parents want a "one-size-fits-all" public school. Some parents, Hardy said, are looking for specific types of programming, such as gender-segregated education or career-specific training in high school, and the district has to provide these or risk losing these families to charter schools.

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September 16, 2008

An Email to Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad on Credit for non MMSD Courses

Dear Superintendent Nerad:

I was rather surprised to learn today from the Wisconsin State Journal that:

"The district and the union also have quarreled over the role of MTI members in online learning for seven years. Under the new agreement, ANY (my emphasis) instruction of district students will be supervised by Madison teachers. The deal doesn't change existing practice but confirms that that practice will continue."

You are quite new to the MMSD. I am EXTREMELY disappointed that you would "cave in" to MTI regarding a long-standing quarrel it has had with the MMSD without first taking the time to get input from ALL affected parties, i.e., students and their parents as well as teachers who might not agree with Matthews on this issue. Does this agreement deal only with online learning or ALL non-MMSD courses (e.g., correspondence ones done by mail; UW and MATC courses not taken via the YOP)? Given we have been waiting 7 years to resolve this issue, there was clearly no urgent need for you to do so this rapidly and so soon after coming on board. The reality is that it is an outright LIE that the deal you just struck with MTI is not a change from the practice that existed 7 years ago when MTI first demanded a change in unofficial policy. I have copies of student transcripts that can unequivocally PROVE that some MMSD students used to be able to receive high school credit for courses they took elsewhere even when the MMSD offered a comparable course. These courses include high school biology and history courses taken via UW-Extension, high school chemistry taken via Northwestern University's Center for Talent Development, and mathematics, computer science, and history courses taken at UW-Madison outside of the YOP. One of these transcripts shows credit for a course taken as recently as fall, 2005; without this particular 1/2 course credit, this student would have been lacking a course in modern US history, a requirement for a high school diploma from the State of Wisconsin.

The MMSD BOE was well aware that they had never written and approved a clear policy regarding this matter, leaving each school in the district deciding for themselves whether or not to approve for credit non-MMSD courses. They were well aware that Madison West HAD been giving many students credit in the past for non-MMSD courses. The fact is that the BOE voted in January, 2007 to "freeze" policy at whatever each school had been doing until such time as they approved an official policy. Rainwater then chose to ignore this official vote of the BOE, telling the guidance departments to stop giving students credit for such courses regardless of whether they had in the past. The fact is that the BOE was in the process of working to create a uniform policy regarding non-MMSD courses last spring. As an employee of the BOE, you should not have signed an agreement with MTI until AFTER the BOE had determined official MMSD policy on this topic. By doing so, you pre-empted the process.

There exist dozens of students per year in the MMSD whose academic needs are not adequately met to the courses currently offered by MTI teachers, including through the District's online offerings. These include students with a wide variety of disabilities, medical problems, and other types of special needs as well as academically gifted ones. By taking appropriate online and correspondence courses and non-MMSD courses they can physically access within Madison, these students can work at their own pace or in their own way or at an accessible location that enables them to succeed. "Success for all" must include these students as well. Your deal with MTI will result in dozens of students per year dropping out of school, failing to graduate, or transferring to other schools or school districts that are more willing to better meet their "special" individual needs.

Your rush to resolve this issue sends a VERY bad message to many families in the MMSD. We were hoping you might be different from Rainwater. Unfortunately, it says to them that you don't really care what they think. It says to them that the demands of Matthews take primarily over the needs of their children. Does the MMSD exist for Matthews or for the children of this District? As you yourself said, the MMSD is at a "tipping point", with there currently being almost 50% "free and reduced lunch" students. Families were waiting and hoping that you might be different. As they learn that you are not based upon your actions, the exodus of middle class families from the MMSD's public schools will only accelerate. It will be on your watch as superintendent that the MMSD irreversibly turns into yet another troubled inner city school district. I urge you to take the time to learn more about the MMSD, including getting input from all interested parties, before you act in the future.

VERY disappointingly yours,
Janet Mertz
parent of 2 Madison West graduates

Tamira Madsen has more:

"Tuesday's agreement also will implement a measure that requires a licensed teacher from the bargaining unit supervise virtual/online classes within the district. The district and union have bickered on-and-off for nearly seven years over the virtual/online education issue. Matthews said the district was violating the collective bargaining contract with development of its virtual school learning program that offered online courses taught by teachers who are not members of MTI.

In the agreement announced Tuesday, there were no program changes made to the current virtual/online curriculum, but requirements outlined in the agreement assure that classes are supervised by district teachers.

During the 2007-08 school year, there were 10 district students and 40 students from across the state who took MMSD online courses.

Though Nerad has been on the job for less than three months, Matthews said he is pleased with his initial dealings and working relationship with the new superintendent.

"This is that foundation we need," Matthews said. "There was a lot of trust level that was built up here and a lot of learning of each other's personalities, style and philosophy. All those things are important.

"It's going to be good for the entire school district if we're able to do this kind of thing, and we're already talking about what's next."

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The Death of WKCE? Task Force to Develop "Comprehensive Assessment System for Wisconsin"

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction [150K PDF], via a kind reader's email:

Wisconsin needs a comprehensive assessment system that provides educators and parents with timely and relevant information that helps them make instructional decisions to improve student achievement," said State Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster in announcing members of a statewide Next Generation Assessment Task Force.

Representatives from business, commerce, and education will make recommendations to the state superintendent on the components of an assessment system that are essential to increase student achievement. Task force members will review the history of assessment in Wisconsin and learn about the value, limitations, and costs of a range of assessment approaches. They will hear presentations on a number of other states' assessment systems. Those systems may include ACT as part of a comprehensive assessment system, diagnostic or benchmark assessments given throughout the year, or other assessment instruments and test administration methods. The group's first meeting will be held October 8 in Madison.

A few notes:.

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Future of 'No Child' Left Behind

Maria Glod:

For the next president, one of the first domestic challenges will be to reshape the No Child Left Behind law, hailed six years ago as a bipartisan solution to America's education troubles.

But in their race for the White House, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) are distancing themselves from what has become a tainted brand.

Education experts say the candidates have offered, at best, a fuzzy vision for the future of the No Child Left Behind law. Obama pledges to "fix the failures" of the law, while McCain seeks to avoid mention of it.

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Madison Schools & Madison Teachers Union Settle Online Class Administration & Athletic Director Conflict

Wisconsin State Journal:

At a joint news conference at MTI headquarters, Madison schools Superintendent Daniel Nerad and MTI Executive Director John Matthews said the settlement resolves issues that have festered for up to eight years.

Among other things, the agreement reinstates Boyce Hodge, the longtime West High School athletic director, to that position and as coach of the boys basketball team for the current school year. The district's other three major high schools also will have full-time athletic directors.

The district and the union also have quarreled over the role of MTI members in online learning for seven years. Under the new agreement, any instruction of district students will be supervised by Madison teachers. The deal doesn't change existing practice but confirms that that practice will continue.

Tamira Madsen:
Matthews said he was pleased with the negotiations and agreements, and added that he's enjoyed working with Nerad.

"I think probably the over-reaching issue that this resolution provides is an improved problem-solving relationship between the union and the school district that's possible now with the coming of Dan Nerad as the superintendent in Madison," Matthews said.

Fascinating and an interesting look at new Superintendent Dan Nerad's approach.

Related: Madison Teachers June, 2008 Athletic Director Issue Press Release 12K PDF and Arbitrators award 222KB PDF.

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Educators focus attention on ninth-graders' transition to high school

Seema Mehta:

Because the first year of high school is considered crucial to a student's success, more campuses are sheltering freshmen in small learning communities or sometimes on separate campuses.

As Jessica McClain, 14, stood in line to get her student ID picture taken on her first official day as a Muir High School student, she was a churning mix of anticipation and anxiety.

"The campus is huge," a wide-eyed McClain said as she looked at hundreds of freshmen lined up in the school's cavernous gymnasium. "I am excited, but I'm nervous. New school. Bigger school. Bigger people."

But for McClain, freshman year will be a more intimate experience than for earlier generations. Ninth grade is crucial to a student's eventual academic success, so secondary schools across the nation, including Pasadena's Muir High, are increasingly sheltering their freshmen in small learning communities or sometimes on separate campuses.

"We really wanted to make sure our freshmen have a strong, solid foundation and are able to bond with the school," said Edwin Diaz, superintendent of the Pasadena Unified School District. "If they don't connect well in ninth grade, they tend to disappear in 10th. A high percentage drop out."

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Madison CAST November, 2008 Referendum Neighborhood & PTO Newsletter

We are asking if you would put this in your school newsletters and share it with your members as we need your help to spread the word about the referendum to your friends and neighbors. Please feel free to share the attached with your neighborhood newsletters as well.

Jackie Woodruff
Communites and Schools Together Treasurer

On November 4, 2008 voters in the Madison school district will decide on a funding referendum that is crucial to the future of our children and our community.

Good schools are the backbone of a healthy community. Our public schools are essential for expanding prosperity, creating opportunity, overcoming inequality, and assuring an informed, involved citizenry. Madison's public schools have been highly successful and highly regarded for many years. We've learned that quality public education comes from well-trained teachers, the hard work of our students and teachers, and also from a steady commitment from the community at large.

After several public forums, study, and deliberation, the Board of Education has unanimously recommended that our community go to referendum, to allow the board to budget responsibly and exceed the revenue caps for the 2009-2012 school years. The referendum is a compromise proposal in that it seeks to offset only about 60% of the estimated budget shortfall in order to keep tax increases low.

The projection is that school property taxes would increase by less than 2%. Even with increased property values and a successful referendum, most property owners will still pay less school property taxes than they did in 2001.

Most importantly, this November 4th, the voters in Madison can recommit to public education and its ideals by passing a referendum for the Madison Metropolitan School District.

Thank you so much for your work and support for Madison's Public Schools, Communities and Schools Together (CAST) - a grassroots organization devoted to educating and advocating on behalf of quality schools -- needs your help in support of the November referendum. We need volunteers to help distribute literature, put up yard signs, host house parties for neighbors, write letters to the editor--but most of all we need your support by voting YES on the referendum question.

Keep our schools and communities strong by supporting the referendum. To learn more, donate to the campaign or get involved--visit Community and Schools Together (CAST) at

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Beyond "No Child"

Anthony Brooks, Jeremy Miller, Seppy Basili, Sara Mead and Jordan Meranus:

How to improve under-achieving schools in America's poorest communities has vexed policy makers for generations. President Bush's No Child Left Behind law insists on accountability. But critics charge it encourages teaching to the test at the expense of real learning.

The law still sparks a loud argument -- but as one of our guests today writes in the current issue of Harper's magazine, there's debate that test-prep companies such as Kaplan are profiting handsomely from the federal mandate to test, and test, and test again.

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Re-examine testing of special ed students

George Skelton:

Almost half of children with special needs failed their high school exit exam this year. Legislation calls for identifying new ways to assess performance and devising new methods.

The predictable result came in last week from forcing students with disabilities to pass a high school exit exam in order to earn a diploma. Nearly half failed.

Failed. Demoralizing words for some kids who struggle daily to perform tasks most teens carry out with ease.

The psychological damage "is horrific," says Sid Wolinsky, director of litigation for Disability Rights Advocates, which fought unsuccessfully for alternative ways to measure the knowledge of special education students.

"We had dozens of sworn declarations from parents about the deep depression that their disabled children went into when they didn't pass the exit exam," Wolinsky says. "When you're a child with a disability, you start with problems of stigma, societal stereotyping and self confidence.

"Then you're shattered when you can't pass the exit exam. You blame yourself and have terrible problems with self worth."

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States hire foreign teachers to ease shortages


The school system in coastal Baldwin County -- 60 miles by 25 miles of Alabama farmland framed on two sides by waterfront towns -- was short on teachers, especially in courses such as math and science.

So short, in fact, that district officials went around the world last year, with expenses paid by a teacher recruiting firm, and brought back Michel Olalo of Manila and 11 other Filipinos to teach along the shores of the Gulf Coast and Mobile Bay and in the communities in between.

That raised some eyebrows in Baldwin County, where nine out of 10 people are white, just one in 50 is foreign-born and, as the county's teacher recruiter Tom Sisk noted recently, "Many of our children will never travel outside the United States."

Yet school administrators throughout the U.S. are plucking from an abundance of skilled international teachers, a burgeoning import that critics call shortsighted but educators here and abroad say meets the needs of students and qualified candidates.

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Talking with Jeremy Miller, Author of "Tyranny of the Test"

Benjamin Austen:

Jeremy Miller is the author of "Tyranny of the Test," the September cover story. The article, which explains how No Child Left Behind has changed the structure of our schools-and how "teaching the test" takes more away from students than it gives-was based on his years of experience working as a test-prep "coach" for Kaplan, Inc. Associate Editor Ben Austen follows up with Jeremy Miller now that the issue is on newsstands.

1. At some point last year, you decided you wanted to write about working for Kaplan in New York City's public schools. This kind of reporting, in which the participant's journalistic intentions are not made explicit, is always complicated. But the issues here seemed to be compounded by your background as a full-time classroom teacher and by your desire to succeed at a job that you increasingly saw as problematic. What were some of the difficulties you faced in reporting this story?

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September 15, 2008

Read On Wisconsin Website Launched

Via a Jessica Doyle email:

Greetings and welcome to the updated website! Read On Wisconsin, is my book club for students and book-lovers across the state. I hope you will get involved in this statewide book club by reading and discussing fascinating books. This year's top picks are recommended by students and educators across the state. Through the club, students, teachers, and parents can read and discuss award-winning books in and outside of the classroom.

I hope you will use the improved Student and Teacher Web Logs, and the Events section to keep you informed of school visits. I really encourage you to post your opinions and reactions to the books.

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Navigator's for the College Bound

Julie Bick:

WHAT may be largest high school senior class ever in the United States is applying to college this fall. And thousands of students will look beyond their high school guidance counselors to help them get into the schools of their choice.

Private educational consultants take up where overburdened high school guidance counselors leave off. Charging by the hour or offering a package of services, these consultants usually meet multiple times with a student to talk about goals for college and beyond. They synthesize information from parents, transcripts and other sources to help create a list of colleges that might be a good match. Then they guide students through the application process, reviewing essays, preparing them for interviews and keeping them organized to meet deadlines.

