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October 31, 2008

The Cost of Higher Education: This house believes that individuals, not the state, should pay for higher education.

The Economist, Alison Wolf:

Individuals should certainly pay for their higher education. Anything else is deeply unfair to their fellow citizens.
Anders Flodstrom:
A nation is made up of individuals, who identify themselves with it. The nation stands for certain values agreed upon in, hopefully, a democratic way

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Salvaging School Accountability

Thomas Toch & Douglas Harris, via a kind reader's email:

George W. Bush rode to the White House pledging high standards for all students. He'll leave Washington with the nation's public education system focused on teaching basic skills to disadvantaged student populations, with the United States lagging in international comparisons of educational attainment, and with his signature education law plagued by so many problems and mired in so much controversy that it has put at serious risk two decades of work to improve public schooling by making educators accountable for their students' success.

The most important thing Barack Obama or John McCain could do quickly to salvage the accountability movement is change the way that the federal No Child Left Behind Act judges schools. Not by abandoning NCLB's focus on students' meeting standards, a move that would be unwise on both policy and political grounds, but by making the law a more legitimate report card of school performance, one that provides a fair and accurate gauge of educators' contribution to their students' achievement. Since its inception, NCLB has instead held schools responsible for factors they can't control and perversely encouraged states to set standards low.

It's critical in any accountability system that the metrics used to judge performance reflect accurately the contributions of those being judged. In education, that means measuring how much progress a school's students make during the school year, a "value added" approach that accounts for the disadvantages (or advantages) students may bring to school because of the quality of prior instruction or their family backgrounds. It's a strategy that pressures schools working with disadvantaged students to work hard in their students' behalf without penalizing educators for taking on tough assignments. And it's a strategy that doesn't reward rich schools merely for having privileged students.

Clusty Search Thomas Toch and Douglas Harris.

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Parents cool to short-term solutions for overcrowding at Leopold

Kurt Gutknecht, via a kind reader's email:

A temporary solution to concerns about Leopold Elementary School will be announced by June 2009, according to Daniel Nerad, superintendent of the Madison Metropolitan School District.

Nerad, members of the school board and other officials held what Nerad called "an engagement session" at Leopold on Oct. 20. About 100 parents attended the session, part of what Nerad called an effort to find "a short-term solution to find a long-term solution."

But a show of hands after the meeting indicated most of those attending the session opposed the proposed short-term solution, which would involve transferring fifth graders to Cherokee and Wright middle schools.

"I'm confident it (the short-term solution) would work for two years," Nerad said.

Nerad conceded that the short-term plan would address crowding but not another concern of parents- the high proportion (68 percent) of low-income students at Leopold. The long-term plan would tackle that issue, he said.

Much more on Leopold here.

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Maryland Urged to Require Graduation Exams

Liz Bowie:

Maryland's state school board made a final decision yesterday to hold firm and require this year's high school seniors to pass four subject tests to graduate in June, although it left open the possibility of exemptions for special education students and those learning English.

The decision leaves 9,059 students across the state - or about 17 percent of the Class of 2009 - at risk of not getting a diploma, according to data released yesterday.

Only 70 percent of African-Americans statewide and 50 percent of special education students have met the requirements. But the group most likely to be barred from graduation are immigrants who are learning English. Many have not yet taken all the tests, and only 15 percent have met the requirements.

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No Dropouts Left Behind: New Rules on Graduation Rates

Kathleen Kingsbury:

It's a staggering statistic: one in four American teenagers drops out of school before graduation, a rate that rises to one in three among black and Hispanic students. But there's no federal system keeping track of the more than 7,000 American teenagers who drop out of school each day.

That appears to be changing. On Oct. 28, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings issued new rules that will force states to adopt a common system to monitor dropouts. Critics of No Child Left Behind have long accused the federal legislation not only of leading more schools to teach to the test, but of letting -- or perhaps even encouraging -- struggling students to drop out before they can lower average test scores. But Spellings is trying to address this problem with new regulations that will set a uniform graduation rate so that a high school's annual progress will now be measured both by how students perform on standardized tests and by how many of them graduate within four years.

Schools that do not improve their graduation rates will face consequences, such as having to pay for tutoring or replace principals. "For too long, we've allowed this crisis to be hidden and obscured," Spellings said in her announcement, made nearly seven years after No Child Left Behind was signed into law. "Where graduation rates are low, we must take aggressive action."

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Protests over Italian Education Cuts


Hundreds of thousands of teachers, students and parents took to the streets of Rome and other Italian cities on Thursday, to protest conservative Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's multi-billion-euro education cuts.

Organisers said up to one million people marched in the capital while nine in ten schools across the country were closed.

The Senate on Wednesday approved cuts of more than nine billion euros (11.6 billion dollars) in education spending for the loss of 130,000 jobs in primary schools.

The reforms include a return to the practice of having only one teacher per primary school class and cutting the amount of teaching time starting in the 2009-10 academic year.
Universities, which also face budget cuts, plan a general strike on November 14.

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October 30, 2008

School taxes lower than expected

The Madison Metropolitan School District has announced that the school portion of the local property tax will be lower than anticipated in 2008-09.

The drop in the rate translates to an anticipated savings of $67.50 in 2008-09 for a home assessed at $250,000.

"What this means is that property tax rates will be lower because the overall district property values have increased more than we originally expected, while building the 2008-09 budget estimates," according to Superintendent Dan Nerad.

"The referendum on November 4, 2008 is still necessary to avoid $8.1 million of reductions to direct programs to students within the classroom for the 2009-10 school year," according to Nerad. "This positive news simply reduces the school portion of individual property tax bills beginning in the 2008 tax year. The Madison School District would still need permission to go above state imposed revenue limits on property tax increases to meet increasing annual expenditures such as utilities, transportation, and employee compensation increases guided by state law."

With a successful passage of a referendum on November 4, 2008 the Madison School District is committed to creating efficiencies or reducing services by $3.1 million in the 2009-10 school year. This will be accomplished by planned cost saving measures and further financial strategies that will have the least impact on learning in the classroom.

Under the current funding formula in Wisconsin, the property tax levy is set by a state law referred to as the revenue limit formula. The total levy for the 2008-09 school year was approved to increase by $6,039,802 or 2.74% over the prior year. Due to property values increasing at a higher rate than expected, residents within the school district boundaries will see a direct benefit as the property tax bill into the future. With a successful referendum passage for a home valued at $250,000 in 2007-08 the total property tax bill is projected to increase $22 by the 2011-12 school year.

This chart shows the estimated tax impact to owners of a $250,000 in 2007 from 2007-08 through 2011-12.

Estimated school tax rate 2007-08 to 2011-12
Year Tax Rate Tax Bill
2007-08 $10.08 $2,520.00
2008-09 $ 9.81 $2,452.50
2009-10 $ 9.92* $2,480.00*
2010-11 $ 9.70* $2,522.00*
2011-12 $ 9.40* $2,542.00*

*These amounts are estimates

Original estimate of property value increase in 2008 for Madison area property values was 4%
Actual increase in property value in 2008 for Madison area property values was 5.60% (SOURCE: WI Department of Revenue)

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The Election Choice: Education Obama says schools need more money, McCain wants more accountability

Joseph Rago:

Though education has not figured prominently in the campaign, John McCain and Barack Obama have their proposals. Each falls squarely within their respective party's established political framework: Boiled down, Mr. Obama believes that schools require more resources and federal support, while Mr. McCain wants to introduce to the education system more choice and accountability.

School choice. Mr. McCain would pursue education reforms that institute equality of choice in the K-12 system. He would allow parents whose kids are locked into failing public schools to opt out, whether in favor of another public school, a charter school or through voucher or scholarship programs for private options. Parents, he believes, ought to have more control over their education dollars. Teachers' unions and school administrators find none of this amenable.

Mr. McCain supports merit pay for teachers and would establish a bonus program for high-performing educators, as well as devote more funds toward attracting successful college graduates into the field. He would also give principals more control over their schools, including spending decisions, instead of district school boards.

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Playing the Market, These Kids Are Losing a Lot of Play Money

Jennifer Levitz:

Michael Ashworth slumped by his computer, weary from another rough day in the stock market. All his favorite picks -- Domino's Pizza Inc., Hershey Co. and Gap Inc. -- were down.

I'll be honest with you," he confided. "Before all this, I asked my mom to get me stocks for Christmas," but then "I told her not to do it. I asked for a parakeet instead."

Michael, a 13-year-old at Wilmington's Skyline Middle School, is one of 700,000 players in the "Stock Market Game," a scholastic contest in which students from grades four through 12 get a hypothetical $100,000 to invest in stocks, bonds or mutual funds.

The game is run by the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, Wall Street's biggest trade group. Schools pay about $16 a team for a curriculum that includes access to a computer system that executes the simulated trades and ranks teams by states and age group. At the end, the teams in each state with the best returns take home bull-and-bear trophies, gift certificates or other prizes.

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Beautiful Math


NARRATOR: You can find it in the rain forest, on the frontiers of medical research, in the movies, and it's all over the world of wireless communications. One of nature's biggest design secrets has finally been revealed.

GEOFFREY WEST (Santa Fe Institute): My god, of course. It's obvious.

NARRATOR: It's an odd-looking shape you may never have heard of, but it's everywhere around you: the jagged repeating form called a fractal.

JAMES BROWN (University of New Mexico): They're all over in biology. They're solutions that natural selection has come up with over and over and over again.

NARRATOR: Fractals are in our lungs, kidneys and blood vessels.

KEITH DEVLIN (Stanford University): Flowers, plants, weather systems, the rhythms of the heart, the very essences of life.

NARRATOR: But it took a maverick mathematician to figure out how they work.

BENOIT MANDELBROT (Yale University): I don't play with formulas, I play with pictures. And that is what I've been doing all my life.

John Tierney has more.

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Monona School Board looks at closing Maywood Elementary

Karyn Saemann:

Just two months after opening a $25 million new middle school, the Monona Grove School Board is considering closing an elementary school and busing students between Monona and Cottage Grove.

Any of those moves could plunge the district into another tense struggle like the one in 2006 that ultimately led to voters approving the new middle school.

On Nov. 12, the board will consider forming a committee to study whether to close Maywood Elementary in Monona and whether to move Monona sixth-graders to Glacial Drumlin Middle School in Cottage Grove.

Glacial Drumlin opened in September for fifth- through eighth-graders from Cottage Grove, and seventh- and eighth-graders from Monona.

The board may also ask the committee to study changes in Cottage Grove, where Taylor Prairie Elementary is at its enrollment capacity and Cottage Grove Elementary is about 35 students over. Potential moves range from building a $2 million to $3 million addition at Cottage Grove Elementary to using portable classrooms to busing fourth-graders to Monona, where classroom space is abundant. With its price tag, a Cottage Grove Elementary building addition would require a referendum.

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On the Minneapolis Spending & Governance Referendum

Tom Weber:

Anyone keeping tabs of next week's election in the Minneapolis School District is likely aware of a $60 million levy that would raise property taxes to garner more funding for schools. But there's also a second question on the ballot that's not getting much attention.

Minneapolis, Minn. -- The first question would raise property taxes on a $250,000 house by about $200 a year.

Supporters, like Superintendent Bill Green, say the extra money is needed because the state hasn't kept pace with education funding, and the district will have to make deep budget cuts without the extra money.

When we ran the previous referendum, it was based on an assumption that the state and federal government would continue the allocation formula they had set out," Green said. "That we would be able to anticipate that they would keep pace with the cost of living and other factors.

"They didn't, and so we feel we can't make the same assumptions (now)."

There is no formal campaign opposing the levy, but voters have expressed opposition.

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Protests over Italy school reform


School pupils, university students and teachers have staged demonstrations across Italy against a school reform law just passed by parliament.

In Rome's Piazza Navona, a popular tourist spot, several people were lightly injured in a clash between left- and right-wing students.

The reform package is expected to cut the education budget.

In primary schools there will be just one all-purpose teacher per class and a grade system for pupils' behaviour.

The package will reinstate a 10-point system for grading pupils' conduct, aimed at curbing bullying.

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October 29, 2008

Kids Focus on School Safety

John-John Williams IV:

A student from an Anne Arundel County high school said she's seen guns on campus. A Howard County girl said squabbles that start as Internet exchanges lead to fights at school. And a senior at a Baltimore school told of fights that are part of gang initiations.

One of the main messages from students across Maryland who gathered yesterday at a summit on school violence is that the issue cannot be ignored.

"We have so many problems in our school system that we don't think about," said Josh Maley, 16, a junior at Howard High in Ellicott City. "We overlook so much. This summit is good because it lets [adults] hear their stories."

The event drew more than 250 students from middle and high schools to Martin's Crosswinds in Greenbelt to talk about school safety. Every jurisdiction in the state was represented, and organizers said they hope to use the students' observations and ideas to craft plans to stem violence.

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Advocating for the November, 2008 Madison School District Referendum

Paul Soglin:

On next Tuesday's ballot there is a referendum for Madison Metropolitan School District residents to vote on supporting public education.

As one Wisconsin business leader put it when discussing the challenges of global competition which includes everything from taxation to environmental regulation, "What I need is an intelligent workforce."

We invest every day. Some investments turn out better than others.

There is really no wiser and prudent investment than the education of our children.

An educated child makes more money and pays taxes. An uneducated child is in need of public support for housing, healthcare, and food. An educated child is less likely to go to prison and more likely to support charities. An uneducated child is more likely to become a parent at a young age and is likely to have greater health problems.

Much more on the referendum here.

Related: Don Severson & Vicki McKenna discuss the referendum (25mb mp3 audio).

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Fight at Madison Memorial shows difficulty of keeping school hallways safe

Jessica VanEgeren:

If art really does imitate life, then a peek into the interracial dynamics of high school life in Madison can be found every morning inside Room 272 at West High School. There, the students, hand-picked because of their ethnicity, respond to bullying, gang-related activities, body awareness issues and racial stereotyping by creating skits that mimic common situations students experience in school.

Lounging on pillows and passing around a bag of suckers at 9 a.m., the students, from varying backgrounds including Hmong, Chinese, African-American, Albanian and Laotian, are at ease with one another. This is not a dynamic reflected by every student in every school.

Sometimes an inspiration for a skit can be found right outside the classroom door, as junior Louisa Kornblatt found out on a recent morning when a student yelled, "Watch where your tall white ass is going, bitch," during a break between classes. Although Kornblatt returned to the classroom with a flushed face, asking if anyone else had heard the comment, most of the students reacted to it nonchalantly.

"That's just part of a day," said senior John Reynolds, one of the students in the Multico theater group, which performs in schools all over the district. "You learn to ignore it. West is a culturally diverse place, and you'll hear those kinds of statements in the hallways. You just need to learn to focus on the good, not the bad."

Related: Police calls near Madison High Schools 1996-2006.

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Online Learning Policy & Practice; A Survey of the States

The Center for Digital Education, 1.5MB PDF Report:

In 2008, the Center for Digital Education conducted a review of state policy and programs to determine the status of online learning policy and practice across the United States. This report is underwritten by Blackboard and Pearson Education and produced with the advice and consultation of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the North American Council for Online Learning (NACOL).

The Center for Digital Education (CDE) interviewed state education officials across the nation to evaluate the overall landscape of online learning. The rankings reflect the vision, policies, programs and strategies that states have deployed around online learning in an effort to transform their academic environment to meet the needs of students. Certain characteristics deemed to have a greater impact on statewide leadership and education (such as states with state-led online programs and/or significant policy directives) played a more significant role in the rankings than others.

The national rankings are as follows: (Florida is #1, Minnesota 9, Illinois 13, Iowa 20, Wiscnsin 37)

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Wisconsin SAGE program's 15-student limit is often exceeded, report says

Amy Hetzner:

About half of the classrooms participating in the state's school class-size reduction program in 2006-'07 exceeded its 15-student limit at least part of the school day, according to a recent report.

Dwindling resources and enrollment fluctuations were the main reasons given for the variation, according to the report by the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Although the report raises concerns about such practices, including that some school administrators seemed unaware of the program's 15-student maximum, it concludes, "There are multiple ways to implement reduced class size well."

The report is part of the state Department of Public Instruction's regular monitoring of the $111 million SAGE program - Student Achievement Guarantee in Education - that aims to reduce class sizes for kindergarten through third grade in more than 470 Wisconsin schools. The center has another study in the works looking at long-term quantitative results from the program.

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California education leaders told to brace for big budget cuts

Evan Halper:

Educators say Arnold Schwarzenegger told them to prepare for immediate cuts of $2 billion to $4 billion. They say the governor also plans to keep pushing for a sales tax hike.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told education leaders this morning that he will push for a tax hike and deep cuts to schools to help close the state's yawning budget gap, according to several participants in the meeting.

The news, delivered in a conference room outside the governor's office, came as a shock to the educators, who were told to prepare for immediate cuts in the range of $2 billion to $4 billion.

"There is just no way we would be able to cut that much," said Scott Plotkin, executive director of the California School Boards Assn., who was at the meeting. "For virtually every district I know of, this would be catastrophic."

Administration officials confirmed that the meeting took place but refused to discuss details.

Related: Facing a $3,000,000,000 deficit, it is hard to see how significant increases in redistributed state tax dollars will find their way to K-12 school districts over the next few years.

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Will Blewett be the last Milwaukee Public Schools board president?

Michael Mathias:

If there is a case to be made for dissolving the Milwaukee Public Schools board, several of its members, but particularly its president, Peter Blewett, seemed hell bent on making it during last week's budget meetings.

That the end result of those meetings--a double digit increase in the district's property tax levy--was the only responsible option the board could have chosen, won't do anything to assuage the board's growing number of critics or even improve its standing among its supporters.

Blewett has had a long time (a year, in fact, since the last budget fiasco) to persuade the public and other elected officials that the board and Superintendent William Andrekopoulos have the ability to manage the district's complicated finances. And while the scores of people who showed up to support an increase in the tax levy made an impressive display, their presence seemed more in support of an idea and not an endorsement of those behind it. It's notable that, as far as I know, not one elected official spoke out in support of the board's actions despite the fact that everyone is aware of the poor hand MPS is dealt when it comes to state funding.

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Busy roads, bicyclists make for uneasy mix at Cottage Grove school

Gena Kittner:

The confines of school are shed the instant scores of students at Glacial Drumlin School hop on their bicycles and whiz -- many helmetless and some riding two to a bike -- down the hill and across the busy streets of this fast-growing village.

Some cruise down the middle of the nearby residential streets, heedless of cars and buses. Others take more care, stopping at stop signs and looking both ways -- but not enough.

"A lot of kids just bike right across the intersection," said Stephanie Carney, who lives in a subdivision near the school. "The kids don't seem to look either way," she said.

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October 28, 2008

Low-Cost Multi-point Interactive Whiteboards Using the Wiimote

Johnny Chung Lee:

Since the Wiimote can track sources of infrared (IR) light, you can track pens that have an IR led in the tip. By pointing a wiimote at a projection screen or LCD display, you can create very low-cost interactive whiteboards or tablet displays. Since the Wiimote can track upto 4 points, up to 4 pens can be used. It also works great with rear-projected displays.

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Science Evolves in Classrooms

Daniel de Vise:

In the past six years, science has slipped as a priority in public schools while reading and mathematics have grown dominant.

But in coming years, experts say, the same federal law that elevated reading and math could spark a resurgence of science in the classroom.

The 2002 No Child Left Behind law required states to test students in science starting in the 2007-08 year, on top of reading and math assessments mandated from the start. Virginia has given science tests since 1998, but the exams are new for Maryland and the District. (Separately, Maryland tests high school students in biology as a graduation requirement.)

Unlike the reading and math test results, science scores won't be used to grade schools for accountability. But education leaders predict that the scores will matter when disseminated to the public.

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Local elected leaders: Vote 'yes' Nov. 4 for Madison schools

The Capital Times -- 10/27/2008 4:31 am

Dear Editor:

As elected officials, we work hard to make Madison and Fitchburg the best places in the country.

The foundation of our vibrant community is our public schools. Our kids and schools need our support this fall. We urge you to vote for the Madison schools referendum on Nov 4.

Talented professionals, the people who start and build new businesses, don't do it in a vacuum. They choose communities with the resources for a good life, as well as a good business. First among those resources is quality schools.

Schools in Madison and across Wisconsin are suffering from state-imposed cuts in funding. Some public schools are literally on the verge of bankruptcy. Madison schools have cut programs and services by over $60 million since 1993, when the restrictions began. Every year it's harder and harder to provide our children the education they need and deserve.

The long-term solution lies with the Wisconsin Legislature. But until there's a majority working toward a solution, we have to protect our kids.

The Nov. 4 proposal will increase taxes by about $28 on a $250,000 home in 2009, $43 in 2010, and $21 in 2011. The school district's Web site has details:

For that investment, we'll maintain smaller class sizes, keep first rate teachers, help our special needs kids, keep up with basic maintenance -- and much more. This referendum is very reasonable. The increase in taxes is modest. The commitment to our kids is enormous.

In America, every child deserves a chance to succeed -- not just the rich. Public schools make the American dream a reality.

Join us by voting YES on the Madison schools referendum on Nov 4!

Madison School Board: Arlene Silveira, Ed Hughes, Lucy Mathiak, Beth Moss, Marjorie Passman, Johnny Winston Jr.

Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz

Madison Alders: Brenda Konkel, Mike Verveer, Robbie Webber, Marsha Rummel, Eli Judge, Brian Solomon, Tim Gruber, Satya Rhodes-Conway, Julia Kerr, Tim Bruer, Larry Palm, Judy Compton, Joe Clausius, Mark Clear

Fitchburg Alders: Roger Tesch, Bill Horns, Steve Arnold

Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk

Dane County Supervisors: Scott McDonell, Barbara Vedder, Brett Hulsey, Wyndham Manning, John Hendrick, Matt Veldran, Carousel Andrea Bayrd, Dianne Hesselbein, Paul Rusk, Chuck Erickson, Melanie Hampton, Dave de Felice, Tom Stoebig, Dorothy Wheeler, Sheila Stubbs, Kyle Richmond

State Senators:
Mark Miller, Fred Risser, Jon Erpenbach

Assembly Representatives: Sondy Pope-Roberts, Joe Parisi, Mark Pocan, Spencer Black, Terese Berceau

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Final Budget With Lower Taxes

From the Wisconsin State Journal (similar article in Cap Times). Counter-intuitive but true.

Madison School Board OKs tax rate cut

Wisconsin State Journal

The Madison School Board approved lowering taxes on the average Madison home by $67.50, or 2.70 percent, at its meeting Monday night.

The tax rate will be $9.81 per $1,000 of assessed value, down from $10.08 for the 2007-2008 school year, a decrease of 2.7 percent. The owner of a $250,000 home in Madison will pay $2,452.50 in school taxes for 2008, according to the district. Last year, school taxes on a $250,000 home were $2,520.

Of the total budget, $226 million will come from the local property tax levy, an increase of $6 million, or 2.74 percent, according to district figures. The vote was 7-0.

A preliminary budget was approved in the spring. The board makes adjustments in October after enrollment and state aid figures are in for the school year.

A referendum appearing on voters' ballots next week would increase property taxes for schools by $13 million over three years. If passed, the referendum would add about $28 to the property tax bill of a home assessed at $250,000.

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Best Los Angeles Area High Schools; 2008

Los Angeles Magazine:

So how did we choose the best high schools on this honor roll? The Academic Performance Index (API) scores range from 200 to 1000 and are calculated from the results for each school's students on statewide tests. Public schools in Los Angeles County were considered for this analysis if their 2006-7 API score was at least 800, the median of a basic score (725) and a proficient one (875) and the state's performance goal for all schools. In addition, schools had to meet minimum standards: an enrollment of 200 students for all schools, a graduating class of 50 students for public schools, and a graduating class of 65 students for private schools. Schools were excluded if they declined to participate or if data were not available. Our index is based on a weighted average of scores assigned to five variables: API score, student-teacher ratio, percentage of students going to college, dropout rate, and advanced placement ratio (this ratio represents the number of AP sections offered, divided by the number of graduates). Private schools had to meet similar standards to avoid exclusion; their index is based on a weighted average of scores assigned to a slightly different set of variables, including the average SAT score for students enrolled at the school. The SAT is scored on a scale of 200 to 800 in each of three sections--writing, mathematics, and critical reading--allowing for a total possible score of 2400. SAT scores were used in evaluating private schools but not public schools. Scores for API testing (taken by public school students only) are considered a more accurate form of measuring students' academic abilities. If a school was missing only its SAT result, the number was projected through a technique known as imputation.

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Parallel Universe

Progressive educators often argue that a focus on standards, testing and accountability prevents teachers from exercising their creativity and imagination on the job. As an experiment in imagination, I offer the following suggested parallel universe.

In this universe, there is an Edupundit who gives 200 lectures a year to athletic directors and administrators in the schools (at $5,000 each) on the subjects of competition, standards, testing, and accountability (keeping score) in athletics.

He points out that exercise is a bad idea, that physical fitness is harmful, and that sports destroy a sense of community in education. He argues that rewarding coaches for good performance by their teams and individual athletes is "odious," and about merit pay for such work, he says, "If you jump through hoops, we'll give you a doggie biscuit in the form of money."

He reveals that poor athletes often fail to succeed in sports and that this constitutes "what could be described as" athletic "ethnic cleansing." He says that the number of games and matches student athletes take part in is "mind-boggling."

Keeping score in games and matches, he says, is "not just meaningless. It's worrisome." And concludes that "Standards," scoring, "and Other Follies" (like competition) have no place in the athletic program in the schools. He has written popular books calling for an end to discipline, rewards, and competition in sports.

This may be all very well in that universe, but how would it play in ours? When it comes to athletics, I doubt very much if anyone advocating such views would be invited to speak by a high school athletic director anywhere in the country. And I assume that books making those arguments would have no sales at all.

However, in our own space-time situation, we do have Alfie Kohn, whose books include: The Homework Myth; What Does it Mean to be Well-Educated?, and More Essays on Standards, Grading, and Other Follies; Punished by Rewards; No Contest: The Case Against Competition; The Case Against Standardized Testing; Beyond Discipline, etc.

It has been reported that he does indeed give 200 speeches a year, mostly to administrators and educators, at $5,000 each, and that in them he fights against academic work, standards, testing, discipline, competition, and accountability just as his imaginary counterpart opposes all those things for athletics in that other universe.

But Alfie Kohn's books do sell here, he gets invited to share these ideas of his, and large audiences of our educators come to be told that if they do their jobs very well, and receive financial rewards, they are good dogs and are being given doggie biscuits for jumping through hoops.

It is not clear whether he regards his own lecture fees as doggie biscuits, but he does claim that when students do poorly in school, the remedy is not more and better homework, because he has already made the case against homework. And rather than calling for higher academic standards, and more student diligence in school, he thinks what we need is an end to "educational ethnic cleansing" instead.

The damage done by such an Edupundit to the effort to achieve educational reform through higher academic standards and better accountability is not easy to gauge. Perhaps some who attend his 200 lectures think he is funny, somewhat like those progressive educators who are so intent on "hands-on learning," "field trips," and "social activism" on the part of students that one can almost imagine them saying to students, in effect, "Step away from that book and no one gets hurt!"

Surely Mister Kohn is one of a kind, but we would not have achieved the high and world-renowned levels of mediocrity in our nation's schools if there were not thousands of educational workers who think as he does, and dedicate themselves each day to keeping academic standards low, preventing students from being challenged academically, and fighting hard against any information which might come from tests which could hold them accountable for the ignorance and academic incompetence of their (our) students.

We need to find educators for our schools who have succeeded academically themselves and as a result are not trying to block the academic achievement of their students. Steve Jobs of Apple Computer used to say that "A people hire A people, and B people hire C people." We need more 'A' people looking for their peers to help them raise academic standards for our students. Educators who have done poorly in school may like Mr. Kohn's arguments. Most of those who have done well would not.

[Mr. Kohn's quotes are from a story by Lisa Schnecker in The Salt Lake Tribune from 17 October 2008]

Will Fitzhugh [founder]
Consortium for Varsity Academics® [2007]
The Concord Review [1987]
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National Writing Board [1998]
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730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
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978-443-0022; 800-331-5007;
Varsity Academics®

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Endangered languages

The Economist:

The electronic age drives some languages out of existence, but can help save others

THINK of the solitude felt by Marie Smith before she died earlier this year in her native Alaska, at 89. She was the last person who knew the language of the Eyak people as a mother-tongue. Or imagine Ned Mandrell, who died in 1974--he was the last native speaker of Manx, similar to Irish and Scots Gaelic. Both these people had the comfort of being surrounded, some of the time, by enthusiasts who knew something precious was vanishing and tried to record and learn whatever they could of a vanishing tongue. In remote parts of the world, dozens more people are on the point of taking to their graves a system of communication that will never be recorded or reconstructed.

Does it matter? Plenty of languages--among them Akkadian, Etruscan, Tangut and Chibcha--have gone the way of the dodo, without causing much trouble to posterity. Should anyone lose sleep over the fact that many tongues--from Manchu (spoken in China) to Hua (Botswana) and Gwich'in (Alaska)--are in danger of suffering a similar fate?

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East German history continues to arouse controversy

The Economist:

EVERY German schoolchild learns to revile Hitler, but what about Erich Honecker, boss of communist East Germany? He was not a dictator, or so most teenagers from eastern Germany seem to think. And the dreaded Stasi, which jailed and tortured citizens who stepped out of line? Just an intelligence service, say young easterners. These findings, from a survey of 5,200 schoolchildren by Berlin's Free University, dismayed those who think national identity and democratic values rest on shared judgments about the traumatic past.

The ignorance is unevenly spread. Young western Germans know more of East Germany's history. In Bavaria just 39% of schoolchildren had "little or very little" knowledge; in Brandenburg 72% were ill-informed. A third of eastern German students thought that Konrad Adenauer and Willy Brandt, two western giants, actually governed the east. The same proportion judge West Germany's political system to have been the better; two-thirds of westerners do. Such differences persist even among children of western and eastern parents who attend the same Berlin schools.

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October 27, 2008

High Schools Add Electives to Cultivate Interests

Winnie Hu:

The students in the jewelry and metalsmithing class at Pelham Memorial High School painstakingly coiled copper and brass wires into necklaces the other morning, while across the hall, the history of rock 'n' roll class pondered the meaning of Don McLean's "American Pie."

These are two of the 17 electives added this year to the curriculum in this affluent Westchester County suburb, redefining traditional notions of a college-preparatory education and allowing students to pursue specialized interests that once were relegated to after-school clubs and weekend hobbies. Now, budding musicians take guitar lessons, amateur war historians re-enact military battles, and future engineers build solar-powered cars -- all during school hours, and for credit.

"It's letting people learn about what they love rather than dictating what they should be learning," said Morgan McDaniel, a senior who added the rock 'n' roll class to her roster of Advanced Placement classes in calculus, biology, European history and studio art.

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Madison School District Final $368M 2008/2009 Budget

1.5MB PDF. Property tax levy:

2005-2006: $200,363,255
2006-2007: 209,206,079
2007-2008: 220,290,484
2008-2009: 226,330,285

The District's "Fund Equity" was $28,880,778.90 as of 6/30/2008, an increase from $21,966,265.61 on 6/30/2006.

The final budget will be discussed at this evening's Madison School Board meeting.

Tamira Madsen has more.

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Edgewood students study St. Croix River

Pamela Cotant:

Edgewood High School students presented their research findings last week at the St. Croix River Research Rendezvous -- concrete evidence of their days of wading knee deep, navigating through dense brush and searching forests for mushrooms.

Eleven students in Edgewood's advanced environmental field education class spent two weeks this summer studying mussel, rusty crayfish, mushroom, beaver and frog populations in Minnesota's enormous St. Croix State Park. A first for the school, seven of the students will present their research at the Rendezvous at the Warner Nature Center at Marine on St. Croix, Minn.

The National Park Service at the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, which is in eastern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin, will include the students' research in data it is compiling.

"It was hard -- messy. You're out there every day ... all hours," said Arial Shogren, a senior this year who studied crayfish. "Our work does get used and that's exciting."

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Katherine Kersten: New Minnesota charter schools heading into a legal minefield

Katherine Kersten:

The Minnesota Department of Education has received applications for three new taxpayer-funded charter schools.

They include Howard and Mattie Smith Academy, a K-3, 9-12 school proposed for Minneapolis, named for two legendary preachers at Shiloh Temple Church. Another is The Academy, a 10-12 Minneapolis school, and the third is a 7-12 school, St. Paul Rising Sun.

A new charitable organization, Minnesota Education Trust (MET), has applied to sponsor all three schools, and at one point sought to assume sponsorship of a fourth -- the Academy for Food Sciences and Agriculture, whose name evokes Minnesota's heartland. "Minnesota Education Trust" sounds pretty generic, but the name seems to convey a clear sense of the organization's mission.

Or does it?

MET's "principal goals" are set forth in its articles of incorporation, filed with the secretary of state in May 2007. The first goal listed is "to promote the message of Islam to Muslims and non-Muslims and promote understanding between them." Other goals include building a virtuous society and providing education to children and adults. The final goal is to "support schools, community centers, mosques and other organizations that serve the above goals."

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Michelle Rhee & The "Educational Insurgency"

Jay Matthews:

To understand D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and the educational insurgency she is part of, you have to know what happened when she taught at Baltimore's Harlem Park Elementary School in the early 1990s.

The Teach for America program threw well-educated young people such as Rhee -- bachelor's degree from Cornell, master's from Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government -- into classrooms full of impoverished children after only a summer of training. "It was a zoo, every day," she recalled. Thirty-six children, all poor, suffered under a novice who had no idea what to do.

But within months, for Rhee and other influential educators in her age group, the situation changed. She vowed not "to let 8-year-olds run me out of town." She discovered learning improved when everyone sat in a big U-pattern with her in the middle and she made quick marks on the blackboard for good and bad behavior without ever stopping the lesson. She spent an entire summer making lesson plans and teaching materials, with the help of indulgent aunts visiting from Korea. She found unconventional but effective ways to teach reading and math. She set written goals for each child and enlisted parents in her plans.

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Palin Promises School Choice for Disabled Students

Kate Zernike:

In her first policy speech of the presidential campaign, Gov. Sarah Palin vowed Friday that a McCain administration would allow all special-needs students the choice of attending private schools at public expense, a controversial and potentially costly proposal likely to be welcomed by many parents and bitterly opposed by many school districts.

Ms. Palin, the Republican nominee for vice president, also promised that she and Senator John McCain would finally provide public schools the federal money that was promised when the law covering students with special needs was passed in 1975. Her pledge was intended to address the top concern of many school districts, and is one that has been made by many other politicians but never fulfilled.

The policy speech was a departure for Ms. Palin, whose métier is the kind of foot-stomping pep rally she headlined the night before, at a stop north of Pittsburgh, where she recalled an anecdote about "Joe the quarterback" -- as in Namath, a local native -- to "guarantee" that she and Mr. McCain would come from behind to win.

In a hotel meeting room before about 150 parents and children with special needs, Ms. Palin was more subdued, and departed slightly from her prepared remarks to speak of her fears when she learned that the baby she was carrying earlier this year would have Down syndrome.

The Madison School District spent $70,582,539 on Special Education, according to the 2007/2008 Amended Budget (,a href="">460K PDF). Total budget was $365,248,476 according to the same document.

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November 2008 Madison Schools' Referendum Roundup

Dave Blaska:

The prevailing wisdom is that the referendum will pass. The prevailing wisdom is probably correct. There has been no organized effort to fight it, unlike three years ago. And the surge of Obama voters, the scent of victory in their flaring nostrils, will carry along the schools in that high tide that lifts all boats. The Wisconsin State Journal has yet to do any serious journalism on the issue. It's been lost in the shuffle.

On the other hand, the stock market is in the toilet and with it, people's retirement plans. Home values are falling. Layoffs are accelerating. Energy prices are moderating but still expensive. And in the near future: a recession of unknown duration. So, maybe it doesn't pass.

The referendum was recommended 7-0 August 26 by the overly harmonious school board, including Lucy Mathiak, who once teamed with Ruth Robarts and Laurie Kobza. Those two, however, are no longer serving.

I give Ed Hughes credit for reaching out to this irascible blogger. The schools have not done enough of that in the past. I am thinking now of former TV-3 news anchor Beth Zurbuchen, who infamously dissed of opponents of the referendum three years ago for being "selfish."

Two of the three spending referenda were defeated that year, in no small part to such arrogance. I made that point with Ed Hughes. For arrogance this year, we have Marge Passman of Progressive Dane. You can hear Mitch Henck sputtering with amazement on his WIBA radio program Outside the Box as Passman makes the most ridiculous comments.

One Madison voter with a ballot discrepancy said that she's now questioning whether these mistakes are really mistakes, WISC-TV reported.

When Carole McGuire received her absentee ballot, she said something didn't look right. "The ballot came, and I thought, 'That's odd,'" said McGuire.

She said that noticed that among all the races, the Madison Metropolitan School District referendum was nowhere to be found.

"Here is where the school district referendum would be, and it's not there," said McGuire, who then called the city clerk.

"I said, 'This isn't the correct ballot,'" said McGuire. "She said, 'Oh well, tear it up and we'll give you a new one.' I said, 'No, I don't want to tear it up at the moment, I'll come back.'

Paul Caron on declines in state income, sales tax and fee revenues:
States are beginning to report revenue collections for the July-September 2008 quarter, and the new figures raise the likelihood that large, additional budget shortfalls are developing. Of 15 mostly large and mid-sized states that have published complete data for this period, the majority collected less total tax revenue in July-September 2008 than was collected in the same period in 2007. ... After adjustment for inflation, total revenue collections are below 2007 levels in 14 of the 15 states.
Greg Mankiw on proposed federal income tax changes:
Shelly Banjo compares McCain & Obama's tax plans.

Much more on the November 4, 2008 Madison referendum here.

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Advocating Mayoral Takeover of the Milwaukee Public Schools

Charlie Sykes:

In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards.--Mark Twain

The "goody bags" may have been the tipping point.

In August, a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation highlighted massive waste and failure in the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS): after spending more than a $100 million on neighborhood schools, the paper reported, many of the new buildings were unused and the classrooms empty. "With a few exceptions" the paper reported, "student achievement has shown little improvement--and in some cases it has fallen dramatically--at 22 schools that were among the largest beneficiaries of the district's school construction program."

But it was the bags that caught the public's attention.

A week after the series on the failed building project, columnist Dan Bice reported that Milwaukee School Board member Charlene Hardin, accompanied by a high school data-processing secretary, had junketed at taxpayer expense to Philadelphia in mid-July, ostensibly to attend a conference on school safety. But organizers of the conference said that Hardin never showed up for any of the conference itself.

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Long Battle Expected on DC Plan to Fire Teachers

Bill Turque:

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and the Washington Teachers' Union -- aided by its national parent organization -- are digging in for what could be a protracted struggle over Rhee's plan to fire instructors deemed to be ineffective.

School officials have posted job openings for an unspecified number of "helping teachers" to counsel instructors who have received notice to improve or face termination. Principals have been asked to identify teachers who can be placed on the so-called 90-day plan, which gives teachers 90 school days -- or about five months -- to upgrade their performance. The helping teachers will also document all assistance given to instructors and report to central office administrators, according to the job description posted on the D.C. schools Web site.

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Students Learning from Financial Crisis

Julian Guthrie:

Alex Gould paced the stage of an auditorium at Stanford University last week, imploring students to think about why the U.S. Treasury bought preferred stock rather than common stock in nine major banks, and how the nation's economic meltdown began with home mortgages.

Gould, who teaches a course at Stanford on money, banking and the financial markets, searched the faces of his 100 students, many of whom are preparing to graduate in the spring. Students asked questions about their midterm exam, but many grappled with a bigger question: What does a destabilized economy mean for their future?

Related story: A case of balance as credit card rules change.

Educators across the Bay Area are using the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression to teach everything from behavioral finance and social justice to the recasting of capitalism.

"What's happening now affects every one of us," Gould said. "It provides an unparalleled laboratory of real-world applications upon which to test theories."

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Colleges Continue Irrational Policies on IB Program

Jay Matthews:

American education has a tattered reputation in many respects, except for our colleges and universities. They are world leaders in quality and accessibility. The desire to provide our children the best in higher education unites Americans in a unique way.

So it dismays me to report that on one issue, the leaders of nearly every four-year college in the country have shown appalling ignorance and hypocrisy. They say they want high schools to provide challenging courses for students thinking of college, but at the same time they discriminate against the most demanding college-level program in high school: International Baccalaureate.

College officials in Maryland, Virginia and the District have proven especially dense on this subject. In February, I wrote about their refusal to give credit to students who did well on final exams in one-year IB courses while giving credit to students who did well in final exams for similar (but in many cases less-demanding) one-year Advanced Placement courses. The culprit seemed to be an old committee report that had wormed its way into university regulations without any data behind it. IB students can generally get college credit only after taking two-year IB courses.

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October 26, 2008

An In-depth Look at School Lunches on Long Island


Newsday examined hundreds of school menus, budgets and vending machine contracts, and spoke to professionals and leaders. What we found might disturb you.

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Milwaukee School board OKs 14.6% levy increase

Alan Borsuk:

After acting to protect their travel budget and to keep their right to receive a $150-a-year car allowance and $3 for each time they go somewhere in the city on official business, Milwaukee School Board members early Friday approved a budget for this year that will raise the amount to be collected in property taxes for schools by 14.6%.

The approval came on a 6-3 vote at 1:46 a.m., seven minutes after the board voted down an otherwise-identical proposal that would have taken away the car allowance and tightened up travel spending.

The mini-drama over the board members' travel budget came at the same meeting the board approved a much tighter set of rules for out-of-town trips for members, a reaction to Journal Sentinel stories about travel by board member Charlene Hardin, including a trip to a conference she reportedly did not actually attend.

The budget vote means Milwaukee Public Schools is returning to spending the maximum amount allowed by state law, a practice that had been followed in every recent year except for a year ago, when the tax levy increase was held to 9% although state law permitted an increase of more than 16%.

Because of provisions in the state school funding formula, holding down spending cost MPS more than $5 million in state aid this year, which was one of the arguments for returning to spending at the maximum level.

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Solution for the Education Maelstrom

CNET Story on OLPC -- a comment

In the comments to a CNET article discussing One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) XO computer, the commentator below perhaps hit a key point.

by tudza October 24, 2008 5:55 PM PDT
Let's not forget that almost all the K12 classes in the U.S. get are getting a bad reputation for not teaching those students well. Switching technologies from new to old doesn't necessarily get you any better results.

The true solution is to buy everyone Korean parents.

Korean parents for sale
You say you're not all
That you want to be
You say you got a bad environment
Your work at school's not going well

Korean parents for sale
You say you need a little discipline
Someone to whip you into shape
They'll be strict but they'll be fair

Look at the numbers
That's all I ask
Who's at the head of every class?
You really think
They're smarter than you are
They just work their ***** off
Their parents make them do it

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Schools Open, and First Test Is Iraqi Safety

Sam Dagher in Baghdad via a Dexter Filkins email:

On the first day of school, 10-year-old Basma Osama looked uneasy standing in formation under an already stifling morning sun. She and dozens of schoolmates listened to a teacher's pep talk -- probably a necessary one, given the barren and garbage-strewn playground.

"Security has returned to Baghdad, city of peace and land of pan-Arabism," the teacher told the students, many as young as 5, who were loaded down with bright backpacks.

Basma's mother, Hind Majid, who had just returned with her two daughters after a year in Egypt waiting out Iraq's uncertainties, was not yet convinced about the security part.

"I am still fearful of the situation," she said. "I have taken a gamble with my return to Iraq."

It was certainly not the gamble it would have been a year ago, as calm has settled over ever-larger areas of Iraq. But still there are many reasons for worry: Only a few hours after Basma arrived, the school was evacuated when Iraqi commandos stormed in and warned that two women were planning suicide bombing attacks on schools in the area.

The first day of school feels like a fresh start everywhere, and Iraq's six million schoolchildren returned to much more hope and far less violence this year.

Filkins covered Iraq for a number of years and has recently written an excellent book: "The Forever War".

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The New WEAC

George Lightbourn:

This is an especially timely discussion as control of the Wisconsin Legislature hangs in the balance with the upcoming fall election. While it is widely believed that the state Senate will remain in Democratic hands, the Assembly is altogether another matter. With a mere five vote majority and a nation anxious to blame Republicans for both the war in Iraq as well as the weak economy, Republican retention of an Assembly majority is definitely in play. If the Assembly were to tumble into Democratic hands, Democrats would control all of state government. At long last, the thinking goes, WEAC will rise up and ensure its minions in the Capitol do what they have promised; expunge the QEO from state law books.

But is that the case? Maybe not. That picture might have been clear a few years ago, but it is less clear today.

The QEO Through Time

To understand the roots of the popular caricature of WEAC, a short history lesson is in order. As we close in on a generation under the QEO, it is easy to forget what life was like before Tommy Thompson signed the QEO into law. In the 1980s and into the early 1990s a statewide furrowing of the brow and wringing of hands occurred every Christmas season when local governments slid property tax bills into our mailboxes. In 1989 school taxes rose 9% followed by a 9.4% increase in 1990 and a 10% jump in 1991. The last straw came in 1993 when schools added 12.3% to the property tax bill. Of course every year the school tax was layered on top of the tax bill from cities, villages and town so property taxes were routinely increasing at double-digit rates.

While property taxes might not have stirred the public psyche as much as say the Vietnam War had, it was close. Every state budget discussion started and ended with property taxes. It was the third rail of Wisconsin politics. The property tax discussion drove a wedge between Democrats and Republicans; it caused short fuses between state and local governments and between general governments and schools. And everyone understood who was operating the jack that kept ratcheting up property taxes: it was teachers.

No, it wasn't just teachers, it was WEAC. What generations of teachers had known as a helpful service organization, overnight had assumed the pale of a hard-line labor union. It was as though WEAC had undergone its own version of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The side of the organization that provided teacher services was taken over by the union side. Overnight it became clear that nothing mattered to the staff at WEAC if it didn't entail: raising teacher pay, protecting jobs, or improving working conditions. This was the familiar mantra of every labor union from the autoworkers to air traffic controllers.

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October 25, 2008

A look at Madison Memorial's Small Learning Communities

Andy Hall:

In 2000, Memorial became the first Madison school to land one of the U.S. Department of Education grants. It was awarded $438,000 to create its neighborhood social structure. West High School became the second, winning a $500,000 grant in 2002 and reorganizing its ninth and 10th grades around core courses.

In August, district officials were thrilled to learn the district was awarded $5.5 million over five years for its four major high schools -- Memorial, West, La Follette and East -- to build stronger connections among students and faculty by creating so-called "small learning communities" that divide each high school population into smaller populations.

Officials cite research showing that schools with 500 to 900 students tend to be the most effective, and recent findings suggest that students at schools with small learning communities are more likely to complete ninth grade, less likely to become involved in violence and more likely to attend college after graduation. However, the latest federal study failed to find a clear link between small learning communities and higher academic achievement.

Each Madison high school will develop its own plan for how to spend the grant money. Their common goals: Make school feel like a smaller, friendlier place where all students feel included. Shrink the racial achievement gap, raise graduation rates, expand the courses available and improve planning for further education and careers.

The high schools, with enrollments ranging from 1,600 to 2,000 students, are being redesigned as their overall scores on state 10th grade reading and math tests are worrisome, having declined slightly the past two years.

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In Support of the November, 2008 Madison Schools' Referendum

In just a few days we have the opportunity and the responsibility to show our continuing support for Madison Public Schools by voting yes for the school district referendum. Please remember to vote for the referendum as you do your balloting and please talk with friends and family and urge their support for the referendum also.

In case you didn?t see the Wisconsin State Journal endorsement of the referendum, please click on the following link. For the Cap Times endorsement, click on this link. Then, read my guest column which appeared in the State Journal on October 10 and the Cap Times on October 22; here is the link to that letter. Cumulatively, these three pieces help explain the educational importance of the district initiative and the responsibility of Madison residents to support it.

If Madison residents need help understanding the property tax implications of the referendum, the following paragraphs may help some.

Passage of the referendum will permanently increase the revenue cap for operating costs by $5 million in 2009-2010, and by $4 million in both 2010-11 and 2011-12 for a total request of $13 million over the three-year period.

The average Madison homeowner would see their tax bill increase by $27.50 in 2009; $43.10 in 2010; and $20.90 in 2011. However, in 2008, school property taxes on the average home will decrease about $40. Therefore, in 2011, average homeowners will pay $51.50 more in school taxes than they paid in 2007. That means many of us will still pay less school tax in 2011 than we paid in 1994. Unbelievable, but true.

In 1993-94 Madison's mil rate for its schools was 19.15; in 2007 it was 10.08, almost half of what it was. Unless your home assessment has doubled in that period of time (which it may have), your school property tax has gone down. If your home assessment doubled, your school property tax would be about the same now as it was in 1993-94. Again, even with passage of the referendum, many Madison taxpayers will be paying less in school taxes in 2011 than they did in 1994.

Thank you for your continued support of Madison Schools and Madison kids. Together we make the community a stronger, more vibrant place for all of us to live.

Barbara Arnold, member of GRUMPS (Grandparents United For Madison Public Schools) Steering Committee and a former President of the Madison Board of Education

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America's Most Overrated Product: The Bachelor's Degree

Marty Nemko:

Among my saddest moments as a career counselor is when I hear a story like this: "I wasn't a good student in high school, but I wanted to prove that I can get a college diploma. I'd be the first one in my family to do it. But it's been five years and $80,000, and I still have 45 credits to go."

I have a hard time telling such people the killer statistic: Among high-school students who graduated in the bottom 40 percent of their classes, and whose first institutions were four-year colleges, two-thirds had not earned diplomas eight and a half years later. That figure is from a study cited by Clifford Adelman, a former research analyst at the U.S. Department of Education and now a senior research associate at the Institute for Higher Education Policy. Yet four-year colleges admit and take money from hundreds of thousands of such students each year!

Even worse, most of those college dropouts leave the campus having learned little of value, and with a mountain of debt and devastated self-esteem from their unsuccessful struggles. Perhaps worst of all, even those who do manage to graduate too rarely end up in careers that require a college education. So it's not surprising that when you hop into a cab or walk into a restaurant, you're likely to meet workers who spent years and their family's life savings on college, only to end up with a job they could have done as a high-school dropout.

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Rice on US Education

Steve Gorman:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Wednesday that failing public schools pose her greatest national security concern, one she warned could undermine the United States' ability to lead and to compete in a global economy.

Equal access to educational opportunities, she said, also lies at the heart of one of the nation's most important core values -- the belief in the United States as a true meritocracy.

Rice, a Stanford University professor before joining the Bush administration, spoke at a conference of women organized by former TV journalist Maria Shriver, the wife of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

As an educator, Rice said it broke her heart to see "kids who might be the next Nobel Prize winner ... trapped in some public school that's just basically warehousing them."

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October 24, 2008

THE REAL WEALTH OF THE NATION; Green Charter School Conference - Madison 11/7 - 11/8

Tia Nelson:

Wisconsin has long been an incubator for prescient ideas about the connection between human society and the natural environment.

John Muir's boyhood in the backwoods near Portage, Wis., provided a foundation for his early leadership in a dawning environmental protection movement.

A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold's description of the area around his Sauk County, Wis., home, has inspired natural stewardship throughout the world and is required reading for anyone with an interest in conservation.

My father, the late U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, launched the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, as an annual day of observance and nationwide teach-in about environmental issues because he recognized the significance of educating children and young adults about the natural world.

Today, as we reap the effects of pernicious economic activity, a failing energy policy and atmospheric warming, I find my father's words both foreboding and reassuring:

"Forging and maintaining a sustainable society is The Challenge for this and all generations to come. At this point in history, no nation has managed to evolve into a sustainable society. We are all pursuing a self-destructive course of fueling our economies by drawing down our natural capital--that is to say, by degrading and depleting our resource base--and counting it on the income side of the ledger. ... [T]he real wealth of a nation is its air, water, soil, forests, rivers, lakes, oceans, scenic beauty, wildlife habitats, and biodiversity."

Papa often talked about the importance of raising the next generation with environmental ethics so they make informed decisions about the use of our natural resources, which are the authentic foundation of a healthy economy. Imagine a robust and equitable economy with clean and abundant energy resources, sustainably managed farms and forests, where innovation and green jobs give us healthy choices that can lead us to a better future.

As a result of impassioned summertime conversations about the present urgency of my father's words, environmental scientists, educators and other citizens from throughout the United States will travel to storied Central Wisconsin in November for a seminal discussion of the dual imperative for public schools to recognize sustainable "green" values as a critical aspect of citizenship and use charter-school operating arrangements to research and develop the comprehensive environmental education and conservation curricula we need to dramatically change our culture, preserve natural capital and enjoy a good life that does not deprive future generations. It has become clear to many of us who have been focused on environmental issues that it is now critical for our nation to rethink the ways public education serves its crucial role in the development of a sustainable society. Green educational programming is flourishing in public charter schools because these schools can break the mold of traditional school, which is bound by bricks-and-mortar, industrial-era ideas about classrooms and instruction--the boundaries that may limit our exploration of new terrain. Charter schools allow public school districts to pilot fresh programs and policies that can vary considerably from other more traditional approaches. With 15 green charter schools, Wisconsin is leading the nation in using charter-school operating arrangements to develop contemporary environmental values. River Crossing Charter School, a public school nestled in the region that inspired Muir and Leopold, offers a unique environmental-based educational program that uses the rich natural resources and industrial history of Wisconsin as an outdoor learning laboratory, offering hands-on programming and investigative sites along the Wisconsin and Fox rivers--waterways that extend from the paper mill towns along Lake Michigan to the Mississippi. Earlier this year, a fledgling national network of green charter schools was organized in Wisconsin to build a collective knowledge base about environmental education that provides students the academic knowledge, technical skills and personal dispositions they need to solve our nation's thorniest public problems. The issues presently confronting our nation challenge us to develop a sustainable economy and culture through fundamentally transformed schools.
The first Green Charter Schools National Conference is scheduled for November 7 - 8 at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. "At the Heart of a Green Curriculum: What It Means to Be An Educated Person," a foundational message delivered by WILLIAM CRONON, the Frederick Jackson Turner and Vilas Research Professor of History, Geography, and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will open the program. MORGAN BROWN will speak about "Green Chartered Schools: A Systemic View" at the noon plenary session. Brown is Assistant Commissioner, Minnesota Dept. of Education. The conference is presented by: Green Charter Schools Network

UW-Madison Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies

More information

Learn more about public charter schools with environment-focused educational programs.

New Roots to Rethink Old Education Model

The Urban Environment

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For '09 Grads, Job Prospects Take a Dive

Cari Tuna:

College seniors may have more trouble landing a job next spring than recent graduates, as employers trim their hiring outlooks in response to the slowing economy and financial-sector turmoil.

Employers plan to hire just 1.3% more graduates in 2009 than they hired this year, according to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

That's the weakest outlook in six years and reflects a sharp recent downturn. Just two months ago, a survey by the same group projected a 6.1% increase in hiring. The August survey included 219 employers, 146 of whom responded to the new survey, conducted earlier this month. The big drop in hiring projections is "extremely unusual," says Edwin Koc, the association's director of strategic research.

The results continue a pattern of diminishing job prospects for college graduates. A year ago, employers told the association they would increase hiring for the class of 2008 by 16%. By this spring, though, the projected increase had fallen to 8%. The association doesn't report how actual hiring compares with its projections.

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DC Schools' Chancellor Michelle Rhee: "The Lightning Rod"

Clay Risen, via a kind reader's email:

Since her arrival, in the summer of 2007, Rhee, just 38 years old, has become the most controversial figure in American public education and the standard-bearer for a new type of schools leader nationwide. She and her cohort often seek to bypass the traditional forces of education schools and unions, instead embracing nontraditional reform mechanisms like charter schools, vouchers, and the No Child Left Behind Act. "They tend to be younger, and many didn't come through the traditional route," says Margaret Sullivan, a former education analyst at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute. And that often means going head-to-head with the people who did.

Rhee, responsible not to a school board but only to the mayor, went on a spree almost as soon as she arrived. She gained the right to fire central-office employees and then axed 98 of them. She canned 24 principals, 22 assistant principals, and, at the beginning of this summer, 250 teachers and 500 teaching aides. She announced plans to close 23 underused schools and set about restructuring 26 other schools (together, about a third of the system). And she began negotiating a radical performance-based compensation contract with the teachers union that could revolutionize the way teachers get paid.

Her quick action has brought Rhee laudatory profiles everywhere from Newsweek to the Memphis Commercial-Appeal, and appearances on Charlie Rose and at Allen & Company's annual Sun Valley conference. Washington is now ground zero for education reformers. "People are coming from across the country to work for her," says Andrew Rotherham, the co-director of Education Sector, a Washington think tank. "It's the thing to do." Rhee had Stanford and Harvard business-school students on her intern staff this summer, and she has received blank checks from reform-minded philanthropists at the Gates and Broad foundations to fund experimental programs. Businesses have flooded her with offers to help--providing supplies, mentoring, or just giving cash.

Clusty search: Michelle Rhee.

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Business - School Partnerships

Susan Gvozdas:

Two years ago, Marilyn Wilhelm of Annapolis faced a difficult decision. Her husband had lost his job, and the family of six couldn't make it on the single income of a school day-care worker. Her sister suggested she look into a computer networking career, so she enrolled in the Cisco Networking Academy at Anne Arundel Community College.

After two semesters of working part time and living off savings, Wilhelm became a Cisco-certified network associate. The entry-level certification ensures technicians know how to connect and manage the wiring and switches to link computers and provide Internet access. The college held a career fair last year with companies that had partnerships with California-based Cisco Systems Inc.

Her training and enthusiasm landed her a summer internship and later a job at Chesapeake Netcraftsmen, a networking company in Arnold. This year, she began teaching the basic networking courses she took at the college and started studying for higher-level certification through her company.

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Wisconsin Forum on Special Education 11/17/2008 in Madison

Via a kind reader's email:

The State Superintendent' s Council on Special Education will be holding a public forum to gather input on matters related to special education in Wisconsin. Information obtained will be used by the Council in advising the Department of Public Instruction on matters affecting the education of Wisconsin 's children and youth with disabilities.

This public forum will be held Monday evening, November 17, 2008 from 5:00 to 7:00 PM at the Madison Marriott West, Salon D (1313 John Q. Hammons Drive Middleton, Wisconsin; 608/831-2000).

Should you have any questions related to this public forum, do not hesitate to contact Chair Myrah at or (262) 268-6079.

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Nanotechnology 101

Margaret Blohm @ GE: "Nanotechnology lets you do stuff we thought impossible".

via Grey Goo News. GE Podcasts.

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Just What Exactly is a Charter School?

Open Education:

One of the more consistent, ongoing suggestions for improving America's educational system centers upon the creation of greater competition amongst public schools. The reason for the steady drumbeat centers upon a belief that a change to the free market system would be one of the best methods for creating better educational opportunities for children.

In direct response to the push for greater competition, forty states across America have now initiated legislation to allow the construction of new public schools called charter schools. Minnesota was the first state to pass laws regarding charter schools, doing so in 1991.

The concept is definitely catching on. Today, according to, there are nearly 4,000 charter schools across our country educating more than 1.1 million children. The state of California, the second to enact such legislation, has more than 600 such schools educating about one-fifth of all charter school students.

While the number of schools continues to grow, large numbers of Americans, many even within the field of education, simply do not know what a charter school really consists of or how this new school concept differs from traditional public schools. Today at, we provide our readers the fundamentals of the charter school concept.

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Can Interdistrict Choice Boost Student Achievement?
The Case of Connecticut's Interdistrict Magnet School Program

Robert Bifulco, Casey Cobb & Courtney Bell [320K PDF]:

In response to a landmark civil rights ruling, the state of Connecticut has adopted models of choice-based interdistrict desegregation that appear to satisfy current legal constraints. In this paper, we focus on Connecticut's interdistrict magnet schools, and estimate the effects these schools have had on student achievement. We use longitudinal data on individual student test performance and information from admissions lotteries to implement quasi-experimental, regression-based, and propensity score estimators. Preliminary analyses show that lottery based methods, propensity score methods, and regression analysis provide similar estimates of achievement effects of for the small set of schools for which all three methods can be implemented. We then proceed to use the latter two methods to estimate effects for all of the interdistrict magnet high schools and middle schools that serve students from Hartford, Waterbury and New Haven. Results indicate that, on average, interdistrict magnet high schools have positive effects on both math and reading achievement, and interdistrict magnet middle schools have positive effects on reading achievement. Extensions of our analysis indicate that interdistrict magnet high schools have positive effects particularly on the achievement of students in Hartford, New Haven and Waterbury and do so regardless of how much attending an interdistrict magnet high school reduces racial isolation. The positive effects of magnet middle schools appear to be limited to suburban students, except in those schools that are able to achieve substantial reductions in racial isolation for their central city students.

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On School Start Times

Tania Lopez:

One main proposal reverses the start times for high school and elementary students. High-schoolers now start at 7:30 a.m. and elementary students begin at 8:45 a.m.

School officials cited a University of Minnesota study that found high school students benefit from later start times. Westfield teachers say older students have problems concentrating and often fall asleep in class. Elementary school students don't have that problem until after lunchtime when they reportedly "tend to tire and lose concentration."

Traffic problems, bus and bus driver availability and a new elementary school set to open next year also are factors in the need for change.

The five proposals will be posted to the district's Web site on Monday, and parents will get a chance to weigh in via an online survey.

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October 23, 2008

Milwaukee Looks for Feedback on its Planned Sex Education Curriculum

Erin Richards:

After overhauling its K-12 sex education curriculum this summer with the help of community partners and health experts, Milwaukee Public School district officials have released the first draft of lessons to be taught to kids in kindergarten through fifth grade.

The problem: Despite calls to every elementary school principal for help in reaching parents, and a link to the proposed human growth and development curriculum on the MPS home website, only a handful of people have offered feedback.

"I'd like to hear from anyone in the community, but I really need parents," said Brett Fuller, curriculum specialist for health, wellness and safe and drug-free schools.

Responses to the new curriculum can be directed to this online survey.

Expedient feedback is important to the district for several reasons. For one, sex education can be a touchy subject and the more people who see the proposed changes, the better chance there is of everyone feeling comfortable with what's being taught.

Related: Sex Education for Primary Schools:
Primary school children are to be given compulsory lessons in sex education and the dangers of drugs, the Government confirmed.

The shake-up of lessons is aimed at cutting Britain's high teenage pregnancy rate and steering youngsters away from drug and alcohol misuse.

It will mean primary school children will learn about puberty and the facts of life from the age of seven. From the age of five, pupils will be taught about topics such as the parts of the body, relationships and the effects of drugs on the body.

As pupils progress through school they will be given detailed information about contraception and sexually transmitted infections as well as the risks of drug and alcohol misuse.

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Students Show a Growing Appreciation for Classical Music

Lindsay Christians:

Zou Zou Robidoux loves classical music and is not ashamed to talk about it.

"I'm a geek about it," said the 16-year-old Robidoux, who began playing in fourth grade. "It's 90 percent of the music I listen to."

As for the cello, she added, "I can't even describe how much I love it and how much it fits me."

Robidoux may seem like an anomaly among teens, most of whom are more interested in listening to Lil Wayne or Panic! at the Disco. But in Madison, that's not exactly true.

Robidoux is one of hundreds of local young people with a growing interest in classical music. And while the majority of the Overture Center's audiences for symphony, chamber orchestra and opera may be over 50, that's not an indication that classical music is dying. Interest in the classics is part of a national trend that runs counter to conventional wisdom.

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Counting on the Future: International Benchmarks in Mathematics for American School Districts

Dr. Gary W. Phillips & John A. Dossey [2.5MB PDF Report]:

Students in six major U.S. cities are performing on par or better in mathematics than their peers in other countries in grades 4 and 8, according to a new study by the American Institutes for Research (AIR). However, students from five other major cities are not faring as well, and overall, U.S. student performance in mathematics falls off from elementary to middle school grades -- and remains behind many industrialized nations, particularly Asian nations.

The AIR study offers the first comparison between students from large U.S. cities and their international peers. The study compares U.S. 4th grade students with their counterparts in 24 countries and 8th grade students with peers in 45 countries.