There are 4,000 to 5,000 private educational consultants in the United States focused on college admissions, according to Mark Sklarow, executive director of the Independent Educational Consultants Association, based in Fairfax, Va. The number has doubled in the last five years, Mr. Sklarow said, and is expected to double again in the next three to five years. Consultants are most heavily concentrated on the East and West Coasts, and in larger cities and affluent suburbs across the rest of the country.

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Colleges spend billions to prep freshmen

Justin Pope

It's a tough lesson for millions of students just now arriving on campus: even if you have a high school diploma, you may not be ready for college.

In fact, a new study calculates, one-third of American college students have to enroll in remedial classes. The bill to colleges and taxpayers for trying to bring them up to speed on material they were supposed to learn in high school comes to between $2.3 billion and $2.9 billion annually.

"That is a very large cost, but there is an additional cost and that's the cost to the students," said former Colorado governor Roy Romer, chair of the group Strong American Schools, which is issuing the report "Diploma to Nowhere" on Monday. "These students come out of high school really misled. They think they're prepared. They got a 3.0 and got through the curriculum they needed to get admitted, but they find what they learned wasn't adequate."

Christina Jeronimo was an "A" student in high school English, but was placed in a remedial course when she arrived at Long Beach Community College in California. The course was valuable in some ways but frustrating and time-consuming. Now in her third year of community college, she'd hoped to transfer to UCLA by now.

Like many college students, she wishes she'd been worked a little harder in high school.

"There's a gap," said Jeronimo, who hopes to study psychology. "The demands of the high school teachers aren't as great as the demands for college. Sometimes they just baby us."

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Massachusetts Lowers Science Standards

Worcester Telegram:

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education this week took a step back from educational excellence by approving "emergency rules" that will permit high school students to appeal for relief from the MCAS science requirement after just one failure.

The change undermines a key goal of the state's education reform effort: to ensure all high school graduates have achieved at least minimal competence in science.

An appeals process exists for English or math requirements. However, students are eligible to appeal only after failing those portions of the MCAS tests three times -- a policy that, properly, gives students an incentive to improve their skills.

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Miami-Dade Superintendent's Biggest Challenge

Kathleen McGrory:

As the new Miami-Dade schools superintendent, Alberto Carvalho will face a multitude of challenges -- among them, boosting morale among teachers and navigating a financial crisis.

But none will be as tricky -- or as paramount to his success -- as working with the sharply fractured School Board.

''There's a divided board that isn't in harmony,'' said former schools chief Merrett Stierheim. ``That's the mountain he's got to climb. And it's a very steep mountain.''

While board members were hesitant at first to appoint a permanent replacement for Rudy Crew last week, Carvalho, with a competing offer from Pinellas County in hand, told them he wouldn't accept a temporary position.

He was offered the permanent top job with a 5-3 vote.

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September 14, 2008

Want Schools to Work? Meet the Parents

Sandra Tsing Loh, making sense, continues her whirlwind media tour, this time at the Washington Post (thanks to a kind reader's email for this link):

Yea, public school parents' priorities are routinely placed below those of building inspectors, plant managers, even, given an errant bell schedule, cafeteria workers. Although, teachers are down in the bunkers with us, too. You'd be amazed how many extraordinary schoolteachers, who've served faithfully, conscientiously, daily for 40 years, just keep their heads down at this point.

Since most politicians have never dealt with U.S. public schools as customers themselves (in the same way that precious few of them put their own children in the Army), it might shock you, Mr. Future President, how poorly parents are treated out here in Public-School-Landia. You know how when you walk into a Wal-Mart or a McDonald's, someone greets you with, "Hello! May I help you?" It's startling how seldom you can expect this basic courtesy in public schools, how often we parents approaching the counter are treated as felons, or more often simply ignored by the frantically typing office-administrator-type-person. It's a peculiar thing, in this 21st century. Forget best-practice research and technology-driven classrooms. I really believe if anyone in the multibillion-dollar industry called U.S. public education were ever listening to us, improved schools would start, simply, with this: "Hello! May I help you?"

Where does this culture of committee-oriented time wastage -- even for parents who work -- spring from? Here's a clue. L.A. Unified recently faced such a budget shortfall that the district was actively recruiting potential save-our-schools spokesparents to submit their resumes and come to the central offices for "media training" if selected. Cut to the bone as it is, though, next year's budget still slates a hefty $78.8 million for consultants (last year a consultant was paid $35,000 to teach our superintendent how to use a computer). And yes, I realize that I'm getting off-message by noting that our school district wastes money.. . . That's like waving red meat in front of America's seniors, who'll probably vote to cut taxes again! Even though it's not the bureaucracy, but the children who get squeezed. That's all budget cuts mean, in the end. My kids have their assemblies on cracked asphalt. Now the cracked asphalt will have weeds.

But here's the good news, Mr. Future President. In a testament to the incredible can-do American spirit (and I mean that in the most drop-dead-serious way), activist public school parents are fighting back against U.S. public education's wasteful and unresponsive corporate "professionalism." (Remember George Bernard Shaw's quip about the professions being "conspiracies against the laity"?) City by city, homegrown "parents for public schools"-style Web sites are springing up daily, little rebel force fires on the horizon. From New York to Chicago, Seattle to San Francisco and beyond, activist parents are starting to blog their outrage over millions of education dollars wasted on non-working computer technology, non-child-centered programs and, of course, those entities whose education dollars are never, ever cut -- the standardized-testing companies.

Some years ago, I sketched a chart illustrating the influence of various factions on our nearly $400M local school system. Topping the list were Administrators of both the school system and local teachers union. Far down were teachers (think of the "downtown math police") and parents. Further still were students themselves. Taxpayers were not represented.

Observing public education rather closely for a number of years, it seems to me that all players, especially teachers, parents and students, would be better off with a far more diffused governance model (charters, smaller districts/schools, choice?).

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Performance Artist Writes 'Mother on Fire'

Scott Simon @ NPR continues the Sandra Tsing Loh media frenzy:

Artist and author Sandra Tsing Loh has a new book about her life as a mother of two young children and the agony and ecstasy of sending them to Los Angeles public schools.

Tsing Loh contrasts fine arts in the public schools versus "general music".

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School Choice Better Choice for Poor

Amy Hall:

Barack Obama, whose campaign is heavily funded by teachers unions, plans to funnel more money into the existing public education system. In this system, poor kids remain the only ones who don't get to choose which school they attend. Mr. McCain is a strong supporter of school choice and has a record of this in Arizona.

As a teacher of 30 years, I am outraged that the liberal leaders in this country pretend to champion the poor, while, through their opposition to school choice, they act to keep the poor uneducated and poor.

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Accounting change may aid November 2008 Madison referendum

Andy Hall:

More than 60 Wisconsin school districts got an earlier start than Madison did in instituting a bookkeeping change that potentially saves local property owners millions of dollars in taxes.

But led by a new superintendent and business manager, Madison last month adopted the accounting measure -- a move that school officials hope will strengthen community support for a Nov. 4 referendum.

The referendum will ask voters for a three-year series of permanent tax increases to generate $13 million to avert multimillion-dollar budget cuts.

Much more on the November 2008 referendum here.

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Get education priorities straight or fall behind

Indianapolis Star Editorial:

Hoosiers need to re-evaluate level of emphasis they place on education.

High school life for millions of teenagers in the United States is filled with football games, part-time jobs, text messages and prom. And, oh yes, a dash of biology and geometry.

While their peers in other nations dig deep into academics, many American teens seem content to skim the surface.

Or at least that's the premise of a documentary called "Two Million Minutes," which revolves around the lives of six high school seniors -- two each from China and India, and two from Carmel High School.

The documentary isn't without its critics, who contend that executive producer Robert Compton set out to make the film with a predetermined point of view. Many educators also say the film fails to note the United States' universal approach to education, in contrast to other nations' more selective practices.

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Fossil hunts, music classes, museum trips and more. Our picks for some of the best bets in educational travel

Kelly Greene:

As a kid, going back to school was never quite like this.

As part of a shipboard education program, Marty Zafman, a retired human-resources consultant, worked with Mother Teresa in Calcutta and dined in Havana -- while Fidel Castro spoke to him and his classmates for four hours.

On a hunt for fossils in Mexico, Warren Stortroen, a former insurance-claims manager, led a paleontologist and fellow diggers to the remains of a giant glyptodont, a three-million-year-old ancestor of the armadillo that's the size of a Volkswagen Beetle.

And as part of a cultural tour of Morocco this spring, Paul Tausche, a retired international marketer, rode a camel to the top of a desert dune at sunset, then enjoyed dinner and a musical performance around a campfire before retiring to a nomadic tent.

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Are Too Many People Going to College?

Charles Murray:

America's university system is creating a class-riven nation. There has to be a better way.

To ask whether too many people are going to college requires us to think about the importance and nature of a liberal education. "Universities are not intended to teach the knowledge required to fit men for some special mode of gaining their livelihood," John Stuart Mill told students at the University of St. Andrews in 1867. "Their object is not to make skillful lawyers, or physicians, or engineers, but capable and cultivated human beings." If this is true (and I agree that it is), why say that too many people are going to college? Surely a mass democracy should encourage as many people as possible to become "capable and cultivated human beings" in Mill's sense. We should not restrict the availability of a liberal education to a rarefied intellectual elite. More people should be going to college, not fewer.

Yes and no. More people should be getting the basics of a liberal education. But for most students, the places to provide those basics are elementary and middle school. E. D. Hirsch Jr. is the indispensable thinker on this topic, beginning with his 1987 book Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know. Part of his argument involves the importance of a body of core knowledge in fostering reading speed and comprehension. With regard to a liberal education, Hirsch makes three points that are germane here:

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September 13, 2008

The "Well Equipped Teen", circa 2008

Spotted at a recent swim meet. What was it in my day? An AM Radio?

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New Berlin board agrees to sell school to new air co-ed Military Academy

Erin Richards:

A Union Grove resident who has tried for 2 1/2 years to start a private, co-ed military school for sixth- through 12th-graders in southeastern Wisconsin may have finally found a home for the school - the old Prospect Hill Elementary School near the intersection of Racine and National avenues.

New Berlin's School Board agreed this week to sell the property at 5330 S. Racine Ave. for $1.25 million to Jeff Starke, a retired U.S. Navy serviceman and lieutenant in the volunteer Civil Air Patrol who is eager to launch his Wisconsin Air Academy.

Starke's quest to create a day academy and boarding school for middle school and high school students, a venture that even experts in the field say is a tough business, has been fraught with difficulties.

Plans for sites in three municipalities have fallen through because of legalities, municipal demands or neighborhood opposition. Two contracting firms are suing Starke over development issues, and Bill Orris, the Wisconsin Air Academy's intended president and dean of admissions, was fired mid-year from his last job as dean of admissions at the Florida Air Academy, according to that school's president, James Dwight.

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Becoming an Autism Educator

Christine Gralow:

For the first time in my six-year teaching career, I am not completely freaked out by going back to school. I have, however, more than paid my dues to reach this stage of teacher emotional stability. In my first year of teaching, I freaked out not only in September, but pretty much every day (and well into every night) of the school year. At the time, I taught teenagers with learning disabilities in the South Bronx, including many emotionally disturbed students. I somehow managed to stick it out, and the next year, I met a Bronx teenager who would change my life and set me on my current career path.

Jeremy has Asperger's syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism. As guilty as I feel admitting this as a teacher, there's no denying that Jeremy was my favorite student. He may always be. While other teachers seemed exasperated by Jeremy's autistic quirks, I got along with him easily. We hung out during lunch. He fixed the classroom computers and shared his unique life insights. He also easily passed a New York State Science Regents exam on his first try, which quickly shifted the school administration's attitude from, "We have to get rid of this kid," to, "We need this kid for our numbers." Sadly, Jeremy didn't exactly receive a stellar public education in the Bronx. I often wondered how much further he could have gone had he received stronger educational support from an early age.

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An Innovative Program That Could Serve as a Model for At Risk Children

Paul Tough:

The reason I think the Harlem Children's Zone is so important--the reason I wrote a whole book about the program--is that I think it's the closest thing we have to a model for the kind of collaboration I was referring to yesterday.

What Geoffrey Canada has constructed in Harlem is a comprehensive set of integrated programs that currently serve 8,000 kids in a 97-block neighborhood, starting at birth and going all the way through college. It is based on two innovative ideas. The first is what Canada calls the Conveyor Belt--a system that reaches kids early and then moves them through a seamless series of programs that try to re-create the invisible cocoon of support that surrounds middle-class and upper-middle-class kids throughout their childhoods. The Conveyor Belt starts with Baby College, a nine-week program that provides expecting parents and parents of young children with new information about effective parenting strategies. The next stop is an all-day language-focused pre-kindergarten for 200 4-year-olds, who then graduate into a K-12 charter school that has an extended day and an extended year and employs some of the intensive academic practices developed in the KIPP schools. Throughout their academic careers, students at the school have access to social supports: after-school tutoring, a teen arts center, family counseling, and a health clinic.

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To Raise Smart and Successful Children, Focus on Developing a Work Ethic


In one of Kurt Vonnegut's most enduring short stories, Harrison Bergeron, everyone is finally equal thanks to the efforts of the Handicapper General. However, one of the many lasting messages of the story is a derisive one. In the futuristic world of Harrison Bergeron, accomplishment is no longer the measure of stature. Instead, it is all about trying, of recognizing effort, regardless of result.

However, a recent summary of three decades of research reveals that when it comes to raising smart children, developing their work ethic is in fact the most critical component. Whether it is success in school or in life, research indicates that innate intelligence and ability are simply not as important as a person's level of effort.

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South Dakota Schools "Adequately Funded"

Chet Brokaw:

State Education Secretary Rick Melmer testified Thursday he believes South Dakota's school districts get enough money.

"Do I believe they're adequately funded? The answer is yes," Melmer said in the trial of a lawsuit challenging the state's education funding system.