"Globalization is not something we can hold off or turn is the economic equivalent of a force of nature... like the wind and water" (Bill Clinton)

If you are a student today competing for jobs in a global economy, the good jobs will not go to the best in your graduating class--the jobs will go to the best students in the world. Large urban cities are intimately connected to the nations of the world. Large corporations locate their businesses in U.S. cities; foreign students attend U.S. schools; and U.S. businesses export goods and services to foreign nations. Large urban cities need to know how their students stack up against peers in the nations with which the U.S. does business. This is especially important for students in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The students in these fields will allow our future generation to remain technologically innovative and economically competitive.

This report provides a comparison of the number of mathematically Proficient students in Grades 4 and 8 in 11 large cities in the United States with their international peers.

This comparison is made possible by statistically linking the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in 2003 and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) in 2003 when both assessments were conducted in the United States in the same year and in the same grades.

After the statistical linking was completed, it was possible to compare the most recent NAEP results (from 2007) to the most recent TIMSS results (from 2003). How the United States compares to the overall international average.

At Grade 4, five countries (Singapore, Hong Kong SAR, Chinese Taipei, Japan, and the Flemish portion of Belgium) performed significantly better than the United States (Figure 1). However, the United States (at 39% proficiency) performed better than the international average (27% proficiency) of all 24 countries (Figure 13).

At Grade 8, eight countries (Singapore, Hong Kong SAR, Republic of Korea, Chinese Taipei, Japan, Belgium (Flemish), Netherlands, and Hungary) performed significantly better than the United States (Figure 1). However, the United States (at 31% proficiency) performed better than the international average (21% proficiency) of all 44 countries (Figure 14).


Because of the persistent requests of urban school districts, the U .S . Congress authorized NAEP to assess, on a trial basis, six large urban school districts beginning in 2002 . Since then, more districts have been added, resulting in 11 school districts in 2007 (and plans are underway to include even more districts in the future) . The urban school chiefs in these 11 large school districts, which voluntarily participated in the 2007 NAEP, recognized the global nature of educational expectations and the importance of having reliable external data against which to judge the performance of their students and to hold themselves accountable . They should be commended for their visionary goal of trying to benchmark their local performance against tough national standards. National standards provide a broad context and an external compass with which to steer educational policy to benefit local systems . The purpose of this report is to further help those systems navigate by providing international benchmarks.

Clusty Search: Gary W. Phillips and John A. Dossey.

Greg Toppo has more:

Even if the findings are less-than-stellar, he says, they should help local officials focus on improving results.

"In that sense, I think it could be a very positive thing to use in-house, in the district, to keep their nose to the grindstone," says Kepner, a former middle- and high-school math teacher in Iowa and Wisconsin."If they can show they're improving, they might be able to attract more companies to a system that's on the move."

Phillips says the findings prove that in other countries "it is possible to do well and learn considerably under a lot of varied circumstances -- in other words, being low-income is not really an excuse when you look around the rest of the world."

Math Forum audio & video.

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Pint-Size Politicians Channel McCain, Obama in School Elections

Ellen Gamerman:

'Change' Factors Big in Tykes' Talking Points; A Third-Grader's Economic Platform

In his recent stump speech, Thomas Fleming took a stand against nuclear power, violence, weapons and war. He told voters there was no greater honor than serving them and requested their support. "I ask nothing in return except a better America," he said.

Then the 8-year-old candidate, dressed in his Cub Scout uniform, sang a song from "The Simpsons," waved his fists over his head and rejoined his fellow third-graders in the cafeteria at Altruria Elementary School in Bartlett, Tenn. Thomas, who won the election, serves as the student council sergeant-at-arms when he isn't busy practicing piano or dancing like a robot.

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Advocating a Yes Vote for the November, 2008 Madison Referendum

A Capital Times Editorial:

Even with approval of the referendum, district administrations would have to run a tight ship. They are not asking taxpayers to bridge all the gaps created by the anticipated deficits. They are prepared to trim budgets and delay the initiation of programs until economic circumstances improve or, ideally, the state accepts more of its deferred responsibilities.

Weighing the big-picture educational challenges that we face as a community, a state and a nation, as well as the hometown reality of strong schools facing genuine threats, this referendum does not pose a difficult choice.

The only vote that makes sense is "yes."

It is essential for everyone who is heading to the polls on Nov. 4 to decide the presidential race between two men who say education is a priority -- as well as every voter who casts an early ballot -- and to make the extra effort to find the referendum question and mark that "yes" box.

Much more on the referendum here. Related: "Formal opposition begins to form".

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Teachers take test scores to the bank as bonuses

Greg Toppo:

cross the USA, a small but growing number of school districts are experimenting with teacher-pay packages that front-load higher salaries and offer bonuses -- sometimes tens of thousands of dollars' worth -- if student test scores improve or if teachers work in hard-to-staff schools.
At least eight states are moving away from a traditional pay model, which increases salaries based on seniority and advanced degrees. Many of the pay packages are funded by private foundations. In dozens of districts, test scores already have earned teachers more money. A few examples:
  • In Chicago, teachers at a handful of schools can earn up to $8,000 in annual bonuses for improved scores, while mentor teachers and "lead teachers" can earn an extra $7,000 or $15,000, respectively.
  • In Nashville, middle-school math teachers can earn up to $15,000 based on student performance.
Do such plans work? A research center launched at Vanderbilt University to study performance pay has found mostly promising, if limited, results.

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Updates on Madison's Leopold Elementary School Enrollment / Capacity Discussions

Tamira Madsen:

The school district has made a number of efforts to handle Leopold's enrollment over the years, with mixed results. Eight classrooms were added in 2003, but a $14.5 million referendum to make upgrades to the existing school and build a second school on the site failed in 2005. In 2006, the cafeteria and several areas of the campus were remodeled. In addition, attendance boundaries were adjusted on two occasions, and third-graders were transported to other schools for two years.

To handle overcrowding this year, the district approved transfers of 31 students both within and outside the district. An additional classroom was also added by moving the computer lab to the library.

Meanwhile, Nerad urged the community to be patient as the planning process continues to unfold. The district's ultimate goals are to cap enrollment at 650 students and to implement a better balance of students according to family income. Sixty-eight percent of students at Leopold come from low-income families.

"We really want to make sure that we have dotted all of our I's and crossed our T's and looked at a variety of options," Nerad said. "And I can assure you relative to the long-term solution that we have not taken anything off the table. It's just a matter in these tough (economic) times of assuring our community that we have done that due diligence.

Much more on Leopold here.

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Governance Conflict: German Chancellor Angela Merkel Looks for Ways to Improve Schools

The Economist:

AMID her other distractions Angela Merkel's attention will on October 22nd shift to a new issue: the poor state of German education. She is gathering the premiers from all of Germany's 16 states for an "education summit" in Dresden. Its vaunted aim is to transform Germany from a mediocre performer into a dazzling "education republic". Yet the chancellor's powers to achieve this goal are limited.

Nobody thinks that Germany can afford mediocrity. If its performance on international tests improved from average to excellent, growth would rise by 0.5-0.8 percentage points in the long run, says Ludger Wössmann, an economist at Ifo, a research institute in Munich. But the real stakes are higher still. Almost half the children in some cities come from immigrant families; many speak mainly their mother tongue. In Germany parents' social status plays a bigger role in children's fates than in most other rich countries. As many as 8% of 15-17-year-olds are school dropouts; unemployment among them is three times higher than among university graduates. Yet, with Germany's population ageing, "who will pay our pensions, if not the migrants?" asks Jörg Dräger, head of education at the Bertelsmann Foundation.

Chris Bryant has more:
Although the chancellor's public relations offensive helped put education in the political spotlight it also raised expectations for the summit - some say to too high a level.

This was a risky strategy given the profound suspicion among Germany's 16 states - responsible for most aspects of education policy - of federal government interference in these issues.

"Education is unequivocally for the Länder [states] to decide," Wolfgang Böhmer, Christian Democrat premier of Sachsen-Anhalt told a German newspaper before the event.

Such is the tension between Berlin and the regions, and between the CDU and coalition partner the Social Democrats, that many of the most pressing issues never made it onto the agenda.

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Plans to reform the Italian school system run into criticism

The Economist:

TALY may be facing recession, but for Siggi, a textile firm near Vicenza in the north-east of the country, 2009 offers the promise of unprecedented growth. Siggi is the biggest producer of grembiuli, or school smocks. Once universal in Italian primary schools, they were becoming as outdated as ink-wells. But in July the education minister, Mariastella Gelmini, backed the reintroduction of grembiuli to combat brand- and class-consciousness among schoolchildren. Siggi's output this year has almost sold out and its chairman, Gino Marta, says that "next year could see an out-and-out boom."

The decision on whether pupils should wear the grembiule has been left to head teachers. It does not figure in either of the two education bills that have been introduced by Ms Gelmini. But it has become a symbol of her efforts to shake up Italian education. Her critics argue that these are a vain attempt to turn back the clock; her supporters see them as a necessary first step to a more equitable, efficient system.

On October 30th the opposition she has aroused will culminate in a one-day teachers' strike. The union's main complaint is a programme of cuts aimed at saving almost €8 billion ($11 billion). It includes the loss by natural wastage of 87,000 teachers' jobs over the three academic years to 2012 and the return to a system in which just one teacher is allotted to each year of elementary school.

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October 22, 2008

Doggie Biscuit for Kohn: Author rips testing, other sacred classroom concepts

By Lisa Schencker:

Rising test scores are no reason to celebrate, author Alfie Kohn told teachers at the Utah Education Association (UEA) convention on Friday.

Schools that improve test scores do so at the expense of other subjects and ideas, he said.

"When the scores go up, it's not just meaningless. It's worrisome," Kohn told hundreds of educators on the last day of the convention. "What did you sacrifice from my child's education to raise scores on the test?"

Kohn, who's written 11 books on human behavior, parenting and schools, spent nearly two hours Friday morning ripping into both established and relatively new education concepts. He slammed merit pay for teachers, competition in schools, Advanced Placement classes, curriculum standards and testing--including Utah's standards and testing system -- drawing mixed reactions from his audience.

"Considering what we hear a lot, it was pure blasphemy," said Richard Heath, a teacher at Central Davis Junior High School in Layton.

Kohn called merit pay--forms of which many Utah school districts are implementing this year--an "odious" type of control imposed on teachers.

"If you jump through hoops, we'll give you a doggie biscuit in the form of money," Kohn said.

He said competition in schools destroys their sense of community. Advanced Placement classes, he claimed, focus more on material but don't do much to deepen students' understanding. He said standardized tests are designed so that some students must always fail or they're considered too easy, and often the students who do poorly are members of minority groups.

"We are creating in this country before our eyes, little by little, what could be described as educational ethnic cleansing," Kohn said. He called Utah's standards too specific and the number of tests given to Utah students "mind-boggling."

He called on teachers to explain such problems to parents and community members.

"The best teachers spend every day of their lives strategically avoiding or subverting the Utah curriculum," Kohn said.

Many teachers said they agreed with much of Kohn's talk, but disagreed on some points.

Shauna Cooney, a second grade teacher at Majestic Elementary School in Ogden, said it's important to have standards that give all children equal opportunities to learn certain concepts before they move forward.

Sidni Jones, an elementary teacher mentor in the Davis School District, agreed that current standardized tests are not as meaningful as other types of assessment, but she said it is hard to fight the current system.

"You can't just openly rebel against standardized testing because they're mandated," Jones said. "That's part of our jobs."

Rep. Kory Holdaway, R-Taylorsville, who is also a special education teacher at Taylorsville High School, said he walked out of the speech.

"We have got to have some degree of accountability for the public," Holdaway said. "The public demands it. Sometimes we forget who our customers are in terms of children and families."

Others, however, largely agreed with Kohn.

"It was awesome," said Claudia Butter, a teacher at the Open Classroom (good grief, are there still Open Classroom schools around??? Lord help us!) charter school in Salt Lake City. "With little steps we might be able to effect a change."

UEA President Kim Campbell said the UEA doesn't necessarily agree with everything Kohn advocates, but chose him as the keynote speaker because of his thought-provoking ideas.

"We want our members to constantly be challenging themselves and be thinking about new ideas and what they're doing in the classroom," Campbell said.

some of Alfie Kohn's books: The Homework Myth; What Does it Mean to Be Well Educated?, And More Essays on Standards, Grading, and Other Follies; Punished by Rewards; No Contest: The Case Against Competition; The Case Against Standardized Testing; Beyond Discipline, etc.]

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The 'Trophy Kids' Go to Work

Ron Alsop:

With Wall Street in turmoil and a financial system in crisis mode, companies are facing another major challenge: figuring out how to manage a new crop of young people in the work force -- the millennial generation. Born between 1980 and 2001, the millennials were coddled by their parents and nurtured with a strong sense of entitlement. In this adaptation from "The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaking Up the Workplace," Ron Alsop, a contributor to The Wall Street Journal, describes the workplace attitudes of the millennials and employers' efforts to manage these demanding rookies.

When Gretchen Neels, a Boston-based consultant, was coaching a group of college students for job interviews, she asked them how they believe employers view them. She gave them a clue, telling them that the word she was looking for begins with the letter "e." One young man shouted out, "excellent." Other students chimed in with "enthusiastic" and "energetic." Not even close. The correct answer, she said, is "entitled." "Huh?" the students responded, surprised and even hurt to think that managers are offended by their highfalutin opinions of themselves.

If there is one overriding perception of the millennial generation, it's that these young people have great -- and sometimes outlandish -- expectations. Employers realize the millennials are their future work force, but they are concerned about this generation's desire to shape their jobs to fit their lives rather than adapt their lives to the workplace.

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Madison November 2008 Referendum Updates


In Oregon, if the referendum passes, it'll mean $10 more a year for property tax payers.

In Madison though, the bill is higher, over the three years of the referendum the average cost to taxpayers is about $65.

Some parents told WISC-TV if it means more money out of their pocket, then they're saying no to a referendum.

But most Madison parents WISC-TV spoke with facing those tough cuts say they'll support it.
There are other issues on ballots in the area including, the MMDS asking to exceed revenue limits by $13 million.

Andy Hall & Chris Rickert:
A clerical mistake in the Madison city clerk's office means about 20 voters within the Madison School District got absentee ballots that do not have the district's $13 million referendum question on it, city and district officials said Tuesday.

Madison City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl said six of those voters have come forward, and she urged other district residents who aren't sure if they voted on the question to call her office so her staff can destroy their old ballots and issue new ones.

Witzel-Behl said the mistake occurred because one of her employees created mailing labels for the absentee ballots' envelopes that did not identify the voter as a resident of the School District.

"My best guess is we're looking at less than 20 ballots total," she said.

There was plenty of food and equally as much information at the Goodman Community center.

The Tenny Lapham Neighborhood Association held a spaghetti dinner to help community members understand the madison school districts recurring referendum on the November ballot.

"The school referendum us a complicated issue especially in the times that we are in-- people are concerned about something that is going to increase their tax bill," says association member Carole Trone.

Here's how the referendum works.

The referendum asks to exceed the revenue limit by $5 five million next school year.

Much more on the November, 2008 Madison referendum here.

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Kids' Cereals Saltier, Report Says

Julie Jargon & Aaron Patrick:

Cereal makers that reduce the amount of sugar in kids' cereals tend to ratchet up the salt content to improve flavor, says a report expected to be released Tuesday by Consumers International.

Cereal makers have been under pressure from consumer groups to reduce the sugar content of their kids' cereals, and Consumers International, in its report, "Cereal Offenses," says "manufacturers are likely to add salt to boost the flavor of the product, and may use salt to maintain customer appeal when sugar levels are reduced."

The London-based organization, an umbrella group representing 220 consumer groups globally, focused on products made by two of the world's largest makers of cereal for children, Nestlé SA of Vevey, Switzerland, and Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich. The group defined children's cereals as those that feature cartoon characters on the packaging, are endorsed by celebrities popular with kids and are advertised on kids' television programming.

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One Goal: Extending the School Day

Mariam Brillantes:

Jennifer Davis is on an educational mission to extend the school day. She's president and CEO of the National Center on Time and Learning, an organization that describes itself as "dedicated to expanding learning time to improve student achievement and enable a well-rounded education for all children." Ms. Davis's says under her organization's scenario, children would be happier because they have more time to learn, teachers would be able to devote more time for enrichment programs that go beyond standardized tests, and parents-especially those from lower-income families-would be reassured their children are safe in a learning environment. Below are excerpts from an interview with Ms. Davis:

I think it's safe to say that most schoolchildren would probably hate the thought of an extended school day. How can a longer day help them?
The initiative we are promoting involves the redesign of the school day to include more enrichment opportunities like music and art and apprenticeship. It includes significant recess and lunch time. And it also includes a lot of project-based learning and one-on-one time with teachers -- and all those things, students like. If you interviewed students in the schools we're working with... the students are enjoying the schedule in part because it gives them lots of opportunities. What's happening all over the country is that classes like physical education, arts and even recess and lunch time have been shortened or eliminated because of the pressures of testing and classes that are tested like math and English.

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School Choices: What to Look For?

Jennifer Merritt:

Tomorrow morning my husband and I are going on our very first public school tour. Our son is only 3, but he'll be attending universal pre-kindergarten next year and we hope to make use of the good public schools in our area. We've also been encouraged to attend tours at two other elementary schools in our district and to make use of a kindergarten fair held at a nearby YWHA next week. It seems awfully soon to think about kindergarten for a kid who enters in fall of 2010. But as other parents have pointed out to me, there's a lottery system in place in New York City and knowing which schools you are most interested in is important.

After I got over the surprise of school tours taking place a full four months before applications were even available, I realized something. I don't really know what to look for in a school. Outside of a desire for smaller class size, caring teachers and a decent reputation in the community, I'm not really sure what these tours and fairs are supposed to teach me.

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Inside New Orleans High

National Geographic Video:

NGC roams the halls with students as they tell their unvarnished accounts of high school life. Through student video diaries and personal accounts, NGC offers an exclusive glimpse into this gritty young world.

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Milwaukee May Trim School Budget

Dani McClain:

New budget constraints could prevent Milwaukee Public Schools from paying for all 11th-graders to take the ACT and from expanding its driver education program.

Those were among the improvements the School Board added to Superintendent William Andrekopoulos' preliminary budget over the summer, but the latest state aid figures, received last week, have forced the district to trim almost all those additions from its spending plan, officials said Monday.

The district's proposed budget would require a 13.6% increase in the property tax levy, based on numbers the state Department of Public Instruction provided last week, showing a $15.8 million drop in total state aid to MPS.

There are two major reasons for the drop. Under the current funding formula, the more a district spends, the more state money it can subsequently expect, and the board decided last year not to spend to the limit allowed under state law.

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October 21, 2008

Consortium for Varsity Academics: Video Interviews

Thanks to Craig Evans, there is now a page on the tcr website for the Consortium for Varsity Academics®. Click on the page for The Concord Review...

There are QuickTime clips of the interviews with Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Bill Fitzsimmons of Harvard, and Sarah Valkenburgh [Emerson Prize winner, summa cum laude graduate of Dartmouth, and graduate of Harvard Medical School].

Will Fitzhugh

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NAEP Writing Assessment 2011

An Interview with Will Fitzhugh: About Assessing Writing Houston, Texas, 24 January 2007

Michael F. Shaughnessy Senior Columnist

1) I understand that you have just finished a stint on the ACT/NAGB Steering Committee for the 2011 NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) Writing Assessment. What was that like? (And what does NAGB stand for?)

WF: NAGB is the National Assessment Governing Board, which runs the NAEP, "America's Report Card," as they say. I was glad that Diane Ravitch recommended me for the Steering Committee for the new national writing assessment scheduled for 2011. I was very impressed with the intelligence and competence of Mary Crovo, representing NAEP, and Rosanne Cook, who is running the project for American College Testing. Many people on the Committee were from the National Council of Teachers of English and the College Composition world, which have little interest in having students read history books or write history research papers. In fact that world favors, or has favored in the past, personal and creative writing and the five-paragraph essay, which do a terrible job of preparing high school students for the nonfiction books and the academic term papers most will be asked to cope with in college.

2) Given the paucity of writing that goes on in the high schools of America, is it really fair to ask high school students to engage in a robust writing assessment?

WF: It would not be fair to ask high school students to play in a football game if they hadn't had an opportunity for lots of practice, and it is very hard to ask high school students to do the sort of academic expository writing they should be doing if they have never done it in all their years in school. But we need to start somewhere. Every high school student does not need to be able to play football, but they all need to be able to read nonfiction books and write serious term papers.

3) On the other hand, since so much of the college experience is writing, are high school teachers doing students a disservice by NOT requiring more writing?

WF: High school teachers would make terrible football coaches and their teams would lose most if not all of their games, if the teacher/coaches did not have time to practice their teams. We take football seriously, and we take band seriously, so ample time and money are made available to produce the best teams and the best bands the high school can manage. We allow really no time for a public high school teacher to work with students on heavy-duty term papers. We don't make time for them, because we don't think they are that important. Not as important as drama practice, yearbook, chorus, debate or a host of other activities. As a result our high school students are, once again, ill-prepared for college reading and writing. AP courses in history do not require, in most cases, that students read a complete nonfiction book, and most of the AP teachers say they don't have time to ask the student to write a research paper, because they "have to get students ready for the AP Exam."

4) Most English teachers would cry "already overworked "or "dealing with under-prepared students" if we asked them to do more writing instruction. Is the answer smaller class sizes? Or fewer mainstreamed kids?

WF: I have suggested the "Page Per Year Plan," which would ask first-graders to write a one-page paper about something other than themselves, and so on, with 8th graders writing an 8-page paper, 11th graders writing an 11-page paper, etc. This would provide English and History teachers with more students who were ready to do serious term papers, and the students would not all have to be started from scratch, like someone going out for football for the first time in their senior year in high school. In addition, if we are serious about term papers and book reports, English and History teachers should be given five class days each semester to supervise such work, and to assess it when it is handed in. We don't do that now, so most teachers feel they are really too busy to assign these vital projects to their students.

5) I have often seen "The American public wants more attention paid to writing" phrase. In spite of public outcry, educators or politicians don't seem to respond. Are there just a lot of lone voices crying in the wilderness?

WF: When there is a response, as from the National Commission on Writing in the Schools, the writing sought is almost inconceivably superficial, formulaic, sentimental, and bland. It is hard for anyone concerned about writing to understand how these and other groups concerned about "Adolescent Literacy" keep their standards so very low. Young Adult sections in bookstores and libraries are full of fiction which panders to teen interests. None of the great history books can find a place there, as teens are assumed to be interested in only little fictional stories which are basically about them and their friends. Dumbing Down doesn't get much plainer than that.

6) Doing a national assessment of writing must involve a lot of different opinions about writing. What were some of the fundamental issues discussed at this meeting?

WF: The assessment planned was hobbled by the need to do the evaluation on two 25-minute samples which require no background knowledge, and could be written by students who had never spent a day in school. Nothing learned in school is required and the prompts are accordingly necessarily superficial. In addition, the claim is that "writing on demand" is somehow the standard to be met. Some claim that they are asked at work to produce something written in a short time (not 25 minutes I suppose), but even that writing is based on all the knowledge they have from their job and their schooling. For the most part, any decent writing, whether at college or in the workplace, depends on time to gather knowledge, to write, to reflect, and to re-write at least at a basic level. Writing for a prompt in 25 minutes tells us basically nothing about students' ability to acquire and understand knowledge or to organize their thoughts in a paper. A lot of work was done on this assessment, but I believe the constraints imposed requiring no knowledge and no time for thought or re-writing, make this assessment sadly uninformative about the real academic reading and writing skills of our students.

7) You recently published "Math and Reading: A Lament for High School History and Writing " in The Historical Society's Historically Speaking, November/December 2006, pp 36-37. What were the main points that you were trying to make in that article?

WF: My basic concern is that if Edupundits don't care about serious reading and writing, and Educators limit their students to fiction and to writing very short personal stories and the like, we cripple our children's ability to read and write at the necessary level. There seems to be no awareness or desire for awareness of the absence of nonfiction books in our high schools and our (The Concord Review) study from 2002 found that the majority of high school teachers are no longer assigning 12-page term papers. Many of our high school graduates find that they need remedial writing courses when they get to college, and many also find the nonfiction books on their reading lists overwhelming, which is not surprising. If they had not played football in high school, they would not last long on a college football team. When it comes to reading and writing, we seem content to deprive our students of the practice they would need to manage college work when they get there. Many drop out as a result of this, in my view.

8) Good writing, like good piano or violin playing, probably takes time, effort, and energy. But what are the payoffs to good writing for high school students?

WF: Reading is the path to knowledge in the liberal arts, not to slight the value of science labs and the like, and writing is the path to making knowledge one's own. If students have not practiced academic reading and academic writing they will literally be "out of mental shape" as they approach more difficult academic material. Some will adjust, but many too many will not, and we will lose them, at least for a while, from the opportunity for a higher education.

9) What question have I neglected to ask ?

WF: Why have history, which might have helped us as we considered our plans in Iraq, and academic writing, which allows thinking to develop, been so neglected in our schools? There is a tremendous interest in the Arts, which are thought to be good for the soul, and for science, which is thought to be the key to economic success, but as one of the major foundations told me, "We are interested in Math, Minorities, and Science" so they can't support history, writing, and the like. But Minorities also need to read and write, and so will all our future legislators, mayors, judges, lawyers, and all citizens of our democracy, no matter what their path in life. We need science and math, of course, but we also need, desperately, I believe, to do a better job of teaching academic reading and writing to a higher standard than we have allowed to prevail in our schools.


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

Michael F. Shaughnessy Senior Columnist
Dr. Shaughnessy is currently Professor in Educational Studies at Eastern New Mexico University and is a Consulting Editor for Gifted Education International and Educational Psychology Review. In addition, he writes for and the International Journal of Theory and Research in Education. He has taught students with mental retardation, learning disabilities and gifted. He is on the Governor's Traumatic Brain Injury Advisory Council and the Gifted Education Advisory Board in New Mexico. He is also a school psychologist and conducts in-services and workshops on various topics.

Will Fitzhugh is the Founder/Editor of The Concord Review, a quarterly review of essays by students of history. Since 1987 The Concord Review has published 748 [836] history research papers by high school students [from 36 countries] on a wide variety of historical topics. This quarterly is the only one in the world for the academic work of secondary students. In this interview, he responds to questions about the need for writing, and some of his current endeavors.

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McCain: Education's Disruptor-in-Chief?
The Republican took an early lead over Obama in supporting disruptive innovation in education that can revamp how today's classrooms are run

Clayton M. Christensen and Michael B. Horn:

For a candidate who's been criticized as being out of touch on technology, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) has been refreshingly ahead of the curve when it comes to disruptive innovation in education.

While Republican Presidential candidate McCain and the Democratic candidate, Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.), both see the benefits of using technology in revamping how classrooms run, McCain's campaign early on embraced the benefits of nontraditional online education in some key ways.

Whichever candidate prevails on Nov. 4,, the most successful educational policies will be those that approach education challenges from an innovation perspective.


One of the core reasons schools struggle is because their structure compels standardization in the way they teach and test. This standardized, monolithic experience would be fine if all students learned in the same way. But as we know from our own experience, we all learn in different ways. Different things motivate different people, we each have different intelligence strengths and learning styles, and people learn at different paces. Standardization in schools therefore will not do the trick. We need customization.

Much more on Clayton Christensen here.

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Brightstorm Raises $6 Million For Online High School Video Tutorials

Erick Schonfeld:

If high-school education is failing in the U.S., maybe Web video can help. Founded last April, Brightstorm is a Web video site that brings bright, talented teachers together with students who need some extra help. Backed by Korea's KTB Ventures, which invested the entire $6 million in the startup's A round, Brightstorm is launching today to the public.

There are about 20 teachers on the site offering video courses in subjects such as Geometry, the SAT, and A.P. U.S. History. Each course is broken up into episodes that are about 10 to 20 minutes each. Each course is $50, which is split between Brightstorm and the teachers. Students can watch a free promotional video to decide if they like the teacher and want to purchase the course. These tend to be overproduced with cheesy video graphics (stop with the jump cuts already), but they do the job of getting across each teacher's personality and teaching style.

The videos are supplemented with interactive challenges, pop-up quizzes, and other bonus material. You can certainly see the appeal. If you were a high school student who needed a tutor, wouldn't you rather watch videos on your computer for ten minutes a day than endure a live tutorial for an hour or more? Now, whether you are actually going to learn more is still debatable.

But there are plenty of startups trying. Here in the U.S., there is PrepMe, ePrep, Teach The People, and Grockit. In Asia, there is iKnow in Japan and perhaps the biggest success to date is Korea's Megastudy.

Related: Credit for non-Madison School District courses.

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On Washington, DC's Special Education Governance

Bill Turque:

The District's top special education official testified in federal court yesterday that some school personnel ignore scheduled meetings with parents, contributing to the city's failure to meet the needs of students with learning disabilities or behavioral challenges.

Richard Nyankori, acting deputy chancellor for special education, said the backlog of D.C. children awaiting special education services is lengthy in part because school staff don't show up for meetings, leaving cases unresolved and parents in the lurch.

"Sometimes it is willful on the part of some staff not to make it to meetings," Nyankori said under questioning from U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman.

Friedman called the hearing to quiz officials about the District's lack of progress in complying with a 2006 consent decree that settled a class action brought by parents of children with learning problems. The District's public and public charter schools have nearly 11,000 special education students. About 20 percent attend private schools, at a cost to taxpayers of about $200 million, because D.C. cannot meet their needs.

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Referendum Climate: Fiscal Policy Report on the Nation's Governors

Chris Edwards:

evenue poured into state governments as the U.S. economy expanded between 2003 and 2007, prompting the nation's governors to expand state budgets and offer the occasional tax cut. But now that the economy has slowed and revenue growth is down, governors are taking various actions to close rising budget deficits.

This ninth biennial fiscal report card examines the tax and spending decisions made by the governors since 2003. It uses statistical data to grade the governors on their taxing and spending records - governors who have cut taxes and spending the most receive the highest grades, while those who have increased taxes and spending the most receive the lowest grades.

Three governors were awarded an "A" in this report card - Charlie Crist of Florida, Mark Sanford of South Carolina, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Eight governors were awarded an "F" - Martin O'Malley of Maryland, Ted Kulongoski of Oregon, Rod Blagojevich of Illinois, Chet Culver of Iowa, Jon Corzine of New Jersey, Bob Riley of Alabama, Jodi Rell of Connecticut, and C. L. "Butch" Otter of Idaho.

Wisconsin's Governor Doyle received a "D":
When running for governor, James Doyle pledged not to raise taxes. He mostly kept that promise his first few years, and even provided a smattering of tax cuts. His fiscal policies then took a turn for the worse. In 2007 he proposed an array of large tax increases totaling about $900 million, including higher cigarette taxes, hospital taxes, oil company taxes, and increased real estate transfer taxes. Doyle has also refused to go along with the legislature in providing property tax relief, and he is fond of using increased debt to finance spending. But Doyle's spending record is better than his tax record, and this year he is insisting on budget restraint to eliminate a deficit.
Much more on Madison's November, 2008 referendum here.

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The High School Dropout's Economic Ripple Effect

Gary Fields:

Mayors Go Door to Door, Personally Encouraging Students to Stay in the Game for Their Own Good -- and for the Sake of the City

As the financial meltdown and economic slump hold the national spotlight, another potential crisis is on the horizon: a persistently high dropout rate that educators and mayors across the country say increases the threat to the country's strength and prosperity.

According to one study, only half of the high school students in the nation's 50 largest cities are graduating in four years, with a figure as low as 25% in Detroit. And while concern over dropouts isn't new, the problem now has officials outside of public education worried enough to get directly involved.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors [PDF Report] is focusing its education efforts on dropouts. Mayors in Houston and other Texas cities go door to door to the homes of dropouts, encouraging them to return to school. Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin meets on weekends with students and helps them with life planning. Other cities, like Milwaukee and Kansas City, Mo., have dropout prevention programs.

Some new studies show far fewer students completing high school with diplomas than long believed. "Whereas the conventional wisdom had long placed the graduation rate around 85%, a growing consensus has emerged that only about seven in 10 students are actually successfully finishing high school" in four years, said a study by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, a nonprofit group based in Bethesda, Md. It was released this year by America's Promise Alliance, a nonpartisan advocacy group for youth. In the nation's 50 largest cities, the graduation rate was 52%.