Melmer was called as a witness by lawyers representing parents and children who filed the lawsuit. They are supported by nearly 100 of the state's 168 school districts. The education secretary also will testify as an expert witness for the state when state lawyers start presenting their defense to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges the state is violating the South Dakota Constitution by underfunding public school districts, but the state contends the funding system is constitutional and provides students with adequate opportunity.

This must be a first, coming from an education Administrator.

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September 12, 2008

Madison School District & Teacher's Union Near "Comprehensive Settlement" of Old Grievances

Andy Hall:

The Madison School District and Madison Teachers Inc., the teachers union, may be nearing a wide-ranging settlement on staffing issues that have divided them for up to eight years.

"I would say it is a big deal and that's about all I can tell you at the moment," MTI Executive Director John Matthews said Friday afternoon. "I just feel compelled to keep my mouth shut. That's the agreement I reached with the superintendent so I'm not going to violate it."

Matthews said he expects to announce details at a news conference early next week with Madison schools Superintendent Daniel Nerad.

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Bellevue, WA Teacher Strike: District Offers Teachers a 5% Raise over 3 Years

Lynn Thompson:

The Bellevue School District increased its salary offer to teachers in a late-night bargaining session Thursday.

The total pay raise would be 5 percent over the three-year contract.

Union officials praised the move and said they planned to hold an "optimism" rally at Crossroads Park in Bellevue today while bargaining was expected to continue.

"It's a move in the right direction," said Michele Miller, Bellevue Education Association president.

The school district initially offered teachers 3 percent in wage increases over the three-year contract but raised the offer to 4.5 percent last week, saying the increase was contingent on voter approval of a levy in the third year of the contract.

Bellevue, WA Teacher Salary Schedule with 2008-2009 District Offer: 16k PDF

Curriculum is also an issue in this strike [32K PDF]:

Language Arts 4th - 12th grade: Many teachers believe there far too few lessons on punctuation and grammar. You cannot add lessons in these areas, since that might supplant the scripted lesson goal of the day.

Middle School Math: Since the district only allows one level of math at each grade in Middle School, there are many bored and overwhelmed students simultaneously stuck in the same class. The District's current curriculum proposal wouldn't allow a teacher to develop entirely new topics of instruction to engage the bored students. Additionally, while teachers would be allowed to make small adjustments for struggling kids, they couldn't use those changes the following year without the approval of the Curriculum Department.
Certainly, Math and writing skills are fertile ground for curriculum controversy.

I asked Madison's three superintendent candidates earlier this year if they supported a "top down" curricular approach or, simply hiring the best teachers. It's hard to imagine a top down approach actually working in a large organization.

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When Achievement Push Comes to Shove

Jay Matthews:

We have some of the top schools in the country in Arlington County. Is there some point with our children at which we could back off and not continue to push for rising achievement, an official goal of the county schools? Is there a way we can say, good enough is good enough?

My oldest son is in middle school. He is a talented but not gifted math student. Midway through this past school year, it was clear that he was not ready for algebraic thinking, and his seventh-grade math teacher compassionately helped us help him decide to move back to a more appropriate math level. Because I teach human development, I was able to help him understand that this wasn't about being dumb, but a developmental marker he had not yet hit. He moved back to repeat the math class he took last year.

Now I have a boy who is not enthusiastic about math. He doesn't believe he is good at it and doesn't think math is fun, all because we want rising achievement for all students.

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Young, inexperienced teachers recruited to New Orleans

Greg Toppo:

Amid the tag-team commotion of three new teachers prepping a science class for summer school finals one recent morning, one teacher sits alongside a student for what seems an eternity.

The exchange is perfectly ordinary, except that in post-Katrina New Orleans, little is ordinary.

The student, a young mother forced to move four times in the 15 months after the storm, is 20 years old.

Her teacher is 22.

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'Promoting social justice' not our job, says Cambridge official

Gregory Katz:

The government should provide more money for higher education but should not meddle or try to use Britain's universities to enhance social mobility, a senior official at the University of Cambridge told other educators Wednesday.

Vice-Chancellor Alison Richard called for greater government funding for Britain's colleges and universities, warning that the United States, China, and many other countries spend a far higher percentage of their national wealth on schooling.

"As institutions charged with education research and training, our purpose is not to be construed as that of handmaidens of industry, implementers of the skills agenda, or indeed engines for promoting social justice," she said, calling for the "independence and autonomy" of Britain's universities to be maintained.

Richard was speaking at the opening of the annual Universities U.K. conference, held this year at Cambridge to focus on questions of funding. She emphasized the need for universities to be free to set their own educational and financial policies without outside interference.

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September 11, 2008

2008 Presidential Candidates & School Choices

Sandra Tsing Loh:

As usual, Bruce Fuller and Lance Izumi , my fellow Education Watch contributors, make some fascinating points, none more startling to me than Lance's casual throw-away that Barack Obama sends his children to private school. As a rabid public school Democrat, I crumpled in despair at the news.

Look, I am not in politics, I get no money from foundations, I do not get invited to lecture on third world eco-sustainability on luxury cruises. I have no highly placed blue-state friends and I will soon be a divorced woman because my die-hard Democratic husband will not brook any dissent, public or private, about our party.

Candidate websites: Bob Barr, McCain/Palin, McKinney/Clemente, Obama/Biden

Megan Mcardle @ the Atlantic has more.

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WHERE WE STAND: America's Schools in the 21st Century

Via a kind reader's email:

Monday, September 15th
9:00 p.m. on Milwaukee Public Television (Channel 10)
11:00 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television stations

In 1995, America's college graduation rate was second in the world. Ten years later, it ranked 15th. As so many nations around the world continue to improve their systems of education, America can no longer afford to maintain the status quo. In an ever-changing, increasingly competitive global economy, is the U.S. doing all it can to prepare its students to enter the workforce of the 21st century and ensure our country's place as a world leader?

WHERE WE STAND: America's Schools in the 21st Century examines the major challenges for U.S. schools in the face of a changing world. Divided into five segments, topics include globalization; measuring student progress; ensuring that all students achieve; the current school funding system, and teacher quality.

WHERE WE STAND is airing at a critical time in our country's history. Along with its companion website and a variety of dynamic outreach activities across the country, the program will inspire a national dialogue in the weeks prior to the November elections. Nationally recognized education experts and leading proponents of educational reform will put these examples in context. They include Geoffrey Canada, CEO of the Harlem Children's Zone; Diane Ravitch, education historian; Wendy Puriefoy, President of Public Education Network; Chester Finn, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institute; Rick Hess, Director of Education Policy Studies, AEI; Michael Rebell, Executive Director of the Campaign for Educational Equity; and Sharon Lynn Kagan, Associate Dean for Policy, Teacher's College at Columbia University.

WHERE WE STAND introduces students, parents, teachers and administrators whose stories illustrate the overwhelming odds and shining successes of education in America. They include Bin Che, an educator from mainland China who teaches Mandarin in rural Ohio; Cherese Clark, principal of a high-poverty school struggling under the pressure of low test scores; Alex Perry, who, at age 16, has already taken three college-level math classes, and Finnish exchange student Anne Kuittinen, who earns no school credit for her year in the U.S. despite her straight-A record.

Hosted by Judy Woodruff, Senior Correspondent for The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, the documentary visits a range of socioeconomic and geographic school districts. The program features schools in Ohio, an important swing state, but this program is about all of our schools and where they stand.

Where We Stand: America's Schools in the 21st Century companion website ( <> ) launches on September 15th in conjunction with the premiere. The program can be streamed in its entirety online.

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American Federation of Teachers Initiates School Reform Plan

Greg Toppo:

Education reformers have long criticized the big teachers unions for blocking efforts to shake up public school bureaucracies, but a new, $1 million campaign from one of the largest may help put some of that criticism to rest.

The American Federation of Teachers, the USA's second-largest teachers union, plans to announce today it will put up $1 million and seek additional philanthropic funding to help school systems try "sustainable, innovative and collaborative reform projects" developed by AFT teachers over the past several years.

AFT has more than 1.4 million members; about half currently work in schools.

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How One's 'Number Sense' Helps With Mathematics

Rob Stein:

Scientists have for the first time established a link between a primitive, intuitive sense of numbers and performance in math classes, a finding that could lead to new ways to help children struggling in school.

A study involving 64 14-year-olds found that the teenagers who did well on a test that measured their "number sense" were much more likely to have gotten good grades in math classes.

"We discovered that a child's ability to quickly estimate how many things are in a group significantly predicts their performance in school mathematics all the way back to kindergarten," said Justin Halberda, an assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at Johns Hopkins University who led the research, published online yesterday by the journal Nature. "It was very surprising."

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Plugging In, Tuning Out
The digital culture has changed the way kids learn, but at the expense of literacy and cultural awareness.

Don Campbell:

I ask students on the first day of my journalism classes to fill out a questionnaire. Most questions inquire about their interest in journalism and any experience they have that is journalism-related. One question is: "What do you read, at least fairly regularly?"

Used to be, they would say The New York Times or Newsweek or Sports Illustrated. A few would list the local newspaper, or The New Yorker or The Economist to impress me. In recent years, the answers more often have been,, blogs and other Internet offerings.

And then, at the beginning of the last semester, a student who claimed to be interested in journalism wrote this about what she reads: "Nothing."

Her answer astonished me but shouldn't have, because it epitomized the lack of intellectual curiosity in students that I have noticed in recent years, along with a decline in such basic skills as grammar, spelling and simple math. A sense of history? History is what happened since they left middle school.

As both a teacher and a father of two multi-tasking teenage daughters, I had long suspected that something was going on. While some students seem just as smart or smarter than they did 15 years ago, I'm also confronted with college sophomores who can't identify Henry Kissinger or perform simple percentage exercises; who argue, as one did, that misspelling someone's name was no big deal because I knew who she meant; students who begin sentences with lower-case letters and embellish news stories by adding their own facts.

Thanks to a kind fellow traveller for pointing this out.

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School District Steps Back from Controversial Math Curriculum

Janese Heavin via a kind reader's email:

Columbia Public Schools' chief academic officer said the district is ready to compromise with the community when it comes to elementary math. But Sally Beth Lyon, who oversees district curricula, stopped short of saying concepts-based math would be replaced by a more traditional program.

"We're going to figure out how to get something done so we can all move forward," she told the Tribune. "We're still at the table and will discuss the best way to move forward and include and acknowledge the community concerns we're hearing."

Lyon's comments followed last night's Board of Education meeting, where board member Ines Segert accused the district of appointing people to district math committees who are biased toward investigative math programs and not appointing mathematicians who favor more traditional math instruction.

Segert cited three University of Missouri math education professors who serve on district committees and have received grant funds to train Columbia teachers how to use concepts-based math materials. "They instruct teachers in a certain ideology that happens to be used in these textbooks we have in class," said Segert, a vocal advocate of returning traditional math to classrooms.

Lyon's comments followed what was almost a scolding from board member Ines Segert during last night's board meeting. Segert criticized the district for appointing math education professors on math committees who seem to benefit from investigative math curriculum. She also accused the district of giving people incomplete data and summaries that skew results to justify current practices.

Lyon denied that anyone making curricula decisions receive district dollars. Any grant money they get comes from federal and state sources, she said.

Related: Madison School District Math Task Force Discussion.

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More on the Waukesha School District's Investment Difficulties

Amy Hetzner:

Trouble with a complex investment to help pay for retirement benefits has spread to other areas of the Waukesha School District's bottom line, driving up the cost of a routine borrowing transaction by more than $300,000 this year, a district official estimated.

nterim business manager, said the district will pay about 1 percentage point more in interest on a $26 million short-term bond issue because of a recent decision by Moody's Investors Service to downgrade its outlook to negative from stable. That translates to $260,000.

In addition, the district is paying $60,000 more in fees related to disclosures about its investment and a change in both financial adviser and bound counsel for the deal, Demerath said. The transaction is scheduled to be voted on tonight by the Waukesha School Board.

Demerath attributed the extra costs to the district's 2006 investment in controversial financial instruments known as collateralized debt obligations, which have plummeted in value over the last year and could lead to legal action.

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Obama & McCain on Federalism & Schools

Sam Dillon:

Senator Barack Obama learned how hard it can be to solve America's public education problems when he headed a philanthropic drive here a decade ago that spent $150 million on Chicago's troubled schools and barely made a dent.

Drawing on that experience, Mr. Obama, the Democratic nominee for president, is campaigning on an ambitious plan that promises $18 billion a year in new federal spending on early childhood classes, teacher recruitment, performance pay and dozens of other initiatives.

In Dayton, Ohio, on Tuesday, Mr. Obama used his education proposals to draw a contrast with Senator John McCain, his Republican opponent, and to insist to voters that he, more than his rival, would change the way Washington works.

Were he to become president, Mr. Obama would retain the emphasis on the high standards and accountability of President Bush's education law, No Child Left Behind. But he would rewrite the federal law to offer more help to high-need schools, especially by training thousands of new teachers to serve in them, his campaign said. He would also expand early childhood education, which he believes gets more bang for the buck than remedial classes for older students.

Sam Dillon:
Among his short list of initiatives, Mr. McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, includes bonus pay for teachers who raise student achievement or who take jobs in hard-to-staff schools, an expansion of after-school tutoring, and new federal support for online schools and for the voucher program in Washington, D.C.

The brevity of Mr. McCain's plan reflects his view that the federal government should play a limited role in public education, and his commitment to holding the line on education spending, said Lisa Graham Keegan, a McCain adviser and former Arizona education commissioner.

"Education is obviously not the issue Senator McCain spends the most time on," Ms. Keegan said, adding that his plan's limited scope should not be interpreted as a lack of commitment to education and school reform. "He's been a quiet and consistent supporter of parents and educators who he thinks are making a difference."

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9% of state students habitually truant

Dani McClain:

More than 9% of Wisconsin's students had at least five unexcused absences a semester in the 2006-'07 school year, according to a report released today by the state Legislative Audit Bureau.

The report, a statewide review of best practices in public school districts' truancy reduction efforts, also found that nearly half of all Milwaukee Public Schools students, 46%, are habitually truant. The district has worked with the Milwaukee Police Department since 1993 to operate the Truancy Abatement and Burglary Suppression program.