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Reaching an Autistic Teenager

Melissa Fay Greene:

On a typical Monday morning at an atypical high school, teenage boys yanked open the glass doors to the First Baptist Church of Decatur, Ga. Half-awake, iPod wires curling from their ears, their backpacks unbuckled and their jeans baggy, the guys headed for the elevator. Arriving at Morning Meeting in the third-floor conference room, Stephen, his face hidden under long black bangs, dropped into a chair, sprawled across the table and went back to sleep. The Community School, or T.C.S., is a small private school for teenage boys with autism or related disorders. Sleep disturbances are common in this student body of 10, so a boy's staggering need for sleep is respected. Nick Boswell, a tall fellow with thick sideburns, arrived and began his usual pacing along the windows that overlook the church parking lot and baseball diamond. Edwick, with spiky brown hair and a few black whiskers, tumbled backward with a splat into a beanbag chair on the floor.

"O.K., guys, let's talk about your spring schedules," said Dave Nelson, the 45-year-old founding director. He wore a green polo shirt, cargo shorts and sneakers and had a buzz haircut and an open, suntanned face. After his son Graham, 19, was given a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (A.S.D.) as a young child, Nelson left the business world and went into teaching and clinical and counseling work. On that Monday, he was instantly interrupted.

"I had a very bad night!" Edwick yelled from the floor. "Nightmares all night!"

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On Milwaukee's School Budget

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Editorial:

Milwaukee Public Schools is crippled by a broken state funding system that needs to be changed, or the district will be destitute within a decade, if not sooner.

In one sense, the financial crisis at MPS is similar to that of the banks: MPS essentially is asking the Legislature for a rescue plan.

MPS officials say the state funding formula needs to change so that it can sustain itself and perform its core mission of educating some of the state's poorest students. Like most urban districts, MPS is dealing with low test scores, high dropout rates and violence in addition to money problems.

We back MPS in its push, and we urge the Legislature to do two things: Change the overall formula that places MPS in such a tough situation, and correct a specific problem with the way Milwaukee's voucher schools are funded that places undue burden on Milwaukee property owners.

First, let's consider the state's overall funding formula. Its goal is to try to equalize funding between rich and poor districts so that students in property-poor districts are not penalized because of where they live. The idea is that a taxpayer in a property-poor district should not have to pay much higher taxes to achieve the same per-student funding.

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Buttons: The Sequel

Stanley Fish:

Last week's column about the propriety or impropriety of teachers wearing campaign buttons in class provoked many questions, and today I would like to respond to those that were asked most often.

Some of the questions concerned the psychology of students. Several respondents scoffed at the likelihood of students being influenced by their teachers at all: "Prof. Fish's belief in the power of faculty to influence students' political choices is touching, but not borne out by research" (David Taylor).

But whatever the research disclosed would be irrelevant to the professional issue: is it a part of an instructor's job to let students (susceptible or not) know what his or her political preferences are? What pedagogical purpose does such self-revelation serve?

Jason D'Cruz has an answer to that question. He believes that "when students know exactly what their professor's political commitments are, they are in a better position to evaluate the points of view from which their teacher's ideas arrive."

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October 20, 2008

Content Knowledge Requirements Proposed for Illinois Teachers

Carlos Sadovia:

As many as 5,000 middle school teachers in Chicago could be required to go back to school for additional training to continue teaching under a plan expected to be approved by the Board of Education this week.

Under the proposal, 6th-, 7th- and 8th-grade teachers would be asked to gain an "endorsement" noting they are qualified for specific subjects at those grade levels, said Xavier Botana, head of elementary education for the Chicago Public Schools.

While teachers must be state-certified to teach in the district, currently neither the district nor the state requires teachers to gain the additional credential for classes such as math, English and science. Chicago is following many other districts in toughening requirements, officials said.

Botana said that while potentially 5,000 middle school teachers are affected, many already may have the necessary credits.

"Going forward, all of our kids in 6th through 8th grades will be taught by somebody who has a deeper level of content area knowledge than what is currently required," he said. "We need to aim higher."

Mary McClure, a Chicago Teachers Union official, said the union supports the move and has been working with the district to make sure teachers have enough time to take the classes.

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A System That Scores Low Marks

The Economist:

The president of Berlin's Free University on why the muddled education system is underfunded, outdated and unlikely to change

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Milwaukee School Board's Budget Dilemna

Alan Borsuk:

Here's a tough decision: The Milwaukee School Board must decide whether to increase property taxes for schools this year by a double-digit percentage or make cuts in the budget, or maybe both.

Here's a group that seems to be having a hard time making tough decisions: the Milwaukee School Board.

The board -- and the Milwaukee Public Schools system as a whole -- face one of the most demanding points in memory.

Specifically, this is the point when the budget has to be finalized for this year, along with the property tax level. Superintendent William Andrekopoulos is expected to propose something in the vicinity of a 14% one-year increase in property tax collections to support schools (school spending accounts for roughly a third of the total tax bill).

It is also the point when decisions loom about what schools to merge or move for next year because decision-making on enrollment starts soon and administrators say they need to reduce the number of school buildings to save money in the long run. That is also expected to come to a head this week.

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Unusual Senior Photos

Erin Richards:

t 8:30 a.m. on a recent Saturday in an industrial section of Bay View, railroad tracks and weeds became just one backdrop of one student's formal senior portrait

Seth Haugh, a shy, 6-foot-2-inch 17-year-old, gradually got into the session, staring coolly at the camera in a cowboy hat, and standing beside his 2004 Chevy Silverado.

Like many portraits of high school seniors in the past few years, Haugh's photos turned out looking like advertisements for Abercrombie or American Apparel: outdoor and edgy, with intentional poses that appear accidental. The hyper-realistic print appears digitally manipulated.

Area photographers say the increased demand for highly personalized and on-location senior photos, generally taken between June and October, has primarily been driven by young women who want to be transformed into rock stars or fashionistas, Harry Potter characters or swimsuit models.

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21st Century Schools - Pedagogy Must Give Way to Andragogy

Open Education:

One of the more interesting discussions taking place among technology experts is the need for teachers to move from a pedagogical focus to one that features an andragogical approach. The shift comes in direct response to the greater push to implement technology in today's classrooms.

To get a clear indication of the two concepts, pedagogy and androgogy, we turn to Wikpedia. Accordingly, we find the following definition and explanation of the term pedagogy.

"Pedagogy or paedagogy is the art or science of being a teacher. The term generally refers to strategies of instruction, or a style of instruction.

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Detroit School Board to Discuss Fatal Shooting

Chastity Pratt Dawsey:

The fatal shooting of one Henry Ford High student and the wounding of three other teens is expected to be discussed at a special Detroit Board of Education meeting at 6 p.m. Monday at Spain Elementary-Middle School, 3700 Beaubien.

The agenda includes a 2008-'09 "Checklist for Preventing and Responding to School Violence" the district has submitted to the Michigan Department of Education for Ford, Mumford, Central and Crosman high schools.

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Fly Your Ideas Contest

Airbus Fly Your Ideas:

Welcome to the Airbus Fly Your Ideas challenge, a global competition designed to encourage innovative thinkers to develop ideas that can shape the future of aviation and deliver a further reduction in the industry's impact on the environment.

The competition is open to college and university students from around the world, studying a degree, Masters or PHD in any academic discipline, from engineering to marketing, business to science and philosophy to design.

Airbus is offering €30,000 for the team whose idea demonstrates the greatest short or long term potential to reduce the impact of our industry on the environment, as well as a range of other prizes available throughout the competition (see Prizes for more information).

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October 19, 2008

At Pinnacle, Stepping Away From Basketball


NEWARK, Del. -- Students kept filing into the tiny hideaway gym at the University of Delaware, but most seemed interested in swimming and the fitness center, not volleyball. Only 150 or so fans attended Wednesday's match, 200 tops, family and friends tucked into a small set of bleachers.
Elena Delle Donne, a 6-foot-5 middle hitter, took her position near the net and played the way a novice does, dominating at some moments, uncertain at others. She spiked the ball ferociously to end the suspense in a three-set victory over Villanova, but it remained jarring even for her father to see her in the tights and kneepads of volleyball instead of the flowing shorts of basketball.

"If Tom Brady was your son, you would really enjoy that he was a darn good Ping-Pong player, but you'd feel like, Why's he playing Ping-Pong?" Ernie Delle Donne, a real estate developer, said, referring to the New England quarterback.

Only months ago, Elena Delle Donne was the nation's top female high school basketball recruit, a signee with the University of Connecticut, an expected central figure in what many predict will be the Huskies' sixth national title season in 2008-9. After two days of classes last June, though, Delle Donne acknowledged what few athletes of her visibility have ever acknowledged publicly -- she was burned out on basketball at 18

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The End of French Math Supremacy?

The Economist:

The purity of mathematics loses its prestige

FRANCE may think of itself as a literary society, but real prestige is reserved for mathematics. Excellence in maths determines access to the elite, via ultra-selective grandes écoles such as the École Nationale d'Administration or the Polytechnique. More French mathematicians have won the Fields Medal, a top international prize, than those from any other European country. Top maths graduates working in French banks have pioneered some of the market's most complex equity derivatives. So there has been some head-scratching at the idea that Xavier Darcos, the education minister, is now considering an end to the pre-eminence of maths in the baccalauréat school-leaving exam.

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Universal preschool hasn't delivered results

Shikha Dalmia & Lisa Snell:

Early education advocates want you to believe that the case for universal preschool is so airtight that raising any questions about it is an act of heresy. But there is a strong and growing body of literature showing that preschool produces virtually no lasting benefits for the majority of kids.

Proponents of universal preschool claim that when kids attend quality preschools, they grow up to be smarter, richer and more law-abiding. But this is a fairy tale not based on research.

More kids who attend preschool enter kindergarten knowing their ABCs and counting their numbers than their stay-at-home peers, it is true. But these gains fade, as study after study has shown.

Consider Oklahoma and Georgia, two states that have spent billions implementing universal preschool. Georgia's fourth-grade National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading score in 1992, when it embraced universal preschool, was 212 - three points below the national average. Last year, after years of universal preschool, it was 219 - still one point below the national average. Its math score was three points below the average in 1992. Last year, it was 235 - four points below the national average.

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UK Minister outlines vision for Local School Governance

David Turner & Alex Barker:

A vision of greater state school independence has been set out by the new academies minister, with a prediction that "self-governing schools" will become the "dominant" model for secondary education.

Jim Knight's comments, in an interview with the Financial Times, suggest Labour is determined to avoid being outflanked by the Conservatives as both parties vie to outbid each other in giving schools greater autonomy - a policy attractive to many families.

Mr Knight was schools minister but has now added academies to his responsibilities after Andrew Adonis's move to transport in the recent cabinet reshuffle.

His first interview about academies since taking on the portfolio will soothe fears of sponsors and education officials over the departure of Lord Adonis, who conceived and ran the academies programme.

Sponsors are concerned that Ed Balls, the schools secretary, wants to give a bigger role to local authorities and is less enthusiastic about faith and independent schools becoming academies. Officials also say that without Lord Adonis's "obsessive" commitment to establishing new academies, the programme will lose drive.

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Hierarchy of Needs

The Economist:

The hierarchy of needs is an idea associated with one man, Abraham Maslow (see article), the most influential anthropologist ever to have worked in industry. It is a theory about the way in which people are motivated. First presented in a paper ("A Theory of Human Motivation") published in the Psychological Review in 1943, it postulated that human needs fall into five different categories. Needs in the lower categories have to be satisfied before needs in the higher ones can act as motivators. Thus a violinist who is starving cannot be motivated to play Mozart, and a shop worker without a lunch break is less productive in the afternoon than one who has had a break.

The theory arose out of a sense that classic economics was not giving managers much help because it failed to take into account the complexity of human motivation. Maslow divided needs into five:

The "Value of Ignorance".

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In wake of turmoil, Madison Memorial students seek solutions

Mark Pitsch:

More parental involvement. Peer-to-peer mentoring. Community programs.

Those are some of the ideas students, parents and others offered in the wake of a fight at Memorial High School last week between black and Latino students and early closure of the school Friday amid rumors of a gun at the school.

Tim Maymon, whose two teenagers attend Memorial and who had another graduate this year, said he believes the school is safe, that his children aren't in danger and that the racial tension is limited to small groups of students.

But he also said some students -- including those involved in the altercation last week -- aren't getting proper parental guidance.

"The two groups need more parental control," Maymon said. "There's a lot of people promoting their kids to fight and be stupid. Any smart parent would want to see their kids be safe and egging them on to fight is not safe."

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October 18, 2008

Madison 2008 Referendum: Vote 'yes' and expect more

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

It's a difficult time for Madison schools to be asking property taxpayers for more money.

But it also is a very tough time for Madison schools to be reducing services for students -- a large and growing percentage of whom need extra or tailored help to succeed.

That's why Madison should vote "yes" on its school referendum Nov. 4 -- with one big demand in return. Moving forward, school leaders and, especially, the teachers union need to commit to more innovation and evaluation of existing school programs.

That means more charter and specialty schools to excite parents and to give struggling students concrete evidence of a successful career path after graduation

Much more on the November, 2008 Madison referendum here.

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Math mistake sees hundreds of Dallas teachers laid off


"Today is a day of tremendous sadness throughout the district," Dallas Independent School District Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said in a written statement.

"These teachers and counselors are people who devoted themselves to helping Dallas students, and we will do everything within our power to help them find new jobs."

The district laid off 375 teachers and 40 counselors and assistant principals Thursday, and transferred 460 teachers to other schools within the district.

The deficit was caused by a massive miscalculation in the budget, CNN affiliate WFAA-TV reported.

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Obama Questioned on Vouchers

Kelly Petty:

Minority voters have long favored the Democratic Party's push for increased federal funding for public schools. But over the past few years, some of these voters have embraced the conservative-backed idea of private-school vouchers for low-income students.

Pro-voucher voters among racial minorities overwhelmingly support Barack Obama, but they are baffled by the Democratic nominee's opposition to vouchers. They also say they are frustrated that Democratic leaders appear to be more concerned about keeping the peace with teachers unions -- which adamantly oppose vouchers -- than about finding alternatives that could advance desperately needed education reforms for minority students.

Obama's "change" message has attracted millions of minorities, particularly African-Americans. Yet he cannot afford to lose minorities who are demanding greater school choice for their children.

In February, Obama seemed open to the idea of private-school vouchers. In an editorial board meeting with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, he was asked about his opposition to Wisconsin's voucher program. If he saw more proof that vouchers are successful, Obama said, he would "not allow my predispositions to stand in the way of making sure that our kids can learn.... You do what works for the kids."

But at the American Federation of Teachers convention this year, Obama repeated his attack against spending government money to help low-income students attend private schools. He criticized John McCain's school-choice reform as "using public money for private-school vouchers," and he called instead for overhauling public schools.

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Moving the Los Angeles Schools to the 21st Century

Charles Kerchner, a professor at Claremont Graduate University and a specialist in educational organizations, educational policy and teacher unions, writes::

While the financial markets have reached the point of panic, a longer-running crisis has enveloped Los Angeles' school system. For at least a decade, people have called the Los Angeles Unified School District a system in crisis. Even when it does things well, it gets little credit.
In a crisis, a special type of politics is supposed to take hold. People of all political stripes are supposed to come together to fashion a solution, the very kind of politics we are witnessing in response to the financial markets' dysfunction. But unlike that situation, there is no sure resolution of the school's systemic failure, and no sense of urgency. So LAUSD bumps along in a state of permanent crisis.

Getting past permanent crisis and creating a 21st century institution of public education requires only that those interested in the district's future learn from its history. After half a decade of studying efforts to transform the district, my colleagues and I have five policy ideas that we think would move the district beyond permanent crisis.

Charles Kerchner's website. Clusty Search on Kerchner.

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Maine May Freeze School Subsidies

Mal Leary:

Schools may have to get by with the current level of $986 million in state subsidies for the next budget year, Education Commissioner Susan Gendron warned school officials this week.

She also said she cannot rule out a cut in this year's aid.

"I don't want to put fear into people, but we don't know what the size of the curtailment will be," she said in an interview Wednesday. "We are trying to mitigate the impact on general purpose aid at the local level by absorbing much of that curtailment within the agency."

Gendron sent a memo to school superintendents late Tuesday that warned them as part of the targeted 10 percent reduction in the next two-year budget, she was submitting a proposal to Gov. John Baldacci to freeze aid at this year's level.

That would save about $170 million, she said, considering state law mandates an increase of that amount to move the state toward its goal of providing 55 percent of general purpose aid.

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The Secrets of Storytelling: Why We Love a Good Yarn

Jeremy Hsu:

Key Concepts
  • Storytelling is a human universal, and common themes appear in tales throughout history and all over the the world.
  • These characteristics of stories, and our natural affinity toward them, reveal clues about our evolutionary history and the roots of emotion and empathy in the mind.
  • By studying narrative's power to influence beliefs, researchers are discovering how we analyze information and accept new ideas.
When Brad Pitt tells Eric Bana in the 2004 film Troy that "there are no pacts between lions and men," he is not reciting a clever line from the pen of a Hollywood screenwriter. He is speaking Achilles' words in English as Homer wrote them in Greek more than 2,000 years ago in the Iliad. The tale of the Trojan War has captivated generations of audiences while evolving from its origins as an oral epic to written versions and, finally, to several film adaptations. The power of this story to transcend time, language and culture is clear even today, evidenced by Troy's robust success around the world.

Popular tales do far more than entertain, however. Psychologists and neuroscientists have recently become fascinated by the human predilection for storytelling. Why does our brain seem to be wired to enjoy stories? And how do the emotional and cognitive effects of a narrative influence our beliefs and real-world decisions?

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October 17, 2008

Madison's Memorial High School Closes Early Today Amid Safety Concerns


Students at James Madison Memorial High School in Madison were let out early on Friday amid ongoing safety concerns, according to a Madison Metropolitan School District spokesman.

There was increased police presence at the school and officials postponed an early lunch on Friday, according to Ken Syke.

The students were released at 12:55 p.m. Officials said that buses will be there to pick up students.

They said that all of the schools extracurricular activities are scheduled, but there will be an extra police presence at each event.

Syke said that no incidents occurred at the school on Friday, but that officials are concerned about safety after a fight broke out at the school earlier this week. The fight apparently involving two groups of students on Thursday and seven students were ultimately arrested.

Sandy Cullen has more along with WKOW-TV and NBC-15. Madison School District statement.

Related: Gangs & School Violence Forum Audio & Video and police calls near Madison high schools 1996-2006.

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School Efforts to Stem Violence Offer A Textbook Case of Limits on Speech

Dan Slater:

With the nation's school systems roiled by campus shootings over the past decade, and on the lookout for conflict, students are being asked to check a broader array of free-speech rights at the door -- raising questions about what lesson that is teaching them.

Public-school administrators are hewing to a zero-tolerance policy on expression they believe incites violence, and they are doing so with the backing of the courts. Controversial clothing has been a common casualty. Struggling with racial tensions at his high school, a principal in Maryville, Tenn., banned depictions of the Confederate flag in 2005 and was supported by a federal court. Last month, the Aurora Frontier K-8 School in Aurora, Colo., suspended an 11-year-old who refused to remove a homemade T-shirt that read, "Obama is a terrorist's best friend." The shirt caused "a very loud argument on the playground," according to a statement from the school.

Since such actions stem from a concern over the safety of adolescents, even free-speech advocates acknowledge a need for some degree of deference to educators. But an argument of imminent danger is hard to make in many of these cases. Some think educators may be inadvertently teaching children that suppressing speech is the ready solution to ideological conflict.

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German Embassy Promoting (& Funding) German Language Programs

German Missions to the United States:


"Education creates prospects - multilingualism opens new horizons. With our partner schools abroad we not only want to give children access to the German language and education but also to awaken an interest in and understanding for each other. Openness to cultural diversity and tolerance towards other people's distinctiveness are not mutually exclusive. To help children grasp this even better we need, more than ever, places where they can meet, learn and be creative together. The earlier we realize that we are an international learning community, the more capable we will be of solving our shared problems. Our partner schools abroad want to contribute towards that goal."

-- Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier

Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has launched the "Schools: Partners for the Future" Initiative. Its goal is to build up a worldwide network of at least 1000 partner schools through which to awaken young people's interest in and enthusiasm for modern-day Germany and German society. Additional funds to the tune of 45 million euro have been earmarked for the initiative in 2008. It will be coordinated by the Federal Foreign Office and implemented in cooperation with the Central Agency for Schools Abroad, the Goethe-Institut, the Educational Exchange Service of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Academic Exchange Service.

PDF Brochure and Teacher's Abroad.

The Smith Academy of International Languages in Charlotte, NC received a $22,101 grant recently:

Ambassador Klaus Scharioth visited the Smith Academy of International Languages in Charlotte, North Carolina, to present a check for $22,101 on September 22, 2008. The school is one of the 16 new members in the US of the worldwide partner school network, which currently has around 500 partner schools.

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Obama & McCain on Education

CBS Evening News:

When it comes to sports, whether it's on the basketball court or on the ice, high school seniors Brit Schneiders and Raven Gary know what it's like to be the best.

Both girls star on Illinois state championship teams, but when it comes to the public schools they each attend, these two aren't even in the same league.

Raven's high school, John Marshall, is on Chicago's tough West Side. It's part of the third largest school district in the country, Chicago Public Schools, where students average a meager 17 out of 36 on the ACT - the all important college entrance exam.

But the average at Marshall is only 14. The graduation rate hovers around 50 percent. Less than 8 percent of Marshall students read at grade level and fewer than 3 percent are at grade level in math.

"I'm goin' to college," said Raven, who is an A-student. But she and her mom Sharon Williams say it's been a real struggle at a school that doesn't even have enough textbooks to send home with students.

"When look at other schools ... do you feel ripped off, and why do you think the country is letting that happen?" Bowers asked Raven.

"Maybe they don't see the big picture," she said. "We need the tools to learn."

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What Does it Mean to be an Educated Person?

New Roots to rethink old education model
Tina Nilsen-Hodges:

The State University of New York Board of Trustees approved the charter application last week for the New Roots Charter School, an innovative new high school that will be one of the first fully integrated models of education for sustainability at the secondary level in the nation. Students in my spring 2007 "Teaching Sustainability" course contributed to the development of the initial school concept paper, which provided the foundation for the charter application submitted in June.

Why this school, why here and why now? New Roots Charter School answers the call of the U.N. Decade for Education for Sustainable Development for the rethinking of education necessary to address the problems of the 21st century. Gov. David Paterson was quoted as saying, "Global warming presents each of us with a question. Do we continue with the status quo or are we ready to make significant cultural and lifestyle alterations?"

Consider our energy crisis, expanding poverty and the degradation of essential ecosystem services, and Paterson's conclusion becomes even more urgent. "Future actions will require a fundamental change of philosophy in how we live our lives," he said.

Green Charter Schools National Conference in Madison on November 7- 9

The Urban Environment:

HER giggling friends suddenly quiet down when Jamilka Carrasquillo, her large silver hoop earrings swinging, describes the day her class killed chickens.

"We actually had to go up to the woods to do it," she says, perched on the back of a chair in a classroom at Common Ground High School in New Haven.

Each student who wanted one got a bird. Following a modified-kosher method (no rabbi), the students stunned the birds with an electric shock, hung them upside down and cut the jugular vein. They call the chickens "meat birds" to maintain emotional distance, but the experience can be difficult.

Jamilka cried; others, even teachers, did too. A lot emerged as vegetarians. Jamilka did not, but she says she came to understand that the pinkish slabs wrapped in plastic on the grocery shelf actually come from living animals. She pledged not to waste food.

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A "Comprehensive, Research Based Approach to Literacy"

Reading Review: Step By Step Learning via a kind reader's email:

A prominent RTI educational organization recognized for achieving positive sustainable results in schools, published the latest volume of its Reading Review this week.

This newspaper is designed for Directors of Curriculum, Teachers, Principals, and Superintendents, sharing the stories of schools' successes, LETRS Coaching, RTI Implementation and other rewarding articles. Read the Reading Review today to discover what success is actually occurring in today's classrooms.

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Earth Science Week


AGI is pleased to announce the theme of Earth Science Week 2008: "No Child Left Inside." Being held October 12-18, Earth Science Week 2008 will encourage young people to learn about the geosciences by getting away from the television, off the computer, and out of doors.

AGI hosts Earth Science Week in cooperation with sponsors as a service to the public and the geoscience community. Each year, local groups, educators, and interested individuals organize celebratory events. Earth Science Week offers opportunities to discover the Earth sciences and engage in responsible stewardship of the Earth. The program is supported by the U.S. Geological Survey, NASA, the National Park Service, the AAPG Foundation, and other geoscience groups.

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Police: Fight At Memorial High School Leads To 7 Arrests


A fight involving two groups of students at Memorial High School has led to the arrest of seven students, Madison police said.

Madison police responded to a fight a Memorial High school around 9:11 a.m. on Thursday.

The fight involved two groups of students and during the incident, a 16-year-old girl was knocked to the floor and is believed to have lost consciousness, according to police.
Another student is accused of battering the girl when she was knocked down. The girl suffered abrasions but did not require hospitalization.

A 17-year-old girl has been arrested and tentatively charged with substantial battery and disorderly conduct.

Related: Police calls near Madison high schools: 1996-2006.

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The Anti-Schoolers

Penelope Green:

ONE morning early last month, long after that frantic hour between 7 and 8 when most New York City parents were hustling their 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds out the door and into their first day of kindergarten, Benny Rendell, the 5-year-old son of Joanne Rendell, a novelist, and Brad Lewis, a New York University professor, lay sprawled asleep in his bed, enjoying what his mother described as his first day of unkindergarten.

Benny stayed asleep, as is his habit, until well past 11 a.m., while his mother, whose first book, "The Professors' Wives' Club," was just published by NAL Accent, worked on her new novel. When Benny awoke, he and his mother slowly made their way to a friend's house in Brooklyn, with Benny reading the subway stops out loud on the way, and counting out change at a vegetable stand.

They spent the afternoon in a Fort Greene backyard; while Benny played with his pals in the mud, the grown-ups looked on, and shared a cold one.

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October 16, 2008

"Madison Schools Referendum Prospects Look Good"

Jason Shephard:

November's referendum seeks to permanently increase the revenue cap for operating costs by $5 million in 2009-10, and an additional $4 million in both 2010-11 and 2011-12, for a total of $13 million. These increases would be permanent.

The projected tax hike on an average $250,000 home is $27.50 in 2009, $70.60 in 2010, and $91.50 in 2011, for a total three-year increase of $189.60.

To demonstrate fiscal discipline, Nerad has committed to making $1 million in cuts this year, including $600,000 in staff positions, even if the referendum passes. And Nerad pledges $2.5 million in additional spending cuts in the two subsequent years. The district will also transfer $2 million from its cash balance to offset the budget deficit.

Other savings will come from a new fund that allows the district to spread out capital costs over a longer period of time, remove some costs from the operating budget, and receive more state aid.

"We are committed to making reductions, finding efficiencies and being good stewards of tax dollars," Nerad says. "We realize this is a difficult time for people. At the same time, we have an obligation to serve our children well."

Don Severson, head of the fiscally conservative watchdog group Active Citizens for Education and a persistent referendum critic, wishes the district would have developed its new strategic plans before launching a ballot initiative.

"This money is to continue the same services that have not provided increases in student achievement" and come with no guarantees of program evaluations or instructional changes, Severson says.

Much more on the November, 2008 Madison referendum here.

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ACE Update on the November 2008 Madison Referendum, Information Session Tonight

REMINDER: The MMSD district is holding its second of four "Information Sessions" regarding the referendum tonight (Thursday, October 16), 6:30 pm, Jefferson Middle School. You are urged to attend.

The Madison Metropolitan School District seeks approval of the district taxpayers to permanently exceed the revenue cap for operations money by $13 million a year. In the meantime, to establish that new tax base over the next three years, a total of $27 million in more revenue will have been raised for programs and services. The district has also projected there will continue to be a 'gap' or shortfall of revenue to meet expenses of approximately $4 million per year after the next three years, thereby expecting to seek approval for additional spending authority.

Whereas, the Board of Education has staked the future of the district on increased spending to maintain current programs and services for a "high quality education;"

Whereas, student performance on the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exams has languished at the 7, 8, and 9 deciles (in comparison with the rest of the state's schools where 1 is the highest level and 10 is the lowest) in 4th, 8th and 10th grade reading, math, science, social studies and language arts exams for the past five years. The total percentage of MMSD students performing at either "proficient" or "advanced" levels (the two highest standards) has consistently ranged in mid 60%s to mid 70%s;

Whereas, the district Drop Out Rate of 2.7% (2006-07) was the highest since 1998-99. With the exception of two years with slight declines, the rate has risen steadily since 1999.

Whereas, the Attendance Rate for all students has remained basically steady since 1998-99 in a range from 95.2% (2005-06) to a high of 96.5% (2001-02);

Whereas, the district Truancy Rate of students habitually truant has risen again in the past three years to 6.0% in 2006-07. The truancy rate has ranged from 6.3% (1999-2000) to 4.4% in 2002-03;

Whereas, the district total PreK-12 enrollment has declined from 25,087 (2000-01) to its second lowest total of 24,540 (2008-09) since that time;

Whereas, the district annual budget has increased from approximately $183 million in 1994-1995 (the first year of revenue caps) to approximately $368 million (2008-09);

Whereas, the board explains the 'budget gap' between revenue and expenses as created by the difference between the state mandated Qualified Economic Offer of 3.8% minimum for salary and health benefits for professional teaching staff and the 2.2% average annual increases per student in the property tax levy. The district, however, has agreed with the teachers' union for an average 4.24% in annual increases since 2001;

Whereas, the district annual cost per pupil is the second highest in the state at $13,280 for the school year 2007-08;

The Madison Metropolitan School District seeks approval of the district taxpayers to permanently exceed the revenue cap for operations money by $13 million a year. In the meantime, to establish that new tax base over the next three years, a total of $27 million in more revenue will have been raised for programs and services. The district has also projected there will continue to be a 'gap' or shortfall of revenue to meet expenses of approximately $4 million per year after the next three years, thereby expecting to seek approval for additional spending authority.

Whereas, the Board of Education has staked the future of the district on increased spending to maintain current programs and services for a "high quality education;"

Whereas, student performance on the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exams has languished at the 7, 8, and 9 deciles (in comparison with the rest of the state's schools where 1 is the highest level and 10 is the lowest) in 4th, 8th and 10th grade reading, math, science, social studies and language arts exams for the past five years. The total percentage of MMSD students performing at either "proficient" or "advanced" levels (the two highest standards) has consistently ranged in mid 60%s to mid 70%s;

Whereas, the district Drop Out Rate of 2.7% (2006-07) was the highest since 1998-99. With the exception of two years with slight declines, the rate has risen steadily since 1999.

Whereas, the Attendance Rate for all students has remained basically steady since 1998-99 in a range from 95.2% (2005-06) to a high of 96.5% (2001-02);

Whereas, the district Truancy Rate of students habitually truant has risen again in the past three years to 6.0% in 2006-07. The truancy rate has ranged from 6.3% (1999-2000) to 4.4% in 2002-03;

Whereas, the district total PreK-12 enrollment has declined from 25,087 (2000-01) to its second lowest total of 24,540 (2008-09) since that time;

Whereas, the district annual budget has increased from approximately $183 million in 1994-1995 (the first year of revenue caps) to approximately $368 million (2008-09);

Whereas, the board explains the 'budget gap' between revenue and expenses as created by the difference between the state mandated Qualified Economic Offer of 3.8% minimum for salary and health benefits for professional teaching staff and the 2.2% average annual increases per student in the property tax levy. The district, however, has agreed with the teachers' union for an average 4.24% in annual increases since 2001;

Whereas, the district annual cost per pupil is the second highest in the state at $13,280 for the school year 2007-08;

Whereas, there has been a significant growth in the numbers of MMSD graduates who are required to take remedial math, English and writing courses at post secondary institutions of higher learning in order to enter regular, beginning level courses;

Whereas, the 2008 MMSD Math Task Force Report states that MMSD students are required to take less math than other urban schools in Wisconsin; and, there are notable differences in the achievement gap;

Whereas, there is district acknowledgement of a serious achievement gap between low-income and minority student groups compared with others. There are no plans evident for changing how new or existing money will be spent differently in order to have an impact on improving student learning/achievement and instructional effectiveness;

Whereas, there are no specific plans and strategies for changes in the response and reporting systems for safety, use of appropriate technology and for curriculum and services for helping students, staff, parents and the community develop shared responsibilities for safety and conflict resolution;

Whereas, there are no cost-sharing and collaborative initiatives taking place with city and county governments to reduce costs, minimize duplication of services and create better-defined roles and responsibilities;

Whereas, the district is not demonstrating full disclosure, accountability and transparency by providing data and information to show and verify criteria, assumptions, base lines, calculations and analyses for stated efficiencies, savings, past and current projects, cuts and reductions;

Whereas, the board will make budget cuts affecting programs and services, whether or not this referendum passes. The cuts will be made with no specific assessment/evaluation process or strategy for objective analyses of educational or business programs and services to determine the most effective and efficient use of money they already have, as well as for the additional spending authority they are asking with this referendum;

Whereas, there is a lack of a data-driven basis for the re-allocation of existing funds, as well as for the allocation of new funds to programs and services for the greater benefit of all students; therefore, all students are in harms way and are impeded in their academic achievement and personal development;

THEREFORE, THE question is: "Why authorize more spending for the same programs, services and personnel which are NOT attaining desirable results with cost efficient and benefit effective performance?

Active Citizens for Education
Don Severson, President
608 577-0851

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Problems Without Figures For Fourth to Eighth Grade

A Math book for "High Schools and Normal Schools by S.Y. Gillan [9.6MB PDF]:

Arithmetic can be so taught as to make the pupil familiar with thc fact that we may use a number in a problem without knowing what particular number it is. Some of the fundamentals of algebra may thus be taught along with arithmetic. But, as a rule, whenever any attempt is made to do this the work soon develops or degenerates into formal algebra, with a full quota of symbolism, generalization and formulae -- matter which is not wholesome pabulum for a child's mind and the result has been that teachers have given up the effort and have returned to the use of standardized knowledge put up in separate packages like baled hay, one bale labeled "arithmetic," another "algebra," etc.

Every problem in arithmetic calls for two distinct and widely different kinds of work: first, the solution, which involves a comprehension of the conditions of the problem and their relation to one another; second, the operation. First we
decide what to do; this requires reasoning. Then we do the work; this is a merely mechanical process, and the more mechanical the better. A calculating machine, too stupid to make a mistake, will do the work more accurately than a
skillful accountant. Adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing do not train the power to reason, but deciding in a given set of conditions which of these operations to use and why, is the feature of arithmetic which requires reasoning.

The problems offered here will furnish material to promote thinking; and a few minutes daily used in this kind of work will greatly strengthen the pupils' power to deal with the problems given in the textbook.

After consultation with teachers, the author decided to print the problems without regard to classification. They range all the way from very simple work suitable for beginners up to a standard adapted to the needs of eighth grade pupils. As a review in high school and normal school classes the problems may be taken in order as they come, and will be found Interesting and stimulating. For pupils in the grades, the teacher will Indicate which ones to omit; this discrimination will be a valuable exercise for the teacher.

A few "catch problems" are put in to entrap the unwary. To stumble occasionally into a pitfall makes a pupil more watchful of his steps and gives invigorating exercise in regaining his footing. The groove runner thus learns to use his wits and see the difference between a legitimate problem and an absurdity.

It is recommended that these exercises be used as sight work, the pupils having the book in hand and the teacher designating the problems to be solved without previous preparation.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, May 21, 1910.

Many thanks to Dick Askey for providing a copy (the!) of this book.

From the book:

To answer in good, concise English, affords an excellent drill in clear thinking and accurate expression. This one is suitable for high school, normal school and university students, some of whom will flounder in a most ludicrous fashion when they first attempt to give a clear-cut answer conforming to the demands of mathematics and good English.

224. After a certain battle the surgeon sawed off several wagon loads of legs. If you are told the number of legs in each load and the .price of a cork leg, how can you find the expense of supplying these men with artificial legs? Writeout a list of twenty other expense items incurred in the fighting of a battle.

225. The American people spend each year for war much more than for education. If you know the total amount spent for each purpose, how can you find the per capita expense for war and for schools?

227. A boy travels from Boston to Seattle in a week. Every day at noon he meets a mail train going east on which he mails a letter to his mother in Boston. If there is no delay, how frequently should she receive his letters?

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Baylor Rewards Freshmen Who Retake SAT

Sara Rimer:

Baylor University in Waco, Tex., which has a goal of rising to the first tier of national college rankings, last June offered its admitted freshmen a $300 campus bookstore credit to retake the SAT, and $1,000 a year in merit scholarship aid for those who raised their scores by at least 50 points.

Of this year's freshman class of more than 3,000, 861 students received the bookstore credit and 150 students qualified for the $1,000-a-year merit aid, said John Barry, the university's vice president for communications and marketing.

"We're very happy with the way it worked out," Mr. Barry said in a telephone interview. "The lion's share of students ended up with the $300 credit they could use in our bookstore. That's not going to make or break the bank for anybody. But it's sure been appreciated by our students and parents."

The offer, which was reported last week by the university's student newspaper, The Lariat, raised Baylor's average SAT score for incoming freshmen to 1210, from about 1200, Mr. Barry said. That score is one of the factors in the rankings compiled by U.S. News & World Report.

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Texas District Wins Prize for Schools

Sam Dillon:

The Brownsville Independent School District in Texas won what may be the nation's most important prize for excellence in urban education on Tuesday, the same day that Texas authorities announced that the district had failed to meet achievement targets for two years under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Erica Lepping, a spokeswoman for the foundation that administers the $1 million Broad Prize for Urban Education, said the 10-member prize jury, which included two former secretaries of education, was aware that Brownsville had missed its testing targets under the federal law last year but had considered many other academic quality indicators in making its choice.

A vast majority of the nation's largest urban districts, including three of the four runners-up for this year's Broad prize, also failed to meet the federal law's annual targets, Ms. Lepping said.

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The College Track: Onward & Upward

Karlyn Bowman:

The plans, proclivities, and politics of college students.

Forty years ago, when the data series analyzed here began, just three in ten college freshmen had fathers who had a college education. Now, a majority do. Young college students today have higher education goals than their predecessors did a generation ago. The changes have been particularly dramatic for young women, with a fivefold increase in the number who plan to become doctors, and a threefold increase in the number who plan to get a Ph.D.

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Picturing Wisconsin School Trends

Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance:

Wisconsin schools budgeted to spend $9.94 billion last year, or $11,522 per pupil. About 58% of that went to instruction. Over the past decade, increases in per pupil spending have averaged 4.0% per year. Meanwhile, statewide enrollments have dropped for five consecutive years.

T he world in which Wisconsin public schools operate today is markedly different from the one in the early 1990s. Enrollments and expenditure trends, and spending and staffing patterns, have all changed--in some cases, dramatically. But, simple pictures often tell the story.

One of the most noticeable developments over the past 20 years has been the ebb and flow of student numbers. The "baby boom echo" led to K-12 enrollments rising from 757,050 in 1990 to 874,042 in 2003. Since then, however, the student count dropped to 863,660 in 2008, the fifth consecutive year of decline.

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October 15, 2008

Wisconsin DPI Superintendent Interviews


uddenly, there's another major state race brewing for early 2009.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson has been preparing for a challenge from conservatives in her bid for re-election, sparking speculation of a repeat of the past two partisan-ized races that saw conservatives take over the court majority. Emerging as a likely candidate is Jefferson County Circuit Judge Randy Koschnick.

And now conservatives and liberals are expected to battle over the state school superintendent's job following Department of Public Instruction chief Libby Burmaster's surprise announcement she'll pass on a re-election bid. Though the post is officially non-partisan, Burmaster has been seen as a big ally of Dem Gov. Jim Doyle. Doyle has strong ties to Madison West High School, where Burmaster worked as principal.

Already, the potential list of competitors is up to three.

Tony Evers, Burmaster's deputy of the past seven-plus years, immediately e-mailed supporters announcing his intention to run for the post. Van Mobley, a history professor at Concordia University in Mequon and a member of the Thiensville Village Board, is mulling a run and will make his decision in November.

And Rose Fernandez, president of president of the Wisconsin Coalition of Virtual School Families, has been considering a run for DPI superintendent, according to a state campaign veteran with ties to her.

Evers, who ran unsuccessfully for the job in 2001, and Mobley gave interviews to WisPolitics this week about their visions for the job. Attempts to reach Fernandez were unsuccessful.

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Input Sought for Arts and Creativity Meeting

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction:

Educators and community members are invited to provide examples of promising programs focusing on the arts and creativity in schools, communities, or the workplace. The information will be used to help Wisconsin infuse creativity, the arts, innovation, and entrepreneurship into education at the state and local levels in Wisconsin.

The request comes from the Wisconsin Task Force on Arts and Creativity in Education, which has worked over the past six months toward a statewide plan to strengthen arts and creativity education in the state.

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Madison School district hopes to be anchor for homeless students

Pat Schneider:

That is sometimes the function -- although not the intent, really, of the TEP program -- which provides academic and emotional support for students whose chaotic life circumstances can set them grades behind their classmates.

The Zavala kids are among more than 280 students identified as homeless in the school district in the first six weeks of the school year. That number is a rolling count, updated throughout the school year as the district as students become homeless.

The district is on pace to exceed last year's total, which was up sharply from the year before. The nation's growing economic crisis is a likely culprit for at least some of the increase. One longtime TEP teacher says more homeless students are coming from established Madison families, not just those who have recently arrived to the city without housing.

As a result, homeless students are now in the attendance areas of schools all over the city -- and not just those near homeless shelters and motels used to house homeless families. As a result, school officials this year are re-examining how best to use their limited resources, said Nancy Yoder, director of alternative programs. The school district now spends more than $750,000 on homeless services, but more district dollars are highly unlikely, Superintendent Dan Nerad said Thursday. District officials are preparing for a November referendum asking voters to approve increasing their spending limit by a total of $13 million over the next three years just to preserve current programs.

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Is the 2008 School Referendum Just More of the Same? No!

On November 4, the Madison School Board is asking voters to vote yes on a referendum that will increase the property tax support base for Madison's public schools by a total of $13 million after three years. For owners of a $250,000, that translates to an additional $90 in property taxes by the third year.

This is not the first school referendum in recent years. But is it just more of the same? No. The need for a referendum stems from our broken system for funding Wisconsin's public schools, but that is where the connections end. From the earliest planning through the unanimous Board of Education vote to go to referendum, the 2008 request is a big change from what voters have seen in the past.

The referendum is about funding a community service - K12 education - that is essential to vital neighborhoods and property values, an educated workforce, and, most important, a strong start for the children and youth who hold our future in their hands.

Our proposal is one of two major elements in Superintendent Nerad's vision of a new partnership between the Madison Metropolitan School District and its communities. The second part is commitment to a long-range planning process that will include strong community input, assessment and review of district staffing and programs, and reallocation of resources to critical areas of need.

The 2008 plan was developed with input from the community. The final proposal represents more than some people want and less than others want; all comments were taken into account by the superintendent and the board.

Additional financial steps that reduce the tax impact on homeowners:

1) Using our 2008 windfall to pay off short term debt and reduce the amount we are asking by $400,000 per year
2) enacting Fund 41 to manage on-going maintenance and protect the district from losing state aid;
3) decreasing the community service fund (Fund 80) property tax levy by $2 million for one year to offset the referendum's property tax increases;
4) revising our financial forecasts so that the referendum asks only for what we believe we will need; and,
5) using a recurring referendum so that the district will not face the significant new gap that would occur after a fixed-term referendum.

The 2008 referendum does not fix the way that Wisconsin pays for public schools, which has not worked for Madison or other communities. The referendum does not restore programs that were among the $35 million in budget cuts made by the board in the past 5 years, nor does it include new programs. It is one step in our ongoing work to balance school needs with taxpayer means under state laws.

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Wisconsin State & School Finance Climate Update

I recently had an opportunity to visit with Todd Barry, President of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance [29 minute mp3]. A summary of this timely conversation follows:

[2:25] Post Retirement Liabilities: Milwaukee Public Schools Post Retirement Health Care Liabilities: $2.2 to $2.5 billion

[3:01] Wisconsin's $2.44 Billion structural deficit. The State debt load ($4billion to $9billion from 2000 to 2007) is now among the top 10.

[7:48] On property values and assessment changes. Two years ago, property values grew 9%, last year 6%, 3% this year with most of the recent growth coming from commercial properties.

[8:57] Wisconsin Income Growth: Per Capita personal income "The canary in the mineshaft" and how we lag the national average by 6% or more.


The population is aging. Senior population will double by 2030. School age population is stagnant.

Employment growth peaked before the nation (04/05)

Wisconsin wages per worker is about 10% less than the national average. 1969; 4% below national average, 1980's; 10 or 11% below national average. Wisconsin wagers per worker are now 14% below national average. We've been on a 40 year slide.

We've hid this because the labor force participation of women has increased dramatically.

Wisconsin is losing corporate headquarters.

[18:18] What does this all mean for K-12 spending?

"If there is going to be growth in any state appropriation,it is going to be schools and Medicaid". The way the Legislature and Governor have set up these two programs, they are more or less on auto-pilot. They will grab whatever money is available and crowd out most everything else. So you get this strange situation where state aid to schools has tripled in the last 25 years while funding for the UW has barely doubled. That sounds like a lot, but when you look at it on a year by year basis, that means state funding for the University of Wisconsin System has grown less than the rate of inflation on an annual average basis while school aids has outpaced it (inflation) as has Medicaid."

Is there anything on the horizon in terms of changes in school finance sources? A discussion of shifting state school finance to the sales tax. "It's clear that in states where state government became even more dominant (in K-12 finance) than in Wisconsin, the net result, in the long run, was a slowing of state support for schools. The legislature behaves like a school board, micromanaging and mandating. California is the poster child.

[20:52] On why the Madison School District, despite flat enrollment and revenue caps, has been able to grow revenues at an average of 5.25% over the past 20 years. Barry discussed: suburban growth around Madison, academic competition amongst Dane County high schools. He discussed Madison's top end students (college bound kids, kids of professionals and faculty) versus the "other half that doesn't take those (college entrance) tests" and that the "other half" is in the bottom 10 to 20% while the others are sitting up at the top on college entrance exams.

[23:17]: This is a long way of saying that Madison has made its problem worse and has put itself on a course toward flat enrollment because of social service policies, school boundary policies and so forth that have pushed people out of the city.

[23:42] "If there is a way within state law to get around revenue caps, Madison has been the poster child". Mentions Fund 80 and frequent and successfully passing referendums along with Madison's high spending per pupil.

People think of the Milwaukee Public Schools as a high spending District. When you really look start to dig into it, it is above average, but Madison is way out there compared to even MPS. People argue that argue that MPS is top heavy in terms of administrative costs per student, Madison actually spends more in some of those categories than Milwaukee. (See SchoolFacts, more)

[26:45] On K-12 School finance outlook: The last time we blew up the school finance system in Wisconsin was in 1994. And, it happened very quickly within a span of 2 to 3 months and it had everything to do with partisan political gotcha and it had nothing to do with education.

[28:26] "Where are the two bastians of Democratic seats in the legislature? Madison and Milwaukee. Madison is property rich and Milwaukee is relatively property poor. Somehow you have to reconcile those two within a Democratic environment and on the Republican side you have property rich suburbs and some very property poor rural districts.

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

Wisconsin School districts were told of investments' risks, firm says

Amy Hetzner:

Five Wisconsin school districts suing over investments made two years ago were given "significant disclosure" of what was in those deals and represented themselves as sophisticated investors, an official with a financial institution targeted by the lawsuit said Tuesday.

"We made full disclosure of the merits and the risks associated with these transactions, and we were never guarantors in any fashion of the performance of those investments," said David DeYoung, senior vice president and managing director of the Wisconsin public finance unit for St. Louis-based Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. Inc.

Stifel acted as no more than a placement agent in the transactions, DeYoung said. In that capacity, the firm connected the five districts to Royal Bank of Canada, which sold them complex financial products as a way to help fund retiree benefits, and DEPFA Bank in Ireland, which lent the districts most of the money to buy the investments, he said.

"We had a very limited role in this," DeYoung said.

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Amusing, but Not Funny

Bob Herbert:

Sara Rimer of The Times wrote an article last week that gave us a startling glimpse of just how mindless and self-destructive the U.S. is becoming.

Consider the lead paragraph:

"The United States is failing to develop the math skills of both girls and boys, especially among those who could excel at the highest levels, a new study asserts, and girls who do succeed in the field are almost all immigrants or the daughters of immigrants from countries where mathematics is more highly valued."

The idea that the U.S. won't even properly develop the skills of young people who could perform at the highest intellectual levels is breathtaking -- breathtakingly stupid, that is.

The authors of the study, published in Notices of the American Mathematical Society, concluded that American culture does not value talent in math very highly. I suppose we're busy with other things, like text-messaging while jay-walking. The math thing is seen as something for Asians and nerds.

Related: Math Forum.

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On Milwaukee's Schools: A clearer picture of the district's financial problems is essential, but a broader discussion of its challenges also must take place.

Milwaukee Journal - Sentinel Editorial:

Gov. Jim Doyle and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett will hire a consultant within the next week to get a clearer picture of Milwaukee Public Schools' financial underpinnings.

Their joint announcement Saturday feels like progress. But it's only a first step.

Yes, by all means, learn as much as possible about the district's troubled books. But then take action to shore up those finances and focus on other looming issues -- namely the question of governance.

That broader discussion is essential. It's one that Doyle and Barrett must lead. But before that, they agree that they need to know what works financially and what doesn't within the district. Fair enough, because if money is the problem, then an audit will help them deliver that message to the public.

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October 14, 2008

Seattle School District's Community Advisory Approach

Via a kind reader's email [900K PDF]:

Seattle Public Schools has pockets of excellence and many outstanding principals, teachers and programs. WASL scores have improved consistently over the last five years and SAT scores surpass state and national averages. However, we cannot accept a system with a 59% graduation rate and a 22% dropout rate. We cannot accept the lack of proficiency demonstrated in core subjects, particularly in math. We cannot accept a system with uneven school quality. And we cannot accept the glaring, persistent achievement gap among student groups.

We cannot accept a system facing years of multimillion dollar structural deficits. Nor can we accept the burdensome, complex and inadequate state-funding model to which the District is subjected.

We cannot accept these conditions and results. Instead, we must view this as an opportunity for decision makers to demonstrate true leadership and respond to this call to action.

It begins with leadership, including:

  • More forceful direction from the Superintendent and greater unity and cohesion on the part of the School Board
  • Greater mission clarity and a more focused and concise strategic plan;
  • An organizational culture-shift that values creativity, fosters adaptability, demands accountability and rewards innovation, teamwork and risk-taking.
It will take resourcefulness to increase investment inacademic outcomes. This will entail a financial strategy truly driven by student achievement goals and aimed at improved outcomes for all.

It will take a resolute approach to establishing long-term fiscal viability. This must include an honest assessment of demographic realities and opportunities for improved operational and program efficiencies across the board. Business as-usual cannot continue.

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Wisconsin, Mississippi Have "Easy State K-12 Exams" - NY Times

Sam Dillon:

A state-by-state analysis by The New York Times found that in the 40 states reporting on their compliance so far this year, on average, 4 in 10 schools fell short of the law's testing targets, up from about 3 in 10 last year. Few schools missed targets in states with easy exams, like Wisconsin and Mississippi, but states with tough tests had a harder time. In Hawaii, Massachusetts and New Mexico, which have stringent exams, 60 to 70 percent of schools missed testing goals. And in South Carolina, which has what may be the nation's most rigorous tests, 83 percent of schools missed targets.

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Charter Success in LA

Wall Street Journal Editorial:

With economic issues sucking up so much political oxygen this year, K-12 education hasn't received the attention it deserves from either Presidential candidate. The good news is that school reformers at the local level continue to push forward.

This month the Inner City Education Foundation (ICEF), a charter school network in Los Angeles, announced plans to expand the number of public charter schools in the city's South Central section, which includes some of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods in the country. Over the next four years, the number of ICEF charters will grow to 35 from 13. Eventually, the schools will enroll one in four students in the community, including more than half of the high school students.

The demand for more educational choice in predominantly minority South Los Angeles is pronounced. The waitlist for existing ICEF schools has at times exceeded 6,000 kids. And no wonder. Like KIPP, Green Dot and other charter school networks that aren't constrained by union rules on staffing and curriculum, ICEF has an excellent track record, particularly with black and Hispanic students. In reading and math tests, ICEF charters regularly outperform surrounding traditional public schools as well as other Los Angeles public schools.

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Digging Out Roots of Cheating in High School

Maura Casey:

Surveys show that cheating in school -- plagiarism, forbidden collaboration on assignments, copying homework and cheating on exams -- has soared since researchers first measured the phenomenon on a broad scale at 99 colleges in the mid-1960s.

The percentage of students who copied from another student during tests grew from 26 percent in 1963 to 52 percent in 1993, and the use of crib notes during exams went from 6 percent to 27 percent, according to a study conducted by Dr. Donald McCabe of Rutgers. By the mid-1990s, only a small minority said they had never cheated, meaning that cheating had become part of the acceptable status quo.

Dr. McCabe's later national survey of 25,000 high school students from 2001 to 2008 yielded equally depressing results: more than 90 percent said they had cheated in one way or another.

Dr. Jason Stephens of the University of Connecticut has now embarked on a three-year pilot program to reduce cheating. His premise is that honesty and integrity are not only values but habits -- habits that can be encouraged in school settings, with positive benefits later in life.

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

Bringing Special-Needs Schools Closer to Home

Winnie Hu:

Tom Holohan, a 16-year-old with autistic symptoms, grew up paralyzed by fear and anxiety about leaving his family's home. But for the last two years, Tom has had to commute to a Connecticut boarding school that specializes in treating his disability, returning on weekends to his home in Farmingdale, N.Y.

"There's always this thing inside you that you want to be home," said Tom, who attended five day schools here on Long Island and tried home schooling before his local school district sent him to the Connecticut school, Devereux Glenholme. "I mean, I got used to living there, but every day I think about what's going on at home. It's really difficult."

Next year, Tom is hoping to attend Westbrook Preparatory School, a $2.5 million institution that will be New York State's first residential school for students with high-functioning autism and that was founded after intense lobbying by parents, including Tom's mother, Maureen Holohan, 48, who is on the school's governing board. The new school, to serve 24 middle and high school students with average or above-average intelligence but in need of significant emotional and social support, is part of a statewide push to bring special education students back from out-of-state private schools by creating publicly financed alternatives closer to home.

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October 13, 2008

Nick Saban's Fine Print

Buzz Bissinger

It's a couple of weeks ago and I am watching the Alabama-Clemson football game. It's a pretty good contest, actually. The Crimson Tide is in the groove against a Top 10 team. But that's not what truly interests me.

I am watching the fans in various states of rabidity, wondering how long it takes to wash all that school-color gunk off your body once you lacquer it on, not to mention what precisely motivates someone to apply such gunk in the first place. I am watching the cheerleaders in their somersaults and squats of perfect synchronism with those slapped-on smiles. I am just watching the crazy spectacle of it all -- frenzy and bloodlust and the low rumble of moans and the high-pitch of screams. I wonder why we need any more studies showing our nation's education system to be in the tank when all you have to do is attend a college football game.

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2008 Madison Schools' Referendum - Key Issues

1. Mortgage on future property with permanent increase: Asking taxpayers to refinance/mortgage their futures and that of the school district with a permanent increase of $13 million yearly for the operations budget. It has been stated the district needs the money to help keep current programs in place. It is expected that even after 3 years of this referendum totaling $27 million, the Board is projecting a continued revenue gap and will be back asking for even more.

2. No evaluation nor analysis of programs and services: The Board will make budget cuts affecting program and services, whether or not this referendum passes. The cuts will be made with no assessment/evaluation process or strategy for objective analyses of educational or business programs and services to determine the most effective and efficient use of money they already have as well as for the additional money they are asking with this referendum.

3. Inflated criteria for property value growth: The dollar impact on property to be taxed is projected on an inflated criteria of 4% growth in property valuation assessment; therefore, reducing the cost projection for the property tax levy. The growth for property valuation in 2007 was 3.2% and for 2008 it was 1.0%. Given the state of the economy and the housing market, the growth rate is expected to further decline in 2009. [10/13 Update: The above references to property valuation assessment growth are cited from City of Madison Assessor data. See ACE document "Watch List Report Card" [2008 Referendum Watch List 755K PDF] for State Department of Revenue citations for property valuation base and growth rate used for determination of MMSD property tax levy.]

4. No direct impact on student learning and classroom instruction: There is District acknowledgement of a serious achievement gap between low-income and minority student groups compared with others. There are no plans evident for changing how new or existing money will be spent differently in order to have an impact on improving student learning/achievement and instructional effectiveness.

5. Lack of verification of reduction in negative aid impact on taxes: District scenarios illustrating a drastic reduction in the negative impact on state aids from our property-rich district is unsubstantiated and unverified, as well as raising questions about unknown possible future unintended consequences. The illustrated reduction is from approximately 60% to 1% results by switching maintenance funds from the operations budget and 2005 referendum proceeds to a newly created "Capital Expansion Fund--Fund 41" account. [Update: 10/13: The reduction in the negative aid impact will take affect regardless of the outcome of the referendum vote. See the ACE document "Watch List Report Card" [2008 Referendum Watch List 755K PDF] for details.]

6. Full disclosure, accountability and transparency: Data and information has not been presented to show and verify criteria, assumptions, base lines, calculations and analyses for stated efficiencies, effectiveness, savings, past and current projects, cuts and reductions. [Update 10/13: The new administration is gathering and preparing information and data on a pro-active, but limited, basis.]

7. No cost-sharing and collaborative initiatives with other governments: Discussions and negotiations have not taken place with city and county governments for cost-sharing and collaborative initiatives to reduce costs, minimize duplication of services, and create better defined roles and responsibilities.

8. Making schools safe for students and staff: There are no specific plans or strategies for changes in the response system for safety, use of appropriate technology and curriculum helping students and staff develop shared responsibilities and conflict resolution. [Update 10/13: The administration is engaging input from school staff, students, parents and city officials for the development of plans. They are also working on identifying funding sources to provide for safer access from outside walk-ins to the buildings.]

9. Impact of economics and affordability: The impact of tax increases becomes staggering when put in the total context of a school referendum increase and an operations increase; a City of Madison projected 4-6% budget increase; a County of Dane projected 4-6% budget increase; the State of Wisconsin budget expense deficit and decrease in revenues; and the national economic scene of increased food and fuel costs along with the lack of stability in the financial and housing markets.

10. Expected approval of future Maintenance Referendum included in tax impact
: The District states that their figures showing the tax impact with approval of the current referendum includes the current Maintenance Referendum (approximately $5 million per year) running through 2009-10 will be approved again past 2009-10. [Update: 10/13: Projections are now available excluding the tax impacts of the current and projected maintenance referendums.]

11. Board discussing another new elementary school: The Board of Education has authorized the administration to seek property in south Madison to build a new elementary school. Planning initiatives are underway to propose a referendum for building an elementary school building in the near future. [Update: 10/13: The administration is not taking any action on this initiative at this time.] See ACE document "Watch List Report Card" [230K PDF Version] for detailed information on 'key issues'

2008 Referendum Watch List 755K PDF

Prepared by Active Citizens for Education
Contact: Don Severson, President
608 577-0851

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Polonius Redux

New England History Teachers Association
Newsletter Fall 1999

In Hamlet, Polonius offers his introduction to the players by describing them as: "The best players in the world, either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral or poem unlimited."

Modern American education has been visited with an echo of this brief 1602 disquisition on what a cool combinatorial plaything the permu-tations of presentation can be in the right hands. Our version is called Multiple Intelligences, and an article in the Magazine of History lays out a simplified version of a lesson plan for teaching the Spanish-American War. It offers the basics of this new orthodoxy--methods which can cater to: Intrapersonal Intelligence, Verbal/ Linguistic Intelligence, Musical/Rhythmic Intelligence, Visual/Spatial Intelligence, Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence, Interpersonal Intelli-gence, and Mathematical Intelligence.

This is clearly the introductory form of this approach, and does not try to get into the more arcane techniques of Mathematico-Spatial-Verbal or Linguistic-Rhythmic-Kinesthetic or Interpersonal-Intrapersonal-Visual-Bodily methods of curriculum design.

The founder of this new way to develop individual learning plans for each student and all combinations of students in a class is Howard Gardner, MacArthur Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He was interviewed, not too long ago, on public radio in Boston, and when he was asked why he chose the term Multiple Intelligences, he quite candidly replied, "If I had called them Talents, no one would have paid any attention."

To be fair to this academic psychologist looking for a new field to make a name in, it is quite likely that he has very little conception of the damage he has done in American education. Polonius was in part a figure of fun, although he does have some of Shakespeare's most famous lines ("To thine own self be true"), but Professor Gardner cannot get off quite so easily, because his work is not recognized as comical by enough of our educators.

He has made it possible for teachers everywhere to say that whatever they feel like doing in class, from gossiping about scandal to reminiscing about Vietnam to showing travel slides, to you name it, is designed to appeal to one of the many talents (Intelligences) that students bring to school with them.

When students who cannot read a comic book come to get their high school diplomas, their teachers can say that they have been dealing with the rich complexity of their Cranial Multiplicity, and so had no time to teach them to read and write.

In fact, it could be much worse. Professor Gardner recently revealed that he has discovered something which he might call spiritual intelligence. Someone must have pointed out to him the existence of religious activity among human beings over the millenia, and he has now decided that there must be some new form of Intelligence involved in the search for the will of God.

But he could have made things even more silly. Any pro football scout will tell you that there is wide receiver intelligence, interior offensive lineman intelligence, fullback intelligence, and strong safety intelligence, and a similar list could be provided for every other sport. These Intelligences, along with joke-telling intelligence, dating intelligence, job-search intelligence, and hundreds of others, are brought into the high school classroom each day, in varying strengths, by at least some of the members of each group of students, but, mercifully, Professor Gardner has put off his investigations and recommendations for dealing with these varieties of Multiple Intelligence for a later time.

While the classroom teachers who have enlisted themselves in this venture to redecorate instruction beyond all hope of imparting necessary information, and of training students to read and write, may feel they can employ a superior taxonomy of human existence, and they can describe what they do in a classroom in terms which could make Polonius blush for them, it seems unlikely that their students are getting an education. What a waste of a Harvard Professor and the time of countless students...

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review

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A Taxing Question

David Moltz:

A November ballot referendum to repeal Massachusetts' income tax has many educators scared. Though supporters of the referendum argue it would make the government more efficient and effective, detractors argue that it would put valuable public services at risk. Especially concerned are public college and university administrators, who warn that, for the state's higher education system, the consequences of an income tax repeal would be grim.

A similar referendum failed in 2002. But to the surprise of many in the state, the measure -- which would have abolished the income tax immediately -- received a respectable 45 percent of the vote.

This year's referendum would reduce the state's income tax rate from 5.3 percent to 2.65 percent in the upcoming year and eliminate it entirely beginning in 2010. Many fear the measure will pass this time, since it is more gradual than the 2002 measure and comes before voters at a time of exceptional concern over their finances. If the measure passes, Massachusetts would join nine other states that do not tax income. Many of those states have never had an income tax and have developed, over the years, alternative sources of income. This is not the case in Massachusetts.

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A Look at the Milwaukee Public Schools' Fringe Benefit Costs

Alan Borsuk:

Milwaukee Public Schools retirees and part-time employees earn "considerably more generous benefit levels" than other groups, according to a major consultant's report to the School Board.

The report, which comes as financial and political pressures on MPS are at levels that may be unprecedented, found that fringe benefits cost the school system 61.5 cents for every dollar spent on wages. That compared with 24.5 cents when figures for a dozen comparable employers and MPS were calculated all together.

The New York-based consulting firm, the Segal Co., analyzed data from MPS and 33 comparable employers, including school districts in Wisconsin and elsewhere and other government units. The results of the analysis are to be presented to the School Board's finance committee Thursday night, but no action will be taken then.

With two supplemental pension funds for early retirees, MPS makes payments to four pension funds, with annual payments equal to 14% of its payroll, compared with an average of 9.9% for other public employers in the study.