470K PDF Report

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September 10, 2008

Property Tax Effect - Madison School District

As the cost of running the district continues to rise, and as Madison homeowners and families find it increasingly difficult to make ends meet, it is easy to think that our property taxes are also ever rising. But that's not the case, at least as regards the portion that goes toward our schools. Over the past 15 years, the schools' portion of Madison property taxes has declined 6%, on average. The decrease is 9% if you adjust for today's higher enrollment figures (1993 = 23,600; 2007 = 24,200). And it plunges to a 36% decrease if you adjust for inflation; (a dollar today is worth 30% less than it was 15 years ago).

The chart below, based on local funding of MMSD and data from the city assessor's office, shows the recent history of school mill rates, the rate that is applied to your assessed property value to determine how much you contribute towards Madison schools (10 mills = 1.0% of the assessed property value). The reported rate has dropped from 20 mills to 10, but property values have doubled thanks to the general rise in home prices (termed "revaluations" by the assessor's office), so the rate is more appropriately captured below by the "Net of Revaluations" line. That line is then adjusted for school enrollment (the red line), and inflation (the heavier blue line).

There are three important caveats to the above statements: 1.) school taxes are lower on average, but if your home has increased in value by more than about 110% since 1993, then you will be paying more for schools; 2.) it is the schools portion of property taxes that is lower on average; the remaining portion of property taxes that pays for the city, Dane County, Wisconsin, and MATC, has risen; 3.) other sources of Madison school funding (state and federal funds, and grants and fees) have also gone up; (I have not done the much more complicated calculation of real increase in funding there).

That the infamous schools' portion of property taxes has declined over these past 15 years is quite a surprising result, and certainly counterintuitive to what one might expect. How is this possible? First, the school finance structure put in place by the state years ago has worked, at least as far as holding down property taxes. The current structure allows about a 2% increase in expense each year, consistent with the CPI (Consumer Price Index) at the state level. (In fact, local funding of the MMSD has increased from $150 million in 1993 to $209 million in 2007, equivalent to about a 2.4% increase each year.) Of course, the problem is that same structure allows for a 3.8% wage hike for teachers if districts wish to avoid arbitration, an aspect that has essentially set an effective floor on salary increases (with salaries & benefits representing 84% of the district budget). The difference between the revenue increases and the pay increases, about 1-2% annually, is why we face these annual painful budget quandaries that can only be met by cuts in school services, or by a referendum permitting higher school costs, and taxes.

The second reason today's property taxes are lower than they have been historically is growth, in the form of new construction (i.e. new homes & buildings, as well as remodelings). What we each pay in school property taxes is the result of a simple fraction: the numerator is the portion of school expenses that is paid through local property taxes, while the denominator is the tax base for the entire city (actually the portion of Madison and neighboring communities where kids live within the MMSD). The more the tax base grows, the larger the denominator, and the more people and places to share the property taxes with. Since 1993, new construction in Madison has consistently grown at about 3% per year. Indeed, since 1980 no year has ever seen new construction less than 2.3% nor more than 3.9%. So every year, your property taxes are reduced about 3% thanks to all the new construction in town. I leave it to the reader to speculate how much the pace of new construction and revaluations will decline if the schools here should decline in quality.

FYI, the figure below shows how new construction and revaluations have behaved in Madison since 1984, as well as total valuations (which is the sum of the two).

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Stained-glass window will honor school library aide

Andy Hall:

One year ago today, as she walked across Cherokee Drive to her job, school library assistant Becky Sue Buchmann was killed by a motorist dropping off his son at Cherokee Middle School.

Buchmann, 48, parked across the street from the Near West Side school on Cherokee Drive -- a common practice for staff at the school -- and was hit as she walked across to the school mid-block.

Since then, students and staff have raised thousands of dollars to build a stained glass window in her honor, but the traffic patterns outside the school remain unchanged.

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Memorial, West top state in National Merit semifinalists

Tamira Madsen:

Students from Madison Memorial and Madison West continued a tradition of academic excellence among their peers in Wisconsin, as semifinalists were announced Wednesday for the 2009 National Merit Scholarships. Twenty-six students each from Memorial and West qualified in the prestigious nationwide competition, the most students from any other high school in the state.

Among other Madison schools, eight students qualified from Edgewood, six from East, two from La Follette and one home-schooled student also qualified, for a total of 60 National Merit semifinalists from the city.

It's the sixth year in a row that at least 60 or more district students have qualified at the semifinalist level. Sixty-two students qualified in 2007, 67 in 2006 and 60, 69 and 67 students the three preceding years.

Superintendent Dan Nerad said he was pleased to learn about the students' achievements.

"It's very exciting," Nerad said in a telephone interview. "First of all, I think it's a remarkable performance for these students, and obviously, we're proud of their performance. The kids in the school district are high-performing kids, once again, we continue to see how they're doing.

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Catering to the Teenage Reader

Jay Matthews:

As a child, I always enjoyed reading. But when high school teachers began to demand that I analyze what I read, I resisted. Was it really necessary to drag symbolic modes out of the lively dialogue of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," or painstakingly dissect all the relationships in "The Great Gatsby"?

In the Outlook section of the Aug. 24 Post, Nancy Schnog, an English teacher at the private McLean School in Potomac, rushes to the defense of reading-for-fun adolescents like me. She suggests the traditional way of teaching her subject should be discarded -- a notion that occurs to her after she sees stacks of works by Charles Dickens, John Steinbeck and Zora Neale Hurston on a bookstore table labeled "summer reading." She also questions her own decision to ask her students to read British Romantic poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge for two weeks after a month's study of American transcendentalists.

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Goal by Goal

Steven Davis:

I WAS born and raised in Milwaukee, the youngest of five children. My mother worked as a postal clerk, and my father was a welder and line supervisor.

My parents set a goal that all of their kids would go to college. All five of us have college degrees. My mother had started college at 16, but had finished only a year and half when her mother became ill and she had to quit. My father never had the means to go to college.

Recently, my mother told me, "Our best friends were the people at our credit union." My parents borrowed money at the beginning of each school year and hurried to try to pay back that loan before the next school year started.

Their unspoken message was that the sky is the limit. They never said that because you are an African-American, you can go only this far or do only this or that. They just said, "Go for it."

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Does Spending More on Education Improve Academic Achievement?

Dan Lips & Shanea Watkins:

Debates about how to improve public education in America often focus on whether government should spend more on education. Federal and state policy makers proposing new education programs often base their arguments on the need to provide more resources to schools to improve opportunities for students.

Many Americans seem to share this view. Polling data show that many people believe that government allocates insufficient resources to schools. A poll conducted annually from 2004 through 2007 found that American adults list insufficient funding and resources as a top problem facing public schools in their communities.[1]

While this view may be commonly held, policy makers and citizens should question whether histori cal evidence and academic research actually support it. This paper addresses two important questions:

How much does the United States spend on public education?

What does the evidence show about the relationship between public education spending and stu dents' academic achievement?

The answers to these questions should inform federal and state policy debates about how best to improve education.

Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia face budget shortfalls totaling approximately $48 billion for fiscal year 2009.[2] Even more states could face shortfalls in the near future. At the federal level, long-term budgets face a challenging fiscal climate. Pro jected growth of entitlement programs is expected to place an ever-increasing burden on the federal budget, limiting the resources available for other purposes, including education.[3]

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

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Teach for America hopes to place teachers in Milwaukee

Alan Borsuk & Dani McClain:

With the announcement of a $1 million grant from the Waukesha-based Kern Family Foundation on Monday, Teach for America stands on the brink of opening operations here, with the goal of putting 30 teachers in Milwaukee Public Schools classrooms by next fall.

The arrival of Teach for America, a national force in motivating high-caliber college graduates to teach in low-performing urban schools, would bolster efforts by prominent education organizations to improve the quality of new MPS teachers and principals.

Three other nationally significant organizations have begun recruiting or training new teachers and principals in MPS, and the School Board and MPS administration have been open to all of their efforts.

The surge of interest could be shown simply by listing the panelists at a Monday luncheon of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, an influential community group:

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Public TV documentary details Green Bay East High School shooting threat in 2006

Warren Gerds:

Coming at a difficult topic from many angles, a new TV documentary examines the 2006 threats of violence against Green Bay East High School.

"Any School, Any Time" is a compelling hour.

It seeks balance and perspective in a case where deadly harm appears to have been averted.

Everything is told through a sophisticated technique that uses no narration, which could take on a slant. Rather, only the voices of people interviewed or recorded in news conferences, court or jail are heard.

Also, instead of quick sound bites, key people are allowed to be heard at length so explanations are fleshed out. This includes the Brown County district attorney, a representative of the U.S. Secret Service, Green Bay police chief, defense attorneys, a forensic psychiatrist and presiding judge.

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Some Texas school districts trying to bump up taxes

Terrance Stutz:

Two years after the Legislature cut school property taxes by a third, more than 100 school districts - including several from North Texas - will try to persuade voters this fall to bump their tax rates back up.

And a majority of those districts have found a way to avoid a tax rate election on the same day as the Nov. 4 general election, improving their prospects for voter approval of higher property taxes. Most are holding elections in early October.

The 103 school districts - about one in 10 statewide - say they are being squeezed financially and have to increase taxes to meet basic expenses and give their teachers a pay raise. Among them are the Austin and Corpus Christi districts.

"Most districts are hurting," said Clayton Downing, president of the Texas School Coalition and former superintendent of Lewisville schools, noting that many districts in need of more revenue probably decided against a tax rate election this year because of the worsening economy.

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The Freshman 15

Washington Post:

The parents are gone. You've unpacked everything from your bins. Now the nerves, homesickness and restlessness are setting in. Leaving home for college requires a twofold acclimation: one to campus and one to the area where you now live. We can't help you become comfortable at school, but here we point out some things you should know about visiting and living in Washington. None of these bits of advice will blow your mind, but maybe they'll make your first semester easier or more interesting, or at least make you laugh. Which is how you'll get through this year anyway.

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September 9, 2008

Madison Schools' Math Task Force Discussion

25MB mp3 audio file from the September 8, 2008 meeting.


Complete 3.9MB PDF Report

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Rhee's 'Plan B' Targets Teacher Quality
Strategy Might Include New Evaluation Process, Linking Licenses to Classroom Performance

Bill Turque:

Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee is preparing to bypass the Washington Teachers' Union in pursuit of the objective she considers essential to overhauling the District's public schools: the power to fire at will teachers she deems ineffective.

What she calls "Plan B" involves a more aggressive use of powers she already has and that are not subject to contract negotiations with the union. These could include strengthening the existing system of annual personnel evaluations that spell out procedures for terminating teachers.

Rhee is also positioned to benefit from a potentially groundbreaking revision that has unfolded largely outside public view during contract talks. It would make the District school system one of the few in the country to link the licensing of teachers to their classroom performance, rather than their academic credentials. New rules, scheduled to go into effect this week, would grant State Superintendent of Education Deborah A. Gist the discretion to create an advanced teaching credential specifying the bench marks instructors would have to meet to keep their jobs.

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Performance-Pay Plans Leave Teachers Divided

Larry Abramson:

Two major urban school districts are working on new teacher contracts that could help decide the future of performance pay -- which some consider the "flavor of the month" in education reform.

Public school administrators in the District of Columbia and Denver say their plans to reward effective teachers are the best way to raise teacher pay and improve student performance. But teachers are not always quick to agree.

D.C. Chancellor of Schools Michelle Rhee says teachers are getting a shot at an incredible pay increase.

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Prep Huddle: Who has toughest job? It's the kids

Rob Hernandez:

Sure, it's no picnic trying to keep tabs on the many teams from the 119 high schools in 19 conferences around Southern Wisconsin that we try to cover.

But I doubt it's the most difficult job in high school sports.

Of course, that begs th�e question: Who has the toughest job in high school sports?

Is it WIAA executive director Doug Chickering, who must deal with a growing roster of high school sports advocates and their conflicting agendas?

Is it the school board members who love the exposure their district gets when a team makes it to a state tournament but wish someone else would pay the expense of getting them on the field?

Is it the parents who believe their child is being mishandled by their coach and have enough class not to say anything to avoid embarrassing themselves or their child?

Is it the parents who decide to make a stink about the situation, successfully orchestrate the removal of the coach and watch the team struggle to a 2-19 record the next season?

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Colorado Amendment 59: does it shore up education or undermine TABOR?

Benry Morson:

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Amendment 23, approved by voters in 2000, required funding increases to raise the state's support for public schools to the national average.

But when Colorado's economy soured in the early part of this decade, legslators found themselves slashing other programs -- such as health care and higher education -- to keep the promise to public schools.

Amendment 59 on the Nov. 4 ballot would resolve that problem in the future by creating a savings account for schools to be filled when economic times are good and spent when times are bad.

During those lean years, the legislature balanced the budget with "a lot of baling wire and duct tape," said House Speaker Andrew Romanoff. "This (Amendment 59) is a much more responsible way to balance the budget."

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Teacher Compensation Generation Gap

Paul Tough:

ne striking phenomenon revealed by the Denver negotiations was a generational split among teachers. Younger teachers were generally in favor the deal being offered, and older teachers tended to oppose it. (Some veteran teachers told the Denver Post that they felt "dissed.")

A similar generational divide has appeared in D.C., where, as the Washington Post reported last month,

many of the District's 4,000 public school teachers are locked in a heated debate over Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's proposal to offer salaries exceeding $100,000 for those willing to give up job security and tie their fates to student achievement. ... The split in the teaching corps largely, but not exclusively, is occurring along generational lines, with younger teachers more willing to accept the risks and older ones often questioning the proposal.

The Post story mentioned an anonymous young teacher-blogger, "D.C. Teacher Chic," who is a fan of Chancellor Rhee and is decidedly in favor of her new deal (under which teachers could choose a "green plan" that would trade tenure for a higher salary or a more traditional "red plan"). Her blog--often funny, usually outraged--offers a great insight into the mind of a teacher on the young side of this growing generational divide.

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Sex ed in schools: Little connection between what's taught, teen behavior

Sharon Jayson:

Another pregnant teenager in the limelight has focused new attention on just how much teens know about sex and when they know it.