And practices such as giving full health insurance to people who work 20 hours a week, and in some cases less, and giving people who retire at 55 almost the same health insurance as active workers are uncommon among employers, the report says.

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On College Level Math in High School

Valerie Strauss:

For Gifted Few, Moving Beyond Calculus

It would be hard to find a more advanced math class in public schools than the one Robert Sachs teaches at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.

That's because it isn't really high school math.

Complex Variables is usually taught to college juniors and seniors. It is offered at selective Thomas Jefferson in Fairfax County because students demand the challenge.

"This class is pretty difficult," said Bobbie Pelham Webb, 17, a senior. "It is one of the first math classes that is challenging to me. Calculus was easy."

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On 21st Century Education Reports

Jay Matthews:

Another well-intentioned report on the future of American schools reached my cubicle recently: "21st Century Skills, Education and Competitiveness: A Resource and Policy Guide." It is available on the Web at It is full of facts and colorful illustrations, with foresight and relevance worthy of the fine organizations that funded it -- the National Education Association, the KnowledgeWorks Foundation, the Ford Motor Company Fund and the Tucson-based Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a leading education advocacy organization that also produced the report and sent it to me and many other people.

So why, after reading it, did I feel like tossing it into the waste basket?

Maybe this is just my problem. Maybe everyone else who obsesses about schools loves these reports. There certainly are a lot of them. I seem to get at least one a month. There must be a big demand.

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The Frugal Teenager, Ready or Not

Jan Hoffman:

WHEN Wendy Postle's two children were younger, saying "yes" gave her great joy. Yes to all those toys. The music lessons. The blowout birthday parties.

ut as her son and daughter approached adolescence, yes turned into a weary default. "Sometimes it was just easier to say, 'O.K., whatever,' than to have the battle of 'no,' " said Mrs. Postle, a working mother who lives in Hilliard, Ohio, a middle-class suburb of Columbus.

This year her husband's 401(k) savings are evaporating. Medical bills are nipping at the couple's heels. Gas prices are still taking a toll. Mrs. Postle recently decided that although she and her husband had always sacrificed their own luxuries for Zach, 13, and Kaitlyn, 15, the teenagers would now have to cut back as well.

"No" could no longer be the starting gun of family fights. It would have to be an absolute.

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Bringing Special-Needs Schools Closer to Home

Winnie Hu:

Tom Holohan, a 16-year-old with autistic symptoms, grew up paralyzed by fear and anxiety about leaving his family's home. But for the last two years, Tom has had to commute to a Connecticut boarding school that specializes in treating his disability, returning on weekends to his home in Farmingdale, N.Y., about nine miles from here.

"There's always this thing inside you that you want to be home," said Tom, who attended five day schools on Long Island and tried home schooling before his local school district sent him to the Connecticut school, Devereux Glenholme. "I mean, I got used to living there, but every day I think about what's going on at home. It's really difficult."

Next year, Tom is hoping to attend Westbrook Preparatory School, a $2.5 million institution that will be New York State's first residential school for students with high-functioning autism and that was founded after intense lobbying by parents, including Tom's mother, Maureen Holohan, 48, who is on the school's governing board. The new school, serving 24 middle and high school students with average or above-average intelligence but in need of significant emotional and social support, is part of a statewide push to bring special education students back from out-of-state private schools by creating publicly financed alternatives closer to home.

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Sun Prairie Acadamic Decathlon team plans road trip

Pamela Cotant:

This year the theme for the Academic Decathlon curriculum is Latin America with a focus on Mexico and two area teams plan to go right to the source to study it.

About a dozen members from each of the Wisconsin Academic Decathlon teams at the high schools in Sun Prairie and McFarland will visit Mexico City from Oct. 29 to Nov. 3.

Participants agree that the trip is about more than just a great way to gather information outside of their regular meetings.

"It's a really good team bonding time," said Scott LaWall, a senior at Sun Prairie High School. "During the school year, just (meeting) after school, it's difficult to really get to know your teammates."

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October 12, 2008

Parents upset that Arlington school sex assault case wasn't reported earlier

Chris Hawes:

A suspect was put in custody Friday but many parents of children at Coble Middle School say that's not the issue. They're outraged they weren't told an assault had taken place on campus.

Parents lining up to pick up their children Friday received something else - a letter. The more they read, the more disturbed they became: A young girl reported she was sexually assaulted at school.

But two weeks passed before the children were told what was going on. The school says they had to protect the investigation.

Counselors handed out the letter in the car lane. The letter detailed the reported the sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl on campus, during school.

"He had a valid reason to be on campus and chose to pull this girl into a locker room and sexually assault her," said Lt. Blake Miller from Arlington police.

But even more disturbing to one father was the date of the crime, Sept. 26.

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Interactive whiteboards bring technology to students' fingertips

Andy Hall:

Dane County school districts with interactive whiteboards include Madison, Sun Prairie, Waunakee, Middleton-Cross Plains, Verona, Oregon, McFarland, Stoughton, Cambridge, Mount Horeb and Monona Grove.

Many students have a natural affinity for interactive whiteboards, which are a hybrid between an old-fashioned chalkboard and a computer.

Whatever can be shown on a computer can be projected onto the whiteboard, about six feet wide and four feet tall.

"It's got that technological kind of buzz to it that really attracts them," said Jeff Horney, learning coordinator at Cherokee on the city's West Side. The school has four interactive whiteboards and more are on the way, thanks to help from foundation grants and the school's Parent Teacher Organization.

And West High School has received a $91,000 grant from the California-based Tosa Foundation to replace dusty chalkboards with interactive whiteboards.

In Aegerter's classroom, seventh-grader Clayton Zimmerman showed his classmates every step of a science experiment, tapping his finger on the screen's images to remove a stopper from the top of a bottle and drag it off to the side.

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October 11, 2008

Governor & Mayor Plan Review of Milwaukee Public Schools

Dani McClain:

Gov. Jim Doyle and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett plan to hire a consultant to analyze Milwaukee Public Schools' finances and operations, and the study is to be finished in time for Doyle to make recommendations to the Legislature in January.

Doyle said he expects the next steps to include changing the state funding formula, changing practices in MPS or some combination of the two.

The consultant, who will be hired in the next 10 days, will be paid by local donors and will have national experience in restructuring and strategic planning, Barrett said in a conference call Saturday.

"We have to have a very solid understanding of the financial underpinnings of this district so we can decide as a community what steps are necessary to move the district forward," he said.

Both officials expressed support for teachers and students in MPS and a desire to know whether the district is using its funds efficiently.

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Referendum Climate: Tax-cutting questions appear on ballots next month

Steve LeBlanc:

For years, Massachusetts was known derisively as "Taxachusetts." But voters could help shed that label in November by completely eliminating the state's income tax in a single stroke.
If approved, the ballot initiative would wipe out 40 percent of state revenues and give back to each taxpayer an average of $3,600.

The Massachusetts proposal is the most notable of several tax-cutting questions that will appear next month on ballots around the nation.

Others include a North Dakota initiative to cut individual income tax rates in half and trim corporate rates by 15 percent; an Arizona measure to mandate that any initiatives requiring spending or tax increases be approved by majority of all registered voters, not just those casting ballots; and a Maine plan to repeal new taxes on beer, wine and soda.
In Massachusetts, critics say there's no way to chop $11 billion out of a $28 billion budget without decimating services, which could include closing schools and fire stations. Aid to cities and towns would also decline, placing enormous pressure on property taxes.

Massachusetts, is of course, home of the "Boston Tea Party".

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School chief: Strike up the band again to keep students engaged

James Vaznis:

Boston high school students may soon be marching to the beat of their own drums. Or the oompah of their own tubas. Literally.

Tucked into Superintendent Carol R. Johnson's ambitious plan to reorganize the school system is a small but splashy proposal: revive the tradition of a high school marching band in a city bereft of one for about four decades.

"I think it would be pretty exciting," Johnson said. "In a city where we have a lot of great historical celebrations and athletic celebrations, it would make us proud to have BPS students marching down the street. I believe there is enough talent in this city to make it happen."

The city would have to find just a few dozen students - out of more than 18,000 high school students districtwide - suit them up and make sure they can play their instruments while marching in synchronized steps. Sounds simple enough, but prior attempts have flopped.

In the mid-1980s, the district proposed a 200-piece citywide marching band with much fanfare and later unveiled a uniform inscribed with the words "Pride of Boston." But rehearsals were never held, and newly purchased drums, cymbals, and horns ultimately collected dust in a school closet.

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Teachers Sue Over Right to Politic

Jennifer Medina:

The New York City teachers' union filed a federal lawsuit on Friday claiming that a policy banning political pins and signs in schools violates teachers' First Amendment rights by blocking them from political expression.

The lawsuit comes nearly two weeks after the Department of Education sent a memo to principals directing them to enforce the longstanding regulation, which requires that all school staff members show "complete neutrality" while on duty. The policy also prohibits teachers from using school property to promote a candidate.

Randi Weingarten, president of the union, the United Federation of Teachers, said that while the policy has been on the books for more than two decades, it has rarely been enforced, and that teachers have routinely worn political buttons as recently as this year's presidential primaries.

But in the lawsuit, the union -- which has endorsed Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee -- states that the principal of Community School 134 in the Bronx removed an Obama poster that a teacher placed on the union bulletin board, and that a teacher at another school who wore political buttons was warned against it.

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Arts Complementing the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme

Christina Shunnarah:

This past weekend my colleagues and I gave a presentation at the Performing the World conference in Manhattan, which brought together educators, artists, therapists, scholars and activists from dozens of countries who are interested in using performance and drama in a variety of ways. Our presentation was on the role of the arts and performance at our school and how it complements and expands the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (IBPYP), an enriched curriculum that we have been using in our classrooms.

The IBPYP model is based on inquiry, participation in the process of learning, and exploration. It is learner-driven, not-teacher dominated. Teachers act as facilitators in the learning process and children's questions and interests are at the center of the classroom. The program originates with the International Baccalaureate Organization, founded in 1968 and based in Geneva, Switzerland. Thousands of schools around the world have adopted IB frameworks.

For the children at our school, some of whom face difficult issues at home -- poverty, isolation, domestic violence, trauma and stress, to name a few -- learning that emphasizes performance, inquiry, and artistic exploration is vital. That is why on any given day at I.C.S., you will see a multitude of creative projects going on: storytelling, puppetry, drama, dance, music, movement, role-playing, book clubs, chess, painting, cooking, yoga, writing, gardening, and active inquiries all around. In the current national climate of testing, we have to make time for creative expression. It is urgent. Children need some constructive form of release.

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October 10, 2008

Can the candidates fix America's decidedly mediocre schools?

The Economist:

"OUR nation is at risk. Our once unchallenged pre-eminence in commerce, industry, science and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world." So reported an education commission in 1983. That report was a turning point for American schools, helping spur a wave of reform. But 25 years later the state of American education is in a muddle.

In some ways its public schools have improved. America's nine-year-olds scored 22 points higher on a national maths test in 2004 than they had in 1982. But in many areas America still languishes, as described in a recent report by Ed in '08, an advocacy group. The percentage of 17-year-olds with basic reading skills has dropped, from 80% in 1992, when the current test was introduced, to 73% in 2005. On the international stage, American students are doodling while others scribble ahead. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has a glum statistic: in the most recent ranking of 15-year-olds' skill in maths, America ranked 25th out of 30. Though America's universities remain pre-eminent in the world, they have grown increasingly unaffordable. Barack Obama notes that between 2001 and 2010, 2m qualified students will not go to university because they cannot afford it.

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Janet Mertz Study: Math Skills Suffer in US, Study Finds

Carolyn Johnson:

It's been nearly four years since Lawrence Summers, then president of Harvard University, made his controversial comments about the source of the gender gap in math and science careers. Still, the ripple effect continues - most recently in a study made public today on the world's top female math competitors.

The study, to be published in next month's Notices of the American Mathematical Society, identifies women of extraordinary math ability by sifting through the winners of the world's most elite math competitions. It found that small nations that nurtured female mathematicians often produced more top competitors than far larger and wealthier nations.

The message: Cultural or environmental factors, not intellect, are what really limit women's math achievements.

Sara Rimer:
The United States is failing to develop the math skills of both girls and boys, especially among those who could excel at the highest levels, a new study asserts, and girls who do succeed in the field are almost all immigrants or the daughters of immigrants from countries where mathematics is more highly valued.

The study suggests that while many girls have exceptional talent in math -- the talent to become top math researchers, scientists and engineers -- they are rarely identified in the United States. A major reason, according to the study, is that American culture does not highly value talent in math, and so discourages girls -- and boys, for that matter -- from excelling in the field. The study will be published Friday in Notices of the American Mathematical Society.

"We're living in a culture that is telling girls you can't do math -- that's telling everybody that only Asians and nerds do math," said the study's lead author, Janet E. Mertz, an oncology professor at the University of Wisconsin, whose son is a winner of what is viewed as the world's most-demanding math competitions. "Kids in high school, where social interactions are really important, think, 'If I'm not an Asian or a nerd, I'd better not be on the math team.' Kids are self selecting. For social reasons they're not even trying."

Many studies have examined and debated gender differences and math, but most rely on the results of the SAT and other standardized tests, Dr. Mertz and many mathematicians say. But those tests were never intended to measure the dazzling creativity, insight and reasoning skills required to solve math problems at the highest levels, Dr. Mertz and others say.

Dr. Mertz asserts that the new study is the first to examine data from the most difficult math competitions for young people, including the USA and International Mathematical Olympiads for high school students, and the Putnam Mathematical Competition for college undergraduates. For winners of these competitions, the Michael Phelpses and Kobe Bryants of math, getting an 800 on the math SAT is routine. The study found that many students from the United States in these competitions are immigrants or children of immigrants from countries where education in mathematics is prized and mathematical talent is thought to be widely distributed and able to be cultivated through hard work and persistence.

Complete report 650K PDF.

Related: Math Forum.

Much more on Janet Mertz here.

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Students take a step for safety in surveying their walks to school

Tony Barboza:

Garfield Elementary pupils note broken sidewalks, speeding motorists and other hazards in hopes that Santa Ana will correct them.

n the first day of class, Chris Marx asks his fifth-grade students how they get to school and what they encounter along the way.

Even though most students at Garfield Elementary in Santa Ana walk only a few blocks to class, they often trudge over broken sidewalks and through littered alleyways, rub up against graffiti-covered walls and step over rubble from construction sites. Some dodge roving dogs, homeless people or gang members.

"You ask the kids how many times they've heard gunshots and there are some hands raised," Marx said.

Students at thousands of schools nationwide walked en masse to school Wednesday in events timed for International Walk to School Day, meant to encourage physical fitness and to reduce carbon emissions.

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Great Kids Books About Financial Ruin

Erica Perl:

Mom, What's a Credit Default Swap?

The first time I heard the word recession, I was 10 years old. It was 1978, and my parents, like everyone we knew, were cranky and stressed out about gas shortages and rising food prices. One of the ways I coped was by burying my nose in books and discovering kids who had it worse than I did. Like Ramona Quimby, whose dad got fired and took up residence on the couch. And Laura Ingalls, whose dad kept hitching up the wagon to drag his bonneted brood to the middle of nowhere. Many of the books I discovered during the late '70s featured themes of economic hardship that made my circumstances seem manageable by comparison--a happy coincidence, I thought at the time. Looking back, I'm not so sure this was an accident.

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Status of Girls in Wisconsin

Alverno College [PDF Report]:

The Alverno College Research Center for Women and Girls, in collaboration with the Women's Fund of Greater Milwaukee, the Girl Scouts of Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin Women's Council, is pleased to present our collaborative exploration of the status of girls (ages 10 to 19) in Wisconsin. After the Status of Women in Wisconsin reports were issued in 2002 and 2004, these organizations and others that serve girls in the State raised awareness for the need for companion research on girls as a natural next step. Since a great deal of information about Wisconsin girls is scattered in many different and often difficult-to-find places and documents, a primary goal of this project has been to centralize the information and to make it accessible, not only in print but also via the internet, to a variety of agencies, groups and institutions who have the needs and interests of Wisconsin's girls in mind.
Duston Block has more.

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October 9, 2008

Wisconsin Districts had some warnings about risky investments, documents show

Amy Hetzner:

Five Wisconsin school districts suing over millions of borrowed dollars they invested to help pay retiree benefits were given some warnings of the risks involved in the transactions, documents show.

At least one document appears to contradict one contention in the lawsuit filed Sept. 29.

But it remains unclear how much school officials were told about transactions they undertook in 2006 in which they poured $200 million into collateralized debt obligations, financial instruments at the center of the global economic meltdown.

The districts -- Kenosha, Kimberly, Waukesha, West Allis-West Milwaukee and Whitefish Bay -- allege they were misled by two financial institutions that promoted the investments: Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. Inc. of St. Louis and Royal Bank of Canada.

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Out of the Ordinary: Historical Fiction for Middle Grade Readers

Michelle Barone:

Excerpt from Chapter 1: The Crime

"Woosh! Splat!' A gooshy, white spitball whizzed past Julia's ear. It smushed onto the blackboard and stuck. Julia watched a wet stream travel down from the wad. It left a shiny black trail on the board. There was only one person in the room who would do such a thing. Julia knew who it was.

Julia knew what would happen next. It was the same thing that happened every time Teddy Parker misbehaved.

Miss Crawford, the teacher, spun around and faced the class like a fighter squaring off against an opponent. "Who made this spitball?" she demanded.

Julia clamped her skinny legs together and froze in her seat. Her knobby knees bumped each other.

"Who made this spitball?" Miss Crawford repeated.

"It wasn't any of the sixth graders," said Frank O'Malley, a blond haired, Irish boy. He stood, as was the custom, to speak for his age group.

Julia knew she was expected to answer. She was the only fifth grader in the room who spoke English. The other fifth grade girl sat wide-eyed with sealed lips.

Julia wished they didn't have to go through this ritual every time Teddy Parker acted up. Teddy's family came to Phippsburg long before Julia's. Teddy lived in a real house. Julia's family lived in an old boxcar that had been taken off of the rails. There were other families from Italy, Ireland, and Greece living in the boxcar section of town.

Julia didn't know why Teddy was a trouble maker. He was luckier than all of the other kids. Teddy's father ran the coal mine where everyone else's father worked.

The fourth graders didn't do it," said a girl popping up and down in one motion.

Julia had missed her turn to answer.

"It wasn't any of the third graders, Miss Crawford," said another girl.

"The second graders didn't do it," said Teddy's sister, Paulina.

A small boy stood. "It wasn't the first grade, Teacher," he said.

There will be a punishment for this, "Miss Crawford Said.

"Whoever made this spitball will have to come to the front of the room."

Julia watched Miss Crawford focus on Teddy. He shifted in his wooden seat at the end of the sixth grade row.

"What do you have to say, Teddy?" asked Miss Crawford.

Julia looked at Teddy sitting in his new clothes from Denver. He wore a new shirt under a new sweater, new knickers, and new knee socks. Julia guessed his underwear was new, too. Teddy's clothes were the right size, not patched and baggy hand-me-downs like Julia's. Most of the kids were dressed like her, in clothes that had once been worn by their parents.

Julia watched Teddy slowly rise. He stepped out to the side of his desk. Julia waited for Teddy to make his confession. It was his chance to show off every day. She knew in a moment he would proudly walk to the front of the room, stand on tip toe, and place his nose on a chalk dot Miss Crawford drew on the board. The class would watch him stand there on pointed toe while he took his punishment. Miss Crawford wouldn't make Teddy stand at the board for a whole hour like she would any other student. Teddy was her pet. She'd call off his punishment after five or ten minutes.

It was the same every time. Nothing exciting ever happened in Phippsburg. Why couldn't it be a little bit different this once?

Julia reached up and felt a rag curl in her hair. Mama tied the rags into her hair last night. Julia liked how the curls made a soft half circle around her plain face.

Julia closed her eyes and made one silent wish. "Please let something exciting happen today for a change."

She opened her eyes and blinked three times for good luck.

Miss Crawford was waiting for an answer. Teddy straightened his shoulders and drew in a long, deep breath.

"Miss Crawford, I must tell the truth," he said.

"Yes, you must," said Miss Crawford.

All eyes were glued on Teddy Parker.

"It was...Julia!" he announced.

Posted by Will Fitzhugh at 10:26 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison School District 2008-2009 Enrollment

The Madison School District has published it's "Third Friday September" 2008 enrollment counts. Total enrollment is 24,189; down slightly from 24,268 in 2007. The District's newest school: Olson Elementary, opened with 273 students.

45% of MMSD students are classified as low income (43% in 2007; 39% in 2005).

Related: a look at enrollment changes in suburban Dane County schools.

The two schools slated to close in 2007 (but later reversed): Lapham and Marquette elementary have the following enrollments:


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School Buses: Still Vehicles for Change
High Transportation Costs Are Forcing Kids Back To Neighborhood Schools, Limiting Diversity

Robert Thomsho:

A generation ago, the yellow school bus became a symbol of school desegregation, with thousands of the iconic vehicles ferrying minority children away from schools in their own neighborhoods to others in higher-income white areas.

Although the Supreme Court has tightly restricted such overt racial integration efforts in recent years, buses are still crucial to many magnet schools, open-enrollment programs and other school-choice strategies designed to encourage diversity and provide options for students in low-performing schools, as is required under the No Child Left Behind law.

But more and more school districts are curtailing bus service for such programs as a result of higher fuel costs and other financial pressures. That has sparked fears that the only choice for many students will be neighborhood schools attended by classmates of their own race and economic background, which has the unintended effect of re-segregating schools.

"Basically, you can't have racial and class diversity of any sort if you don't provide transportation," says Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project, a research group at the University of California at Los Angeles. "This is kind of closing the last door for urgently needed opportunities for kids who are in schools that are really dysfunctional and inadequate."

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Arrested Development: Online training is the norm in other professions. Why not in K-12 education?

Michael Petrilli:

Everyone knows that the Internet is changing the way the world works, plays, and connects. Yet its most powerful applications only seem obvious after some entrepreneur has brought them to life. Of course the web is a great way to distribute books, but it took Amazon to make this clear. Of course the Internet is a smart way to distribute movies, but it took Netflix to make it happen.

So it is with adult learning. Most professionals would rather develop their skills online, on their own schedule, at their own pace, than sit in daylong, mind-numbing "workshops" that bring a lot of boredom and frustration but little intellectual stimulation. So it's not surprising that as long ago as 2006 (eons in Internet time) the American Society for Training and Development reported that across all sectors almost 40 percent of professional development (PD) was delivered via technology (See figure 1). (Surely the numbers are even higher now.)

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October 8, 2008

Do It Yourself Transcripts?

Scott Jaschik:

An admissions change announced at Rutgers University this week is being called the "honor system" for college admissions (even if it's got too much verification to be a true honor system).

Starting with those applying this fall for admission to all three Rutgers campuses, high schools will no longer be asked to submit applicants' transcripts. Instead, applicants will themselves enter all of their grades and high school courses in an online application form. An official transcript will eventually be reviewed for every applicant who is admitted and indicates a plan to enroll.

As New Jersey high schools learned of the change, the question everyone has been asking is: Will this lead to a new variety of grade inflation, as applicants (accidentally of course...) somehow transcribe themselves into honors students? Rutgers officials say that won't happen because the transcript checks of accepted applicants who plan to enroll will cover every single student. If you inflate your grades, your admission offer will be revoked -- period.

There is evidence that some combination of honesty and fear can in fact work to keep the self-reported transcripts accurate. The University of California, the pioneer in this type of admissions system, reports extremely low rates of transcript errors. This year, the university admitted 60,000 students to enroll as freshmen at its 9 undergraduate campuses and -- as has been typical in recent years -- campuses don't have more than 5 admitted students each where there is a discrepancy between the reported grades and those verified after the admissions decisions. Applicants are required to sign a statement indicating that admissions offers may be revoked based on false information provided in the process, including high school grades.

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California boarding schools? It's not an oxymoron

Carla Rivera:

As a young woman living in Southern California, Kelly Boss never thought much about boarding schools. They were a mystery or at most a cinematic fancy embodied by Brookfield of "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" or the Welton Academy of "Dead Poets Society."

That changed when her daughter Mackenzie learned about the Thacher School in Ojai and its horse and outdoor program. Although she would never have imagined her daughter there, the Bosses came to view it as the perfect fit.

But Kelly Boss understood the reactions of other parents who appeared aghast at the idea.

"Other mothers look at you like how can you possibly send your daughter away, and I've had parents say, you two don't look like you don't get along," said Boss, a Santa Barbara resident.

Although boarding schools have a long tradition in Europe and the Northeast, Californians are still apt to equate them with troubled youths or disinterested parents.

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Alabama's State Budget & Education Spending Forecast looks "Grim"

The Birmingham News:

Hubbert said he expects Education Trust Fund revenues to fall short at least 5 percent, or at least $318 million, of what the Legislature budgeted for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. As bad as that sounds, it could get worse. Hubbert said if the economy continues to slide, the shortfall could top $400 million.

Trust fund revenues already are more than $200 million below what lawmakers expected. That's mainly because tax collections for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 grew $146 million less than forecast, and Riley last year drained a $440 million reserve to avoid education spending cuts. Lawmakers had expected to have from $64 million to $109 million left in the reserve fund to spend this year. Instead, that money is gone.

The Legislature didn't help matters by passing a $6.36 billion education budget for 2009. That amount exceeds by $102 million the average revenue forecasts of the state finance director and the Legislative Fiscal Office. Essentially, lawmakers decided that cutting almost $370 million from the $6.7 billion education budget from 2008 was hard enough, and they didn't want to carve another $100 million-plus for 2009.

Tax base growth is certainly not a given at the moment. Related: November 2008 Madison School District referendum notes and links.

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A Public Hearing on Madison's November, 2008 Referendum


Taxpayers got a chance to ask the questions Tuesday night about the upcoming multimillion dollar Madison school referendum.

More than a dozen people turned out to Sherman Middle School for the first of four public hearings across the city.

Superintendent Dan Nerad gave a brief presentation before opening the forum up for questions.

Voters questioned everything from Fund 80 to the Capital Expansion Fund and student achievement.

Active Citizens for Education said they would like to have seen the referendum scheduled for the spring in order to give the district time to re-evaluate programs that they say are not working - programs that could be cut or changed.

"Where they're talking about maintaining current programs and services it's not getting good results," said ACE's Don Severson. "You look at the achievement gap, look at increased truancy, look an an increased drop-out rate, decreased attendance rates, more money isn't going to get different results."

Referendum supporters, Communities And Schools Together, know the $13 million referendum will be a tough sell, but worth it.

"I think it is going to be a hard sell," said CAST member and first-grade teacher Troy Dassler. "We really need to get people out there who are interested still in investing in infrastructure. I can think of no greater an investment -- even in the most difficult tough times that we're facing that we wouldn't invest in the future of Madison."

Tamira Madsen:
School Board President Arlene Silveira was pleased with the dialogue and questions asked at the forum and said she hasn't been overwhelmed with questions from constituents about the referendum.

"It's been fairly quiet, and I think it's been overshadowed by the presidential election and (downturn with) the economy," Silveira said. "People are very interested, but it does take an explanation.

"People ask a lot of questions just because it's different (with the tax components). Their initial reaction is: Tell me what this is again and what this means? They realize a lot of thought and work has gone into this and certainly this is something they will support or consider supporting after they go back and look at their own personal needs."

Superintendent Dan Nerad has already formulated a plan for program and service cuts in the 2009-2010 budget if voters do not pass the referendum. Those include increasing class sizes at elementary and high schools, trimming services for at-risk students, reducing high school support staff, decreasing special education staffing, and eliminating some maintenance projects.

Nerad said outlining potential budget cuts by general categories as opposed to specific programs was the best route for the district at this juncture.

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Texas Proposes to Standardize GPA Calculation

Stella Chavez:

Texas school districts say a state proposal to standardize the way they calculate high school grade point averages will "dumb down" public education and discourage students from taking rigorous courses.

Later this month, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board will consider approval of a new regulation designed to help Texas colleges and universities better assess the academic records of high school students.

Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes said the current system for calculating GPAs is not consistent. A 4.0 in one district, for example, could vary greatly from a 4.0 in another district.

"There's no uniformity in the way GPA is calculated," said Dr. Paredes. "It's very difficult for universities to know what grade points mean."

Related: Madison's "standards based" report cards.

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"The Bomber As School Reformer"

Sol Stern:

Calling Bill Ayers a school reformer is a bit like calling Joseph Stalin an agricultural reformer. (If you find the metaphor strained, consider that Walter Duranty, the infamous New York Times reporter covering the Soviet Union in the 1930s, did, in fact, depict Stalin as a great land reformer who created happy, productive collective farms.) For instance, at a November 2006 education forum in Caracas, Venezuela, with President Hugo Chávez at his side, Ayers proclaimed his support for "the profound educational reforms under way here in Venezuela under the leadership of President Chávez. We share the belief that education is the motor-force of revolution. . . . I look forward to seeing how you continue to overcome the failings of capitalist education as you seek to create something truly new and deeply humane." Ayers concluded his speech by declaring that "Venezuela is poised to offer the world a new model of education--a humanizing and revolutionary model whose twin missions are enlightenment and liberation," and then, as in days of old, raised his fist and chanted: "Viva Presidente Chávez! Viva la Revolucion Bolivariana! Hasta la Victoria Siempre!"

As I have shown in previous articles in City Journal, Ayers's school reform agenda focuses almost exclusively on the idea of teaching for "social justice" in the classroom. This has nothing to do with the social-justice ideals of the Sermon on the Mount or Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Rather, Ayers and his education school comrades are explicit about the need to indoctrinate public school children with the belief that America is a racist, militarist country and that the capitalist system is inherently unfair and oppressive. As a leader of this growing "reform" movement, Ayers was recently elected vice president for curriculum of the American Education Research Association, the nation's largest organization of ed school professors and researchers.

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A Marshall Plan for Reading

Sol Stern:

In the new paper, however, they concluded that "systematic differences in school quality appear much less important in explaining the differences in test-score trajectories by race, once the data are extended through third grade; Blacks lose substantial ground relative to Whites within the same school and even in the same classrooms. That is, including school- or teacher-fixed effects [does] little to explain the divergent trajectories of Black and White students between kindergarten and third grade. . . . By the end of third grade, even after controlling for observables, the Black-White test-score gap is evident in every skill tested in reading and math except for the most basic tasks such as counting and letter recognition, which virtually all students have mastered."

How to narrow this yawning gap? Start by thinking more concretely about the cognitive deficits of those Harlem ten-year-olds Fryer mentioned. Inner-city black children, research shows, begin school with only half the vocabulary of white middle-class children. Typically, they soon fall behind in trying to decode how the written English language blends the sounds made by letter combinations into words. "Difficulties in decoding unfamiliar words rapidly are at the core of most reading problems," says Reid Lyon, former head of reading research at the National Institutes of Health.

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Homework Anxiety in Madison

Doug Erickson:

This parental approach -- providing a consistent, supportive environment -- is a good way to lessen the stress that can accompany homework, said Dr. Marcia Slattery, a child and adolescent psychiatrist with UW Health.

Each year, Slattery said she and her colleagues treat hundreds of children who are anxious about school-related issues, including homework. For some, the problem is limited to homework. For others, homework exacerbates an existing anxiety disorder or indicates other problems, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder or an underlying learning problem.

"There's an inherent quality to homework that evokes a certain amount of stress, and that can be good, because it pushes us to learn," Slattery said. "But for some children, the anxiety is so pronounced it basically freezes them."

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Burmaster Won't Seek 3rd Term as Wisconsin Education Superintendent, Tony Evers Announces Run

Tamira Madsen:

There had been some speculation Burmaster was interested in running for governor if Gov. Jim Doyle didn't seek re-election in 2010, but she said that type of campaign is not in her plans.

She would not elaborate on her future career endeavors except to say, "I'm an education leader and I want to continue to serve in that capacity." She also said she will get back to working in community schools with students in a "hands-on" role.

Interviews with 2005 Candidates for the Wisconsin DPI Superintendent position can be seen here.

WisPolitics interview with Burmaster.

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Milwaukee District's financial hole makes everything harder

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

Milwaukee Public Schools' biggest problem may be financial, but the district must not lose sight of a key goal: giving students a quality education and restoring confidence in parents.

The thought of Milwaukee Public Schools going bankrupt is scary, but like some of those big financial institutions in the headlines lately, MPS also must be considered too big to fail.

The public isn't in any mood to hear that a big part of the system's problems are financial. But it is inescapable.

We'd support thoughtful change to the state's funding formula that acknowledges the special needs and challenges facing urban districts such as MPS. And we encourage MPS administrators, the School Board and the teachers union to face up to the legacy costs that are weighing the district down.

But no one should support just throwing more money at MPS -- not until we know for certain how well the district is using the money it has. To say that the public lacks confidence in the district's abilities is a vast understatement.

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Montgomery County School System Cannot Afford Teacher Raises

Daniel de Vise & Ann Marimow:

Montgomery County's schools chief has told principals that the system cannot afford to fund scheduled pay raises for the coming budget year, underscoring grim economic conditions that could also have repercussions for thousands of other local government workers.

School Superintendent Jerry D. Weast has said that labor contracts will have to be renegotiated, and Board of Education President Nancy Navarro said yesterday that planned raises of 5.3 percent for teachers are probably unrealistic when the county faces a projected $250 million shortfall for fiscal 2010.

"The financial situation is such that everything is on the table," Navarro said. "Obviously, what we have in place right now looks like it will not be viable."

Weast's chief of staff, Brian Edwards, confirmed the superintendent's private warnings to school principals. "Dr. Weast is having very frank conversations with staff, with union leadership, with parent leadership that next year's budget situation is a dire one," he said.

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Korea to Raise Spending on English Education

Kang Shin-who:

The government said Sunday it will expand the education budget to develop training programs for English teachers and recruit more native English-speaking teachers. The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology announced Sunday that it will spend a total of 19.5 billion won ($15.9 million) next year, up 12.2 billion won from a year earlier, for English education programs at elementary and secondary schools.

Under the plan, the ministry will recruit more native English speakers as well as ethnic Koreans for the ``Teach and Learn in Korea (TaLK)'' program, which was introduced last April to give opportunities for students in rural areas to learn English from native English speakers.

Also, the ministry will introduce intensive English training programs for state-run universities specialized in fostering elementary school teachers across the country and distributing English teaching manuals to school teachers.

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Breaking up the Milwaukee School District would foster needed change

Ted Kanavas:

It's time. The Milwaukee Public Schools system, crumbling for years under the weight of financial non-management and academic breakdown, cannot be allowed to fail another generation of Wisconsin children. The future of our entire state is put at risk by the status quo, and the time to address this crisis is now.

The problems of the district are vast and well-documented. New money is spent on remodeling buildings that now sit vacant. Union contacts are negotiated to favor job security and benefits, pushing academic performance aside. Graduation rates hover around 50% (with many graduates needing remedial help before even thinking about a college class). School Board members fly around the country but are not seen inside of the schools.

The fact of the matter is that, over time, MPS evolved into a system to provide jobs for adults instead of one that focused on educating students. It's poorly managed, with more than 200 principals reporting to one superintendent, creating a bureaucracy built to fail. I urge you to visit some of the schools and ask yourself: Would I allow my child to attend this school? I have, and I would not.

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Cash for Test Scores: The impact of the Texas Advanced Placement Incentive Program

C. Kirabo Jackson:

Cash incentives for high school students to perform better in school are growing in popularity, but we understand very little about them. Does paying students for better Advanced Placement (AP) test scores encourage enrollment in AP classes? Does it lead to more students taking the tests and achieving passing scores? Do cash incentives lead to more students going to college?

I set out to determine the impact of a cash incentive program operating in a number of Texas high schools. The Advanced Placement Incentive Program (APIP) is a novel initiative that includes cash incentives for both teachers and students for each passing score earned on an Advanced Placement exam. The program is targeted to schools serving predominantly minority and low-income students with the aim of improving college readiness. The APIP was first implemented in 10 Dallas schools in 1996 and has been expanded to include more than 40 schools in Texas. The National Math and Science Initiative awarded grants to Arkansas, Alabama, Connecticut, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Virginia, and Washington to replicate the APIP and plans to expand these programs to 150 districts across 20 states.

Using data from the Texas Education Agency, I evaluated how the APIP affected education outcomes in participating schools in the years following implementation. I studied whether the program increased AP course enrollment and the share of students sitting for AP (or International Baccalaureate [IB]) examinations. Since improved AP outcomes may not necessarily reflect increased learning and could come at the expense of other academic outcomes, I also looked beyond these immediate effects to the broader set of outcomes, such as high school graduation rates, SAT and ACT performance, and the percentage of students attending college.

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October 7, 2008

Fine Arts Task Force Report Available On-line

Last night, Fine Arts Task Force co-chairs Barb Schrank and Anne Katz presented the committee's report at the regular school board meeting. It is a fine document and a reminder of how fortunate we are to have a community that is rich in arts resources and people with a clear understanding of the importance of the arts in educational programs. We all owe this group a significant debt for their diligence in putting together a comprehensive document and set of recommendations.

The report and committee minutes and meeting materials are available on-line at:

Last night the board voted to receive the report and turn it over to administration and staff for analysis and comment. Later this school year, the superintendent and board will hold input sessions to give the community a chance to weigh in on the report and on priorities. I am not sure if this will be done as part of the strategic planning process that the new superintendent has in mind or as a separate process, but I am confident that there will be opportunities to weigh in.

For now, this group deserves a big THANK YOU for their work.

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Let Them be Themselves:
Seminar offers help, advice to parents raising gifted children

Doug Carroll, via a kind reader's email:

Jim Delisle tells the story of a bright little girl who went with her parents to buy a bicycle.

After the bike had been selected, the parents presented their credit card to complete the purchase.

"Don't you know the interest rate they charge on credit cards?" the girl said in a scolding tone. "If we wait until Christmas, Santa will bring it -- and it won't cost anything!"

The anecdote illustrates the challenges that can be involved in parenting a gifted child, who may be light-years ahead of the pack intellectually but all too typical in other respects.

A two-day seminar at Blue Harbor Resort and Conference Center, which concluded Friday, addressed issues specific to the development and education of gifted children and was attended by more than 300 schoolteachers, administrators, parents and students.

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Referendum Climate: Madison Mayor Proposes 6% City Budget Spending Increase

Dean Mosiman:

Cieslewicz today will propose a $237.9 million "share the pain" operating budget that raises city taxes $53 on the average $247,974 home.

The proposed budget, a 6 percent spending increase -- the largest Cieslewicz has ever offered -- delivers new money for police, fire, the library and Metro Transit, but freezes or cuts spending in many areas.

"You'll find no extreme cuts to any one agency, but many small cuts," Cieslewicz said. "We did manage to keep long-term commitments."

The 2.9 percent increase in taxes on the average home is among the fifth-lowest in 30 years, but overall tax collections are up 8 percent, the biggest increase since 1993.

"I was focused primarily on taxes on the average home," Cieslewicz said. "That is what people experience."

Much more on the 2008 Madison School District referendum here.

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How NCLB Ignored the Elephant in America's Classroom -- POVERTY

Jim Trelease:

A politician after politician and CEO after CEO have pontificated for 20 years about what is wrong in American schools, all the while offering simple-minded solutions (higher expectations girded by more high-stakes testing), nearly all have ignored the great elephant in the classroom: poverty. Their behavior said, "If we pretend it isn't there, either it will go away or cease to exist."

Before looking at the single most intelligent approach to urban school woes (see Harlem solution below), let's look at what most impacts the classroom from outside the classroom. It is the weight of poverty that rides the at-risk child like a six-ton elephant. Consider the observations of Pulitzer-winning reporter David K. Shipler:

About 35 million Americans live below the federal poverty line. Their opportunities are defined by forces that may look unrelated, but decades of research have mapped the web of connections. A 1987 study of 215 children attributed differences in I.Q. in part to 'social risk factors' like maternal anxiety and stress, which are common features of impoverished households. Research in the 1990's demonstrated how the paint and pipes of slum housing -- major sources of lead -- damage the developing brains of children. Youngsters with elevated lead levels have lower I.Q.'s and attention deficits, and -- according to a 1990 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine -- were seven times more likely to drop out of school.

Take the case of an 8-year-old boy in Boston. He was frequently missing school because of asthma attacks, and his mother was missing work so often for doctors' appointments that she was in danger of losing her low-wage job. It was a case typical of poor neighborhoods, where asthma runs rampant among children who live amid the mold, dust mites, roaches and other triggers of the disease."1

The inherent suggestion in NCLB is that all of that will go away if we just expect more of our teachers and students. That is an insult to both of them and it diminishes the enormity of the problem while doing nothing to solve it.
Related: "Limit Low Income Housing".

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High School Taps Institute on Ethics

Leonel Sanchez:

East County's largest school district has introduced a character education program that aims to reduce cheating and other bad conduct by promoting ethical behavior.

"What you allow, you encourage," said ethics expert Michael Josephson, who is working with the Grossmont Union High School District on the Character Counts program. "It's about helping kids form better values, make better choices."

The Josephson Institute of Ethics plans to release in a few weeks its 2008 national survey of student attitudes and behavior.

Two years ago, the institute's survey of more than 30,000 students showed alarming rates of cheating, lying and theft at schools across the United States.

Six out of 10 high school students said they had cheated at least once during a test during the past year.

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Colorado Amendment 59: Education Funding and TABOR Rebates

Fort Collins Coloradoan:

1. Without raising taxes, Amendment 59 provides a future source of money for educating Colorado's children. This money may be used to increase per-student funding and for preschool through 12th-grade, or P-12, education improvements, including expanding preschool and full-day kindergarten programs, reducing class size, expanding technology education and providing performance pay for teachers. Providing new sources of money to invest in P-12 education helps schools teach children the skills needed for the jobs of the future. A well-educated work force is necessary to attract new businesses, generate new jobs and keep existing jobs in Colorado.

1. Amendment 59 permanently eliminates all future TABOR rebates to Colorado taxpayers. It is effectively a tax increase that will grow the size of state government. In addition, while the TABOR rebates are supposed to be spent on education, the money could instead replace existing education spending, allowing growth in other state programs. Amendment 59 also allows the only major source of money that is spent on the state's buildings to be transferred for spending on P-12 education at a time when the state is currently unable to keep up with building maintenance and construction needs.

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Maya Angelou Public Charter School offers hope and an education to kids in trouble

James Forman:

The job of a juvenile public defender is as much social worker as lawyer. In Washington, D.C., the juvenile court still operates, at least on paper, as the founders of the system envisioned over a century ago. Judges are supposed to provide for the care and rehabilitation of the child, as well as protect the safety of the community. In practice, this means that if a lawyer can find a program in the community that meets a client's needs, there is a decent chance that the judge will put the child there instead of locking him up (see Figure 1).

The more I learned about Eddie's life, the more depressed I became. When he was eight, he was physically abused by his stepfather, who resented the competition for Eddie's mother's attention. When he was 10 he began to act out in school, picking fights with other kids and refusing to do his homework. Eventually, he was forced to repeat two grades. At age 13, he was kicked out of school and referred to an "alternative" school for troubled kids. He wandered in and out of this school--nobody really kept track of his attendance--for a few years, until he was arrested and sent to Oak Hill. And now, at maybe the lowest point in an unremittingly dismal life, Eddie was asking me to get him "a program" so that he could go home. As I struggled to respond to Eddie's request, my depression turned to hopelessness. I knew that the city was throwing all kinds of resources into this case. There was money to pay the police who had arrested Eddie, money for the prosecutor who charged him, money for the expert witness who came to court and testified that Eddie's fingerprints were found in the house. There was money to pay me, the public defender. And there would be money for the state--on behalf of we the people--to incarcerate Eddie in a juvenile prison, at a cost of more than $50,000 a year.

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October 6, 2008

What's in a Grade & An Update on Madison's Standards Based Report Card Scheme

Stafford Palmieri:

The red pen. In our still largely decentralized public school system, it's no big surprise that this old-fashioned instrument of ill repute gets starkly different treatment from district to district and state to state. Three locales, in fact, have recently reopened the question, "what's in a grade"--and come up with very different answers. Perhaps by evaluating these recent conversations, we can imagine what standard GPAs might look like.

Fairfax County, Virginia, parents are outraged that their children must score a 94 to receive an A. Neighboring counties give As for a mere 90, they argue, and they and their kids are being unfairly penalized when competing for college admission, national merit awards, even a lower car insurance bill. Parents have taken up arms in hopes that extended pressure on the district to follow the example of nearby school systems will lead to a lower bar; Fairfax is contemplating doing so.

Fairfax's one-county crusade against grade inflation is probably sacrificing its students on the altar of its ideals, as parents allege, and remedying that problem is not difficult. Despite cries of the old "slippery slope," shifting the letter-number ratio to match neighboring counties will ultimately benefit Fairfax students (in the short term at least) when it comes to college admissions and the like.

Pittsburgh has tackled the other end of the grading spectrum. All failing grades (those of 50 or below) will henceforth be marked down as 50 percent credit in grade books. Long on the books but only recently enforced, this policy, the district claims, is simply giving students a better chance to "catch up" in the next quarter since quarters are averaged into semester and yearlong grades. "A failing grade is still a failing grade," explains district spokeswoman Ebony Pugh. Seems not to matter if it's a 14 or a 49. Round up to 50.

Locally, the Madison School District is implementing "Standards Based Report Cards" in the middle schools.

I've wondered what the implementation of this initiative tells parents, citizens and taxpayers, not to mention students about the new Superintendent? See his memo on the subject here. More here.

The State of Wisconsin's standards are changing, according to this Department of Public Instruction. Peter Sobol's post on the WKCE's suitability for tracking student progress is illuminating:

... The WKCE is a large-scale assessment designed to provide a snapshot of how well a district or school is doing at helping all students reach proficiency on state standards, with a focus on school and district-level accountability. A large-scale, summative assessment such as the WKCE is not designed to provide diagnostic information about individual students. Those assessments are best done at the local level, where immediate results can be obtained. Schools should not rely on only WKCE data to gauge progress of individual students or to determine effectiveness of programs or curriculum.
Much more on report cards here.

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Invisible Ink in Collective Bargaining Agreements: Why Key Issues Are Not Addressed

Emily Cohen, Kate Walsh & RiShawn Biddle [305K PDF]:

NCTQ takes a close look at the governance of the teaching profession and finds that state legislators and other state-level policymakers crafting state laws and regulation, not those bargaining at the local level, decide some of the most important rules governing the teaching profession.

As a number of big school districts around the country such as San Diego, Broward County, and Philadelphia hammer out new teacher contracts over the next few months, both sides will no doubt bring laundry lists of "must-haves" to the bargaining table. The common assumption is that the important action happens when district administrators and union representatives sit down at the bargaining table. Yet the reality is that well before anyone meets to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement, many issues will have already been decided.

State legislators and other state-level policymakers crafting state laws and regulation, not those bargaining at the local level, decide some of the most important rules governing the teaching profession. Though the teacher contract still figures prominently on such issues as teacher pay and the schedule of the school day, it is by no means the monolithic authority that many presume it to be. In fact, on the most critical issues of the teaching profession, the state is the real powerhouse. State law dictates how often teachers must be evaluated, when teachers can earn tenure, the benefits they'll receive, and even the rules for firing a teacher.

A recent example out of New York State illustrates the growing authority of the state legislature in shaping rules that were traditionally in the purview of the local school district. Last year New York City Public Schools sought to change the process for awarding teachers tenure by factoring in student data. The local teachers' union, the United Federation of Teachers protested the district's new policy, not through a local grievance (because the union, by state law, had no say on tenure issues), but by lobbying state legislatures to pass a bill that would effectively make the district's action illegal.1 Guided by the heavy hand of the state teachers' union and the UFT, the New York State Legislature blocked New York City's tenure changes by embedding a provision in the 2008-2009 budget that made it illegal to consider a teacher's job performance as a factor in the tenure process.2 The placement of the provision in the large, unwieldy budget virtually assured the union of a win, as few legislators or the governor would have been prepared to have the budget go down on the basis of a single provision.

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SAT's Matter if You Are in High School

Arthur McCann:

Those of us who help students and their families prepare college applications know how much more competitive the process has become in the last several years. Students are getting rejected from colleges that older and less accomplished siblings are now attending.

This is because the current crop of seniors is part of the "echo boom," which is expected to peak with 3.3 million children of baby boomers graduating in 2009 and to remain near this level for another seven years. Many more students will be vying for spaces in college.

Teenagers are working harder than ever at challenging themselves with honors and AP courses and filling after-school hours with extracurricular activities, community service programs and SAT prep courses. But it seems like a cruel joke that coinciding with this increased competitiveness, they are required to take a longer and more rigorous Scholastic Aptitude Test.

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Chicago Parents Seek More Public School Input

Chicago Tribune:

Parents of Chicago public school students living on the West Side overwhelmingly want to have more of a say on school decisions and want better communication from the district when it comes to school-restructuring efforts, according to the findings of a five-month survey released Friday.

The survey conducted by the Parents & Residents Invested in School & Education Reform (PRISE Reform), queried 504 households of students in the 6th through 12th grades in the Humboldt Park, Garfield Park and Austin neighborhoods.

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Cash Incentives for Students and Teachers Boosts Performance on SAT and Advanced Placement Tests

Kirabo Jackson:

A cash incentive program that rewards both teachers and students for each passing score earned on an Advanced Placement (AP) exam has been shown to increase the percentage of high ACT and SAT scores earned by participating students, and increase the number of students enrolling in college, according to new research by Cornell University economist Kirabo Jackson published in the fall issue of Education Next. The program appears to have the biggest impact on African American and Hispanic students, boosting participation in AP courses and exams.

The Advanced Placement Incentive Program (APIP) is targeted to Texas schools serving predominantly minority and low-income students. On average, there is a 22 percent increase in the number of students scoring above 1100 on the SAT or above 24 on the ACT in schools with the APIP. The increase rises each year the program is in place so that by the third year there is roughly a 33 percent increase.

The percentage increases in students achieving higher SAT and ACT exam scores are similar among white, African American, and Hispanics students--about 5 percentage points from the third year on. However, the differences in impact relative to the prior performance of each group are sizable, notes Jackson. While there is about a 12 percent relative increase in white students scoring above 1100 on the SAT or above 24 on the ACT, there is a 50 percent relative increase for Hispanics and an 80 percent relative increase for black students.

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October 5, 2008

Academic Fitness

The NACAC Testing Commission has just released its report [PDF]on the benefits of, and problems with, current standardized admission tests. The Commission says that "a 'one-size-fits-all' approach for the use of standardized tests in undergraduate admission does not reflect the realities facing our nation's many and varied colleges and universities."

It might be pointed out, by an outside observer, that standardized tests not only do not reflect the realities of acceptance for high school students receiving athletic scholarships, but such tests have nothing whatever to do with whether high school athletes are recruited or not and nothing to do with whether they receive college athletic scholarships or not.

Athletic scholarships are based on athletic performance in particular athletic activities, not on tests of the athletic or physical fitness of high school athletes. The cost of failure for college coaches is too high for them to think of relying on any standardized test of sports knowledge or of anything else in their efforts to recruit the best high school athletes they can.

The NACAC Testing Commission also says that standardized tests may not do a good enough job of telling whether applicants to college are academically fit. They recommend the development and use of good subject matter tests which are "more closely linked to the high school curriculum" than the SAT and ACT exams.

This suggestion begins to approach the rigor of assessment in the recruiting and selection of high school athletes, but there are still important differences. The high school athletic curriculum includes such subjects as football, basketball, soccer, baseball, etc., but college coaches do not rely on tests of athletes' knowledge of these sports as determined by sport-specific tests. They need to know a lot about the actual performance of candidates in those sports in which they have competed.

The parallel is not perfect, because of course students who can demonstrate knowledge of history, biology, literature, math, chemistry, and so on, are clearly more likely to manage the demands of college history, biology, literature, math and chemistry courses when they get there, while athletes who know a lot about their sport may still perform poorly in it.

But college academic work does not just consist of taking courses and passing tests. In math there are problem sets. In biology, chemistry, etc., there is lab work to do. And in history courses there are history books to read and research papers to write. Such performance tasks are not yet part of the recommended tests for college admission.

It is now possible, for example, for a student who can do well on a subject matter test in history to graduate from high school without ever having read a complete history book or written a real history research paper in high school. That student may indeed do well in history courses in college, but it seems likely that they will have a steep learning curve in their mastery of the reading lists and paper requirements they will face in those courses.

New standard college admissions tests in specific academic subjects will no doubt bring more emphasis on academic knowledge for the high school students who are preparing for them, but a standard independent assessment of their research papers would surely make it more likely that they would not plan to enter college without ever having done one in high school.

The reading of complete nonfiction books is still an unknown for college admissions officers. Interviewers may ask what books students have read, but there is no actual standard expectation for the content, difficulty and number of nonfiction books high school students are expected to have read before college.

The increased emphasis on subject matter tests is surely a good step closer to the seriousness routinely seen in the assessments for college athletic scholarships, but it seems to me that some regular examination of the reading of nonfiction books and an external assessment of at least one serious research paper by high school students would help in their preparation for college, as well as in the assessment of their actual demonstrated academic fitness which, as the Commission points out, is not now provided by the SAT and ACT tests.

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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What Do College Students Know? By this professor's calculations, math skills have plummeted

Stephen Wilson:

Professors are constantly asked if their students are better or worse today than in the past. I conducted an experiment to try to answer that question for one group of students.

For my fall 2006 course, Calculus I for the Biological and Social Sciences at Johns Hopkins University (JHU), I administered the same final exam I had used for the course in the fall of 1989. The SAT mathematics (SATM) scores of the two classes were nearly identical, and the classes contained approximately the same percentage of the Arts and Sciences freshman class.

The content of the calculus I course had not changed and, from a math standpoint, using the old exam was completely appropriate.

The average exam score for my 2006 calculus I class was significantly lower than for my 1989 class. Comparing the effects of scaling in the two years reveals the extent of the decline. In my 1989 class, 27 percent of students received As on the test and 23 percent Bs. When I graded my 2006 class on my 2006 scale, 32 percent received As and 37 percent Bs. But if I instead graded my 2006 class on the 1989 scale, only 6 percent would have received As and 21 percent Bs. If I graded the 1989 class on the 2006 scale, 52 percent would have received As and 26 percent Bs.

Why did my 2006 class perform so poorly? With the proliferation of AP calculus in high school, one might think that the good students of 2006 place out of calculus I more frequently than did their 1989 counterparts. However, in 1989, 30 percent of the Arts and Sciences freshmen either took the harder engineering calculus course or a higher level mathematics course (calculus II or III, linear algebra, or differential equations). The percentage in 2006 is only 24 percent.

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No Common Denominator: The Preparation of Elementary Teachers in Mathematics by America's Education Schools

Julie Greenberg and Kate Walsh, National Council on Teacher Quality1.5MB PDF:

American students' chronically poor performance in mathematics on international tests may begin in the earliest grades, handicapped by the weak knowledge of mathematics of their own elementary teachers. NCTQ looks at the quality of preparation provided by a representative sampling of institutions in nearly every state. We also provide a test developed by leading mathematicians which assesses for the knowledge that elementary teachers should acquire during their preparation. Imagine the implications of an elementary teaching force being able to pass this test.

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Gubernatorial Candidates on Education

Rita Truschel:

Lee only just emerged as an active campaigner since the Sept. 9 primary elections. He was a late and reluctant draftee in May, after former Happy Harry's drugstore executive Alan Levin unexpectedly backed out in January. Since then, Lee's strategy was more about freezing out Republican primary opponent Mike Protack than honing his own positions.

So here we are a month before election day, with Lee finally on the spot to explain himself. The University of Delaware's Clayton Hall auditorium was full of hundreds of people knowledgeable and focused on education. And Lee declared he wouldn't deviate from the Vision 2015 plan in which many of them had had a hand.

So why was there laughter?

The trouble is Lee didn't seem to have a sense that there is serious dissent even among the framers of Vision 2015 about elements such as consolidated purchasing and changing teacher compensation. There are political fights in all corners.

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October 4, 2008

Under Pressure

Matthew Futterman:

Intense, highly involved parenting can create star children like golf prodigies Josh and Zach Martin. But it can also come at a cost. What's driving hard-driving parents?

Bowie and Julie Martin shuttled their sons for five years to a never-ending series of practices, lessons and games in a half-dozen sports before finally suggesting the boys focus on a single pursuit, golf, the game where the children showed the most promise.

Josh and Zach Martin were 6 and 8.

"I just wanted them to be great at something," Mr. Martin explains.

So far, so good. Today, the Martin family's single-minded pursuit has produced perhaps the two best young golfers living under the same roof anywhere. Their two-bedroom townhouse beside the 17th hole of a golf course in Pinehurst, N.C., is an exhibit space for dozens of oversized silver and crystal trophies that Josh and Zach have won, including 11 at international tournaments.

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Adolescent Anxiety: The Musical

Bruce Weber:

He was never much of a student, but Jason Robert Brown was a precocious kid. Growing up in Monsey, N.Y., about an hour north of Manhattan, he became enthralled by music at age 4, was taking lessons at 5. At his first recital -- age 6 -- he not only outplayed his teacher's other students, he also supplied the verbal patter of a natural entertainer.

"He just started chatting with the audience," his mother, Deborah Brown, recalled. "I was floored. Nobody knew where it came from."

Once, before he could write in script, he filched a checkbook from one of his parents, wrote out a check and sent it to a mail-order record club. Fortunately he didn't get all the particulars right, and the check was returned because it was unsigned. Teachers plucked him from third grade and plopped him into the fourth, not because of straight A's but because he wasn't paying attention.

"He was good in everything, but if it wasn't music, he didn't do the work," said Mrs. Brown, a former English teacher.

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Starting Over (Again) in New Orleans

Caitlin Corrigan:

Aug. 29, 2008, marked the end of the second week of my second year teaching at Craig Elementary school, one of nearly 35 public schools that make up the Recovery School District, a state run system created in 2005 to reform New Orleans' failing schools.

The date had a much greater significance for my students and our city, of course -- it was both the three year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's devastating landfall, and the day before Mayor C. Ray Nagin would declare a mandatory evacuation in preparation for what could be "the storm of the century," Hurricane Gustav.

As we neared dismissal that day, my students buzzed around the wooden shelves that housed their binders of classwork.

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Merit & The Washington, DC School System

NY Times Editorial:

Mayor Adrian Fenty of Washington has moved at warp speed to make reforms since lawmakers gave him direct control of the city's corrupt and dysfunctional school system a little more than a year ago. He named a hard-nosed schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee, who has replaced dozens of inept principals and reined in a rapacious central bureaucracy that was infamous for wasting money and thwarting reform.

The mayor and his chancellor are now hoping to negotiate an innovative new teachers' contract that, if ratified, could become a model for underperforming school systems throughout the country.

Like many other cities, Washington wants to relax seniority rules that make it difficult to remove underperforming teachers and to reward high performers with fewer years of service.

Ms. Rhee has proposed a new approach in which teachers could choose between two employment options. The first would continue the traditional tenure arrangement, under which teachers would be compensated based on their years of experience and educational attainment. Or teachers could choose to give up tenure protection -- for the first year of the new contract -- and would have to agree to an evaluation of their teaching skills. The teachers who temporarily relinquished tenure, and passed the review, would be rewarded with higher salaries and bonuses that could push their earnings to as high as $130,000 a year. At present, a teacher with a Ph.D. and 21 years of experience makes $87,500 a year. Those who received lower ratings, however, would risk being fired during a probationary year.

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October 3, 2008

On Firing Teachers

Jay Matthews:

The Internet arrived late in my career. Its annoyances are far outweighed by its joys. One of the best things about the new era is that I can converse with far more readers and at much greater depth than I ever could with just a phone and a typewriter.

ne example is the energetic response to my column Monday on the second page of The Post's Metro section. The headline summed it up well: "For Kids' Sake, Power to Fire Teachers Crucial."

I explained why I thought D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee was right to try to find the best possible principals, who understand great teaching because they were once great teachers themselves, and give them the power to hire and fire the people who work for them. My prime example was the success of the KIPP DC: KEY Academy, a public charter school in the District. I described how that school's principal, Sarah Hayes, removed quickly two teachers who failed to respond to her efforts to train them, and how that saved their students from months, and perhaps years, of mediocre teaching.

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DC Schools Chancellor Imposes Teacher Dismissal Policy

Bill Turque:

"The goal and responsibility and moral imperative of this administration is to make sure that each child gets an excellent education," said Rhee, who had hinted broadly in recent weeks that she was ready to invoke what she has dubbed "Plan B."

The blueprint includes a new teacher evaluation system based primarily on student test scores and other achievement benchmarks. She has also decided to employ rules that are on the books but seldom used, including one that allows her to deemphasize the importance of seniority in deciding which teachers would lose jobs in the event of declining enrollment or school closures. Seniority would become one of multiple factors taken into account.

Exactly how teachers will be evaluated on the basis of test scores is still under review, Rhee said. The provision allowing a 90-day review of teacher performance, however, could have a more immediate impact.

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Leopold fifth-graders would go to two middle schools under district plan to reduce crowding

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.

Wisconsin State Journal & The Madison School District:
A long-term plan for coping with Leopold Elementary's crowded classrooms would be delayed until June, and the school's fifth graders would be shuttled to two middle schools for two years under a proposal released today by Madison schools Superintendent Daniel Nerad.

In a report to the Madison School Board, Nerad acknowledged that residents living in the Leopold area on Madison's South Side would prefer that a new school be built in the area.

However, he recommended the stopgap measures while delaying the long-term plan, which had been expected to be announced this fall. District officials have been studying the problem since April.

Under Nerad's plan, Leopold's fifth graders would attend Cherokee and Wright middle schools in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years. About three-fourths of the fifth graders would be sent to Cherokee.

Distance from Leopold Elementary to:

Much more on Leopold here.

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McCain & Obama's Art Policy Statements

Salt Lake City Tribune:

Here are the arts policy statements of John McCain and Barack Obama:
John McCain
"John McCain believes that arts education can play a vital role fostering creativity and expression. He is a strong believer in empowering local school districts to establish priorities based on the needs of local schools and school districts. Schools receiving federal funds for education must be held accountable for providing a quality education in basic subjects critical to ensuring students are prepared to compete and succeed in the global economy. Where these local priorities allow, he believes investing in arts education can play a role in nurturing the creativity of expression so vital to the health of our cultural life and providing a means of creative expression for young people."

Barack Obama Reinvest in Arts Education: To remain competitive in the global economy, America needs to reinvigorate the kind of creativity and innovation that has made this country great. To do so, we must nourish our children's creative skills. In addition to giving our children the science and math skills they need to compete in the new global context, we should also encourage the ability to think creatively that comes from a meaningful arts education. Unfortunately, many school districts are cutting instructional time for art and music education. Barack Obama believes that the arts should be a central part of effective teaching and learning

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The Milwaukee School Board: "A Very Sad Scandal" Lightbourn:

Since 1984 I have been following issues in and around Milwaukee Public Schools. That means that, since 1984 I have been searching for who is responsible for the pitiful state of education in Milwaukee. At long last I found the culprit; it is the Milwaukee School Board. That board has proven itself to be self-serving, insular and overtly political.

Their high crime is that this body, entrusted to care for Milwaukee's children, has been caught stealing money that should have been put into the classrooms of schools throughout the city.

Like the scandals that brought down huge corporations, from Enron to Fannie Mae, the evidence of the crime was assembled by accountants. Last week the WPRI released a report, authored by Christian Schneider, showing that the MPS board has racked up $2.2 billion of unfunded liabilities to pay the health care cost of retired employees. That means that the board committed to pay $2.2 billion it does not have. That also means that for years, while begging for more money to address the all-to-real challenges of urban education, the MPS board had already decided that their top priority was to pay for retiree health care costs.

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:
The Milwaukee School Board should censure member Charlene Hardin and forbid her from taking any more trips after records revealed she racked up bills of more than $8,500 while jetting around the country on the school district's dime. For one trip, she billed Milwaukee Public Schools more than $400 to rent a Chrysler 300 Touring car for two days.