This pregnant teen, of course, is the 17-year-old daughter of Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, and the pregnancy has reignited the national debate over two different approaches to sex education: abstinence-only vs. comprehensive. But as it turns out, there's no systematic tracking of what U.S. schools are teaching kids about sex -- and either way, there seems to be little connection between what they're taught and their behaviors, researchers say.

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September 8, 2008

Madison West senior nearly wins reality show

Gayle Worland:

Madison West High School senior Tierney Chamberlain nearly made it to the top of the class Monday night in the ABC reality TV series "High School Musical: Get in the Picture."

Chamberlain, 17, was runner-up to first-place winner Stan Carrizosa of Visalia, Calif., in the show, a prime-time spinoff to Disney's phenomenally successful "High School Musical" film series. The TV finale was taped late this summer in Los Angeles; Chamberlain watched it at home in Madison with her family and a few friends, she said after the broadcast.

In her first solo performance on Monday's show, Chamberlain, wearing a red full-length dress, sang a jazzy rendition of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" -- a performance she was happy with, she told show host Nick Lachey after the song.

"I think I made my mom cry," she said, as cameras briefly cut away to shots of her family in the audience.

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We scrutinize MPS because we care about the community

Thomas Koetting:

Q. It seems sometimes that the Journal Sentinel does nothing but bash the Milwaukee Public Schools. There are a lot of people working for MPS who work hard to make a difference in kids' lives. They are writing grant proposals to make it possible for kids to attend camps they couldn't otherwise attend, and creating programs to keep kids involved in school and off the streets. As a former camp counselor and volunteer in the classroom, I know how important these things are.

A. I share your concern that our coverage can seem, at times, negative - not just about MPS, but about any number of community institutions we cover. It is an issue we talk about a great deal because we don't just report on this area - we live here ourselves. What I would ask you to think about is that what drives us to report what may seem like a negative story is actually our concern, our passion, for our community.

When we write about a school board member going to a convention but never attending its sessions, it is because that money could have been used to improve the educational experience of students and teachers. When we write about the failure of the $102 million Neighborhood Schools Initiative building plan, it is because that money could have been used for other projects to transform the lives of students, teachers and staff alike. When we write about the district receiving a low level of funding to educate disabled children, it is because other districts seem to be taking better advantage of available money to improve the lives of children who already face so many challenges.

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Grand Prairie (Texas) parents drop schools not making grade

Katherine Leal Unmuth:

Rae Ann Forester was losing confidence in Grand Prairie High School's academic program. Even though she was president of the Parent Teacher Student Association, she took a decisive step away from the school.

Parents whose children attend struggling public schools may feel like there's no way out. But Ms. Forester and other persistent parents are taking control of their children's education and finding options.

"What do you do in a school that's low-performing?" Ms. Forester asked. "If we can't get what we need from that specific campus, we do what we need to as a family. I do want people to have options, and that's what I'm advocating."

After the Texas Education Agency rated Grand Prairie High School "academically unacceptable" the previous two years, the school's poor reputation prompted some families to act.

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School Governance in Washington, DC: The "Nuclear Option"

Paul Tough:

Today's paper brings the news that Michelle Rhee, the superintendent of the D.C. public schools, has come up with a Plan B to use if the D.C. teachers union refuses to accept her proposed new contract.

Plan A, as I wrote last week, was a contract under which teachers could give up tenure in return for large pay increases. Plan B, essentially, is a system in which teachers lose tenure and don't get large pay increases. Rhee says she and the state superintendent could also change the licensing requirements for the district's teachers so as to require them to demonstrate classroom performance--the kind that would have earned them big bonuses under the contract--merely to keep their jobs.

The story in the Washington Post suggests that Rhee is not only aware of the city's generation gap among teachers, she also plans to take advantage of it.

Rhee's ultimate goal is clear: to weed the District's instructional corps of underperformers and remake it, at least in part, with younger, highly energized graduates of such alternative training programs as Teach for America, where she began her career. Unlike many tenured Washington teachers, those emerging from such programs are unlikely to invest their entire working lives in education. But they will, in Rhee's estimation, be more inclined to embrace her core message: that children can learn no matter what economic and social conditions they face beyond the classroom and that teachers should be held directly accountable for their progress through test scores and other measurements.

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Greetings, Parents

Bruce Handy: A mock registration form in time for the new school year.

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School districts walk fine line between integration, discrimination

Kerry Lester:

The U.S. Supreme Court's June 2007 decision to strike down integration plans in two public school districts was based on a simple premise: discrimination is discrimination.

"The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race," Chief Justice John Roberts declared, "is to stop discriminating on the basis of race."

In the wake of that ruling, large, ethnically diverse districts are now finding themselves in uncharted waters.

Though prohibited from using race-conscious measures to integrate their schools, districts also must ensure academic success for all students - regardless of skin color or neighborhoods in which they live.

The class-action racial bias suit pending against Elgin Area School District U-46 is one of the first major school discrimination cases to be decided since last year's Supreme Court ruling.

Its outcome, experts say, could have for far-reaching effects.

"Class-action school cases are relatively rare," said Michael Kaufman, Academic Dean and Director of the Child Law and Education Institute at Loyola University Chicago. "This case will almost by definition have profound implications in regards to remedies after last summer's ruling."

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You're invited to attend the first national GREEN CHARTER SCHOOLS CONFERENCE November 7-9, 2008 in Madison, Wisconsin

The conference is presented by the Green Charter Schools Network, UW-Madison's Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, and many partnering educational and environmental organizations.


Conference Keynoters:

William Cronon is UW-Madison Professor of History, Geography & Environmental Studies. His research seeks to understand the history of human interactions with the natural world and how we depend on the ecosystems around us to sustain our material lives, He is the author of several books, including Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature and Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West.

Morgan Brown --- Assistant Commissioner Morgan Brown oversees charter school programs, special education policy, food and nutrition services, adult basic education, and American Indian education programs at the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE). Previously, he served as the Assistant Deputy Secretary for the Office of Innovation & Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education.

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Prince William County, Maryland Pupils Still Grapple With Math Test

Ian Shapira:

New state test results show that Prince William County's third-graders are struggling to score at the highest level since the implementation of a controversial math program that was intended to boost performance.

The scores, which are the first state Standards of Learning (SOL) results to gauge the new program's effectiveness, reveal that fewer than half of Prince William's third-graders scored in the advanced category this year, the first that the Pearson math program "Investigations in Number, Data, and Space" was taught in that grade. Last year, third-graders who had not begun "Investigations" posted the same results.

The flat scores are a sizable decline since 2006, when 56 percent of third-graders reached the advanced level in math.

" 'Investigations' didn't cure the problem," said Vern Williams, a Fairfax County teacher and former member of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel who was invited by the Prince William School Board to speak at its work session later this month.

It will be interesting to see what, if any effect the soon to be released Madison Math Task Force report has on the local curriculum.

Math Forum

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ACT Growth Outpacing the SAT

Gale Holland:

Thomas Chun took the SAT college entrance exam twice, scoring well within qualifying range for prestigious research universities, if hundreds of points short of the top mark.

Still, Chun believed his score, 2090 out of a possible 2400, might not stand up against those of other whiz kids at Whitney High, his selective magnet school in Cerritos. So he took the other admissions test, the ACT, and scored a perfect 36.

"I was never a big fan of the SAT," said Chun, 17, of Cerritos, who since sixth grade has dreamed of going to Yale. "The ACT tests you on what you learned in high school rather than what you learned in test prep academy."

The ACT was once the overlooked stepsister to the SAT. It was popular in the Midwest and the South but less established on the East and West coasts. Now, however, the ACT is growing faster than its rival, not only nationally but also in SAT strongholds such as California, where 50% more students in the class of 2008 took the ACT than their 2004 counterparts. Nationwide, the ACT was taken by 1.4 million students in the 2008 class, compared with 1.5 million who took the SAT, according to the test companies.

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24/7 School Reform

Paul Tough:

In an election season when Democrats find themselves unusually unified on everything from tax policy to foreign affairs, one issue still divides them: education. It is a surprising fault line, perhaps, given the party's long dominance on the issue. Voters consistently say they trust the Democrats over the Republicans on education, by a wide margin. But the split in the party is real, deep and intense, and it shows no signs of healing any time soon.

On one side are the members of the two huge teachers' unions and the many parents who support them. To them, the big problem in public education is No Child Left Behind, President Bush's signature education law. Teachers have many complaints about the law: it encourages "teaching to the test" at the expense of art, music and other electives, they say; it blames teachers, especially those in inner-city schools, for the poor performance of disadvantaged children; and it demands better results without providing educators with the resources they need.

On the other side are the party's self-defined "education reformers." Members of this group -- a loose coalition of mayors and superintendents, charter-school proponents and civil rights advocates -- actually admire the accountability provisions in No Child Left Behind, although they often criticize the law's implementation. They point instead to a bigger, more systemic crisis. These reformers describe the underperformance of the country's schoolchildren, and especially of poor minorities, as a national crisis that demands a drastic overhaul of the way schools are run. In order to get better teachers into failing classrooms, they support performance bonuses, less protection for low-performing teachers, alternative certification programs to attract young, ambitious teachers and flexible contracts that could allow for longer school days and an extended school year. The unions see these proposals as attacks on their members' job security -- which, in many ways, they are.

Obama's contention is that the traditional Democratic solution -- more money for public schools -- is no longer enough. In February, in an interview with the editorial board of The Journal Sentinel in Milwaukee, he called for "a cultural change in education in inner-city communities and low-income communities across the country -- not just inner-city, but also rural." In many low-income communities, Obama said, "there's this sense that education is somehow a passive activity, and you tip your head over and pour education in somebody's ear. And that's not how it works. So we're going to have to work with parents."

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Trickledown Ballot Should Help Madison Schools

Scott Milfred:

Holding school referendums in liberal Madison during major national elections has shown to have strategic advantages.

For one thing, young people vote in much higher numbers. And young adults will overwhelmingly support school referendums no matter the details or cost. That's because they don't pay property taxes, at least directly. They also have a high appreciation for schools because they are, or not long ago were, students.

Another advantage is that huge majorities of middle-aged and older voters in Madison are fed up with President Bush. Madison and the rest of the nation produced a Democratic landslide on Nov. 7, 2006, with the Iraq war overshadowing a largely-ignored Madison school building referendum that easily passed.

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Teaching Fractions Effectively Webcast

The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement at Learning Point Associates:

This interactive video webcast is hosted by The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement at Learning Point Associates. The Center is funded by the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education of the U.S. Department of Education. The webcast will highlight the following:

Recommendations from the National Mathematics Advisory Panel
Instructional strategies to foster deep "conceptual and procedural knowledge of fractions"
Video clips from teacher training sessions and elementary classrooms
There is no charge for this event. It is open to the public, so please invite your colleagues to join in. Registrationis required, and minimal information is requested.

To register, visit the webcast registration page.

For more information, please contact Abner Oakes. We look forward to your participation!

The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement

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Cry for change resounds in St. Paul schools

Emily Johns:

The St. Paul School District this fall is planning on engaging community members, parents and school district staff in an indepth discussion about the district's future with one major premise: Things need to change.

The district, which serves about 38,800 students, faces considerable challenges. It has made more than $93 million in budget cuts over the last nine years. Only half its students are proficient in reading, the achievement gap between white students and students of color is among the widest in the nation, and federal and state expectations for student achievement are accelerating.

The district "is at a crossroads," according to a presentation that district staff made to school board members on Thursday night. "Business as usual is not a sustainable option for achieving our mission."

The St. Paul district's efforts to comply with federal and state desegregation laws over the past 30 years and retain students have resulted in a complex network of magnet and neighborhood schools.

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September 7, 2008

19 Wisconsin Felons Kept Teaching License

Jason Stein:

But Robertson, a former middle school principal in Milwaukee, still had at least one thing going for him -- he didn't lose his license to teach children in Wisconsin, at least not then.

Robertson was among a group of 18 people licensed to teach in the state as of June who had felony convictions and were still being monitored by probation or parole agents at the start of this year, a Wisconsin State Journal investigation found. That number included at least 13 felony convictions previously unknown to the agency in charge of licensing the state's teachers.

As a result of the newspaper's reporting, the state Department of Public Instruction has revoked or placed under scrutiny the licenses of Robertson and seven others.

In their cases, the State Journal found no evidence that any students faced immediate risk. Those eight people under scrutiny, including Robertson, are not shown in state records as currently teaching in a public school, and they likely would have faced hurdles returning to teaching because of their convictions.


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A Look Back at a 2001 Dayton School Board's Results

Scott Elliott:

Let's remember back for a moment to the excitement of 2001. Gail Littlejohn, a retired corporate attorney, and three allies won four seats on the school board, taking control with a majority and promising big changes that would help lead the district back to respectability.

And for the first few years, the Kids First team had a remarkable run of successes. They replaced a well meaning but floundering superintendent with an efficient manager in Percy Mack, a move that was well received in the community. They put a reform in place that emphasized teacher training and focused on math and reading instruction. They got the NAACP and the state to agree to settle the 20-year-old desegregation case, bringing millions in cash and releasing the district from court supervision. They got a huge bond issue passed to rebuild all the schools in the city. Eventually, Dayton even had enough test score gain to jump from "academic emergency to "continuous improvement" in the state ratings. And for at least those first few years, Kids First got support from the rest of the school board, business leaders and much of the community.

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Later school start is good for state

Edward Lump:

I'd like to remind readers that the Wisconisn laws enacted in 1999 and 2001 actually came closer to reinstating a much older tradition of starting public school after Labor Day that goes back many, many years. As a matter of fact, school used to get out before Memorial Day as well.

A later school start date provides more time for family vacations and is good for the tourism industry. These days, family time is so important. Everyday life is hectic with so many activities and so much to do. Family time and the age-old tradition of the family vacation is critical to building strong families. And August has some of the best weather that Wisconsin has to offer, which makes it a great month for vacations.

On the other hand, June is usually cooler and wetter than August, and water temperatures are much cooler. Wisconsin summer tourism is based on water activities -- late August is prime water sport season; June is not. Great family activities -- such as Green Bay Packers training camp, the Milwaukee Brewers pennant drive and many county fairs -- all create excitement and entertainment in late August.