In a column Thursday, the Journal Sentinel's Dan Bice revealed that Hardin was hit in March with a nearly $300 penalty for smoking cigarettes while staying at a smoke-free Marriott in Washington

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The Spellings Plan for College Student Aid Simplification

Doug Lederman:

In a speech tonight at Harvard University, the U.S. education secretary will unveil a proposal to greatly simplify the process by which students apply for federal financial aid. Under the plan, which flows from a set of ideas floated by Under Secretary Sara Martinez Tucker at an Education Department summit in July, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid would shrink from more than 100 questions to 26, and students would find out before their senior year of high school how much federal financial aid they would qualify for.

"This all flies under the rubric of needing to make this process much much less burdensome," Spellings said in an interview in her office Monday. "Right now, it's like we're trying to keep people out of college, not get them in.... The whole thing is, 'You want to go to college? Here are seven pages of bureaucracy, and here's what you're going to have to do to get it.' As opposed to, 'Here's a simple way to do it, and here's what we're going to do for you, so you can get it.' It's the whole psychology."

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"Limit Low Income Housing" - Madison Police Official

Patricia Simms:

A top Madison Police Department official says the city should reduce or freeze building low-income housing because the tenants are overwhelming police services.

In addition, Jay Lengfeld, captain of the West District, wrote an e-mail to Madison Alderman Thuy Pham-Remmele, 20th District, on Monday in which he suggested the city should license landlords to "weed out the bad ones" and give landlords more leeway to reject applicants with a history of bad behavior.

"The city needs to reduce or freeze the number of subsidized housing units in the city," he wrote. "The at-risk population in Madison has exceeded the ability of service providers to service them."

Lengfeld's comments, part of an exchange of e-mails between Lengfeld and Pham-Remmele over quality of life issues on the West Side, sparked the wrath of at least one affordable housing advocate.

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A Broader Definition of Merit: The Trouble With College Entry Exams

Brent Staples:

Imagine yourself an admissions director of a status-seeking college that wants desperately to move up in the rankings. With next year's freshman class nearly filled, you are choosing between two applicants. The first has very high SAT scores, but little else to recommend him. The second is an aspiring doctor who tests poorly but graduated near the top of his high school class while volunteering as an emergency medical technician in his rural county.

This applicant has the kind of background that higher education has always claimed to covet. But the pressures that are driving colleges -- and the country as a whole -- to give college entry exams more weight than they were ever intended to have would clearly work against him. Those same pressures are distorting the admissions process, corrupting education generally and slanting the field toward students whose families can afford test preparation classes.

Consider the admissions director at our hypothetical college. He knows that college ranking systems take SAT's and ACT's into account. He knows that bond-rating companies look at the same scores when judging a college's credit worthiness. And in lean times like these, he would be especially eager for a share of the so-called merit scholarship money that state legislators give students who test well.

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KIPP's Dave Levin on The Colbert Report

Video, about 15 minutes into the show.

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Parents Give Up Youths Under Law Meant for Babies

Erik Eckholm:

The abandonments began on Sept. 1, when a mother left her 14-year-old son in a police station here.

y Sept. 23, two more boys and one girl, ages 11 to 14, had been abandoned in hospitals in Omaha and Lincoln. Then a 15-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl were left.

The biggest shock to public officials came last week, when a single father walked into an Omaha hospital and surrendered nine of his 10 children, ages 1 to 17, saying that his wife had died and he could no longer cope with the burden of raising them.

In total last month, 15 older children in Nebraska were dropped off by a beleaguered parent or custodial aunt or grandmother who said the children were unmanageable.

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Hartland Arrowhead Honored for Best High School Musical


A Wisconsin high school will receive an award Thursday for producing the best high school musical in the nation.
Arrowhead High School about 30 miles west of Milwaukee is being honored for last year's production of "Cats."

The school has spent the past decade developing a musical theater program so strong students joke the Broadway Company is a varsity sport. Its graduates have gone on to major in music at Harvard University, Lawrence University and the Chicago College of the Performing Arts.

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American Math Chuckleheads

Rich Karlgaard:

I got an e-mail titled "An Angry American With An Idea." This e-mail must have gone viral, because I received it a half-dozen times. You probably got it too. Here is what it said:
"I'm against the $85,000,000,000 bailout of AIG. Instead, I'm in favor of giving $85,000,000,000 to America in a 'We Deserve It Dividend.' To make the math simple, let's assume there are 200,000,000 bona fide U.S. Citizens 18+. Our population is about 301,000,000 +/-, counting every man, woman and child. So 200,000,000 might be a fair stab at adults 18 and up. So divide 200 million adults 18+ into $85 billion. That equals $425,000. My plan is to give $425,000 to every person 18+ as a 'We Deserve It Dividend.' "
The letter goes on and describes the many wonderful things that could happen in America if each adult had an extra $425,000.

Now the funny part. Friends and colleagues--they shall remain anonymous--who passed this e-mail along would append a note: "You should read this." "This actually makes sense."

Not once did anyone point out the Angry American's wee calculation flaw. Eighty-five billion dollars divided by 200 million people is $425, not $425,000.

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October 2, 2008

Madison School District Facing Class-Action Lawsuit Over Open Enrollment


he Madison Metropolitan School District is facing a federal class-action lawsuit.
An East High School parent claims a request to transfer her daughter out of the district was been denied based on race.

The class-action lawsuit, filed in federal court on Wednesday, claims the Madison school district discriminated against a white, female student who wanted to transfer from East High School using open enrollment.

At the time, in the 2006-2007 school year, the transfer request was denied because it would increase the racial imbalance in the district. It was the district's policy at the time, but that policy was changed earlier this year after a Supreme Court ruling involving school districts in Seattle and Louisville, WISC-TV reported.

"I believe this district had a policy that was absolutely consistent with state law," Madison Schools Superintendent Daniel Nerad said. "When there was a legal decision by the highest court of the land... that was no longer a factor. I believe the district responded very responsibly in making a change in the policy."

Much more on open enrollment here.


Andy Hall has more:
In the 2006-07 school year, Madison was the only one of the state's 426 school districts to deny transfer requests because of race, rejecting 126 white students' applications to enroll in other districts, including online schools, records show.

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Arts Task Force to present findings and recommendations to Madison School Board: Presentation at 6 pm, Monday, October 6, 2008

Doyle Administration Building, 545 West Dayton Street, Madison [Map]

"The arts are not a luxury; they are essential". State Supt. of Public Instruction Elizabeth Burmaster

Being concerned about the effect of cuts to funding, staffing and instruction time on arts education and the effect of these cuts on low-income students and students of color, the Madison Metropolitan School District's (MMSD) Board of Education formed the district's Fine Arts Task Force in January 2007 to respond to three charges:

  1. Identify community goals for Madison Metropolitan School District K-12 Fine Arts education including curricular, co-curricular and extra-curricular.
  2. Recommend up to five ways to increase minority student participation and participation of low-income students in Fine Arts at elementary, middle and high school levels.
  3. Make recommendations regarding priorities for district funding of Fine Arts.
Members of the Task Force will present the findings and recommendations to the MMSD School Board on Monday, October, 6, 2008, at 6:15 pm, in the McDaniels Auditorium of the Doyle Administration Building, 545 West Dayton Street, Madison.

Students, parents and the general public are encouraged to attend to show support for the role of the arts in ensuring a quality education for every MMSD student. Attendees can register in support of the report at the meeting.

Nineteen community members, including 5 MMSD students, were appointed by the School Board to the Task Force, which met numerous times from February 2007 through June 2008. The Task Force received a great deal of supportive assistance from the Madison community and many individuals throughout the 16 month information gathering and , deliberation process. More than 1,000 on-line surveys were completed by community members, parents, artists, arts organizations, students, administrators and teachers, providing a wealth of information to inform the task force?s discussions and recommendations.

The full Task Force report and appendices, and a list of Task Force members, can be found at

Fine Arts Task Force Report [1.62MB PDF] and appendices:

For more information, contact Anne Katz, Task Force co-chair, 608 335 7909 |

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More Online Education Options: Now from Wharton High School @ U of Pennsylvania

Knowledge @ Wharton High School, via a kind reader email:

Knowledge@Wharton High School is an interactive site for high school students interested in finding out more about the world of business. It's a subject that touches your lives in many ways -- from the malls you shop and the plastics you recycle to the entrepreneurs, sports managers, fashion designers, stock brokers, artists and other leaders that you might become. At KWHS, you will find features about the companies you know and the people who run them, games to improve your financial skills and test your commitment to a greener marketplace, tools to explain how business works, and podcasts and videos that spotlight the world's most creative and colorful people. As part of a network of global online business publications published by The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, KWHS will show you how your ideas can change the world.
Related: Credit for non-Madison School District courses:
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.

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3 Madison schools offer free fresh fruit, veggies

The Capital Times:

The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program has expanded to 56 schools in Wisconsin this year, including three Madison elementary schools, providing free fresh fruit and vegetables during the school day to all students wanting a quick nutritious snack.

The state received $870,994 in the national farm bill for the program, which works out to $51 per student for the 17,000 state students served.

The program started in 2002 as a way to combat obesity in kids. Funding is geared to schools with a higher incidence of students from economically disadvantaged families.

Madison schools getting funding through the program for fresh fruits and vegetables include Falk Elementary ($15,700), Glendale Elementary ($20,696) and Hawthorne Elementary ($16,312).

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Contentless Writing

Mr. Fitzhugh [] is Editor and Publisher of The Concord Review and Founder of the National Writing Board and the TCR Institute [].

Abraham Lincoln's address at Gettysburg was short. Indeed, the President had spoken and taken his seat before many in that large crowd gathered outdoors even realized that he had spoken. Fortunately, an alert reporter took down his words. Short as the speech was, it began with a date and a fact--the sort of factual content that is being drained away from student writing today.

The very idea of writing without content takes some getting used to. I was taken aback not long ago to read the comments of a young woman who had been asked how she felt about having a computer grade the essays that she wrote on the Graduate Management Admission Test (Mathews, 2004). She replied that she didn't mind, noting that the test givers were more interested in her "ability to communicate" than in what she actually said.

Although style, fluency, tone, and correct grammar are certainly important in writing, folks like me think that content has value as well. The guidelines for scoring the new writing section on the SAT seem to say otherwise, however. Readers evaluating the essays are told not to take points off for factual mistakes, and they must score the essays "holistically"--at the rate of 30 an hour (Winerip, 2005).

Earlier this year, Linda Shaw of the Seattle Times (2006), reported that the the rules for the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) do not allow dictionaries, but "when it comes to the writing section, there's one rule they can break: They can make things up. Statistics. Experts. Quotes. Whatever helps them make their point." According to Shaw, the state's education office announced that "making up facts is acceptable when writing nonfiction, persuasive essays on the WASL."

Lest you conclude that writing without content, or writing nonfiction with fictional content--think James Frey's A Million Little Pieces--is limited to the Left Coast, think again. Across the United States, even the most prestigious writing workshops for teachers generally bypass the what to focus on the how.

All writing has to have some content, of course. So what are students encouraged to put down on the page? In its 2003 report, The Neglected 'R', The National Commission on Writing in America's Schools and Colleges, gave us a clue. According to the report, the following passage by a high school student about the September 11 terrorist attacks shows "how powerfully children can express their emotions."

"The time has come to fight back and we are. By supporting our leaders and each other, we are stronger than ever. We will never forget those who died, nor will we forgive those who took them from us."

Or look at the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) the supposed gold standard for evaluating academic achievement in U.S. schools, as measured and reported by the National Center for Education Statistics. In its 2002 writing assessment, in which 77 percent of 12th graders scored "Basic" or "Below Basic," NAEP scored the following student response "Excellent." The prompt called for a brief review of a book worth preserving. In a discussion of Herman Hesse's Demian, in which the main character grows up and awakens to himself, the student wrote,

High school is a wonderful time of self-discovery, where teens bond with several groups of friends, try different foods, fashions, classes and experiences, both good and bad. The end result in May of senior year is a mature and confident adult, ready to enter the next stage of life." (p. 22)

As these two excerpts show, both the National Commission on Writing in America's Schools and Colleges and the NAEP seem to favor emotional and personal writing, at least at the high school level. If personal memoir and "fictional nonfiction" were the sorts of writing that college courses required--not to mention in business, government and other lines of work--then perhaps it wouldn't matter. After all, top executives at ENRON wrote quite a bit of fiction before their arrests, not to mention some well-known journalists who substituted fiction for fact in their reporting.

The problem is that students must know facts, dates, and the viewpoints of various experts and authors to write their college term papers. The Boston Globe has reported some frightening statistics about students' knowledge gaps. Sixty-three percent of students graduating from Massachusetts high schools and attending community colleges are in remedial courses, as are 34 percent of those attending four-year colleges. (Sacchetti, 2004)

A survey of leading U.S. companies revealed that organizations are spending more than $3 billion each year in remedial writing courses for both hourly and salaried employees (National Commission on Writing in America's Schools and Colleges, 2004).

Beyond the Five-Paragraph Essay

As it happens, some teachers and students in U.S. high schools know that writing serious, factual history research papers is good and necessary preparation for future writing tasks, and that it's a superb way to learn history and practice scholarship. One student, whose history essay appeared in The Concord Review (see "Raising the Bar for Expository Writing," p. 46) was so interested in the trial and excommunication of Anne Hutchinson in the early 1600s that she spent several months during her Junior year doing independent study at a public high school in Massachusetts. Her 13,000-word research paper won The Concord Review's Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize.

The student found Anne Hutchinson's independence inspiring. In the following extract from her paper, the student discusses the accusations made against Hutchinson during the trial in which this courageous woman was excommunicated for questioning in private the authority of the ministers as the sole source of God's wisdom:

"...This bitter speech, made by a man who had seen his entire career threatened by the woman now standing before him, opened a trial marked by extraordinary vindictiveness on the part of the men presiding. Why? Because their regulatory power had been, up to this point, thwarted. Hutchinson had done nothing in public, nothing that could be clearly seen and defined, nothing that could be clearly punished. The principal accusation leveled against her was failure to show proper respect to the ministers, but again, she had made no public speeches or declarations, and the court would soon find that producing evidence of her insolence was very difficult.

The assembly did not immediately strike to the heart of the matter: Hutchinson's disparagement of the ministers of the colony as under a covenant of works. Instead, the presiding ministers first accused her of disobeying the commandment to obey one's father and one's mother by not submitting to the 'fathers of the commonwealth,' as [Governor] Winthrop termed it. Next, Hutchinson's meetings were condemned, despite her citation of a rule in Titus exhorting the elder women to teach the younger."

This is factual writing about a historical event--a trial--in which the facts of the case were of the greatest importance. Fiction was not the focus here. The author's emotions, and her "experiences in high school," were distinctly of secondary--if any--importance in her account of these events in American religious and legal history.

Some readers may mistakenly assume that writing with content is common in schools. In 2002, the Roper Organization conducted a study for The Concord Review and found that in U.S. public high schools, 81% of teachers never assign a 5,000-word research paper--that's 8,000 words shorter than the previously cited award-winning essay--and 62% never assign a 3,000-word nonfiction paper. (The Concord Review 2002). Although 95% of teachers surveyed believed that research papers were "important" or "very important," most reported that they did not have time to assign and grade them.

When Support Trumps Rigor

In her report for the Fordham Foundation on state social studies standards in the United States, researcher Sandra Stotsky (1999), cited a newspaper article about a Hispanic high school student named Carol who was unprepared for college work. Described as a top student, the girl was stunned by the level of writing that her Boston college demanded of her. Although the students said that she had received encouragement and support from her high school teachers, she wished that her teachers had given her more challenging work. According to the reporter, the student discovered that "moral support is different from academic rigor." Stotsky noted that teachers often substitute self-esteem-building assignments for rigorous work. The same newspaper article described a high school teacher,

who had had her students "write a short story about their lives" because, in the teacher's words, it allowed them to show "a high level of writing ability" and to realize that "their own experience is valid and useful." This teacher is also quoted as believing that this assignment reflected her "high expectations" for her students. It apparently did not occur to the reporter that this kind of writing assignment today, especially for high school students from minority groups, is more likely to reflect a concern for their self-esteem rather than a desire to challenge them intellectually. A regular flow of such writing assignments may be part of the reason that Hispanic students like Carol are not prepared for college-level writing. (pp. 269-270)

Students like Carol who belatedly discover their lack of preparedness for college work are far more numerous than one might think. Through a survey of recent high school graduates (Achieve, Inc., 2005), the National Governors Association learned that a large majority of students surveyed wished that their teachers had given them more challenging work. Moreover, the High School Survey of Student Engagement (Indiana University, 2004) found that 55% of the 80,000 students surveyed said they did fewer than three hours of homework each week, and most received As and Bs anyway.

Anything But Knowledge

Writing about oneself can be the work of genius, as Marcel Proust demonstrated so well in his magnum opus, In Search of Lost Time. But limiting students to thinking and writing almost entirely about themselves in school is, well, limiting. The Boston Globe, which annually celebrates essays on Courage, asks students to submit short essays--not about someone else's courage, but about their own. Of course, famous people like Anne Hutchinson, Winston Churchill, or Martin Luther King, Jr., don't have a monopoly on courage. But it would be refreshing for students to look outside themselves from time to time to reflect on such qualities in others. Unfortunately, solipsism seems to have become the order of the day; the lack of a sustained focus on objectivity and rigor in writing is showing up in poor literacy rates, greater numbers of remedial classes in college, and higher college dropout rates.

In 2005, comedian Stephen Colbert introduced the idea of "truthiness" into the English language. The term characterizes speech or writing that appears to be accurate and serious, but is, in fact, false or comical. In college, I learned that one of the tasks of thought is to help us distinguish appearance from reality. The goal of "truthiness" is to blur that distinction. On satirical news programs, like The Daily Show this dubious practice brings the relief of laughter, but on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning--in which students are told that it's OK to make things up and to invent experts and "quote" them--it just brings confusion, even to the task of writing of "nonfiction." Postmodernists and deconstructionists at the university level have long been claiming that there is no such thing as truth, but here we have high school students being told, on a state assessment, that when writing nonfiction, it is OK just to make things up, for instance to invent an expert, and then "quote" him in support of an argument they are making.

The danger is that practices like these can lead high school students to believe that they don't need to seek information about anything outside of their own feelings and experiences. However, college students are still expected to read nonfiction books, which obviously deal with topics other than their personal lives. Students also have to write research papers in which they must organize their thinking and present material coherently. Too many students are not prepared to do this, and many end up dropping out of college. What a terrible waste of hopes and opportunity!


Achieve (2005). Rising to the challenge: Are high school graduates prepared for college and work? PowerPoint presentation prepared by the Peter D. Hart Research Associates and Public Opinion Strategies. Available:

The Concord Review, (2002). History research paper study (conducted by the Center for Survey Research and Analysis). Available:

Indiana University. (2004) High School Survey of Student Engagement. Bloomington, IN: [Martha McCarthy]

Mathews, J. (2004, August 1). Computers weighing in on the elements of essay; Programs critique structure not ideas. The Washington Post

National Center for Education Statistics. (2002). The Nation's Report Card: Writing Highlights 2002.

National Commission on Writing in America's Schools and Colleges. (2003). The neglected 'R'; The need for a writing revolution. New York: College Board.

National Commission on Writing in America's Schools and Colleges. (2004). Writing: A ticket to work...or a ticket out: A survey of business leaders.

Sacchetti, M. (2005, June 26) Colleges question MCAS success; many in state schools still need remedial help. The Boston Globe.
Shaw, L. (2006, March 17). WASL writing: Make it up as they go along. The Seattle Times, p. B1.

Stotsky, S (1999). Losing Our Language: How Multicultural Classroom Instruction is Undermining Our Children's Ability to Read, Write, and Reason. New York: The Free Press, pp. 269-271

Winerip, M. (2005, May 4). SAT Essay rewards length and ignores errors. The New York Times.

This article was first published by Educational Leadership in October 2006, and is reprinted with permission of the author.


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

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Curriculum Compacting: One way to help advanced students move ahead and learn at their own level.

Tamara Fisher:

Professional development. What thoughts and feelings do those words conjure up for you? Excitement? Boredom? A chance to improve your skills and learn new, interesting teaching strategies? Or a painful time of listening to someone talk about a topic you already know?

We've all been there--sitting in a required in-service class listening to someone go over Bloom's Taxonomy or some other concept or strategy that we've been using effortlessly for years. We grumble our way through the session, irritated that we have to sit on our butts "re-learning" a topic we could have taught just as well ourselves, if not better. Partly we're irritated because we have so much else to do! Many teachers would categorize a situation like this as wasted time.

Of course, not all professional development is like that. But I use the example because it is a great way to help teachers relate to what a gifted kid experiences when the material being taught in class is not at the right readiness-level for him or her. We don't like it when someone else puts us into that kind of a situation, yet we routinely do the same to the gifted students.

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Owl Creek neighborhood raises red flags for city, schools

Sandy Cullen:

The first thing the school principal noticed was the large number of new students coming from a tiny, isolated neighborhood that didn't exist two years ago.

Then it was the repeated fights -- which would begin on the bus ride home, fester in the neighborhood, then come back to school the next day, said Glendale Elementary School Principal Mickey Buhl.

And there were other troubling signs -- youngsters shaving their eyebrows and cutting their hair in ways that Buhl said indicated flirtation with the idea of gangs. Glendale staff who went to the Owl Creek neighborhood, off Voges Road on the southeast side near McFarland, saw an unfinished development sandwiched between two industrial parks and far from stores, social services and bus lines.

Madison police also noticed problems. From March 1 to June 30 of this year, police responded to 81 calls for service, ranging from theft to battery, in the tiny development, said Lt. Carl Strasburg.

Related: Police calls near Madison area high schools: 1996-2006.

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Autonomy "Key to School Success"


Independent schools get better results than state schools because they have the freedom to tailor teaching to the needs of their pupils, researchers say.
A University of Buckingham report found social background and ability were not the only factors behind higher grades in private schools.

The study said autonomy meant decisions were made close to the classroom.
The findings showed how the quality of education could be improved in the state school sector, the report added.

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October 1, 2008

Wisconsin "School Lawsuit Facts" Site Posted by PR Firm

"School Lawsuit Facts":

MILWAUKEE, WI, September 30, 2008 . . . Five Wisconsin school districts (the "Districts") filed suit in Milwaukee County Circuit Court yesterday seeking to rescind their $200 million investment with Stifel Nicolaus & Company, Inc. ("Stifel") and the Royal Bank of Canada ("RBC"). They allege $150 million in losses to date.

The Districts contend Stifel and RBC either knowingly or negligently misrepresented and omitted crucial details in transactions made by the Districts to secure funding for their Other Post-Employment Benefit (OPEB) liabilities by failing to disclose or concealing their true risks. The Districts contend such investments were unsuitable for a public trust fund. They further allege Stifel and RBC collected large fees and realized massive cost savings while effectively positioning the Districts as guarantors of an ultra-risky portfolio of assets.

The school districts include: Kenosha Unified School District; Kimberly Area School District; School District of Waukesha; West Allis - West Milwaukee School District and Whitefish Bay School District. In addition to Stifel Nicolaus and RBC, the school districts have also included James M. Zemlyak of Elm Grove in the complaint. During the time of the transaction Zemlyak was the Chief Financial Officer and Co-Chief Operations Officer for Stifel.

Madison Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Erik Kass was most recently with the Waukesha School District. Amy Hetzner and Paul Soglin have more.

Roger Frank Bass on Two Crises: Wall Street & Education:

One, $700 billion is peanuts. Low-end estimates of educational outlays are more than $400 billion per year -- that's $5.2 trillion during a child's K-12 education, more than seven times what the government will spend to prop up "free" enterprise. (The Global Movement for Children, using United Nations data, states that the 80 million children not receiving education could be schooled for about $15 billion per year.) And, like our financial institutions, U.S. education performs less well than in virtually all developed countries despite per-student outlays that are some of the highest anywhere. In military terms, this is a clear and present danger.

Along with bankrolling failures, the parallels include lax oversight. Just as Wall Street was craftily packaging collateralized debt obligations and hedge funds, state- and local-education agencies were bundling worthless test scores into triple-A public relations.

Just as the Securities and Exchange Commission and other regulatory agencies failed to monitor their charges, Departments of Public Instruction and those responsible for our children's education never demanded the transparency needed to evaluate the substandard data behind ever riskier instructional methods. When a stock market falls apart, at least we can pick ourselves up and keep going. When education falls apart, we won't have the intellectual capital to move forward. Economic growth begins with knowledge, not money. Ask India.

These events provide timely and useful dinner conversation fodder with our children:
  • "What do you think happened to the baby-sitting money deposited into the bank yesterday?"
  • "What will you do one day if the money is not there?"
  • "Where does the money come from?"

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Education funding and bureaucracy

"The Punch:

A recent World Bank report on the Federal Government's funding of the education sector has revealed a disproportionate allocation of funds to the payment of salaries and wages. The report titled "A Review of the Cost and Financing of Public Education" states that while funding levels increased from N30.6 billion in 1999 to N205.2 billion in 2007, public expenditure on education declined in real terms as the increase in funding did not translate into a commensurate improvement in the provision of facilities, equipment, infrastructure and services.

Giving the breakdown of the total sum of N738 billion the FG allocated to the sector between 1999 and 2007, the report revealed that the Federal Ministry of Education and its four key agencies spent about N472 billion on salaries and wages, leaving a paltry sum of N265 billion for infrastructure development. For the 2008 budget, the FG devoted N210 billion or 13 per cent of the total budget to education, apart from another N39.7 billion earmarked as intervention fund for the UBE programme.

It is claimed that the funds the National Universities Commission and the federal universities devoted to salaries and wages alone peaked at 83 per cent of the FG's university funding in 2007. Other streams of education, including colleges of education, similarly recorded high percentages in personnel costs.

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Lost Cause: Why do My Children Lose Everything?

Emily Bazelon:

ere must be a hidden graveyard for them or a coach who picks them up after practice and cuts them up to make leather jackets. Two Fridays ago, we had four soccer balls: two for 8-year-old Eli to practice with; a slightly smaller one for his younger brother, Simon; and a special, pristine ball that Eli's teammates in Washington, D.C., signed for him when he left the team last summer because we were moving to a new city. Last Friday, five minutes before Simon's soccer practice, we had only one ball. The unblemished one with the signatures. Understandably, Eli didn't want Simon to take it to practice. But where had all the other ones gone? Neither of my boys knew. I tore around the house and the garage. Well, actually, Eli allowed, one or maybe two of the balls had somehow failed to make it home from practice the previous week. What to do now? Fume.

"Lose something every day. Accept the fluster/ of lost door keys, the hour badly spent./ The art of losing isn't hard to master," poet Elizabeth Bishop wrote. Yet I can't accept the fluster. My children's penchant for leaving their belongings strewn behind them--a long tail of balls and toys and lunchboxes and socks and shoes and sweatshirts--makes me fear that they are heedless prima donnas who will never be ready for the responsibilities of adulthood. And then, of course, I'm forced to concede that I seem to have raised them to be this way. The ritual of losing things makes me wonder about the line between taking good care of your kids and impossibly coddling them. Have middle-class American parents like us forever blurred the distinction?

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SAT: If You Can't Beat Them, Join Them

Scott Jaschik:

For decades, critics of standardized testing -- and especially of the SAT - have said that these examinations fail to capture important qualities, resulting in admissions systems that favor certain groups over others, while failing to represent test takers' full identities. And generally, these critics have said, the qualities that the SAT is best at identifying are those that wealthy white students are more likely than others to possess.

On Saturday at the annual meeting of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, the College Board -- the creator and defender of the SAT -- said pretty much what critics have been saying all along. The board presented the most detailed results yet of new approaches to standardized tests that would measure non-cognitive qualities and could become what some have called the "SAT III."

Thus far, the board has found that there are specific non-cognitive qualities that relate to college success, and that these qualities can be measured. Further, board research suggests that if the admissions process included these qualities in addition to traditional measures, black and Latino enrollments would increase significantly while white and Asian enrollments would drop -- the latter significantly at the most competitive colleges.

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To School or Not to School: Parents Skip Lesson Plans

John Edwards, III:

It's safe to say my wife and I considered keeping our kids out of school about as much as we considered not feeding and clothing them.

Joanne Rendell, a New York City novelist and mother of a near-5-year-old, is taking a very different approach. She wrote recently on the Babble parenting Web site about a philosophy she and some other parents are adhering to: unschooling. Ms. Rendell's son, Benny, by age would be starting kindergarten around now, but instead she and her partner are keeping him at home for a much more loosely structured experience.

So, rather than wake up early to rush to regimented lessons in a big building, Benny wakes up at midday and heads with his mother to Brooklyn for a playgroup with other unschooled kids. Ms. Rendell writes: "[U]n-kindergarten for us ... means we don't have to worry about bedtimes and can go out on the town with friends any night of the week. He can read a book on sharks when he feels like it. He can experiment with bungee cords while eating his breakfast at noon."

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Arizona AG: "Virtual Meetings OK

Paul Davenport:

Arizona school boards, city councils and other public bodies can meet online to discuss public business but that they still need to accommodate the public, Attorney General Terry Goddard said Tuesday.

Telecommunications technology offers the promise of widening public access to meetings held through webcasts and other means, Goddard said. "This promise, however, is counterbalanced by the potential for abuse or technical obstacles for some citizens to access the meeting."

Goddard discussed the issue in a legal opinion that reviewed a plan by the Camp Verde Unified School District's governing board to meet online to discuss a document.

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Referendum Climate: Wisconsin Property Tax Ranking

The Tax Foundation, Via TaxProf. Much more on the November, 2008 referendum here.

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Education: One size does not fit all

John Carey:

During deliberations on House Bill 119 - the state budget bill for fiscal years 2009-10 - the Strickland administration worked with the Legislature to invest an unprecedented amount of money in higher education, recognizing its importance to Ohio's future success.

A major player in these discussions was former state senator and current Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor Eric Fingerhut, who was appointed by Strickland in 2007 to help expand access to Ohio's higher education institutions, increase the number of Ohioans with college degrees and help attract and retain talented students that will strengthen the state's workforce and grow our economy.

I believe the governor made the right decision in choosing Fingerhut. In more than a year on the job, he has done many good things and has broadened support for higher education. In fact, in March, the chancellor unveiled a 10-year strategic plan for higher education, which includes the goal of enrolling 230,000 more students in Ohio's colleges and universities by 2017.

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The New Paternalism in Urban Schools

David Whitman:

By the time youngsters reach high school in the United States, the achievement gap is immense. The average black 12th grader has the reading and writing skills of a typical white 8th grader and the math skills of a typical white 7th grader. The gap between white and Hispanic students is similar. But some remarkable inner-city schools are showing that the achievement gap can be closed, even at the middle and high school level, if poor minority kids are given the right kind of instruction.

Over the past two years, I have visited six outstanding schools. (For a list of schools, see sidebar.) All of these educational gems enroll minority youngsters from rough urban neighborhoods with initially poor to mediocre academic skills; all but one are open-admission schools that admit students mostly by lottery. Their middle school students perform as well as their white peers, and in some middle schools, minority students learn at a rate comparable to that of affluent white students in their state's top schools. (For one impressive example, see Figure 1.) At the high school level, low-income minority students are more likely to matriculate to college than their more advantaged peers, with more than 95 percent of graduates gaining admission to college. Not surprisingly, they all have gifted, deeply committed teachers and dedicated, forceful principals. They also have rigorous academic standards, test students frequently, and carefully monitor students' academic performance to assess where students need help. "Accountability," for both teachers and students, is not a loaded code word but a lodestar. Students take a college-prep curriculum and are not tracked into vocational or noncollege-bound classes. Most of the schools have uniforms or a dress code, an extended school day, and three weeks of summer school.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:35 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Sun Prairie teacher with creative approach to reading honored

Pamela Cotant:

Sandra Kowalczyk's creative approach to helping students read is evident when you walk into her classroom at Patrick Marsh Middle School in Sun Prairie.

Kowalczyk, who has traveled to 55 countries in five continents, decorated her room with a variety of artifacts such as wood carvings and masks from Ghana, batik sarongs from Malaysia and Indonesia, mud paintings from the Ivory Coast, mola cloth from Panama, puppets from India and books from around the world.

"My philosophy is build interest, give them background," said Kowalczyk, who was named the Wisconsin Middle/Junior High School Teacher of the Year.

As Teacher of the Year, she received $3,000 from Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., through the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation. She was recognized by state Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster along with the other three 2008-09 Teachers of the Year during the recent State of Education speech and awards ceremony at the Capitol.

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