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The nation's fiscal wake-up call

Allan Knepper:

Recently, I joined a throng of 25 people in a theater with a capacity of 250 to view the premiere of the documentary "IOUSA." The film, directed by Patrick Creadon, outlines the U.S. national debt, how we got to where we are and the dire predictions for the future. It is loosely coordinated around the "Fiscal Wake-up Tour," a road show featuring former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker and Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition.

I have been a huge fan of the straight-talking Walker since seeing him on CBS' "60 Minutes" more than a year ago. He gave an impassioned interview then, outlining the rapidly growing federal deficit and its impact on current and future generations.

Joining in a live panel discussion after the film's showing were Walker, Warren Buffett, Blackstone Group co-founder Peter Peterson, Cato Institute Chairman William Niskanen and AARP CEO Bill Novelli.

While I'm sure they were not as entertaining as the fantasy thrillers being shown in adjacent theaters, the facts and figures laid out in the movie were every bit as chilling as a horror movie to anyone who cares about the future of our country and the country we will leave to our children and grandchildren.

The movie commented on four types of deficits: the U.S. budget deficit, the U.S. trade deficit with other nations, the U.S. deficit of personal savings and a deficit of leadership in addressing these problems.

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Detroit's Education Emergency

Bob DeVries:

The state of Michigan has had and continues to have significant financial problems. This is why it is baffling to me why the Granholm administration continues to pretend everything is OK in the Detroit public schools system.

Currently, Detroit Public Schools has a $400 million budget deficit. This is due to severe financial mismanagement, corruption, and the fact that families are removing their children from the public schools because of their inability to provide effective education. An attorney representing DPS has admitted that there is reason to believe there was some corruption, citing $46 million that was paid out by one department within the school district that was not apparently used to purchase goods or services. The FBI is currently investigating this and other allegations of corruption.

I think that it's about time that we declare an "education emergency." The purpose of this declaration will have three goals. First, we need to take drastic steps to make sure we are providing effective education to the children of Detroit. Second, Gov. Granholm needs to put DPS into state receivership. This means that the state Department of Education would temporarily appoint a financial manager for DPS who would have the final say on all financial decisions. Finally, we need to root out the corrupt and incompetent administration officials so that this tragedy does not again occur.

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September 6, 2008

Finland's Lesson: Education

Andres Oppenheimer:

Like many other foreign journalists, I made the obligatory pilgrimage to Helsinki, Finland, to learn how this country has climbed to the top spots in key international rankings measuring economic, political and social success. The answer, I was told, is amazingly simple.

First, the facts. Finland ranks first among 179 countries in Transparency International's index of the least corrupt nations in the world (the United States is No.20); No.1 in Freedom House's ranking of the world's most democratic countries (the U.S. ranks No.15); No.1 in the world in 15-year-old students' standardized test scores in science (the U.S. ranks No.29), and is among the 10 most competitive economies in the World Economic Forum's annual competitiveness index (the U.S. topped the list this year).

A small country of 5.3 million, which only two decades ago was by most measures the poorest country in northern Europe, Finland also boasts the headquarters of the world's biggest cellphone maker -- Nokia -- and cutting-edge paper and pulp-technology firms.

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Healthy school meal vs a Big Mac. Which one wins? Ask your inner child

Tim Hayward:

England is bringing in 'the most robust nutrient standards for school lunches in the world' - but we might have to force them down children's throats

This week "the most robust nutrient standards for school lunches in the world" come into force in English primary schools. The new menus announced by the schools secretary, Ed Balls, include healthy versions of lunchroom standards - "from traditional roasts to chilli con carne and shepherd's pie; from homemade salmon fingers and stir fries to risotto, with fresh fruit, vegetables and salads".

Junk food is already banned from school canteens and vending machines - but the new standards specify the maximum (fat, saturated fat, sugar, salt) and minimum (carbohydrate, protein, fibre, vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, calcium, iron, zinc) nutrient value of an average school lunch.

Getting high-quality food into schools is only half the issue. According to Balls, many children who eat healthy lunches at primary school stop when they go to senior school - put off by long queues, unpopular menus or having to eat in the same room as teenagers six or seven years older. The guidelines move into new territory by suggesting kids won't be put off school meals if they are treated "like the paying customers they are".

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Indiana Governor Candidates Discuss Education

Niki Kelly:

ill Long Thompson unveiled a handful of education initiatives Wednesday while Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels introduced five campaign commercials, three of which focus on his own education proposals.

The two face off in November's gubernatorial election.

"I don't have all the answers, but we are not meeting our objectives," Long Thompson said at a Statehouse news conference Wednesday.

One of her proposals is to provide a free book every month to all Hoosier children from birth to age 5. This is modeled after Tennessee's partnership with Dolly Parton's "Imagination Library," but Long Thompson's program would be paid for with private donations.

She also wants to allow kids who need the extra time and help to attend a fifth year of high school in an effort to improve Indiana's graduation rate of about 76 percent.

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September 5, 2008

Online tools let parents peer into their kids' school day

Alana Semuels:

What's he eating for lunch? Is she showing up for class? What subjects are they weak in? Software is helping unravel the mystery.

It's tough sending little Bobby or Suzy back to school. Parents may worry what kinds of teachers their children will encounter, whether they'll be as smart as their classmates and whether bullies will steal their lunch money.

But technology is helping eliminate some of the guesswork about what happens after kids climb onto the bus. Increasingly common Web programs let parents track lunch-money spending, schoolwork habits and tardiness.

"There's this black box -- a child goes away and comes home, what happened during this time?" said Shelley Pasnik, director of the nonprofit Center for Children and Technology in New York. "Now, new information and communications technology allows for the mystery of what transpires on any given day to unravel."

The programs, from companies such as Pearson School Systems, Aries Technology Inc. and Horizon Software International, are gaining popularity as more parents demand transparency in schools, Pasnik said.

Successful use of these systems is a wonderful thing for parental involvement. That requires teacher AND parent participation.

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US Senator Herb Kohl Supports Merit Pay for Teachers

Pete Selkowe:

Kohl spoke at length about education, especially the failure of the public school system in Milwaukee, "where many neighborhoods are not inhabitable ... a problem spread across the country. When we have a large number of people unproductive, who do you think pays for it? We all do."

In answer to a question about school choice, and what the questioner called the "horrible" academic gap here in Racine, Kohl responded: "Anybody who had the answer would be lauded and sainted."

He mentioned meeting with New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg and NY School Chancellor Joel Klein, and hearing from them "how important high standards and accountability are. We all know it's not only the schools that fail; it's the homes and neighborhoods the kids come out of. I would have very high, very high accountability, and reward good teachers, measure teachers. We need to find a way to pay teachers more, and the better ones more than that, and schools that fail should be closed."

Kohl related his approach toward education to his firing of the Bucks GM and coach last year. "We were not getting the job done." Ditto in education. "For too long we've not been willing to do enough to get the job done."

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World Class Writing

Michael Shaughnessy:

Over the past few weeks, much has been said by Senator Clinton, Michelle Obama and Senator Obama about "world class education". Those three words have resounded in all of their speeches of late. I would like to acknowledge some "world class writing" which has recently appeared in The Concord Review, edited by Will Fitzhugh.

Below are the papers, the authors, and the high school with which the student is affiliated or enrolled. We should acknowledge the teachers, and principals of these schools, as well as the parents of these fine "world class writers".

Congratulations to these fine young scholars on their exemplary research and writing.

Bessemer Process...Pearson W. Miller......Hunter College High School, Manhattan Island, New York.

Soviet- Afghan War...Colin Rhys Hill.......Atlanta International School, Atlanta, Georgia

Silencio!...Ines Melicias Geraldes Cardoso ...Frank C. Carlucci American International School of Lisbon

Jews in England...Milo Brendan Barisof...Homescholar, Santa Cruz, California

United States Frigates...Caleb Greinke....Park Hill South High School, Riverside, Missouri

Roxy Stinson....Elizabeth W. Doe....Deerfield Academy, Deerfield, Massachusetts

Mary, Queen of Scots....Elizabeth Pitts....Charlotte Country Day School, Charlotte, North Carolina

Viking Gifts....Elisabeth Rosen....St. Ann's School, Brooklyn, New York

Hugh Dowding....Connor Rowntree...William Hall High School, West Hartford, Connecticut

Confederate Gold....Steffi Delcourt....Frederica Academy, St. Simons Island, Georgia

Max Weber...Diane (Elly) Brinkley....Dalton School, Manhattan Island, New York

I daresay that social studies, history teachers and even history professors would learn a great deal about a variety of topics by reading these essays.Further, I would hope that these essays would serve as models of excellent scholarship and writing for high school students across America.

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"Hole in the Wall" Education Researcher on Kids Teaching Themselves


In 1999, Sugata Mitra and his colleagues dug a hole in a wall bordering an urban slum in New Delhi, installed an Internet-connected PC, and left it there (with a hidden camera filming the area). What they saw was kids from the slum playing around with the computer and in the process learning how to use it and how to go online, and then teaching each other.

In the following years they replicated the experiment in other parts of India, urban and rural, with similar results, challenging some of the key assumptions of formal education. The "Hole in the Wall" project demonstrates that, even in the absence of any direct input from a teacher, an environment that stimulates curiosity can cause learning through self-instruction and peer-shared knowledge. Mitra, who's now a professor of educational technology at Newcastle University (UK), calls it "minimally invasive education."

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Schools warned of pupils hooked on energy drinks

Polly Curtis:

Children are becoming dependent on energy drinks that have dramatic effects on their concentration and behaviour in schools, drug experts have warned.

Schools are being advised to observe children for signs of agitation which could be a result of excessive caffeine consumption. It follows reports of pupils drinking large quantities of energy drinks or taking caffeine-based pills.

The warning, from the anti-drugs advisory group Drug Education UK, comes as ministers prepare to unveil new measures tomorrow to improve school dinners and advise parents on children's packed lunches.

Bob Tait, from Drug Education UK, said: "There is a growing problem of caffeine abuse in schools. Most schools have a drug education programme to advise kids against illegal drugs, but there is less known about legal highs."

He made his warning at a conference of school nurses this week, the Nursing Standard reported. Tait said: "Children will drink them on the walk to school, at break and lunch time. If you have got a child who is worked up on an energy drink, they are going to be agitated during lesson time."

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L.A. elementary school adds a year to keep students on track

Mitchell Landsberg:

Armando Sosa's elementary school is just a quick scramble up a steep dirt path and over a crosswalk from his home in Ramona Gardens, an Eastside housing project known for its crime and violence. If he's late, he can hear the school bell from his bedroom.

His mother, Liliana Martinez, loves Murchison Elementary but worries that Armando's zeal for learning will wither in middle school. She has seen too many children from the projects nose dive in sixth grade and begin gravitating toward the gang life that has devoured the youth of Ramona Gardens for generations.

So, along with other mothers, most of them Mexican immigrants struggling for a foothold in U.S. society, Martinez helped start a movement to keep children at Murchison at least through sixth grade. That is typically the first year of middle school.

Goal achieved.

When the new school year starts Wednesday, about 100 sixth-graders will be staying at Murchison, instead of being bused across the tracks to El Sereno Middle School, where parents and teachers say they face teasing and bullying because they are poor and come from a housing project.

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September 4, 2008

Soda Bans & Schools

Rosie Mestel:

Eliminate soft drinks at schools and you'll make a change in how many sodas the nation's kids slurp down, right? Hmm. A new study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Assn. suggests that the effect is less than huge.

The study, by Meenakshi Fernandes at the Pardee RAND Graduate School in Santa Monica, analyzed data from nearly 11,000 fifth-graders in more than 2,000 schools in 40 states. She looked at how many soft drinks the kids consumed overall, and how many soft drinks they consumed in school. She also compared the consumption rates for kids who went to schools that banned soft drinks with those that permitted them.

Fernandes' conclusion from this: Soft drink bans in schools led to a 4% reduction in soft drink consumption. "Greater reductions in children's consumption of soft drinks will require policy changes that go beyond food availability in school," she writes.

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Sharing Classroom Created Media

Jeanette Rundquist:

t looks like part of a documentary from a cable TV nature channel, with dramatic music, video of frogs and a narrator solemnly warning that a fungus is killing the animals around the world.

It's posted on iTunes, available for downloading. And it was produced by elementary school students in Montclair.
Students there and in four other New Jersey school districts will take a leap in classroom technology this year, using Apple's iTunes store to post and share educational material.

Lectures, student projects, orientation videos and other media can be posted on iTunes, available free to students and parents in the five districts, or anyone else. Other New Jersey districts taking part are East Orange, Hunterdon Central Regional High School, Perth Amboy and Union City.

"The idea is that there are educators and others producing digital content that really can have value for others," said Mary Ann Wolf, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association, which helped Apple roll out the program, called "K-12 on iTunes U." It is modeled after iTunes U, started about two years ago for colleges and universities.

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College prep blends with job training

Chris Moran:

Sometimes it's unclear which of Manuel Santos' classes are college prep and which are vocational. Last year, he took medical terminology, classified as vocational but heavy on the advanced vocabulary he'll need if he majors in pre-med in college.

And though the Sweetwater High School senior has taken all the advanced science courses he needs to be admitted to his top college choice, the University of California Berkeley, it may be another vocational course, medical assistant training, that is best preparing him for pre-med.

National City's Sweetwater High and schools across San Diego County are developing a new brand of education that is a hybrid of college-prep and job training, a series of classes that will equip high school graduates to simultaneously impress employers and university admissions counselors.

New and more sophisticated job-training classes have emerged as a response to calls from industry for a skilled, homegrown work force and the rising awareness of a dropout epidemic among students who don't find school relevant.

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The first day of school meant a host of changes for one district, which had to close two elementary schools last year.

Norman Draper:

The first day of school Tuesday marked a big change for Naomi Wills and her kids: They started out at a bus stop bound for a big, new school.

In past years, the morning routine involved Wills walking son Luke and daughter Larissa the two blocks to Osseo Elementary. Younger daughter Natalie, not yet in school, would tag along. Then, more often than not, Wills would linger and chat with the principal and teachers.

But Osseo Elementary, loved by parents, teachers and kids for its small size, hometown feel, and convenient walking distances, was closed by the cash-strapped Osseo School District last year.

"One of the first things that hit me when we found out the school was closing was that all those years my kindergartner would walk with her older siblings to school, and, now, she won't get to walk there," Wills said.

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Improving School Leadership

OECD - Directorate for Education:

School leaders in OECD countries are facing challenges with the rising expectations for schools and schooling in a century characterized by technological innovation, migration and globalization. As countries aim to transform their educational systems to prepare all young people with the knowledge and skills needed in this changing world, the roles and expectations for school leaders have changed radically. They are no longer expected to be merely good managers. Effective school leadership is increasingly viewed as key to large-scale education reform and to improved educational outcomes.

With 22 participating countries, this activity aims to support policy development by providing in-depth analyses of different approaches to school leadership. In broad terms, the following key questions are being explored:

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Head of the Class: Finding the Right School for Your Child

Ariel Swartley:

For 20 years Sandra Tsing Loh has taken satirical shots at Los Angeles and her own growing pains without making the tiresome error, committed by nonnative observers from Joan Didion to Caitlin Flanagan, of conflating the two. Her aim is generally dead-on; her gun emplacement is even better. We not only can read the Malibu-raised Loh in The Atlantic Monthly, where she's a contributing editor, on her Los Angeles Times blog, and in comic memoirs like A Year in Van Nuys. We can also hear her on KPCC and see her turn her elegant Chinese German face to Silly Putty in performance pieces.

Whatever the target--eye bags, ethnicity, envy, Christmas--Loh's a linguistic Muhammad Ali, floating and stinging at a pace that would drive a hummingbird to wing splints. At times her approach has left some of her frailer subjects exhausted along with her audience. With Mother on Fire (Crown, 320 pages, $23), her new memoir expanding on the one-woman show of the same name that debuted in 2005, she's taken on an issue scary enough to warrant her biggest guns: getting your child an education.

How harrowing, you tax-gouged nonparents may wonder, can this be? In my experience the trauma of a difficult birth is nothing compared with the scars of being polite to a teacher who has forbidden a second grader to look at a book that intrigues her "because it's too hard." These don't fade even after said child has obtained a graduate degree. Schooling, in short, pushes buttons. In Los Angeles, it's also tied to a full range of inflammatory issues, from immigration to celebrity.

Clusty Search: Sandra Tsing Lo.

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Schools use 4-day week to cut costs

Jeremy Hobson @ Marketplace:

One of the states that's most on-board with the four day school week is Colorado. Mostly because it's so rural, which means long bus routes.

WENDY DUNAWAY: As of 2007, we had 67 out of 178 districts that are on a four-day week.

That's Wendy Dunaway with the Colorado Department of Education. She says the districts that have switched are almost all rural and are generally happy with the change.

On a rainy afternoon at a hotel in Colorado Springs, about 25 people gather in a medium-sized conference room. They are parents, teachers and administrators from the Calhan School District, which has been on a four-day schedule since the last energy crisis nearly three decades ago.

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School District Consolidation in Pennsylvania

Martha Raffaele & Ramesh Santanam:

Pennsylvania will be shedding a school district by the end of this school year -- a significant development even after years of nationwide efforts to nudge and sometimes force school systems to share services or merge.

The merger unfolding between two western Pennsylvania public school systems with sharply declining enrollments is the state's first district consolidation in at least 20 years, and most notably, its first voluntary one.

Officials say the move will save money and improve educational offerings, yet parents in both districts worry that some losses will accompany any gains. In any case, the consolidation is expected to be closely watched.

The willingness of two school districts to dissolve boundary lines is rare in states where local school board control is sacrosanct and school traditions that define a community are deeply ingrained. In recent years, at least a few states have tried to force mergers, with mixed results.

Yet the marriage of the Center Area and Monaca school districts northwest of Pittsburgh is part of a gradual, ongoing national progression toward fewer districts educating public school students.

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Campaign to Keep Schools Under the NYC Mayor's Thumb

Jennifer Medina & Elissa Gootman:

Close allies of the Bloomberg administration have set up a political organization to campaign for renewal of the landmark state law giving New York City's mayor control of its public schools, hiring a veteran operative and planning to raise up to $20 million for television advertisements, lobbying and grass-roots organizing.

The group, called Mayoral Accountability for School Success, is officially headed by three well-known and respected city figures, among them a nun lauded for her work with struggling students and a popular Harlem minister. But it is backed by top City Hall and Education Department officials, for whom persuading Albany to extend mayoral control is the No. 1 goal for the school year that starts on Tuesday.

The group filed papers in recent weeks to become designated a 501(c)(4), a nonprofit that can lobby and participate in political campaign activity. The move is the first salvo in the pitched battle expected to unfold between now and the end of June 2009, when the 2002 law giving Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg authority over the nation's largest school system is set to expire.

Renewal is crucial to Mr. Bloomberg's legacy, since he has staked his reputation on overhauling the schools and has repeatedly argued that without City Hall at the wheel, the system would be doomed to fail.

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MythBuster Adam Savage: 3 Ways to Fix U.S. Science Education

Adam Savage:

When Jamie Hyneman and I speak at teacher conventions, we always draw a grateful crowd. They tell us Thursday mornings are productive because students see us doing hands-on science Wednesday nights on our show MythBusters, and they want to talk about it. These teachers are so dedicated, but they have difficulty teaching for the standardized tests they're given with the budgets they're not given. It's one reason the U.S. is falling behind other countries in science: By 2010, Asia will have 90 percent of the world's Ph.D. scientists and engineers. We're not teachers, but our show has taught us a lot about how to get people interested in science. Here are three humble suggestions that might help reinvigorate American science education.

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September 3, 2008

Is it really 'public' education if voters get no say?

Andrew Coulson:

At 9 a.m. Wednesday, the state Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case that will shape the future of education in Florida. At issue are two constitutional amendment questions slated to go before voters in November.

A lawyer for Florida's teachers union will argue that they should be removed from the ballot; the secretary of state's lawyer will ask the court to leave them in place, allowing voters to decide these questions. The court should let Floridians have their say.

The first question, Amendment 7, deals with religious discrimination. This amendment would make it illegal to exclude any person or organization from participating in a public program because of religion. It also would allow the state to continue operating programs under which religious organizations can receive funding as long as the purposes and primary effects of those programs are secular (as required by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution).

The second question, Amendment 9, would require at least 65 percent of school-district operating expenditures to be spent in the classroom rather than on administration. It also would allow legislators to create alternative education programs in addition to the constitutionally required public-school system (though it wouldn't create any new programs).

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"Middle School Madness Blog"

by Unnamed MMSD Educators [RSS]. The blog touches on the "Standards Based Report Card" initiative among a number of other topics.


From the district Curricular Standards:

"These Grade Level Performance Standards describe behaviors typical at the specified grade level. They represent behaviors students generally exhibit as they move from novice to expert in their ability to take control of language processes. It is important to remember, however, that literacy learning may not be sequential and each child has a unique developmental pattern."

The 6th grade student reading at a 2nd grade level earns a ONE (remember, no zeroes) for the Power Standard of Reading Comprehension. Why? For not meeting the "behaviors typical at the specified grade level " (6th).

Now, if said student raises her/his reading level to that of a 4th-grade student, guess what. That student still does not meet the 6th grade standard and will still earn a ONE for the Power Standard of Reading Comprehension. Effort and improvement are not taken into consideration in this constricted construct for grading.

via a kind reader email.

Much more on standards based report cards here.

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Democrats, teachers unions now divided on many issues

Greg Toppo:

A funny thing happened to the Democratic Party on the way to an education platform: The party has visibly split with teachers unions, its longtime allies, on key issues.

The ink is barely dry on the official document, which outlines the party's guiding principles, but it shows that in this fall's general election, Democrats will stake out a few positions that unions have long opposed.

Among them: paying teachers more if they raise test scores, teach in "underserved areas" or take on new responsibilities such as mentoring new teachers.

Randi Weingarten, the American Federation of Teachers' new president, says she's willing to entertain merit-pay plans. But most union leaders, as well as rank-and-file members, have long resisted, saying teachers would compete for jobs rather than cooperate and share ideas.

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Founder of The Secret Society of Mathmaticians

Julie Rehmeyer:

Henri Cartan, one of the leaders of a revolution in mathematics, dies at 104

In the 1930s, a group of young French mathematicians led an uprising that revolutionized mathematics. France had lost most of a generation in the First World War, so the emerging hotshots in mathematics had few elders to look up to. And when these radicals did look up, they didn't like what they saw. The practice of mathematics at the time was dry, scattered and muddled, they believed, in need of reinvention and invigoration.

So they took up arms: pens and typewriters. Using the nom de plume "Nicolas Bourbaki" (after a dead Napoleonic general), they wrote a series of textbooks laying out mathematics the right way. Though the young mathematicians started out only intending to write a good textbook for analysis (essentially an advanced form of calculus), they ended up creating dozens of volumes which formed a manifesto for a new philosophy of mathematics.

The last of the founders of Bourbaki, Henri Cartan, died August 13 at age 104. In addition to his work in Bourbaki, Cartan made groundbreaking contributions to a wide array of mathematical fields, including complex analysis, algebraic topology and homological algebra. He received the Wolf Prize in 1980, one of the highest honors in mathematics, for his work on the theory of analytic functions. Two of his students won the Fields medal, sometimes considered equivalent to the Nobel Prize in mathematics, one won the Nobel Prize in physics and another won the economics Nobel.

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Open Source Textbooks Challenge a Paradigm

Chris Snyder:

A small, digital book startup thinks it has a solution to the age-old student lament: overpriced textbooks that have little value when the course is over. The answer? Make them open source -- and give them away.

Flat World Knowledge is the brainchild of two former textbook industry executives who learned from the inside about the wacky economy of textbooks.

In a nutshell, there is a huge, inelastic demand for college texts, even though textbook prices are high. Because of this there is a lot of piracy and a robust secondary market for textbooks -- but not for long, because they are updated every couple of years, rendering old editions virtually worthless.

Perhaps a way to save some money?

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Madison Edgewood senior gets a perfect ACT, almost on SAT
6 Dane County Students Score a Perfect 36 on the 2007 ACT

Andy Hall:

Edgewood High School senior Matthew Everts recently learned he's just about perfect -- when it comes to the two major college-entrance exams, anyway.

Matthew, who hopes to attend a university on the West Coast, received a 36, the highest possible composite score, on the ACT.

He remembers feeling focused when he took the ACT in June, a week before tackling the SAT.

"I knew that if I did well I wouldn't have to take the test again," Matthew said Tuesday. "Not having to take a four-hour test is always a good thing."

On the SAT, Matthew received a perfect 800 on critical reading and math, two of the three SAT Critical Reasoning Tests, along with a 740 out of a possible 800 on the writing test.

Matthew also took the SAT in three subject areas -- chemistry, math level two and U.S. history -- and received a perfect score on all three tests.

Tamira Madsen:
(Adam) Schneider, who plays trumpet in the Middleton school band and is a member of the ecology club, expects to attend college and study biology at UW-Eau Claire or St. Olaf College, a liberal arts college in Minnesota. He also plans on working toward a graduate degree in botany, doing field research and teaching once he finishes school.

Schneider is one of six Dane County students to post perfect marks on the ACT test during the 2007-08 school. Others who earned perfect marks were Mary Kate Wall and Matthew Everts from Edgewood High School, Axel Glaubitz and Dianna Amasino from Madison West High School and Alex Van Abel from Monona Grove High School. All the students were juniors when they took the test.

At the state level, 22 students received perfect scores on the ACT test last school year. On the national level, less than one-tenth of 1 percent of students that take the ACT test earn a perfect mark.

Meanwhile, six Madison Metropolitan School District students earned perfect test scores in 2006.

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New Study Raises More Questions Over Antidepressants, Teen Suicide

Sarah Rubenstein:

A new study raises fresh questions over whether strong warnings about the use of antidepressants among young people have sparked an increase in teen-age suicides.

Researchers said an analysis that included 2005 data -- the latest available -- indicates that a surprising rise seen in the suicide rate in 2004 continued into the next year. While the rate dropped somewhat in 2005, researchers say, it remained higher than expected.

Last fall, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a widely publicized finding, said the suicide rate for 10-to-24-year-olds increased by 8% from 2003 to 2004 -- after a drop totaling more than 28% from 1990 to 2003. But the agency cautioned that it didn't know if the rise was "short-lived" or the "beginning of a trend."

The CDC has monitored the data since then, but has not come to a conclusion, saying several years of data are needed. The new analysis by outside researchers suggests the prior increase "was not a single-year anomaly" and may reflect "an emerging public health crisis," according to a paper being published in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.


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"Parent's Guide to Education Reform" Points the Way to Better Schools


The following was released today by The Heritage Foundation:

One of every four children in America's public schools isn't going to graduate. And in many large cities, the graduation rate is twice as bad: two of every four kids will fail to graduate.

Staying in school doesn't guarantee a good education, either. Fewer than a third of 12th-graders can identify why the Puritans sailed to these shores. Only four in 10 know the more recent significance of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

These and other eye-popping facts make for compelling reading in A Parent's Guide to Education Reform, a new, 35-page booklet from The Heritage Foundation ( Taxpayers, it makes clear, aren't getting much of a return on the roughly $9,300 a year they spend on each child in public schools.

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School starts early for musically inclined

Pameal Cotant:

When some area students start band and strings classes for the first time this fall, they will have a head start.

That's because some school districts, including Madison, offer lessons in the summer for beginning as well as continuing students. They are part of the summer school program.

"If we would just start in school then we wouldn't know many of the notes and the basic songs," said Karly Keller, who will play the clarinet as a Waunakee sixth-grader this fall. "We can just jump back in when school starts."

In the Waunakee School District, lessons are first offered for strings students in the summer before fifth grade. Band students can start taking the lessons just before sixth grade.

"We've always started our beginners in the summer because typically they have more time in the summer than the regular school year," said Ross Cowing, sixth-grade band director and the summer music coordinator for Waunakee Intermediate School.

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Learn schools' value to economy

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

Today is one of the most important days of the year for Wisconsin's economy.

It's the first day of the school year.

The state's families and policymakers should take the opportunity to remind themselves of the link between education and economic success.

Education and the economy have long been related, but that relationship is growing closer in the age of the global, knowledge-based economy.

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September 2, 2008

Spot on Popularity Scale Speaks to the Future; Middle Has Its Rewards

Benedict Carey:

The cult of popularity that reigns in high school can look quaint from a safe distance, like your 20th reunion. By then the social order may have turned over like an hourglass: teenagers who were socially invisible have emerged as colorful characters, confident, transformed. Others seem preserved in time, same as ever, while some former princes and queen bees are diminished or simply absent, now invisible themselves.

For years researchers focused much attention on those prominent teenagers, tracking their traits and behaviors. The studies found, to no one's surprise, that social dominance in adolescence often involves an aggressive, selfish streak that may not play well outside the locker-lined corridors.

The cult disbands, and the rules change.

Yet high school students know in their gut that popularity is far more than a superficial, temporary competition, and in recent years psychologists have confirmed that intuition. The newer findings suggest that adolescents' niche in school -- their popularity, and how they understand and exploit it -- offers important clues to their later psychological well-being.

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Why Some Kids Aren't Heading to School Today
Choosing the most radical education reform there is

Tony Woodlief:

So we frown on radicalism. Yet we have embarked on one of the most radical endeavors families can undertake: home-schooling. Given preconceptions about this practice, I should note that we are not anti-government wingnuts living on a compound. We like literature, and nice wines, and Celeste would stab me in the heart with a spoon if I gave her one of those head bonnets the Amish women wear. We are not, in other words, stereotypical home-schooling parents. But neither are most actual home-schooling parents.

Even though Ma and Pa Ingalls sent their children off to the little schoolhouse in Walnut Grove, we've decided to start our own. In the eyes of Kansas authorities that's exactly what we've done; regulations require us to establish a school and name it. Ours is the Woodlief Homestead School. I wanted to go with something like: "The School of Revolutionary Resistance," but Celeste said that was just inviting trouble.

The reason we've broken with tradition, or perhaps reverted to a deeper tradition, is not because we oppose sex education, or because we think their egos are too tender for public schools. It's because we can do a superior job of educating our children. We want to cultivate in them an intellectual breadth and curiosity that public schools no longer offer.

Somewhere there is now an indignant teacher typing an email to instruct me about his profession's nobility. Perhaps some public schools educate children in multiple languages and musical instruments, have them reading classic literature by age seven, offer intensive studies of math, science, logic, and history, and coach them in public speaking and writing. The thing is, I don't know where those schools are.

A wise friend recently mentioned that "choice is good". It will be interesting to see if the upcoming Madison School District math review addresses ongoing concerns over reduced rigor. Math Forum audio / video.

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Study: "Ohio State Tests Invalid for Rating Schools"

Randy Hoover:

This is the table of contents to the final findings from the research study of Ohio school district performance on the OPT and OSRC. This site is the data, graph, links, and comment page for Hoover's research study of Ohio school district proficiency test and school report card performance accountability. These data and findings have been released to the public as of February 27, 2000. The entire study is available online for your use. If you wish to be included in the emailing list of updates about OPT and OSRC issues, click on the logo at the top of this page and send me your request.

The graphs and data presented here are from the final replication of the study. This final analysis represents the culmination of several hundred hours of work put forth to gain empirical insights into OPT performance across all Ohio school districts. At the time the study was completed there were 611 school districts in the State of Ohio. This study uses data from 593 districts out of the 611 total. 18 districts were not included in the study because of incomplete data or because the districts were too small such as North Bass Island. All data were taken from EMIS online data and no data other than the data presented by the State of Ohio were used. My confidence level is high that there are very few errors in the data array. Though errors are certainly possible, I am confident that if they exist they are minor and do not significantly affect the overall conclusions of this study. (RLH)

Scott Elliott has more.

Related: The Madison School District's "Value Added Assessment" program uses the Wisconsin Department of Public instruction's WKCE results. The WKCE's rigor has been criticized.

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To Be Young and Anxiety-Free

Andrea Petersen:

Last fall, 12-year-old John Morganti was a very anxious kid. He was too scared to ride the bus to school or have sleepovers at friends' houses. He had frequent stomachaches, hid out in the nurse's office and begged his mother to let him skip school.

"He would get so scared, he would be in a little ball in the corner," says John's mother, Danielle Morganti, of Pittsgrove, N.J.

John was later diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and underwent a treatment known as cognitive behavioral therapy. By spring, he had largely recovered and was happily taking the bus and playing with friends at parties.

Historically, anxiety disorders were seen as something that primarily hit teens and adults. Anxious kids, many experts thought, would simply grow out of their fears. But now, many doctors believe that John's illness was caught at the ideal time. Indeed, there's a new push by doctors and therapists to identify children afflicted with anxiety disorders -- even those as young as preschool age -- and treat them early.

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You Need to Take My Son to Jail

Ann Bauer:

MY husband and I were sitting down to dinner when the police called. It was a female dispatcher whose voice I recognized from previous incidents involving my 20-year-old son, Andrew, who has autism.

In recent years, this police department has picked him up for shoplifting, taken reports from restaurants where he had dined and dashed, and once even brought him back from the airport after he tried to stow away on a plane.

Roughly half of the force has lectured me about keeping a closer eye on him, placing him in a secure facility, and finding a better psychiatrist, while the other half has been sweet and apologetic, concerned about how I'm bearing up.

On this occasion the dispatcher explained that my car, which I had earlier reported stolen, had been found on the side of the highway some 70 miles away in St. Cloud, Minn. -- scratched, filthy and out of gas but otherwise undamaged. I would need to retrieve it from the impound lot. My son, unhurt, was waiting at the station. When would I be able to pick him up?

I swallowed a sip of Chianti and recited the line I had been rehearsing all afternoon: "I want to press charges."

"I told you, the car is fine. Your son is fine. All you have to do is come pick them both up."

"I want to press charges," I said again, resolved to see this through.

"Against your son?" she asked, incredulous.

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Regarding alcohol, middle and high schools' only message is 'just say no.' That leaves alcohol education to parents and, increasingly, colleges, where newfound freedom can send students off track.

Susan Brink:

Whether the legal drinking age is 18, 21 or something in between, at some point the odds are better than even that eventually a young adult is going to have that first drink. About 61% of American adults 18 or older said they've had alcohol in the last year, according to a 2006 national survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For the most part, lessons in how to drink come through experimentation with excess, essentially trial and error, exploring how much can be consumed, as young people go through what has become a rite of passage to adulthood.

"It's a forbidden-fruit sort of thing," says Brenda Chabon, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Montefiore Medical Center, New York. "We haven't done a good job on educating kids. We kind of demonize alcohol on one hand and embrace it in another way."

With ignorance as a guide, the long-awaited rite of passage too often ends up with mangled cars and ruined lives.

But whose job is it to teach responsible drinking? Middle and high schools have their hands tied, says Robert Turrisi, professor of biobehavioral health at the Prevention Research Center at Pennsylvania State University. "School-based programs teach abstinence only," he says. "Schools can't legally teach how to do illegal behaviors."

Related: A debate on lowering the drinking age (Yes, from my perspective).

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September 1, 2008

Great Teaching, Not Buildings, Make Great Schools

Jay Matthews:

As happens in many urban school systems, D.C. school and D.C. Council officials have been in a tiff over the repair and renovation of aging buildings. Nobody wants children to walk into schools with peeling paint, leaky roofs and windows that won't open. Many inner-city educators believe such neglect sends the dispiriting message that nobody cares about these kids.

But are fresh plaster, up-to-date wiring and fine landscaping real signs of a great school?

Take a look at the 52-year-old former church school at 421 Alabama Ave. in Anacostia. Teachers say some floors shake if you stomp on them. Weeds poke out from under the brick walls. Yet great teaching has occurred inside. Two first-rate schools, the Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter High School and the KIPP DC: AIM Academy, have occupied that space in the past few years, and the Imagine charter network, also with a good record, is opening a school there. Or check out the School Without Walls, a D.C. public high school sought out by parents with Ivy League dreams. Its building, now being renovated, was a wreck, but inside, students embraced an A-plus curriculum.

How about the suburbs? Drive past the rust-stained, 44-year-old campus at 6560 Braddock Rd. in the Alexandria area of Fairfax County. Dean Tistadt, chief operating officer of Fairfax schools, says the place needs an electrical upgrade. A lot of windows should be replaced. He is sorry that his crews can't do the major work until 2012. It doesn't look like a place I would want to send my kids, yet the sign in front says it is the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, maybe the best public school in America.

Ten years ago, I wrote a book about high schools with golden reputations in some of the country's most expensive suburbs. They were full of Advanced Placement classes and fine teachers, but I was astonished at how bad some of the buildings were. Mamaroneck High School, in one of the most affluent parts of Westchester County, N.Y., had three 66-year-old boilers that repeatedly broke down and many clocks that didn't work. La Jolla High School, north of San Diego, full of science fair winners, was a collection of stained stucco classrooms and courtyards of dead grass.

Matthews is right, great teaching is key. Somewhat related, it will be interesting to see what Madison's new far west side elementary school's (Olson) enrollment looks like this month.

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

Helping Kids Who Hate High School

Jay Matthews:

A couple of years ago I debated Chris Peters, a thoughtful and energetic high school teacher in San Bernardino, Calif., about vocational education. He thought it had more value than I did and could energize students who can't stand dry academics. I thought high schools were incapable of doing vocational ed well, and too often made it a dumping ground for students from low-income families thought incapable of college.

We did not convince each other, but my recent column on the surprising results of research into high school career academies, showing they had great benefit for students' job and family prospects, led him to conclude I was still educable on the subject. He came back to me with a plan to shake up high school in a way that would give both college-oriented and job-oriented students an equal chance, rather than force kids who don't like school to stew in English and science classes.

Peters' plan, which he conceived without benefit of well-paid staff, shares important elements with the very expensive report of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, which Peters had not seen until I pointed it out to him. Many people, it seems, want to fix high school in this way, which I trashed in a previous column.

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

The Pencil

A book by Allan Ahlberg & Bruce Ingman:

"One day that little pencil made a move, shivered slightly, quivered somewhat . . . and began to draw."

Welcome back Banjo, the boy from THE RUNAWAY DINNER! Once a pencil draws him, there's no telling what will come next -- a dog, a cat, a chase (of course), and a paintbrush to color in an ever-expanding group of family and friends. But it's not long before the complaints begin -- "This hat looks silly!" "My ears are too big!" -- until the poor pencil has no choice but to draw . . . an eraser. Oh no! In the hands of Allan Ahlberg and Bruce Ingman, can anything but havoc and hilarity ensue?

The creators of THE RUNAWAY DINNER and PREVIOUSLY team up to imagine the comical world that comes to life when a lonely pencil starts to draw.

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

A Good School Can Revitalize A Downtown

Kane Webb:

Fifth and sixth grades are in the newsroom, middle school dominates the Clinton campaign's War Room, and seventh-graders have the run of the sports department.

While some cities try to lure athletic teams, mega-retailers or a few large employers to revitalize their downtowns, Little Rock is getting an economic-development boost from an unlikely source: eStem charter schools, which have taken over the old Arkansas Gazette building and is bringing new life to a formerly abandoned part of the city.

The Gazette won two Pulitzer Prizes in 1958 for its courageous coverage and editorials on the Central High desegregation crisis, but lost a drawn-out newspaper war with the Arkansas Democrat and closed on Oct. 18, 1991.

After that, the Gazette's building was used temporarily by the Clinton presidential campaigns in 1992 and 1996, and by an occasional retailer. But for the most part, it sat vacant. Over time, the surrounding neighborhood began to slump as well. A grand, wide-columned building across the street once called home by the Federal Reserve is empty. A building catty-corner from the school -- an urban-renewal atrocity that once headquartered Central Arkansas' NBC-TV affiliate -- sits idle too. Before eStem schools opened, you could work downtown and never find reason to pass by the Gazette building. (Full disclosure, the Gazette building is owned by the newspaper I work for, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which leases it to eStem.)

Now it's busy enough that some folks worry about traffic jams, as parents drop their kids off and head to work, or pick them up for lunch.

On July 21, eStem schools opened the doors. There are actually three schools in one historic 1908 building: an elementary, middle and high school. The schools' name stands for the economics of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. And their curricula, which emphasize languages like Latin and even Mandarin Chinese, as well as economics and the sciences, are proving to be popular.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:45 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Eat Up, Kids, This Spud's for You

Anne Marie Chaker:

Karen Kleinkopf, whose two daughters attend Great Salt Bay Community School in Damariscotta, Maine, visited the cafeteria at lunchtime one day last fall. "The response was incredible," she says. "Little kids were eating organic potatoes saying, 'I love this. Can we have this every day?' "

Union No. 74 school district in Damariscotta is on a mission to freshen up its cafeteria menu. Starting with a pilot project last year, the district of four schools, kindergarten through eighth grade, began working with farmers to get local produce onto lunch menus. Salad veggies and potatoes came from Goranson Farm in nearby Dresden, while Spear's Farm in Waldoboro provided corn on the cob. For 15 weeks, these items replaced the tougher, well-traveled veggies typically bought from large distributors.

The kids ate the stuff up, with cafeteria workers reporting as much as one-third less "plate waste" than with the typical fare, says Michael Sanborn, the district's nutrition director.

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

Restoring Schools to the Havens They Should Be

Roger Lewis:

As Labor Day marks the end of summer and beginning of another school year, citizens presume that teachers are ready, but they may wonder if school buildings are, too.

The District's public schools have faced this question annually, and owing to a history of insufficient funding coupled with chronic mismanagement, the answer usually has been "no." As schools opened this week, however, strong leadership from Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, the D.C. Council and Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee may have changed the answer to "mostly yes."

But this question about school buildings is symptomatic of a national problem. It illuminates America's persistent unwillingness to invest what it takes to create, operate and maintain public infrastructure, of which schools are a vital component.

Physically dysfunctional school buildings, like defective bridges and roadways or deteriorating water and sewer systems, ultimately are attributable to misguided policies and spending priorities.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:22 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas