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November 30, 2008

Education & Inequality

The Economist:

The education gap between the richest and poorest within developing countries

GLOBAL public spending on education rose from a median 4.5% of GDP in 1999 to 4.9% in 2006, according to a new report by UNESCO, the UN's education agency. The poorest countries invested 3.5%, compared with 5.6% by the slightly richer middle income countries, and 5.3% by developed countries. But spending money wisely also matters. Huge inequalities exist between the richest and poorest within many countries. In India, a 17-22 year old in the richest quintile has had an average of 11.1 years in education, compared with only 4.4 years for those in the poorest quintile. This gap is also big in Peru and the Philippines. The difference in Bangladesh is similar to that in Nicargaua, a much richer country, showing it is using resources more effectively.

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Elementary Students Turning East

Amy Hetzner:

The teacher's marker flies across the whiteboard, drawing characters most Americans see only on menus.

"Ma ma," "be be," "ge ge," the first-graders call out, often before teacher Hongmei Zhao has finished more than a few strokes with her pen.

"What's ge ge?" Zhao asks.

"Big brother," a girl answers.

While most elementary schools would consider themselves lucky to have any foreign language program, Meadowview Elementary School and this class of first-graders have scored what might be the ultimate coup: an elementary program in Mandarin.

For a half-hour every day, first- and second-graders at Meadowview receive instruction in China's official language from Zhao, a private school teacher from Beijing.

The rare opportunity comes with the help of the Chinese government. Zhao and Xiaoman Song, who is teaching Chinese language classes at Oak Creek East Middle School and Oak Creek High School this school year, were provided to the district through a guest teacher program sponsored by Hanban - also known as China's Office of Chinese Language Council International - and by the College Board.

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Naval Communication

New York Times: Sunday, July 5, 1998
"News of the Week in Review" p. 7

What follows is a transcript of an actual radio conversation between a U.S. naval vessel and Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland:

Canadians: Please divert your course 15 degrees south to avoid a collision.

Americans: Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees to the north to avoid a collision.

Canadians: Negative. You will have to divert your course 15 degrees to the south to avoid a collision.

Americans: This is the captain of U.S. Navy ship. I say again, divert your course.

Canadians: No. I say again, divert your course.

Americans: This is the Aircraft Carrier U.S.S. Lincoln, the second largest ship in the United States Atlantic Fleet. We are accompanied by three cruisers, three destroyers, and numerous support vessels. I demand that you change your course 15 degrees north. I say again, that's one five degrees north, or counter-measures will be undertaken to ensure the safety of this ship.

Canadians
: This is a lighthouse. Your call.

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Should Teachers Ignore Poverty's Impact?

Jay Matthews:

I received a message from a young woman named Erika Owens recently that was so honest and so important to our national argument about teachers that I decided to coax responses from smart people on both sides of the issue. It is an uncomfortable topic, making it all the more important that we pick at it a bit.

Owens described her effort to join the Philadelphia Teaching Fellows program, and her reaction to the prevailing view in that organization that good teachers should be able to raise the achievement of even the poorest kids. That is my belief, and the belief of the educators I most admire. But most Americans, including Owens, think people like me are wrongly discounting the effects of poverty and thus hurting, rather than helping, the national movement to raise the level of instruction in impoverished neighborhoods.

The issue can get very personal, which might explain why I rarely hear discussions of it. It is too easy to make one side think they are being called racists and the other side think they are being called bullies. So this time, it is a debate at a distance, nobody in the same room, just sending e-mails to a nosy columnist. Owens is up first, then several people who know schools well, then me.

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Immersion: A Fascinating Look at Kids & Video Games

Robbie Cooper shows how focused young video players can be.

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November 29, 2008

Private Schools Say They're Thriving in Downturn

Winnie Hu & Alison Leigh Cowan:

Private schools across New York City say they are thriving this fall, with record numbers of applicants and no significant decline in donations. Yet almost daily, even brand-name schools are finding that they have to reassure jittery parents about shrinking endowments and dispel rumors that requests for financial aid are pouring in, and that economically squeezed families are pulling their children out and enrolling them in public schools.

Trinity's interim head of school, Suellyn P. Scull, issued a letter taking issue with recent news reports that 45 families had given notice that they were leaving. Trinity, among the most competitive schools in the city, received 698 applications for the 60 kindergarten spots in this year's class.

The school is not yet releasing admission numbers for next year's class, but Ms. Scull wrote, "This year's admissions season has been perhaps busier than usual, and to date we have had no reports of families planning to leave us."

But the shrinking economy is taking a toll on investment returns at Trinity, whose endowment has fallen to $40 million from $50 million in July, and at other private schools, affecting what they can spend on programs and activities. "There's no way of escaping it," said Lawrence Buttenwieser, a former trustee at Dalton. "If it happens at Harvard, it will happen to everybody."

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Can She Save Our Schools? Michelle Rhee

Amanda Ripley:

In 11th grade, Allante Rhodes spent 50 minutes a day in a Microsoft Word class at Anacostia Senior High School in Washington. He was determined to go to college, and he figured that knowing Word was a prerequisite. But on a good day, only six of the school's 14 computers worked. He never knew which ones until he sat down and searched for a flicker of life on the screen. "It was like Russian roulette," says Rhodes, a tall young man with an older man's steady gaze. If he picked the wrong computer, the teacher would give him a handout. He would spend the rest of the period learning to use Microsoft Word with a pencil and paper.

One day last fall, tired of this absurdity, Rhodes e-mailed Michelle Rhee, the new, bold-talking chancellor running the District of Columbia Public Schools system. His teacher had given him the address, which was on the chancellor's home page. He was nervous when he hit SEND, but the words were reasonable. "Computers are slowly becoming something that we use every day," he wrote. "And learning how to use them is a major factor in our lives. So I'm just bringing this to your attention." He didn't expect to hear back. Rhee answered the same day. It was the beginning of an unusual relationship.

The U.S. spends more per pupil on elementary and high school education than most developed nations. Yet it is behind most of them in the math and science abilities of its children. Young Americans today are less likely than their parents were to finish high school. This is an issue that is warping the nation's economy and security, and the causes are not as mysterious as they seem. The biggest problem with U.S. public schools is ineffective teaching, according to decades of research. And Washington, which spends more money per pupil than the vast majority of large districts, is the problem writ extreme, a laboratory that failure made. (See pictures of a diverse group of American teens.)

Related: Nurith Aizenman:
"It was a very hard decision," Rhee said of her vote. "I'm somewhat terrified of what the Democrats are going to do on education."

No word on whether the intermediary was Jason Kamras, a top Rhee aide who advised the Obama campaign on education issues.

Now that Obama has won office, Rhee has reasons for both hope and alarm.

Before clinching the nomination, Obama bucked the National Education Association to introduce a Senate bill that would reward teachers according to the sort of statistically-based rating system Rhee champions. In his book "The Audacity of Hope," Obama also stressed the need for linking increased teacher pay to greater accountability. And in his last debate with McCain, Obama even praised Rhee, describing her as "a wonderful new superintendent ... who's working very hard with the young mayor ... who initiated, actually supports, charters." (Rhee said she slept through that moment.)

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On Obama's School Choice

Jonah Goldberg:

n Washington, we have these arguments every time a rich Democrat sends his kids to private schools, which is very often. The real issue is why the public schools are unacceptable to pretty much anyone, liberal or conservative, who has other options.

Most Washington public schools are hellholes. So parents here -- including the first family -- find hypocrisy a small price to pay for fulfilling their parental obligations.

According to data compiled by the Washington Post in 2007, of the 100 largest school districts in the country, D.C. ranks third in spending for each student, around $13,000 a pupil, but last in spending on instruction. More than half of every dollar of education spending goes to the salaries of administrators. Test scores are abysmal; the campuses are often unsafe.

Michelle Rhee, D.C.'s new school chancellor, in 17 months has already made meaningful improvements. But that's grading on an enormous curve. The Post recently reported that on observing a bad teacher in a classroom, Rhee complained to the principal. "Would you put your grandchild in that class?" she asked. "If that's the standard," replied the principal, "we don't have any effective teachers in my school."

So if Obama and other politicians don't want to send their kids to schools where even the principals have such views, that's no scandal. The scandal is that these politicians tolerate such awful schools at all. For anyone.

Ari Kaufman:
It was reported last week that the Obamas have chosen the elite, $30,000 per year Sidwell Friends School for their daughters. On blogs, there are the predictable arguments about whether President-elect Obama should have chosen a public school instead, with reasonable ripostes about the daughters' safety.

These arguments, overall, are mundane and avoid the point since the Obamas enjoy the same freedom of personal decision as everyone else in terms of choosing a school within the limits of their finances. Furthermore, no matter what school they attend, Malia and Sasha Obama have all of the advantages in the world. If they truly couldn't be expected to turn out as decent, 18-year-old products of the District of Columbia School system, then the whole enterprise of public schooling should conceivably be scrapped.

I taught students the same age as Malia and Sasha for a few years in urban Los Angeles. My school was 100% racial minority: 75% Hispanic, 25% African-American. While Sidwell's exhaustive website notes that the school's missions include "prizing diversity" and "environmental stewardship," our motto was simply, "Be respectful, responsible and safe." I made sure my students abided by that credo, and I've lived to write a book and numerous articles about those experiences.

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Schools Trim Service hours to Help Students Go For Quality, Not Quantity

Douglas Quenqua:

IT'S a rainy November Saturday in Yonkers, and all across town, high school students are engaged in the relentless pursuit of community service hours.

Five students from Horace Mann, a private school in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, are spackling and painting a half-gutted, partly bullet-riddled home on Porach Street so that a new family can move in. (Three hours.)

On the other side of town, students from Lincoln High School, a public school in Yonkers, are raucously demolishing the basement of a thrift store on Riverdale Avenue, to create space for storage. (Four hours.)

Meanwhile, on East 27th Street in Manhattan, a hostess at the upscale barbecue restaurant Blue Smoke is turning away the fifth person who showed up a day early looking to make crafts for underprivileged children. The restaurant's Web site had the right date, she insists, but students these days seem pretty desperate to volunteer. (Come back tomorrow; two hours.)

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Free us to fix schools

D. Aileen Dodd:

Gwinnett County Public Schools is seeking freedom from the state to overhaul its methods for improving student performance.

The proposal, which includes flexible teacher pay, increasing class sizes and using aides as stand-ins for teachers, is being crafted by Gwinnett school administrators to give the state's largest school district the flexibility to opt out of restrictive state education mandates.

Some school officials view the mandates as hindering the system's ability to significantly raise standardized test scores.

School administrators have submitted a 104-page draft proposal to the state that details how the system could restructure and reassign teachers with the goal of closing the achievement gap between white, black and Hispanic students by 10 percent annually and improving participation in high-level academic courses.

"We are looking at a number of factors that may be outside the box of what the current rules in the state say," Gwinnett school board member Louise Radloff said. "The key is making sure students are more successful. Having flexibility would allow us to try some things differently."

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November 28, 2008

Montgomery County School Consortiums Assessed in Report

Daniel de Vise:

Montgomery County's high school consortiums, set up partly as a tool for desegregation, have done little to reverse racial isolation or white flight, according to a new report from a government oversight group released this week.

But school system leaders say the programs have succeeded in giving students a measure of choice about their education and have allowed administrators to shift school populations without a painful exercise in redrawing school boundaries.

Eight of the county's 25 high schools belong to two consortiums, which allow students to choose from a menu of programs and schools, rather than settle for a neighborhood school or compete for a selective magnet program.

"They do provide a lot of choice, and we get a lot of positive feedback from parents that they like having those options," said Marty Creel, director of enriched and innovative programs for the school system.

But the consortium programs have not done much to erase socioeconomic inequities, according to the 64-page report, released Tuesday by the county's Office of Legislative Oversight. It finds that "neither consortium reversed minority isolation nor improved socio-economic integration." Poverty rates have continued to increase at schools in the programs, sometimes at a faster rate than in the county as a whole. The percen tage of white students has dwindled at all eight schools, as in the county generally.

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High Schools Fight Doping With Little Consensus

Jere Longman:

The sheriff of St. Landry Parish announced in July that an undercover investigation of area gyms had produced the largest anabolic steroid bust ever in this rural Cajun county.

In an investigation that has identified about 100 suspected steroid users and 15 dealers in the county, 10 people have been arrested, including two former high school football players, the sheriff said. He added that of those 100 suspected users, as many as 20 were high school athletes. That number stunned educators and law enforcement officials who had considered performance-enhancing drugs to be more of a big-city problem.

"I think there's more steroid use, after talking to my investigators, in sports activities than originally thought," said Bobby J. Guidroz, the sheriff of St. Landry Parish, population 90,000, about two hours west-northwest of New Orleans.

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School Soda Ban Has Limited Effect Eliminating sugary beverages did not affect overall consumption, study finds

HealthDay:

A new study suggests that cutting sodas and other sugar-sweetened drinks from school cafeteria menus will have little effect on teens' overall consumption of the beverages.

Because these drinks are believed to be a major contributor to increasing rates of childhood obesity in the United States, many schools across the nation are banning them or curbing their availability to students. To assess the impact of this strategy, researchers followed 456 students at seven schools in southern and central Maine over two school years. Four of the schools reduced the availability of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) for one school year (intervention schools), while the other three took no action (control schools).

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November 27, 2008

An Interview with Will Fitzhugh: About Academic Excellence and Writing

Michael F. Shaughnessy:

1) Will, you recently gave a talk in Madison, Wisconsin. What exactly did you speak about?

WF: A group of professors, teachers, business people, lawyers and community people invited me to speak at the University of Wisconsin in Madison about the work of The Concord Review since 1987, and about the problems of college readiness and academic writing for high school students.

The Boston Public Schools just reported that 67% of the graduating class of 2000 who had gone on to higher education had failed to earn a certificate, an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree by 2008. Also, the Strong American Schools program just reported that more than a million of our high school graduates are in remedial education in college each year.

I recommend their report: Diploma to Nowhere, which came out last summer. While many foundations, such as Gates, and others, have focused on getting our students into college, too little attention has been paid to how few are ready for college work and how many drop out without any degree.


2) "We believe that the pursuit of academic excellence in secondary schools should be given the same attention as the pursuit of excellence in sports and other extracurricular activities." This is a quote from The Concord Review. Now, I am asking you to hypothesize here--why do you think high schools across America seem to be preoccupied with sports and not academics?

WF: In Madison I also had a chance to speak about the huge imbalance in our attention to scholars and athletes at the high school level. I had recently seen a nationally televised high school football game in which, at breaks in the action, an athlete would come to the sidelines, and announce, to the national audience, which college he had decided to "sign" with. This is a far cry from what happens for high school scholars. High school coaches get a lot of attention for their best athletes, but if the coach also happens to be a history teacher, he or she will hear nothing from a college in the way of interest in his or her most outstanding history student.

When Kareem Abdul Jabbar was a very tall high school senior at Power Memorial Academy in New York, he not only heard from the head coaches at 60 college basketball programs, he also got a personal letter from Jackie Robinson of baseball fame and from Ralph Bunche at the United Nations, urging him to go to UCLA, which he did. That same year, in the U.S., the top ten high school history students heard from no one, and it has been that way every year since.

The lobby of every public high school is full of trophies for sports, and there is usually nothing about academic achievement. For some odd reason, attention to exemplary work in academics is seen as elitist, while heaps of attention to athletic achievement is not seen in the same way. Strange...The Boston Globe has 150 pages on year on high school athletes and no pages on high school academic achievement. Do we somehow believe that our society needs good athletes far more than it needs good students, and that is why we are so reluctant to celebrate fine academic work?

3) Many years ago, Gavriel Solomon once wrote "Telelvision is easy and print is hard." Have we become a nation of watchers instead of writers?

WF: A student has to learn how to read, but not how to watch tv. Too many of our students have never read a nonfiction book in school, so when they get to college lots of them are in remedial reading courses, and as the Diploma to Nowhere report says: "While more students took remedial math, a student's need for remedial reading makes him or her much more likely to drop out. Some experts refer to college remedial reading as the kiss of death. One study found that of the students who took remedial reading, more than two thirds were in three or more other remedial courses and only 12 percent eventually earned a bachelor's degree. For the students in remedial reading, the issue is unfortunately simple--if you can't read well, you can't perform well in any other college classes. Without basic literacy, students are stuck without a collegiate future."

Playing video games, watching television, instant messaging, exchanging gossip and photos, and the like, all combine to make this generation of students less able to read and write and more likely to fail in higher education.


4) Your journal, The Concord Review is literally a beacon of writing and scholarship. Has it gotten the recognition you feel it deserves?

WF: High School artists, dancers, singers, and so on, are eligible for $4 million or more in complete college scholarships. Athletes get college scholarships. Exemplary history students at this level receive basically no attention and no money for their work in history. For most people, if student academic work can't be pasted on the refrigerator door, it has no value. There are exceptions, of course, in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Both the Intel Science Talent Search and the Siemens-Westinghouse Competition offer a $100,000 first prize for high school students. But for high school students whose achievements are in writing and scholarship there is no attention apart from The Concord Review, and there is almost no support for that.

The people at the Gates Foundation told me: "We are mostly interested in Math, Minorities and Science." Even after 21 years of The Concord Review people (with a few exceptions) don't believe that high school students can be scholars, or that they can write academic papers worth giving to their HS peers to read, as examples of good writing and for the history they contain.


5) Many years ago, there was a book entitled Dumbing Down Our Kids, by Charles J. Sykes. Has America begun to lower standards and focus less on academic excellence?

WF: Of course there has been a strong federal push, almost as strongly resisted, to promote accountability for some levels of student competence in math, reading, and writing, but the standards are very low, and for some people they are not low enough. The Massachusetts Teachers Association spent $600,000 on ads to defeat the MCAS, the state test given at the 10th grade level before awarding a high school diploma. And, as I said, of those who pass the MCAS and get their diploma, only about a third complete college at any level. Anti-intellectualism in American life has not gone away since Douglas Hofstadter's day, and it is especially strong in the schools, where many social studies teachers would rather get students out of the classroom protesting something, or they want to teach them only social justice issues, while they let military history, political history, economic history, and diplomatic history just slip through the cracks and disappear.


6) Will, over the past 20, 30, 40 years, more and more children with special needs and exceptionalities have been "mainstreamed" or "included" in regular education classrooms. Has this stretched teachers beyond what they are capable of doing?

WF: I understand there is no pressure to have poorly-coordinated gym students pushed onto school football, basketball, soccer and baseball/softball teams. The coaches would not allow it, saying that they could not prepare their best athletes for success in sports if they had to deal with all those klutzes during their practices. But teachers have been faced with an analogous situation for a long time. Disabled and disturbed students, who need and demand a lot of personal attention, just reduce the time and effort that teachers can devote to the other 28 students in their classes.

Of course, in the name of inclusion, this just degrades the quality of education for all the students in every classroom in which it occurs, just as it would destroy any sports team where that was the situation. This is just one more example of the ways in which we treat sports with more seriousness than we give to academics. And students get that message all the time. If the coach were forced to fail at his job, students might conclude that sports can't be that important, but when a teacher is prevented from doing good academic work, students can conclude that academics must not be that important. Is this the message we want to be sending?


7) Almost all teachers know about No Child Left Behind and Annual Yearly Progress. Have these things taken precedence over in-depth scholarly research and writing?

WF: Teaching to the test can be a real problem, whether it is helping students get ready for the Bar Exam or for No Child Left Behind tests. However, I have never understood why those who complain that they can't teach history, because the testing forces them to focus on reading, can't assign some history reading while they are at it. My understanding is that students who are provided with a demanding academic curriculum tend to do well on the state tests, whether they were ever "taught to the test" or not. For too many educators, in my view, complaining about the tests is just one more way to avoid the hard work of talking to students about the nonfiction books they have read, or about the serious research papers they have written.

School systems can't be forced into bankruptcy, as the Big Three automakers may be, but perhaps some should be. The Washington, DC public schools are considering asking for legislation that will allow them to declare a "state of emergency" which might let them give more attention to the academic work of students than they are now forced to give to the Teachers' Union.


8) How can people learn more about your journal, The Concord Review and how can teachers encourage their students to submit their exemplary work?

I am happy to report that our website (www.tcr.org) is about to pass 400,000 visitors. It has submission forms, sample essays, a topic list from the first 75 issues, and, at last, video clips of interviews with the late historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Bill Fitzsimmons (Dean of Admissions at Harvard) and Sarah Valkenburgh, one of our Emerson Prize winners. I may also be contacted by students, teachers and others who are interested in academic writing at the high school level at: fitzhugh@tcr.org. We encourage students to submit their best history research papers on any historical topic, ancient or modern, domestic or foreign. While we publish only about seven percent of the ones we receive, we have published 835 papers by students from 44 states and 35 other countries since 1987.

The Concord Review remains the only journal in the world for the academic papers of secondary students, and I have been happy to publish exemplary history papers by freshmen and sophomores as well as by juniors and seniors. Students and teachers will learn more from the website, and should feel free to send me an email at any time. I am always looking for the best papers I can find.

Published November 23, 2008

"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 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007
www.tcr.org; fitzhugh@tcr.org
Varsity Academics®

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Bill and Melinda Gates go back to school
Their crusade to fix schools earned a "needs improvement," so they have a new plan. The most surprising beneficiaries? Community colleges.

Claudio Wallis & Spencer Fellow:

ince 2000 the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has invested $2 billion in public education, plus another $2 billion in scholarships. Most of it went into efforts to improve high schools that serve poor and minority students - mainly breaking up big, urban high schools and creating smaller, friendlier, and in theory more scholastically sound academies. (All told, the Gates Foundation gave money to 2,602 schools in 40 school districts.) Overall, it hasn't worked. [Much more on Small Learning Communities]

"We had a high hope that just by changing the structure, we'd do something dramatic," Gates concedes. "But it's nowhere near enough."

The results were a disappointing setback. So Gates and his $35 billion foundation went back to school on the issue. They spent more than a year analyzing what went wrong (and in some cases what went right). They hired new leaders for their education effort, while Gates turned his attention to philanthropy full-time after stepping away from his operating role at Microsoft last summer.

In mid-November, when Gates and his wife, Melinda, were finally ready to unveil their fresh direction, they delivered the news at a private forum at the Sheraton Seattle for America's education elite, including New York City schools chief Joel Klein, his Washington, D.C., counterpart, Michelle Rhee, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, and top advisors to President-elect Obama.

The upshot is that Education 2.0 is bolder and more aggressive in its goals, and it involves even more intensive investment - $3 billion over the next five years. This time the focus isn't on the structure of public high schools but on what's inside the classrooms: the quality of the teaching and the relevance of the curriculum. It steers smack into some of the biggest controversies in American education - tying teacher tenure and salaries to performance, and setting national standards for what is taught and tested.

And it looks beyond high school. "Our goal, with your help, is to double the number of low-income students who earn post-secondary degrees or credentials that let them earn a living wage," declared Melinda French Gates at the Seattle gathering.

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Feds, teachers differ on 'highly qualified'

Laura Diamond:

Georgia teachers differ with the federal government as to how qualified they are, according to a national report released Tuesday.

While about 95 percent of Georgia's middle and high school teachers met the federal requirement of "highly qualified," only 65 percent of the teachers said in a survey that they had the appropriate certification, according to the study from the Education Trust, a child advocacy group.

The two percentages come from different reports completed during the 2003-04 school year, the last time the teacher survey was conducted by the U.S. Department of Education. The two reports also defined teacher quality differently.

The survey asked teachers to indicate whether they have full state certification in the subject they are assigned to teach.

The "highly qualified" label is mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act to ensure that all students have effective teachers. Congress passed the law in 2001 and allowed each state to develop its own definition of what constitutes a "highly qualified" teacher.

Georgia teachers are "highly qualified" if they have an academic degree in the subject matter they're teaching; or if their college course work is equivalent to a major in that area; or if they pass a state content test in the subject.

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An Interview with Kathleen Chamberlain: New IEP's in N.Y.

Michael Shaughnessy:

Kathleen Chamberlain is the president of East End Special Education Parents, a not for profit parent advocacy group. She is mother of a child with a disability and formed EESEP with other local parents whose children were also not getting the special education services they felt they were entitled to. In addition to advocating for children with disabilities, she owns her own financial services firm. She lives with her husband, and daughter on Eastern Long Island in New York.

1) First of all, you are President of EESEP. What exactly is EESEP and what are you trying to do?

East End Special Education Parents is a not for profit parent advocacy group.Our main goal is to teach parents how to advocate for their children with disabilities and we have been very effective doing so.So effective in fact that our members are routinely trashed at local Board of Education meetings and in the local papers by school district administrations because knowledge is power and the school districts have it and sped parents don't and they want to keep it that way.It's our goal to make sure that doesn't happen.

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November 26, 2008

How I Got Into College: 6 Stories

Ellen Gamerman:

Many seniors in the Class of '09 -- that's more than 3.3 million students -- are now applying to college. For many, it's a time fraught with paperwork, essays, interviews and road trips. And after all that work, it comes down to a letter or an email: In or out?

Admissions are expected to be as competitive as ever, and many schools say even the economic downturn has not slowed the onslaught of early applications. At Cornell University, early applications are up 9% from what they were this time last year; at Amherst College, they are up 5%; and at Barnard College, the rise is 8%. The acceptance odds are still long; many highly selective schools accept fewer than 20% of applicants.

Counselors, admissions staff and parents can all provide useful advice for getting in, but some of the best tips can come from the most recent veterans of the application frenzy: college freshmen. We've asked a range of students to share what they've learned.

Dare to Dream
Matthew Crowley was set on going to Stanford University last fall, but all the signs told him he wouldn't make the cut. He plugged his grades and test scores into a computer program that tracked college-acceptance statistics and came out on the low end of a graph for Stanford. Guidance counselors at Kent Denver, a private school he attended in Englewood, Colo., did not include Stanford on a list of suggested colleges. And he says a college adviser his family hired for $2,800 told him not to bother applying.

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Letter to the College Board

Phoebe Smolin:

It's over. My long-running battle with you and the numbers you seek to define me by is finished. As my final act of surrender, I seek to prove, once and for all, that your tests say nothing about me or any creative student who submits to them.

First of all, to assuage my terrible relationship with math, every day for one month last year I went to my math teacher at six o'clock in the morning to mend it. I go to one of the top and most intense magnet schools in Los Angeles, take challenging classes, and am in the top 10% of my class. I read because I love to read, not because I'm forced to. I respect my teachers and I am absolutely addicted to learning. I am in multiple clubs and hold several leadership positions. I voluntarily wake up early and stay out late on Saturdays to protest for equal rights. I do community service around my city and around the world. I'm highly curious about everything. I play three instruments and write my own music. I have amazing friends from multitudes of cultural backgrounds and I am simply and enthusiastically passionate about living -- qualities that don't amount to a College Board number.

High school trains us to find our own voices, to figure out in our own innovative ways how to make a difference. Colleges advertise themselves as wanting to accept individuals willing to challenge themselves and be involved in their communities. How, then, does it make sense to judge us each by the same exact test?

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Study: Math teachers a chapter ahead of students

Libby Quaid:

Math can be hard enough, but imagine the difficulty when a teacher is just one chapter ahead of the students. It happens, and it happens more often to poor and minority students. Those children are about twice as likely to have math teachers who don't know their subject, according to a report by the Education Trust, a children's advocacy group.

Studies show the connection between teachers' knowledge and student achievement is particularly strong in math.

"Individual teachers matter a tremendous amount in how much students learn," said Ross Wiener, who oversees policy issues at the organization.

The report looked at teachers with neither an academic major nor certification in the subjects they teach.

Among the findings, which were based on Education Department data:
_In high-poverty schools, two in five math classes have teachers without a college major or certification in math.

_In schools with a greater share of African-American and Latino children, nearly one in three math classes is taught by such a teacher.

Math is important because it is considered a "gateway" course, one that leads to greater success in college and the workplace. Kids who finish Algebra II in high school are more likely to get bachelor's degrees. And people with bachelor's degrees earn substantially more than those with high school diplomas.

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Students Dig Deep For Words' Origins

Washington Post:

For a few hours every other afternoon, Latin and Greek roots rain on Phil Rosenthal's etymology class at Park View High School in Sterling. Etymology -- the study of the origin and evolution of words -- might be considered the domain of tweedy types who reek of pipe smoke. But Rosenthal tries to give his 20-some students a sense of the stories and shades behind the words they use every day.

"Kids see a word that to them is foreign, and they run away from it," Rosenthal says. He started the class with a group of other Loudoun County teachers in 1990, and it remains one of the few of its kind in the country.

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Ability Grouping for Gifted Children Podcast

Prufrock Press:

Today's topic is one that impacts gifted kids in schools on a regular basis. In the past, gifted children were often placed into special gifted classes or special, accelerated learning groups. The thinking went that gifted children learned at a faster pace than other kids, and if you could group gifted children together it was easier for those students and their teachers to move at a faster pace through a class' subject matter.

However, the practice of grouping students by ability has become a controversial topic in many schools. As a result, during the last few years we have seen the dismantling of special gifted classes. We've seen teachers move away from the use of ability groups in their classrooms.

How are gifted students affected by this change and does it make sense to move away from ability grouping?

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Schools of Hope project aims to improve Madison students' algebra performance

Andy Hall:

Three weeks after its launch, the program at La Follette is operating smoothly, according to officials and students at the school.

Joe Gothard, who is in his second year as La Follette principal, said he sought to bring the tutoring program to the school to involve the community in raising achievement levels.

"We're not going to settle for our students of color to be unsuccessful," Gothard said.

Over the past several years, the school's African American students have been less likely than their peers to complete algebra by 10th grade, although in some years the rate still exceeds the overall average for African American students in the Madison School District.

Gothard is troubled by the patterns on another measure of student achievement, the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination, which show that the proportion of 10th graders demonstrating math proficiency ranks lower at La Follette than at any other major high school in Dane County. Just 53 percent of La Follette students received ratings of proficient or advanced on the test, compared to 65 percent in the district and 69 percent in the state.

"Initially there's that burning in your stomach," Gothard said, describing his reaction to such data, which was followed by a vow: "We are not going to accept going anywhere but up."

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November 25, 2008

Va. Math Standards' Bar Might Be Raised

Michael Birnbaum:

Kindergartners would be expected to be able to count to 100, not just to 30. Perimeter and area would be introduced and explored in third grade, instead of in second grade.

Those are among many proposed revisions to Virginia's math standards that are part of a national movement to strengthen and streamline math education to prepare all students to learn algebra and higher concepts.

The standards prescribe in detail concepts students are expected to learn in each grade, and the state verifies whether those expectations are met each year through the Standards of Learning tests. Now the standards are being revised for the second time since their introduction in 1995.

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Become an AP Exam Reader

The College Board, via email:

In June, AP teachers and college faculty members from around the world gather in the United States for the annual AP Reading. There they evaluate and score the free-response sections of the AP Exams. AP Exam Readers are led by a Chief Reader, a college professor who has the responsibility of ensuring that students receive grades that accurately reflect college-level achievement. Readers describe the experience as an intensive collegial exchange, in which they can receive professional support and training. More than 10,000 teachers and college faculty participated in the 2008 Reading. Secondary school Readers can receive certificates rewarding professional development hours and Continuing Education Units (CEUs) for their participation in the AP Reading. In addition, Readers are provided an honorarium of $1,555 and their travel expenses, lodging, and meals are reimbursed.

Readers are particularly needed for the following AP courses:
Chinese Language and Culture
Japanese Language and Culture
World History

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Janesville's Craig High School Considers Closing Campus

http://www.channel3000.com/education/18055586/detail.html:

According to Dr. Mike Kuehne, the principal of Craig High School, the reasons for keeping students has to do with the fact that some students who leave for lunch don't come back.

"What we're really trying to do is look out for the best interest of our students," Kuehne said.
Safety is another concern for Kuehne. School officials said that they can't control who visits students off school property.

"They hang around young adults -- 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds -- many of them not from our community and they're just hanging there to associate with the kids who are going to lunch," Kuehne said. "It's not an environment that we think is safe for some of our students."

So far, if the campus is closed next year it would only affect incoming students.

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The Poetry of Pain: Slam poet Gayle Danley teaches children how words can soothe their wounds

Christina Ianzito:

She starts off with a poem titled "Round Like Bubbles": "Round like a big fat green birthday balloon kissing the sky," Gayle Danley begins, then turns her backside to the audience of fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders at Deerfield Run Elementary School in Laurel and adds, "Why can't I have a round one like J. Lo?"

The 275 students giggle nervously, immediately certain that this rather loud 43-year-old woman, a nationally renowned slam poet in jeans and a green maternity blouse, isn't going to be teaching them any kind of poetry they've ever heard before. This stuff doesn't rhyme. And, what? Did she just mention Jennifer Lopez in a poem?

"How come I don't look like J. Lo?" the poet nearly shouts, plaintively stressing the word "I," with a Southern accent, as the children titter. "You ever look in the mirror and go, 'How come I don't have hair that sings down my spine? How come?' " A few lines later, she switches gears: "I don't need to be Halle Berry, I don't need to be Alicia Keys, I don't need to be bald-headed Britney" -- they really crack up at that one -- "I have it going on, because I have you."

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Change Our Public Schools Need

Terry Moe:

Can Barack Obama bring change to American education? The answer is: Yes he can. The question, however, is whether he actually will. Our president-elect has the potential to be an extraordinary leader, and that's why I've supported him since the beginning of his campaign. But on public education, he and the Democrats are faced with a dilemma that has boxed in the party for decades.

Democrats are fervent supporters of public education, and the party genuinely wants to help disadvantaged kids stuck in bad schools. But it resists bold action. It is immobilized. Impotent. The explanation lies in its longstanding alliance with the teachers' unions -- which, with more than three million members, tons of money and legions of activists, are among the most powerful groups in American politics. The Democrats benefit enormously from all this firepower, and they know what they need to do to keep it. They need to stay inside the box.

And they have done just that. Democrats favor educational "change" -- as long as it doesn't affect anyone's job, reallocate resources, or otherwise threaten the occupational interests of the adults running the system. Most changes of real consequence are therefore off the table. The party specializes instead in proposals that involve spending more money and hiring more teachers -- such as reductions in class size, across-the-board raises and huge new programs like universal preschool. These efforts probably have some benefits for kids. But they come at an exorbitant price, both in dollars and opportunities foregone, and purposely ignore the fundamentals that need to be addressed.

What should the Democrats be doing? Above all, they should be guided by a single overarching principle: Do what is best for children. As for specifics, here are a few that deserve priority.

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APEC leaders pledge to expand co-op on education, health issues

Xinhua:

The leaders supported the efforts of APEC Education Ministers to strengthen education systems in the region including ongoing support to the APEC Education Network.

They welcomed the research-based steps taken by APEC in the areas of mathematics and sciences, language learning, career and technical education, information and communication technologies and systemic reform.

They pledged to facilitate international exchanges, working towards reciprocal exchanges of talented students, graduates and researchers.

Ednet.

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Dane County Youth Entrepreneurs in Science Contest

Wisconsin Technology Council:

What is Dane County YES?
Youth Entrepreneurs in Science, or Dane County YES, is a youth version of the successful Governor's Business Plan Contest, which recently completed its fifth year. YES will bring Dane County youth, educators and people working in the region's commercial tech sectors together in a contest forum. Contestants will be challenged to develop innovative tech-based business solutions across a broad range of technologies.

What's the goal of a business plan contest for young people?
It will help young people learn how science and technology innovations can be developed into solid business plans. This multi-stage, primarily online contest will help middle- and/or high-school students to better envision careers in science and technology, and especially where those disciplines intersect with the creation and growth of businesses.

We'll interpret a tech-based business plan broadly. For example, a web-based business may qualify.

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Children Who Live in Public Housing Suffer in School, Study Says

Manny Fernandez

New York City children who live in public housing perform worse in school than students who live in other types of housing, according to a study by New York University researchers.

The study, which is being released on Monday, found that students living in public housing are more likely to drop out of high school and less likely to graduate in four years than those who do not live in public housing.

It also showed that fifth graders living in public housing did worse on standardized math and reading tests than fifth graders who lived elsewhere. Researchers found this disparity in fifth-grade test scores even when comparing students at the same school who shared similar demographics, like race, gender and poverty status.

The report is the first large-scale study of the academic performance of children growing up in the city's 343 public housing complexes, researchers said. They suggest that those children face social and economic hurdles at home that affect their success in the classroom and illustrate the often-overlooked role that housing can play in education. The report was done by the university's Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy and its Institute for Education and Social Policy.

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College student sets ambitious goals

Caille Millner:

GOAL DIGGER

goal-digger09.blogspot.com

UPSHOT: For three years, the editorial page has followed Sade Daniels, a driven former foster child from Oakland, as she navigated the pitfalls of California's foster care system in a heroic effort to graduate from high school and go on to college. Daniels is now a sophomore at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Ark. She's just started a blog, which makes it easy for everyone in the Bay Area to cheer her on.

SUBJECT MATTER: The title says it all: Daniels is all about having goals. Some of those goals are very serious (getting good grades is No. 1), some less so (growing her hair out).

TONE: If only I felt this excited about my to-do list. Daniels discusses everything with irrepressible charm and enthusiasm. Goals sound like fun, not work.

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November 24, 2008

Will Fitzhugh's Madison Talk - Audio



Author, publisher, entrepreneur and good guy Will Fitzhugh recently visited Madison. Listen to the 90 minute event via this 41MB mp3 audio file [CTRL-Click to Download]. (Please note that the audio level varies a bit during the talk - sorry). Video version is available here.

I'd like to thank www.activecitizensforeducation.org, www.madisonunited.org and supporters who wish to remain anonymous for making Will's visit a reality.

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Anything but Knowledge

"Why Johnny's Teacher Can't Teach" (1998)
from The Burden of Bad Ideas
Heather Mac Donald
Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000, pp. 82ff.

America's nearly last-place finish in the Third International Mathematics and Sciences Study of student achievement caused widespread consternation this February, except in the one place it should have mattered most: the nation's teacher education schools. Those schools have far more important things to do than worrying about test scores--things like stamping out racism in aspiring teachers. "Let's be honest," darkly commanded Professor Valerie Henning-Piedmont to a lecture hall of education students at Columbia University's Teachers College last February. "What labels do you place on young people based on your biases?" It would be difficult to imagine a less likely group of bigots than these idealistic young people, happily toting around their handbooks of multicultural education and their exposés of sexism in the classroom. But Teachers College knows better. It knows that most of its students, by virtue of being white, are complicitous in an unjust power structure.

The crusade against racism is just the latest irrelevancy to seize the nation's teacher education schools. For over eighty years, teacher education in America has been in the grip of an immutable dogma, responsible for endless educational nonsense. That dogma may be summed up in the phrase: Anything But Knowledge. Schools are about many things, teacher educators say (depending on the decade)--self-actualization, following one's joy, social adjustment, or multicultural sensitivity--but the one thing they are not about is knowledge. Oh, sure, educators will occasionally allow the word to pass their lips, but it is always in a compromised position, as in "constructing one's own knowledge," or "contextualized knowledge." Plain old knowledge, the kind passed down in books, the kind for which Faust sold his soul, that is out.

The education profession currently stands ready to tighten its already viselike grip on teacher credentialing, persuading both the federal government and the states to "professionalize" teaching further. In New York, as elsewhere, that means closing off routes to the classroom that do not pass through an education school. But before caving in to the educrats' pressure, we had better take a hard look at what education schools teach.

The course in "Curriculum and Teaching in Elementary Education" that Professor Anne Nelson (a pseudonym) teaches at the City College of New York is a good place to start. Dressed in a tailored brown suit, and with close-cropped hair, Nelson is a charismatic teacher, with a commanding repertoire of voices and personae. And yet, for all her obvious experience and common sense, her course is a remarkable exercise in vacuousness.

As with most education classes, the title of Professor Nelson's course doesn't give a clear sense of what it is about. Unfortunately, Professor Nelson doesn't either. The semester began, she said in a pre-class interview, by "building a community, rich of talk, in which students look at what they themselves are doing by in-class writing." On this, the third meeting of the semester, Professor Nelson said that she would be "getting the students to develop the subtext of what they're doing." I would soon discover why Professor Nelson was so vague.

"Developing the subtext" turns out to involve a chain reaction of solipsistic moments. After taking attendance and--most admirably--quickly checking the students' weekly handwriting practice, Professor Nelson begins the main work of the day: generating feather-light "texts," both written and oral, for immediate group analysis. She asks the students to write for seven minutes on each of three questions; "What excites me about teaching?" "What concerns me about teaching?" and then, the moment that brands this class as hopelessly steeped in the Anything But Knowledge credo: "What was it like to do this writing?"

This last question triggers a quickening volley of self-reflexive turns. After the students read aloud their predictable reflections on teaching, Professor Nelson asks: "What are you hearing?" A young man states the obvious: "Everyone seems to be reflecting on what their anxieties are." This is too straightforward an answer. Professor Nelson translates into ed-speak: "So writing gave you permission to think on paper about what's there." Ed-speak dresses up the most mundane processes in dramatic terminology--one doesn't just write, one is "given permission to think on paper"; one doesn't converse, one "negotiates meaning." Then, like a champion tennis player finishing off a set, Nelson reaches for the ultimate level of self-reflexivity and drives it home: "What was it like to listen to each other's responses?"

The self-reflection isn't over yet, however. The class next moves into small groups--along with in-class writing, the most pervasive gimmick in progressive classrooms today--to discuss a set of student-teaching guidelines. After ten minutes, Nelson interrupts the by-now lively and largely off-topic conversations, and asks: "Let's talk about how you felt in these small groups." The students are picking up ed-speak. "It shifted the comfort zone," reveals one. "It was just acceptance; I felt the vibe going through the group." Another adds: "I felt really comfortable; I had trust there." Nelson senses a "teachable moment." "Let's talk about that," she interjects. "We are building trust in this class; we are learning how to work with each other."

Now, let us note what this class was not: it was not about how to keep the attention of eight-year-olds or plan a lesson or make the Pilgrims real to first-graders. It did not, in other words, contain any material (with the exception of the student-teacher guidelines) from the outside world. Instead, it continuously spun its own subject matter out of itself. Like a relationship that consists of obsessively analyzing the relationship, the only content of the course was the course itself.

How did such navel-gazing come to be central to teacher education? It is the almost inevitable consequence of the Anything But Knowledge doctrine, born in a burst of quintessentially American anti-intellectual fervor in the wake of World War I. Educators within the federal government and at Columbia's Teachers College issued a clarion call to schools: cast off the traditional academic curriculum and start preparing young people for the demands of modern life. America is a forward-looking country, they boasted; what need have we for such impractical disciplines as Greek, Latin, and higher math? Instead, let the students then flooding the schools take such useful courses as family membership, hygiene, and the worthy use of leisure time. "Life adjustment," not wisdom or learning, was to be the goal of education.

The early decades of this century forged the central educational fallacy of our time: that one can think without having anything to think about. Knowledge is changing too fast to be transmitted usefully to students, argued William Heard Kilpatrick of Teachers College, the most influential American educator of the century; instead of teaching children dead facts and figures, schools should teach them "critical thinking," he wrote in 1925. What matters is not what you know, but whether you know how to look it up, so that you can be a "lifelong learner."

Two final doctrines rounded out the indelible legacy of progressivism. First, Harold Rugg's The Child-Centered School (1928) shifted the locus of power in the classroom from the teacher to the student. In a child-centered class, the child determines what he wants to learn. Forcing children into an existing curriculum inhibits their self-actualization, Rugg argued, just as forcing them into neat rows of chairs and desks inhibits their creativity. The teacher becomes an enabler, an advisor; not, heaven forbid, the transmitter of a pre-existing body of ideas, texts, or worst of all, facts. In today's jargon, the child should "construct" his own knowledge rather than passively receive it. Bu the late 1920s, students were moving their chairs around to form groups of "active learners" pursuing their own individual interests, and, instead of a curriculum, the student-centered classroom followed just one principle: "activity leading to further activity without badness," in Kilpatrick's words. Today's educators still present these seven-decades-old practices as cutting-edge.

As E.D. Hirsch observes, the child-centered doctrines grew out of the romantic idealization of children. If the child was, in Wordsworth's words, a "Mighty Prophet! Seer Blest!" then who needs teachers? But the Mighty Prophet emerged from student-centered schools ever more ignorant and incurious as the schools became more vacuous. By the 1940s and 1950s, schools were offering classes in how to put on nail polish and how to act on a date. The notion that learning should push students out of their narrow world had been lost.

The final cornerstone of progressive theory was the disdain for report cards and objective tests of knowledge. These inhibit authentic learning, Kilpatrick argued; and he carried the day, to the eternal joy of students everywhere.

The foregoing doctrines are complete bunk, but bunk that has survived virtually unchanged to the present. The notion that one can teach "metacognitive" thinking in the abstract is senseless. Students need to learn something to learn how to learn at all. The claim that prior knowledge is superfluous because one can always look it up, preferably on the Internet, is equally senseless. Effective research depends on preexisting knowledge. Moreover, if you don't know in what century the atomic bomb was dropped without rushing to an encyclopedia, you cannot fully participate in society. Lastly, Kilpatrick's influential assertion that knowledge was changing too fast to be taught presupposes a blinkered definition of knowledge that excludes the great works and enterprises of the past.

The rejection of testing rests on premises as flawed as the push for "critical thinking skills." Progressives argue that if tests exist, then teachers will "teach to the test"--a bad thing, in their view. But why would "teaching to a test" that asked for, say, the causes of the [U.S.] Civil War be bad for students? Additionally, progressives complain that testing provokes rote memorization--again, a bad thing. One of the most tragically influential education professors today, Columbia's Linda Darling-Hammond, director of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, an advocacy group for increased teacher "professionalization," gives a telling example of what she considers a criminally bad test in her hackneyed 1997 brief for progressive education, The Right to Learn. She points disdainfully to the following question from the 1995 New York State Regents Exam in biology (required for high school graduation) as "a rote recall of isolated facts and vocabulary terms": "The tissue which conducts organic food through a vascular plant is composed of: (1) Cambium cells; (2) Xylem cells; (3) Phloem cells; (4) Epidermal cells."

Only a know-nothing could be offended by so innocent a question. It never occurs to Darling-Hammond that there may be a joy in mastering the parts of a plant or the organelles of a cell, and that such memorization constitutes learning. Moreover, when, in the progressives' view, will a student ever be held accountable for such knowledge? Does Darling-Hammond believe that a student can pursue a career in, say, molecular biology or in medicine without it? And how else will that learning be demonstrated, if not in a test? But of course such testing will produce unequal results, and that is the real target of Darling-Hammond's animus.

Once you dismiss real knowledge as the goal of education, you have to find something else to do. That's why the Anything But Knowledge doctrine leads directly to Professor Nelson's odd course. In thousands of education schools across the country, teachers are generating little moments of meaning, which they then subject to instant replay. Educators call this "constructing knowledge," a fatuous label for something that is neither construction nor knowledge but mere game-playing. Teacher educators, though, posses a primitive relationship to words. They believe that if they just label something "critical thinking" or "community-building," these activities will magically occur...

The Anything But Knowledge credo leaves education professors and their acolytes free to concentrate on more pressing matters than how to teach the facts of history or the rules of sentence construction. "Community-building" is one of their most urgent concerns. Teacher educators conceive of their classes as sites of profound political engagement, out of which the new egalitarian order will emerge. A case in point is Columbia's required class, "Teaching English in Diverse Social and Cultural Contexts," taught by Professor Barbara Tenney (a pseudonym). "I want to work at a very conscious level with you to build community in this class," Tenney tells her attentive students on the first day of the semester this spring. "You can do it consciously, and you ought to do it in your own classes." Community-building starts by making nameplates for our desks. Then we all find a partner to interview about each other's "identity." Over the course of the semester, each student will conduct two more "identity" interviews with different partners. After the interview, the inevitable self-reflexive moment arrives, when Tenney asks: "How did it work?" This is a sign that we are on our way to "constructing knowledge."...

All this artificial "community-building," however gratifying to the professors, has nothing to do with learning. Learning is ultimately a solitary activity: we have only one brain, and at some point we must exercise it in private. One could learn an immense amount about Schubert's lieder or calculus without ever knowing the name of one's seatmate. Such a view is heresy to the education establishment, determined, as Rita Kramer has noted, to eradicate any opportunity for individual accomplishment, with its sinister risk of superior achievement. For the educrats, the group is the irreducible unit of learning. Fueling this principle is the gap in achievement between whites and Asians, on the one hand, and other minorities on the other. Unwilling to adopt the discipline and teaching practices that would help reduce the gap, the education establishment tries to conceal it under group projects....

The consequences of the Anything But Knowledge credo for intellectual standards have been dire. Education professors are remarkably casual when it comes to determining whether their students actually know anything, rarely asking them, for example, what can you tell us about the American Revolution? The ed schools incorrectly presume that students have learned everything they need to know in their other or previous college courses, and that the teacher certification exam will screen out people who didn't.

Even if college education were reliably rigorous and comprehensive, education majors aren't the students most likely to profit from it. Nationally, undergraduate education majors have lower SAT and ACT scores than students in any other program of study. Only 16 percent of education majors scored in the top quartile of 1992-1993 graduates, compared with 33 percent of humanities majors. Education majors were overrepresented in the bottom quartile, at 30 percent. In New York City, many education majors have an uncertain command of English--I saw one education student at City College repeatedly write "choce" for "choice"-- and appear altogether ill at ease in a classroom. To presume anything about this population without a rigorous content exit exam is unwarranted.

The laissez-faire attitude toward student knowledge rests on "principled" grounds, as well as on see-no-evil inertia. Many education professors embrace the facile post-structuralist view that knowledge is always political. "An education program can't have content [knowledge] specifics," explains Migdalia Romero, chair of Hunter College's Department of Curriculum and Teaching, "because then you have a point of view. Once you define exactly what finite knowledge is, it becomes a perspective." The notion that culture could possess a pre-political common store of texts and idea is anathema to the modern academic.

The most powerful dodge regurgitates William Heard Kilpatrick's classic "critical thinking" scam. Asked whether a future teacher should know the date of the 1812 war, Professor Romero replied: "Teaching and learning is not about dates, facts, and figures, but about developing critical thinking." When pressed if there were not some core facts that a teacher or student should know, she valiantly held her ground. "There are two ways of looking at teaching and learning," she replied. "Either you are imparting knowledge, giving an absolute knowledge base, or teaching and learning is about dialogue, a dialogue that helps to internalize and to raise questions." Though she offered the disclaimer "of course you need both," Romero added that teachers don't have to know everything, because they can always look things up....

Disregard for language runs deep in the teacher education profession, so much so that ed school professors tolerate glaring language deficiencies in schoolchildren. Last January, Manhattan's Park West High School shut down for a day, so that its faculty could bone up on progressive pedagogy. One of the more popular staff development seminars ws "Using Journals and Learning Logs." The presenters--two Park West teachers and a representative from the New York City Writing Project, an anti-grammar initiative run by the Lehman College's Education School--proudly passed around their students' journal writing, including the following representative entry on "Matriarchys v. pratiarchys [sic]": "The different between Matriarchys and patriarchys is that when the mother is in charge of the house. sometime the children do whatever they want. But sometimes the mother can do both roll as mother and as a father too and they can do it very good." A more personal entry described how the author met her boyfriend: "He said you are so kind I said you noticed and then he hit me on my head. I made-believe I was crying and when he came naire me I slaped him right in his head and than I ran...to my grandparients home and he was right behind me. Thats when he asked did I have a boyfriend."

The ubiquitous journal-writing cult holds that such writing should go uncorrected. Fortunately, some Park West teachers bridled at the notion. "At some point, the students go into the job market, and they're not being judged 'holistically,'" protested a black teacher, responding to the invocation of the state's "holistic" model for grading writing. Another teacher bemoaned the Board of Ed's failure to provide guidance on teaching grammar. "My kids are graduating without skills," he lamented.

Such views, however, were decidedly in the minority. "Grammar is related to purpose," soothed the Lehman College representative, educrat code for the proposition that asking students to write grammatically on topics they are not personally "invested in" is unrealistic. A Park West presenter burst out with a more direct explanation for his chilling indifference to student incompetence. "I'm not going to spend my life doing error diagnosis! I'm not going to spend my weekend on that!" Correcting papers used to be part of the necessary drudgery of a teacher's job. No more, with the advent of enlightened views about "self-expression" and "writing with intentionality."

However easygoing the educational establishment is regarding future teachers' knowledge of history, literature, and science, there is one topic that it assiduously monitors: their awareness of racism. To many teacher educators, such an awareness is the most important tool a young teacher can bring to the classroom. It cannot be developed too early. Rosa, a bouncy and enthusiastic junior at Hunter College, has completed only her first semester of education courses, but already she has mastered the most important lesson: American is a racist, imperialist country, most like, say, Nazi Germany. "We are lied to by the very institutions we have come to trust," she recalls from her first-semester reading. "It's all government that's inventing these lies, such as Western heritage."

The source of Rosa's newfound wisdom, Donald Macedo's Literacies of Power: What Americans Are Not Allowed to Know, is an execrable book by any measure. But given its target audience--impressionable education students--it comes close to being a crime. Widely assigned at Hunter, and in use in approximately 150 education schools nationally, it is an illiterate, barbarically ignorant Marxist-inspired screed against America. Macedo opens his first chapter, "Literacy for Stupidification: The Pedagogy of Big Lies," with a quote from Hitler and quickly segues to Ronald Reagan: "While busily calling out slogans from their patriotic vocabulary memory warehouse, these same Americans dutifully vote...for Ronald Reagan...giving him a landslide victory...These same voters ascended [sic] to Bush's morally high-minded call to apply international laws against Saddam Hussein's tyranny and his invasion of Kuwait." Standing against this wave of ignorance and imperialism is a lone 12-year-old from Boston, whom Macedo celebrates for his courageous refusal to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

What does any of this have to do with teaching? Everything, it turns out. In the 1960s, educational progressivism took on an explicitly political cast: schools were to fight institutional racism and redistribute power. Today, Columbia's Teachers College holds workshops on cultural and political "oppression," in which students role-play ways to "usurp the existing power structure," and the New York State Regents happily call teachers "the ultimate change agents." To be a change agent, one must first learn to "critique" the existing social structure. Hence, the assignment of such propaganda as Macedo's book.

But Macedo is just one of the political tracts that Hunter force-fed the innocent Rosa in her first semester. She also learned about the evils of traditional children's stories from the education radical Herbert Kohl. In Should We Burn Babar? Kohl weighs the case for and against the dearly beloved children's classic, Babar the Elephant, noting in passing that it prevented him from "questioning the patriarchy earlier." He decides--but let Rosa expound the meaning of Kohl's book: "[Babar]'s like a children's book, right? [But] there's an underlying meaning about colonialism, about like colonialism, and is it OK, it's really like it's OK, but it's like really offensive to the people." Better burn Babar now!...

Though the current diversity battle cry is "All students can learn," the educationists continually lower expectations of what they should learn. No longer are students expected to learn all their multiplication tables in the third grade, as has been traditional. But while American educators come up with various theories about fixed cognitive phases to explain why our children should go slow, other nationalities trounce us. Sometimes, we're trounced in our own backyards, causing cognitive dissonance in local teachers.

A young student at Teachers College named Susan describes incredulously a Korean-run preschool in Queens. To her horror, the school, the Holy Mountain School, violates every progressive tenet: rather than being "student-centered" and allowing each child to do whatever he chooses, the school imposes a curriculum on the children, based on the alphabet. "Each week, the children get a different letter," Susan recalls grimly. Such an approach violates "whole language" doctrine, which holds that students can't "grasp the [alphabetic] symbols without the whole word or the meaning or any context in their lives." In Susan's words, Holy Mountain's further infractions include teaching its wildly international students only in English and failing to provide an "anti-bias multicultural curriculum." The result? By the end of preschool the children learn English and are writing words. Here is the true belief in the ability of all children to learn, for it is backed up by action....

Given progressive education's dismal record, all New Yorkers should tremble at what the Regents have in store for the state. The state's teacher education establishment, led by Columbia's Linda Darling-Hammond, has persuaded the Regents to make its monopoly on teacher credentialing total. Starting in 2003, according to the Regents plan steaming inexorably toward adoption, all teacher candidates must pass through an education school to be admitted to a classroom. We know, alas, what will happen to them there.

This power grab will be a disaster for children. By making ed school inescapable, the Regents will drive away every last educated adult who may not be willing to sit still for its foolishness but who could bring to the classroom unusual knowledge or experience. The nation's elite private schools are full of such people, and parents eagerly proffer tens of thousands of dollars to give their children the benefit of such skill and wisdom.

Amazingly, even the Regents, among the nation's most addled education bodies, sporadically acknowledge what works in the classroom. A Task Force on Teaching paper cites some of the factors that allow other countries to wallop us routinely in international tests: a high amount of lesson content (in other words, teacher-centered, not student-centered, learning), individual tracking of students, and a coherent curriculum. The state should cling steadfastly to its momentary insight, at odds with its usual policies, and discard its foolish plan to enshrine Anything But Knowledge as its sole education dogma. Instead of permanently establishing the teacher education status quo, it should search tirelessly for alternatives and for potential teachers with a firm grasp of subject matter and basic skills. Otherwise ed school claptrap will continue to stunt the intellectual growth of the Empire State's children.


[Heather Mac Donald graduated summa cum laude from Yale, and earned an M.A. at Cambridge University. She holds the J.D. degree from Stanford Law School, and is a John M. Olin Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor to City Journal]

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Pros, cons of kids missing school for vacation

Bonnie Wach:

When my son, Rowan, was little, the idea that anything on his schedule would ever take priority over my expiring frequent-flier miles, or the opportunity to go on a vacation when the rest of the child-rearing hordes were in school, seemed to me like giving in.

It was like admitting I was one of Them - those overly involved, rule-abiding parents whose world revolved around PTA and soccer schedules, and crafting elaborate dioramas of Indian pueblos. After all, I reasoned, wasn't the experience of seeing the Duomo in Florence or hiking Hawaii's Na Pali Coast state park with your family as valuable as reading "The Very Hungry Caterpillar?"

Part of my nonchalance, I think, stemmed from the fact that when I was in school, summer vacation stretched for three languorous months, winter break for three weeks, and we had both a ski week and an Easter week.

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Those who have led now choose to teach

Kerry Hill

Neither man set out to be an educational leader. One did research and taught electrical engineering. The other coached high school football.

Circumstances, opportunities, new interests and inspiration led both from their roots in Evansville, Ind., and Charleston, Ark., to two of the most visible education posts in Madison -- chancellor of the state's flagship university and superintendent of the state's second- largest public school district.

As leaders, neither shied away from controversy. And, as they stepped down from those posts in mid-2008, accolades far outnumbered criticisms.

Now, John Wiley and Art Rainwater -- the former UW-Madison chancellor and Madison Metropolitan School District superintendent, respectively -- are sharing their experience and knowledge with current and future leaders through the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis (ELPA).

"One of our strengths has been our close ties to the fields of practice," says Paul Bredeson, professor and chair of ELPA. The department has a long history of working with professional associations, school districts and leaders, and in bringing seasoned leaders to campus to teach and help shape research.

"People like Art and John help us think about what we're working on," Bredeson adds.

"After 43 years of experience, I think I can provide a practitioner's view of leadership in K-12 education," says Rainwater. "I've been in a position to implement and lead school change. I want to return some of that knowledge."

"I've got a pretty good overview of administrative positions in the academic setting," says Wiley, whose résumé includes department chair, associate dean, dean, provost and chancellor.

From engineering to education
Years after administrative roles at UW-Madison pulled him away from teaching and research, Wiley wryly says that the College of Engineering doesn't want him back, but the School of Education has been willing to take him.

The emeritus chancellor's campus commitments also include serving as interim director of the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery and in appointments at the La Follette School of Public Affairs and the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education (WISCAPE).

ELPA has tapped Wiley in the past to lecture on issues in higher education. Whenever he speaks, he invites questions, which run the gamut, but frequently include ones about the relationship with the legislature and finance.

"People are curious how a person ends up a chancellor or provost," he says. "Bad luck," he jokes. He then explains, "It's incremental... and at some point, irreversible."

He describes his own rise through the administrative ranks as a reluctant one. Like many faculty members, he took his turn serving as department chair and associate dean, both part-time commitments that allowed him to continue his teaching and research.

Nominated by a colleague as a candidate for dean of the Graduate School, Wiley used the opportunity to air his criticisms of the Graduate School. He had hoped to be passed over for the full-time post, but then-Chancellor Donna Shalala insisted that Wiley take it.

It introduced Wiley to the scope of activities across campus. He says he would have been perfectly content to remain in this position and rise no further.

But David Ward, who stepped up from provost to chancellor when Shalala left, had a tough time finding someone to succeed him in the university's second-highest post. He convinced Wiley to serve as interim provost, and then later dropped the "interim" part.

By the time Ward retired, Wiley had recognized that his transition from engineering professor to campus administrator had become irreversible, and that factored into his decision to seek the chancellor's job.

Interest in learning blossoms
Initially, all Rainwater wanted to do was coach football. Teaching in the classroom was something he had to do to coach. But over time, working in schools in Arkansas, Texas and Alabama, his interests evolved.

"The more I was involved with kids as a coach, the more conscious I became about what was going on in the classroom," he says. "We're learning more and more every day about how children learn. The classroom grew more important."

He credits a professor in Texas for inspiring him toward instructional leadership and a Catholic high school principal in Dallas for recognizing his potential.

"Brother Adrian saw in me an administrator," he says. "He gave me opportunities to explore what I knew about learning."

His career path led to Kansas City, Missouri, where he designed and led one of the district's first magnet public high schools. He rose to the district's second-highest position, which made him responsible for the district's desegregation initiatives.

"I learned a lot about constitutional law," he says.

Rainwater came to the Madison Metropolitan School District in 1994 as Cheryl Wilhoyte's deputy superintendent, and then succeeded Wilhoyte when she left in 1998.

"I'm very much data and research oriented," he says, citing that as a major reason the Madison district hired him.

For his part, he welcomed the opportunity to work in a district so closely associated with a leading university for education research, and enjoyed having access to scholars on the cutting edge of education research.

Since retiring as Madison's superintendent, his association with the university has become even closer. In his ELPA role, he says, "I'll do whatever they need me to do."

That includes teaching, giving guest lectures, advising students, and consulting with colleagues in the department and in the field. He has spoken on school finance, district-wide planning and professional development as tools for school improvement.

Rainwater also will help ELPA maintain strong relationships with professional associations, school districts and other school leaders, says Bredeson, who points out that Rainwater isn't the first former superintendent in ELPA.

James Shaw, Wisconsin's 2001 Superintendent of the Year, joined the department in 2003 as a clinical professor, after serving 10 years as superintendent of the Menomonee Falls School District. Shaw left in 2008 to become superintendent of the Racine Unified School District.

Part of Rainwater's UW-Madison appointment is with the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER), which involves working with the Minority Student Achievement Network (MSAN).

He was one of the founders of MSAN, a national coalition of two dozen multiracial districts seeking solutions to disparities in achievement. The network moved its base to UW-Madison to tap into WCER's research capacity.

He also wants to work with WCER's Value-Added Research Center, which has been helping school districts such as Milwaukee and Chicago improve their collection and use of data for school improvement.

New way to have an impact
"I'm looking forward to getting back to the classroom and interacting with students," Wiley says.

He points out that it won't be quite the same as teaching undergraduates, since ELPA is a graduate department that attracts a large number of practitioners. But he says that teaching students who are bound for top positions in higher education will give him "a leverage point for having an impact over our educational system."

"John Wiley brings a wealth of executive leadership experience at a Research One institution," Bredeson says. He says Wiley has thought a great deal about how organizations work and can provide valuable input into ELPA's research agenda.

For his first ELPA course this spring, Wiley plans to teach about accreditation -- which he calls "inherently a very boring topic, but critically important." It's also timely, he says, since UW-Madison currently is undergoing its 10-year re-accreditation.

Wiley -- who has been serving on and currently chairs the board of directors of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation -- describes accreditation as "peer regulation," a complicated process that has flaws, but mostly works.

Without such a system, he says higher education would be governed by a Ministry of Education, which he sees as a significant weakness in the educational systems of other countries.

"I also have a personal interest in higher education finance, which is a complete mess nationwide," Wiley says.

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The Sidwell Choice: The Obama Family Leads by Example

Wall Street Journal Editorial:

Michelle and Barack Obama have settled on a Washington, D.C., school for their daughters, and you will not be surprised to learn it is not a public institution. Malia, age 10, and seven-year-old Sasha will attend the Sidwell Friends School, the private academy that educates the children of much of Washington's elite.

Vice President-elect Joe Biden's grandchildren attend Sidwell -- as did Chelsea Clinton -- where tuition is close to $30,000 a year. The Obama girls have been students at the private University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, where tuition runs above $21,000. "A number of great schools were considered," said Katie McCormick Lelyveld, a spokeswoman for Mrs. Obama. "In the end, the Obamas selected the school that was the best fit for what their daughters need right now."

Note the word "selected," as in made a choice. The Obamas are fortunate to have the means to send their daughters to private school, and no one begrudges them that choice given that Washington's public schools are among the worst in America.

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Critical Thinking

The Pioneer Institute [April 2006]
A Review of E.D. Hirsch's The Knowledge Deficit (Houghton Mifflin, 2006)
by Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review

E.D. Hirsch, Jr., who published Cultural Literacy in 1987, arguing that there was knowledge which every student ought to have, has now published another book, The Knowledge Deficit, (Houghton Mifflin, 2006) suggesting that the bankruptcy of the "transfer of thinking skills" position has lead to preventing most U.S. schoolchildren, and especially the disadvantaged ones who really depend on the schools to teach them, from acquiring the ability to read well.

Not too long after the beginning of the twentieth century, the U.S. mental measurement community convinced itself, and many others, that the cognitive skills acquired in the study of Latin in school did not "transfer" to other important tasks, one of which at the time was teaching students "worthy home membership."

As a result, not only was the study of the Latin language abandoned for many students, but at the same time the "baby"--of Caesar, Cicero, Horace, Tacitus, Virgil and others--was thrown out with the "bathwater." In losing the language, we also lost Roman history, law, poetry, and prose.

In place of this classical knowledge which had been thought essential for two thousand years, the mental measurement community offered "thinking skills," which they claimed could be applied to any content.

Professor Hirsch reaches back beyond the mental measurement folks to Thomas Jefferson, for someone who shares his view of the value of the knowledge in books:

"In our pre-romantic days, books were seen as key to education. In a 1786 letter to his nephew, aged fifteen, Jefferson recommended that he read books (in the original languages and in this order) by the following authors: [history] Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Anabasis, Arian, Quintus Curtius, Diodorus Siculus, and Justin. On morality, Jefferson recommended books by Epictetus, Plato, Cicero, Antoninus, Seneca, and Xenophon's Memorabilia, and in poetry Virgil, Terence, Horace, Anacreon, Theocritus, Homer, Euripides, Sophocles, Milton, Shakespeare, Ossian, Pope and Swift. Jefferson's plan of book learning was modest compared to the Puritan education of the seventeenth century as advocated by John Milton." (p. 9)

Professor Hirsch believes the Romantic notion that with the right skills, somehow knowledge will arrive by itself, without the need to resort to books, has been responsible for the steady decline in U.S. students' reading scores, compared to our international colleagues, the longer they stay in school.

In the 1980s, the Harvard faculty was once more debating what to put in a common core of knowledge to be taught to all the students. After much disagreement, professors who didn't want to teach survey courses, and perhaps believed in the transfer of thinking skills from one discipline to another, decided not to require any general knowledge in particular and to teach "ways of thinking" as they focused on whatever topics they were studying at the time themselves.

In 1990, Caleb Nelson, a recent graduate in Mathematics from Harvard College, published an article in The Atlantic Monthly, called "Harvard's Hollow Core." He noted that the 1945 Harvard statement of goals said that "educational institutions should strive to create responsible democratic citizens, well-versed in the heritage of the West and endowed with the common knowledge and the common values on which a free society depends." Mr. Nelson reported, however, that by the 1970s, Harvard would develop a "Core Curriculum" that was somewhat different. "Yet although Harvard officials wanted to reform the curriculum, they did not want to launch divisive arguments within the faculty about which subjects were most important...in the seventies, Harvard devised a novel scheme to avoid discord while still reforming its curriculum. If every 'specific proposal' for reform raised a fire storm, the college would simply avoid specifics. Rather than emphasize knowledge the new core curriculum would emphasize students' critical faculties...As Anthony Oettinger, a professor of applied mathematics said about the resulting proposal, 'This motion cannot fail to pass; it has become totally content-free.'...The philosophy behind the core is that educated people are not those who have read many books and have learned many facts, but rather those who could analyze facts if they should ever encounter any, and who could 'approach' books if it were ever necessary to do so."

While the Harvard Core has been widely imitated, and has thus done more damage than anyone could have anticipated, this is not what Professor Hirsch has focused on in his new book. He is concerned about the fact that reading instruction which slights the essential requirement of knowledge is spreading the "Matthew effect" in reading. "Those who already have good language understanding will gain still more language proficiency, while those who lack initial understanding will fall further and further behind." (p. 25) Even with the advances in reading recently made by a general return to direct instruction in phonics, without knowledge the student will not be able to read much.

"After mastering decoding, a student who reads widely can indeed, under the right circumstances, gain greater knowledge and thence better reading comprehension. But such gains will only occur if the student already knows enough to comprehend the meaning of what he or she is decoding! Many specialists estimate that a child or an adult needs to understand around 90 percent of the words in a passage in order to learn to understand the other 10 percent of the words. Moreover, it's not just the words that the student has to grasp the meaning of; it's also the kind of reality that the words are referring to. When a child doesn't understand those word meanings and those referred-to realities, being good at sounding out words is a dead end." (p. 25)

All of this would seem to be obvious: if you don't know what someone is talking about, you can't very well understand what they are saying. If you don't know the basic subject matter of a passage in a book, you won't know what the passage is about. But this sort of common sense has yet to penetrate the educrats' wonderful world of reading "skills." And there are consequences.

Many now seem puzzled that 32% of our high school students drop out before graduating with their class. ACT has just reported that of the high school graduates they tested, 49% cannot understand reading at the level of difficulty of freshman college texts.

Professor Hirsch points out that knowledge is necessary for making advances in reading (and learning) by relying on the work of those who have done the research in this area:

"Cognitive psychologists have determined that when a text is being understood, the reader (or listener) is filling in a lot of the unstated connections between the words to create an imagined situation model based on domain-specific knowledge...To understand language, whether written or spoken, we need to construct a situation model consisting of meanings construed from the explicit words of the text as well as meanings inferred or constructed from relevant background knowledge. The spoken and the unspoken taken together constitute the meaning. Without this relevant, unspoken background knowledge, we can't understand the text." (p. 38)

Professor Hirsch is arguing that in deliberately putting the pursuit of knowledge aside, educators are ensuring that far too many of our students, and in particular those who cannot rely on their homes to provide them with a good background of knowledge, are being prevented from reading to learn. Phonics may teach them to decode words, but only knowledge can give them the base they need to understand what they find in books. As Caleb Nelson said in his article on Harvard's Core:

"The problem goes beyond the particular courses that are now in the Core: no set of introductory courses could achieve the core's ostensible goals. One cannot think like a physicist, for example, without actually knowing a great deal of physics...If the core's goals were realistic, they would still have little to recommend them. Why, for instance, are lessons about the nature of history as a discipline the most important things for students to learn in their required history course? Students should certainly recognize that history is the testing ground of public policy, and that its study can reveal much about the psychology of people and nations; as Santayana's famous aphorism goes, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. But this lesson about history is useless unless one also learns the actual facts of history--an accomplishment that requires careful attention to historical facts themselves."

The anti-intellectualism and anti-knowledge attitudes that Professor Hirsch has found among so many professors and teachers in education, are not limited to the elementary schools or to Harvard College. The fondness for "critical thinking" without much knowledge may have reached some sort of peak in the suggestion of the Creation Science people that secondary students be encouraged to "think critically" about the theory of evolution. Has any of them stopped to consider that if high school students spent all four years on the study of the evidence evolutionary biologists have published, not only could they study nothing else, but they would only have scratched the surface of the scientific evidence in the field? It might be less onerous for students to "think critically" about all the U.S. Supreme Court decisions of the last ten years. It would perhaps be easier for them to "think critically" about capitalism if they understood the difference between monetary policy and fiscal policy and their differing effects.

Professor Hirsch, a scholar of the history of ideas, has quite clearly identified the two intellectual forces that battle against the value of knowledge:

"The two ideologies or philosophies that dominate in the American educational world, which tend to corrupt scientific inferences, are naturalism and formalism. Naturalism is the notion that learning can and should be natural and that any unnatural or artificial approach to school learning should be rejected or deemphasized. This point of view favors many of the methods that are currently most praised and admired in early schooling--'hands-on learning,' 'developmentally appropriate practice,' and the natural, whole-language method of learning to read. By contrast, methods that are unnatural are usually deplored, including 'drill,' 'rote learning,' and that analytical, phonics approach to teaching early reading. We call such naturalism an ideology rather than a theory because it is more a value system (based on the European Romantic movement) than an empirically based idea. If we adopt this ideology, we know in advance that the natural is good and the artificial is bad. We don't need analysis and evidence; we are certain, quite apart from the evidence, that children's education will be more productive if it is more natural. If the data do not show this, it is because we are using the wrong kinds of data, such as scores on standardized tests. That is naturalism.

"Formalism is the ideology that what counts in education is not the learning of things but rather learning how to learn. What counts is not gaining mere facts but gaining formal skills. Along with naturalism, it shares an antipathy to mere facts and the piling up of information. The facts, it says, are always changing. Children need to learn how to understand and interpret any new facts that come along. The skills that children need to learn in school are not how to follow mindless procedures but rather to understand what lies behind the procedures so they can apply them to new situations. In reading, instead of learning a lot of factual subject matter, which is potentially infinite, the child needs to learn strategies for dealing with any texts, such as 'questioning the author,' 'classifying,' and other 'critical thinking' skills." (p. 135)

Both Professor Hirsch, in 1987, with Cultural Literacy, in 1996 with The Schools We Deserve, and now, in 2006, with The Knowledge Deficit, and Caleb Nelson in 1990, have tried to show us the reasons why so many of our students are ignorant, and thus unable to comprehend good lectures and read serious texts. No wonder so many of our students give up on school or on college, when we have arranged it so that far too many of them don't know what educated people are talking and writing about. As the Nation At Risk Report said in 1983, "If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war."

Professor Hirsch, in his timely new book The Knowledge Deficit, provides the insights and the recommendations needed to help us protect our students against the anti-intellectual and anti-knowledge forces they face every day now in our schools (and in our colleges), and instead try to give them the knowledge they will need to help them read, listen, and gather more knowledge in the future.

[E.D. Hirsch told me this was the first serious review of his book, and he liked it.]

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Gifted and challenged: When enlightening has to strike twice

Sarah Lemagie

Tyler Lehmann could read "Harry Potter" books before he started first grade, yet an anxiety disorder left him unable to speak to his teacher and all but one of his classmates in Woodbury. Simon Fink attends a school for gifted students in St. Paul, but Asperger's syndrome can make it hard for him to interact with peers and focus on lessons.

School can be tough for kids with challenges ranging from emotional disorders to ADHD or dyslexia. For gifted students, too, it's not always a cakewalk, between boredom and the sense of isolation that can result from being a "brainiac."

Then there are students such as Tyler and Simon, who fall into both categories.

Raising children with learning barriers is a task in itself, "but when they're bright and gifted and have a high IQ, it's even more frustrating, because the teachers just don't understand how to work with these kids," said Bloomington parent Chelle Woolley, whose 17-year-old son, Matt, was in fifth grade when he tested out for both giftedness and attention deficit disorder.

A growing awareness of so-called "twice-exceptional" or "2X" students, many of whom qualify for both gifted and special education services, is prompting some researchers to take a closer look at their needs. This fall, educators at the University of St. Thomas and four metro-area school districts are using a $490,000 federal grant to launch a five-year project aimed at developing better ways to teach 2X children, helping schools identify them and training teachers to work with them.

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Education remains the elephant in the room

Lori Sturdevant:

You know that line about "the best-laid plans"? It came to mind earlier this month as I sat in on a west-metro League of Women Voters briefing on big plans to tidy up the mess that's been made of Minnesota's school-funding system.

A "New Minnesota Miracle." That idea was supposed to be the big issue in state House races this summer and fall. It was supposed to be top-tier policy stuff at the 2009 Legislature. The studies have been done; the proposal drafted; the stakeholders' coalition built, and the hearings held around the state.

And the state senator who led the briefing, Minnetonka DFLer Terri Bonoff -- well, according to her plan last winter, she wasn't even going to be in the Legislature in 2009. She aimed to be off to Congress as the newly elected successor to Third District Rep. Jim Ramstad.

Plans go awry. Bonoff is still in the state Senate. The education issue is being eclipsed by economic distress and -- temporarily, let us pray -- by the Coleman-Franken recount.

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Ecuador exchange enhances Madison Country Day School

Pamela Cotant:

A recent visit by six exchange students from Ecuador enhanced the global view embraced by Madison Country Day School.

The students stayed for two weeks, attending classes at the private school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in the town of Westport and staying with students' families.

They also shared aspects of their culture, in part by dancing at the school's weekly assembly.

"It's just one facet of the whole international program here," said Fabian Fernandez, a sophomore at Madison Country Day School. "The whole culture exchange -- it really shakes you out of a routine ... . You can really become a member of the global community."

Some students from the school here have visited Colegio Britanico Internacional, a school in Quito, Ecuador.

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Allen family's costs pile up for kids' education

Matthew Haag:

Parents know putting three kids through public school can be expensive.

The Swiateks in Allen know exactly how much.

At The Dallas Morning News' request, the family agreed to keep a tab on how much they spend on school-related expenses for their three children.

tually look at the numbers and add it up," said Beth Swiatek, who says she takes pride in spending money wisely.

Rachael is a high school senior, Erin is a high school freshman and Joel is in sixth grade.

Before the school year had even begun, the Swiateks paid nearly $2,800 to ready their children for the school year. That total did not include school clothes, but it did pull in the first payments for the two oldest children to go on a band trip. That trip to Hawaii will cost $2,200 per child.

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On Australian Education Reform

The Herald Sun:

TEACHERS will need to be better trained and good teachers could be rewarded for working in the most difficult schools, Federal Education Minister Julia Gillard said.

As well, schools' education performances will be published and they will have to explain where all their funding comes from.

Outlining the key elements of the Government's education reform program, Ms Gillard said Australia still ranked well in international studies.

But performance was not as good as it could be and at the highest levels it was static or declining while there was a persistent tail of low achievement.

Presenting the keynote speech to an education forum in Melbourne, Ms Gillard said the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) was to meet on Saturday to finalise the new $28 billion National Education Agreement.

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November 23, 2008

William Fitzhugh, Editor of Concord Review Presentation

William Fitzhugh, Editor of Concord Review. Varsity Academics®

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We are pleased to have William Fitzhugh, Editor of The Concord Review, present this lecture on history research and publication of original papers by high school students.

From an interview with Education News, William Fitzhugh summarizes some items from his Madison presentation:

"A group of professors, teachers, business people, lawyers and community people invited me to speak at the University of Wisconsin in Madison about the work of The Concord Review since 1987, and about the problems of college readiness and academic writing for high school students.

The Boston Public Schools just reported that 67% of the graduating class of 2000 who had gone on to higher education had failed to earn a certificate, an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree by 2008. Also, the Strong American Schools program just reported that more than a million of our high school graduates are in remedial education in college each year.

I recommend their report: Diploma to Nowhere, which came out last summer. While many foundations, such as Gates, and others, have focused on getting our students into college, too little attention has been paid to how few are ready for college work and how many drop out without any degree.

In Madison I also had a chance to speak about the huge imbalance in our attention to scholars and athletes at the high school level. I had recently seen a nationally televised high school football game in which, at breaks in the action, an athlete would come to the sidelines, and announce, to the national audience, which college he had decided to "sign" with. This is a far cry from what happens for high school scholars. High school coaches get a lot of attention for their best athletes, but if the coach also happens to be a history teacher, he or she will hear nothing from a college in the way of interest in his or her most outstanding history student.

When Kareem Abdul Jabbar was a very tall high school senior at Power Memorial Academy in New York, he not only heard from the head coaches at 60 college basketball programs, he also got a personal letter from Jackie Robinson of baseball fame and from Ralph Bunche at the United Nations, urging him to go to UCLA, which he did. That same year, in the U.S., the top ten high school history students heard from no one, and it has been that way every year since.

The lobby of every public high school is full of trophies for sports, and there is usually nothing about academic achievement. For some odd reason, attention to exemplary work in academics is seen as elitist, while heaps of attention to athletic achievement is not seen in the same way. Strange...The Boston Globe has 150 pages on year on high school athletes and no pages on high school academic achievement. Do we somehow believe that our society needs good athletes far more than it needs good students, and that is why we are so reluctant to celebrate fine academic work?

Too many of our students have never read a nonfiction book in school, so when they get to college lots of them are in remedial reading courses, and as the Diploma to Nowhere report says: "While more students took remedial math, a student's need for remedial reading makes him or her much more likely to drop out. Some experts refer to college remedial reading as the kiss of death. One study found that of the students who took remedial reading, more than two thirds were in three or more other remedial courses and only 12 percent eventually earned a bachelor's degree. For the students in remedial reading, the issue is unfortunately simple--if you can't read well, you can't perform well in any other college classes. Without basic literacy, students are stuck without a collegiate future."

Playing video games, watching television, instant messaging, exchanging gossip and photos, and the like, all combine to make this generation of students less able to read and write and more likely to fail in higher education.

[On recognition of scholarship exemplified by Concord Review]

High School artists, dancers, singers, and so on, are eligible for $4 million or more in complete college scholarships. Athletes get college scholarships. Exemplary history students at this level receive basically no attention and no money for their work in history. For most people, if student academic work can't be pasted on the refrigerator door, it has no value. There are exceptions, of course, in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Both the Intel Science Talent Search and the Siemens-Westinghouse Competition offer a $100,000 first prize for high school students. But for high school students whose achievements are in writing and scholarship there is no attention apart from The Concord Review, and there is almost no support for that.

The people at the Gates Foundation told me: "We are mostly interested in Math, Minorities and Science." Even after 21 years of The Concord Review people (with a few exceptions) don't believe that high school students can be scholars, or that they can write academic papers worth giving to their HS peers to read, as examples of good writing and for the history they contain.

[On the Concord Review]

I am happy to report that our website (www.tcr.org) is about to pass 400,000 visitors. It has submission forms, sample essays, a topic list from the first 75 issues, and, at last, video clips of interviews with the late historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Bill Fitzsimmons (Dean of Admissions at Harvard) and Sarah Valkenburgh, one of our Emerson Prize winners. I may also be contacted by students, teachers and others who are interested in academic writing at the high school level at: fitzhugh@tcr.org. We encourage students to submit their best history research papers on any historical topic, ancient or modern, domestic or foreign. While we publish only about seven percent of the ones we receive, we have published 835 papers by students from 44 states and 35 other countries since 1987.

The Concord Review remains the only journal in the world for the academic papers of secondary students, and I have been happy to publish exemplary history papers by freshmen and sophomores as well as by juniors and seniors. Students and teachers will learn more from the website, and should feel free to send me an email at any time. I am always looking for the best papers I can find."

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Community Input on Math Task Force Recommendations - SAVE THE DATES!

Hi - there will be 2 community input forums to gather input from the community on the recommendations of the Math Task Force. The report of the MTF can be found at:

http://www.mmsd.org/boe/math/

The forums are scheduled for:

Monday, December 8 from 6:00-8:00pm at Memorial High School

Tuesday, December 9 from 6:00-8:00pm at LaFollette High School

I am not sure of the format yet but know this is a busy time of year so wanted to give you an opportunity to mark your calendars if you plan on attending on of the forums. I'll send more information when available.

Arlene

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"The Obamas Walk Away from Public Schools" and a Look at Sidwell Friends

Andrew Coulson:

Not that there's anything wrong with that. In fact, it's wonderful that the Obamas had such a broad range of public and private school choices available to them. What's puzzling is that the president-elect opposes programs that would bring that same easy choice of schools within reach of families who lack his personal wealth. By his actions, Senator Obama is demonstrating that he is not willing to wait for his own policy prescriptions to "fix and improve" public schools, but he expects folks with less ample bank accounts to patiently await his hoped-for change.

And while many reports will no doubt trumpet the $25,000+ tuition at Sidwell Friends, implying that this is extravagantly beyond what is spent in D.C. public schools, they will be mistaken. As I wrote in the Washington Post and on this blog, D.C. public schools also spent about $25,000 per child in the 2007-08 school year.

It's not that president-elect Obama is against spending a lot of money on other people's kids -- he's just against letting their parents choose where that money is spent.

Michael Binyon:
It is the Quaker ethos that is the most striking feature of Sidwell Friends School, the one chosen by President-elect Obama for his daughters Sasha and Malia. A sense of community, equality and friendship runs through every classroom: children are encouraged to strive for their best, but to value above all their relations with each other and their place in the school family.

For any president trying to ensure that his children enjoy as normal an education as possible, such an ethos is invaluable. However rich, influential or politically important the parents - as many at Sidwell are - what matters is the "inner light" in every child. Pupils are not ranked by academic scores, and Sidwell never releases its SAT scores or college admission list. In race, wealth and nationality and in all else, all are treated the same. The two Obama girls will find their White House address is officially all but irrelevant.

Sidwell, founded in 1883 and now enrolling more than 1,000 children from kindergarten to 18, was a committed pioneer of integration and coeducation. More than one third of its intake belongs to ethnic minorities and one fifth receives financial assistance to help with the fees. The only preference is to those with Quaker connections. Since my wife and I went to Quaker schools, our daughter spent three happy primary years there during my time as bureau chief in Washington.

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US officials flunk test of Amerian history, economics, civics

2008-2009 American Civic Liberty Report:

US elected officials scored abysmally on a test measuring their civic knowledge, with an average grade of just 44 percent, the group that organized the exam said Thursday.

Ordinary citizens did not fare much better, scoring just 49 percent correct on the 33 exam questions compiled by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI).

"It is disturbing enough that the general public failed ISI's civic literacy test, but when you consider the even more dismal scores of elected officials, you have to be concerned," said Josiah Bunting, chairman of the National Civic Literacy Board at ISI.

"How can political leaders make informed decisions if they don't understand the American experience?" he added.

The exam questions covered American history, the workings of the US government and economics.

Among the questions asked of some 2,500 people who were randomly selected to take the test, including "self-identified elected officials," was one which asked respondents to "name two countries that were our enemies during World War II."

Take the quiz.

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The Battle over State Tax Dollar K-12 Funding in NY State

New York Times Editorial:

Lost in all the noise of this week's budget fight in Albany was a proposal from Gov. David Paterson that could fundamentally change the unfair way in which school aid is apportioned across New York State.

The change, which would benefit needier districts like New York City, is long overdue. It also is bound to face strong political resistance. Mr. Paterson should stick to his guns in December when he presents his budget for the next fiscal year.

Over the years, school aid in New York has been calculated with dozens of mind-bending formulas -- income levels, taxing powers and so on. But year after year, no matter what numbers were plugged into the formulas, New York City invariably received about 39 percent of any increases in school spending, Long Island (championed by powerful state senators) got between 12 percent and 13 percent and the rest of the state the balance.

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Are Tennessee schools too easy? ACT scores show lack of readiness

Jaime Sarrio:

Only four Tennessee public high schools are preparing students to pass basic academic courses when they go on to college, if their ACT entrance exams are the indicator.

The ACT is one of the most high-profile, high-stakes tests in the country. In Tennessee, a score of 21 out of a perfect 36 is one of the requirements to earn a lottery scholarship.

Students from Hume-Fogg and Martin Luther King magnet schools in Metro Nashville, Merrol Hyde Magnet in Hendersonville and Gatlinburg-Pittman in East Tennessee averaged ACT scores high enough over a three-year period to be considered ready for basic college coursework. Only 18 percent of Tennessee's class of 2008 students who took the test met that standard, compared with about 22 percent of students nationally.

Education experts in the state and region say that's more evidence of what they've been saying about Tennessee's high school curriculum: It's too easy.

"We see high school valedictorians who are forced to take remedial courses," said Alan Richard, spokesman for the Southern Regional Education Board, a nonprofit network that focuses on learning in the South. "That means there's a gulf between what high schools teach and what colleges expect."

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Obama's Education Transition Team

Nanette Asimov:

Darling-Hammond, a teacher-friendly educator, has been tapped by President-elect Barack Obama to head his transition team on education policy.

Her name appears on some - not all - of the guessing-game lists put out by education observers speculating about who Obama will pick to head the huge U.S. Department of Education. And she is the subject of an online petition begun by a teacher in Hawaii that's attracted thousands of people - many of them teachers - urging the president-elect to choose her.

"I have no idea who it will be," says Darling-Hammond, switching the topic to what she described as an education agenda "more bold and ambitious than anything we've seen since the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965 ... and the Education for All Handicapped Children Act" a decade later.

At this point, it's still all about big money and big concepts: $10 billion to develop preschool programs for all children; $8 billion to narrow the achievement gap in elementary and secondary schools; $11 billion to send more students to college.

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Academic Decathlon faces coach shortages

Erin Richards:

It's early in the season for Academic Decathlon, but several previously successful Milwaukee-area schools are already out of the game.

The problem isn't a lack of smarts for the battle of the brains between school teams - it's a lack of coaches.

Wisconsin Academic Decathlon last week announced the 60 schools that advanced to the regional competition on Jan. 9. Officials from previously successful institutions that failed to make the list - Nicolet, Wauwatosa West, Bay View and Kettle Moraine high schools - said they didn't field teams because they couldn't find coaches to lead the groups.

"Funding has been easier to get than teachers," state Academic Decathlon Director Mollie Ritchie said. "Usually a school drops its program because a coach left or retired."

For schools around Milwaukee, and Rhinelander High School in northern Wisconsin, filling the shoes of a coach who left or gave up the position has posed problems because of the nature of the job - a time consuming, seven-month commitment if the team is successful, not counting hours inevitably spent fund raising.

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November 22, 2008

With Democrats in charge, Wisconsin teacher pay cap could bite the dust

Jason Stein:

I don't think it's any secret that we think the QEO should be eliminated," said Bell, whose union spent more than $2 million to help Democrats win control of the Assembly this fall. "It's not productive for our school districts or my members."

The union appears to have found a willing partner in the next Legislature. Already, state schools superintendent Libby Burmaster has included repealing the QEO in her budget request to Doyle. Carrie Lynch, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, D-Weston, said Decker supports a repeal, and Senate Democrats voted for it in the last budget. Assembly Speaker-elect Mike Sheridan, D-Janesville, said Democrats in his house would be "looking at it very closely."

But Beloit homeowner Dwight Brass said he feared school boards would end up allowing teachers' pay to rise too much, and with it property taxes. "The trend would be the school board would want to avoid conflict" with the union, he said.

Dan Rossmiller, a lobbyist for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, said removing the QEO while leaving revenue caps in place would mean disaster for schools. Their main expense -- teacher salaries -- would grow much faster than their revenues would be permitted to grow, he said.

"It's certainly going to mean cuts in teachers' positions if it does go away," he said of the QEO.

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Milwaukee Schools Change Teaching, Reading & Writing Strategies; Search for New Teaching & Learning Director

Alan Borsuk:

Major changes in how Milwaukee Public Schools teaches reading and writing are coming soon, according to school Superintendent William Andrekopoulos.

He said a team of outside experts has been evaluating MPS literacy efforts and he expects to get its report in December. He said he has been given indications of what the experts will recommend.

"I think you will see this report turning things upside down, changing some past practices, and making some bold changes that we hope will improve the performance of our kids," he said earlier this week.

He said the state Department of Public Instruction had put together the expert team and was paying for the study as part of plans aimed at bringing MPS into compliance with goals set by the federal No Child Left Behind law.

"We're going to take it to heart, what's in that report," he said. "The status quo is unacceptable. . . . We realize if we just continue to do the same thing, we're going to get the same results."

He did not provide details of what is expected to be in the report.

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A Surprisingly Sensible 21st-Century Report

Jay Matthews:

Only six weeks have passed since my last cranky diatribe about teaching what are called "21st-century skills" in our schools. I think the 21st-century skills movement is mostly a pipe dream, promoted by well-meaning people who embrace the idea of modernity but fail to consider how these allegedly new and important lessons can be taught by the usual victims of such schemes, classroom teachers.

Now I am forced to calm down, take a breath and consider the possibility that I was wrong about this, because a scholar whose work I admire has produced the first sensible report on 21st-century skills I have read. "Measuring Skills for the 21st Century" was written by Elena Silva, senior policy analyst at the Education Sector think tank in Washington. It is available at http://www.educationsector.org/research/research_show.htm?doc_id=716323. It suggests that this idea is vital, important and ought to be pursued, no matter what I say.

I telephoned Silva to express my concern that we differ on this issue, since she always knows what she is talking about and I sometimes don't. Our conversation reassured me. She has the same doubts I do about the loose and overheated way the 21st-century skills concept has been marketed, and the failure to give teachers useful guidance on what to do with it. She agrees with me that much of what is labeled 21st-century learning is not new, but represents what our best educators have been teaching for several centuries.

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Putting the Student Before the Athlete

Michael Wilbon:

I'm dropping the pretense of having no rooting interest this week. I'm rooting for Myron Rolle as if he's a blood relative. I'm rooting for his flight from Birmingham, Ala., to Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport to be on time. I'm rooting for him to make it to Byrd Stadium by halftime at the very latest, for him to get into uniform and play as many snaps as possible for Florida State. Most of all, I'm rooting for him to wow the panelists in his Rhodes Scholarship interview earlier in the day.

Texas Tech and Oklahoma will get the majority of the college football attention this weekend, but Rolle is the best story. He's not the first football player up for one of 32 Rhodes Scholarships. In fact, a Yale defensive back, Casey Gerald, will be in Houston today as one of 13 region finalists. But while Yale is as much a part of college football's history as Florida State, let nobody suggest that the football pressures in the Ivy League match those at a school such as Florida State, where Rolle's defensive coordinator once suggested the kid might be devoting too much time to academics and not enough to football.

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November 21, 2008

Alan Kay: A powerful idea about teaching ideas

TED Talks:

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Public School Parents, Unite!

Sandra Tsing Loh:

Now that we've made history by electing our first African-American president, what has changed? On first blush, not much, especially when it comes to our schools. Indeed, as the spiraling United States economy takes precedence, education is moving to the back burner, though sadly it was never really on the front burner during the campaign. Meanwhile Washington high society is swooning as chatty lifestyle stories document the courtship of Barack Obama's daughters by a bevy of exclusive private schools. Am I the only one who is outraged here?

Again, I feel compelled to point out, one last time: Sarah Palin was taken tirelessly to the mat for every detail of her personal life -- her mothering skills, hunting proclivities, reading habits (such as they were), the wacky names of her children, her pricey outfits and even the height of her heels. By contrast, the Obama family's move from toney Chicago private school (chosen before presidential security was an issue) to toney Washington private school draws little national commentary. Why? Because for the ruling American political and professional class, not to mention the news media, sending one's child to public school is unthinkable; and has nothing to do with public education policy. (Love that Teach for America, though! And universal preschool -- it's great! Computers! Innovation! Stimulation! Richard Branson! Aspen Technology Conference! Blah, blah blah.)

Meanwhile, as the fall days darken earlier, in my own Los Angeles Unified school district, citizens here have just passed a $7 billion construction bond -- not because we need more new schools (we've already approved $20 billion via four previous bond issues), but because a consulting firm deduced that $7 billion was the size of a blank check most likely to be approved by voters.

Much more on Sandra Tsing Loh.

Classic

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Abandoned Wal-Marts Become Schools & Churches

Julia Christensen:

The big-box aesthetic does not immediately lend itself to any other use. The buildings are often upward of 150,000 square feet. There simply aren't many enterprises that need that much space, and because the buildings are built for a single-use purpose, it's not so easy to break them up into smaller units. Yet all over the country, resourceful communities are finding ways to reuse these buildings, turning them into flea markets, museums, schools--even churches.

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November 20, 2008

Academic Credit for Sports in Texas

Terrence Stutz:

The proposal, which could go into effect as early as next school year, would allow four years of sports to count as elective credits toward graduation instead of the current maximum of two years.

The board's 10-5 vote followed often emotional debate, with both Dallas members - Republican Geraldine Miller and Democrat Mavis Knight - voting no.

Supporters said the move would keep kids in school and spur them to do well in academic courses. Critics charged that the plan would de-emphasize academics and return to the days of "football comes first."

Ms. Miller was among the most vocal opponents, insisting the plan would "completely dismantle" many of the education reforms enacted in Texas over the last two decades.

"This takes us back to the way things used to be," she said. "Our school reform movement put everything in perspective, with academics coming first. Now, we are opening the door to water down all the efforts we have made to strengthen standards in our schools."

But Craig Agnew, the Brenham High School coach and teacher who petitioned the board to adopt the rule, said an "unfair burden" exists for student athletes who must meet stringent course requirements to retain their athletic eligibility.

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Reform Teacher Training & Education Research

David Moltz:

Bryk said, noting that less than 0.25 percent of the overall education budget -- an estimate based on education as a $500 billion a year industry in the United States -- is allocated to research and development. By contrast, he noted, in fields such as medicine and engineering, 5 to 15 percent of the total budget is spent on R&D.

Bryk expressed, moreover, concern that most research is being conducted in the university setting where, as he wrote, "new theory development is more valued than practical solutions." This environment, he said, is not conducive to the creation of workable solutions in education reform -- not as long as scholarly articles in journals are considered the acme of accomplishment in educational research.

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The Test Passes, Colleges Fail

Peter Salins:

FOR some years now, many elite American colleges have been downgrading the role of standardized tests like the SAT in deciding which applicants are admitted, or have even discarded their use altogether. While some institutions justify this move primarily as a way to enroll a more diverse group of students, an increasing number claim that the SAT is a poor predictor of academic success in college, especially compared with high school grade-point averages.

Are they correct? To get an answer, we need to first decide on a good measure of "academic success." Given inconsistent grading standards for college courses, the most easily comparable metric is the graduation rate. Students' families and society both want college entrants to graduate, and we all know that having a college degree translates into higher income. Further, graduation rates among students and institutions vary much more widely than do college grades, making them a clearer indicator of how students are faring.

So, here is the question: do SATs predict graduation rates more accurately than high school grade-point averages? If we look merely at studies that statistically correlate SAT scores and high school grades with graduation rates, we find that, indeed, the two standards are roughly equivalent, meaning that the better that applicants do on either of these indicators the more likely they are to graduate from college. However, since students with high SAT scores tend to have better high school grade-point averages, this data doesn't tell us which of the indicators -- independent of the other -- is a better predictor of college success.

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At Transition High, teens leave past behind

Dani McClain:

From the corner of N. 27th St. and North Ave., Transition High School looks more like a strip mall than a place where teenagers are turning their lives around.

The Milwaukee public school, which opened in March, is home to students working through challenges beyond the scope of what most traditional high schools can handle. Some have been expelled. Others have served sentences in the House of Correction or a youth facility. Some have been truant for more than a year.

But on a recent day, as they wrapped up online coursework and got ready for an afternoon of off-campus rock climbing, students talked about how safe they felt.

"This is a non-violent place," said Charles Banster, 16, and a sophomore. "Nobody has problems here."

Another student, who said he had spent time in a large school on the city's south side, agreed. The small environment makes him feel like he's among family.

"I don't like too many people around me," said 14-year-old Tim Owens-Rice. "I just feel paranoid." In the past, that need to define and defend his personal space has led to fights, he said.

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Study Abroad Flourishes, With China a Hot Spot

Julia Christensen:

The big-box aesthetic does not immediately lend itself to any other use. The buildings are often upward of 150,000 square feet. There simply aren't many enterprises that need that much space, and because the buildings are built for a single-use purpose, it's not so easy to break them up into smaller units. Yet all over the country, resourceful communities are finding ways to reuse these buildings, turning them into flea markets, museums, schools--even churches.
">Tamar Lewin:
Record numbers of American students are studying abroad, with especially strong growth in educational exchanges with China, the annual report by the Institute on International Education found.

The number of Americans studying in China increased by 25 percent, and the number of Chinese students studying at American universities increased by 20 percent last year, according to the report, "Open Doors 2008."

"Interest in China is growing dramatically, and I think we'll see even sharper increases in next year's report," said Allan E. Goodman, president of the institute. "People used to go to China to study the history and language, and many still do, but with China looming so large in all our futures, there's been a real shift, and more students go for an understanding of what's happening economically and politically."

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November 19, 2008

Washington DC Schools' Chancellor Michelle Rhee Proposes Parent Academy, Better Security

Bill Turque:

Revamped security and discipline policies, more specialized schools, a "Parent Academy" to help District parents take charge of their children's education and the possibility of more school closures are part of the long-term vision proposed by Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee in a new document.

The 79-page "action plan," which Rhee will present to the D.C. Council tomorrow, pulls together a broad variety of ideas that have been only hinted at publicly, including a possible end to out-of-school suspensions and an increase in the number of "theme" schools, focusing on high technology, language immersion, or gifted and talented students.

Other goals in the draft document -- the need for new and better-paid teachers, higher test scores, closing the achievement gap between white and minority students -- are ones she has frequently articulated. Taken together, they provide the most detailed picture of Rhee's aspirations for the 120-school system, which is affected by declining enrollment and poor academic performance.

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You are Invited: Varsity Academics in Madison Tonight, 11/19 @ 7:00p.m.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008; 7:00p.m. in Madison. [PDF Flyer]
Lecture Hall 1345
Health Sciences Learning Center (HSLC)
750 Highland Avenue Madison, WI [Map]

We hope that Mr. Fitzhugh's appearance will create new academic opportunities for Wisconsin students.
Parking
Metered parking is available at the University Hospital (UWHC) Patient/Visitor Lot [Map], just south of the HSLC. Free parking is available in Lot 85, across the street from the HSLC and next to the Pharmacy Building at 2245 Observatory Drive [Map].
About the Speaker:
Low standards led Will Fitzhugh to quit his job as a history teacher in 1987 and begin publishing the journal [The Concord Review] out of his home in Concord, Mass.

Concerned that schools were becoming anti-intellectual and holding students to low standards, he thought the venture could fuel a national--even international--interest in student research and writing in the humanities.

"As a teacher, it is not uncommon to have your consciousness end at the classroom wall. But I came to realize that there was a national concern about students' ignorance of history and inability to write," he said.

During his 10 years of teaching at Concord-Carlisle High School, the 62-year-old educator said in a recent interview, he always had a handful of students who did more than he asked, and whose papers reflected serious research.

Those students "just had higher standards, and I was always impressed by that," Mr. Fitzhugh said. "I figured there have got to be some wonderful essays just sitting out there. I wanted to recognize and encourage kids who are already working hard, and to challenge the kids who are not."

Fitzhugh will discuss the problems of reading, writing and college readiness at the high school level. There will be an extended discussion period.

For more information, or to schedule some time with Mr. Fitzhugh during
his visit, contact Jim Zellmer (608 213-0434 or zellmer@gmail.com), Lauren Cunningham (608 469-4474) or Laurie Frost (608 238-6375).

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Wisconsin Poll on Public Education:
A Slight Majority Believe They Received a Better Education than Students Do Today
Residents Support Major Reforms in Teacher Compensation

Wisconsin Policy Research Institute:

There are some issues that seemingly never change. Twenty years ago 49% of Wisconsin residents thought they had received a better education in elementary and secondary schools than students today. In 2008, 47% of Wisconsin residents had the same view. Twenty years ago 70% of our residents rated their local schools as excellent or very good. Today, 69% rated their local schools as excellent or good.

Twenty years ago 76% of our residents supported merit pay for teachers; today 77% of our residents support merit pay for teachers. Twenty years ago 58% of our residents thought that discipline in our public schools was too lenient; today 60% hold this view.

These are among the key findings about statewide policy issues from the most recent survey of 600 Wisconsin residents conducted by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, Inc. and Diversified Research between November 9 and 10, 2008.

The Overall Quality Of Education

47% of the respondents in this survey thought that they had received a better education at the elementary and secondary level than students do today; 44% disagreed. Twenty years ago 49% thought they had received a better education and 45% thought they had not. Demographically there is a large gap in this response based on race--46% of Whites in 2008 thought they had received a better education, but 90% of Black respondents thought they had received a better education and only 10% thought that students today received a better education.

Alan Borsuk has more.

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Head of Teachers' Union Offers to Talk on Tenure and Merit Pay

Sam Dillon:

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said Monday that given the economic crisis, her union would be willing to discuss new approaches to issues like teacher tenure and merit pay.

"Faced with declining tax revenues, state and local governments are cutting" education budgets nationwide, Ms. Weingarten said in a speech to education policy makers in Washington.

"In the spirit of this extraordinary moment, and as a pledge of shared responsibility, I'll take the first step," she said. "With the exception of vouchers, which siphon scarce resources from public schools, no issue should be off the table, provided it is good for children and fair to teachers."

It is unclear how much practical effect Ms. Weingarten's speech will have on the stance her 1.4-million-member union and its locals take in negotiations with school districts or in lobbying state legislatures.

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My Son Was Autistic. Is He Still?

Jayne Lytel:

Paging through 176 MRI scans of my 9-year-old's brain on my home computer, I discovered a button that let me play them as a movie. Gray swirls burst onto the screen, dissolving into one another and revealing a new set of patterns. Beams of light faded in and out, some curving and traveling around the different regions of his brain. I saw the squiggly folds of his cerebral cortex, the gray matter that is the center of human intelligence.

These scans, the most intimate pictures I had ever seen of my son, Leo, may help researchers understand what's going on in his head -- and relieve him of a diagnosis that I have devoted several years to helping him overcome.

Leo, identified as No. C1059, underwent the scans as part of a research study at the Olin Neuropsychiatry Research Center at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut. He was thrilled to earn $200 for taking part. I smiled along with him, because I could remember the days when he had a limited range of emotions, and pride was not one of them.

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Charter schools to buy three Minneapolis district buildings

Tom Weber:

The Minneapolis School District is close to finalizing the sale of three of its shuttered buildings. But unlike previous real estate deals, the district this time entertained offers from charter schools.

St. Paul, Minn. -- Minneapolis School Board member Pam Costain calls the sale of Franklin, Putnam, and Morris Park Schools "uncharted territory." That's because, even though the district has leased space to private schools before, there used to be a policy banning the sale of any of district buildings to charter schools -- with the idea that they're the competition.

But that's exactly who's in line to move into these buildings, in North, Northeast, and South Minneapolis.

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November 18, 2008

On College Choice

Stephen Kreider Yorder & Isaac Yoder:

When we get lots of reader email, we know we've struck a chord. College choice is clearly a chord.

After our column discussing how much college is worth -- and my plan to narrow my search to small liberal-arts schools -- many readers agreed with us that getting the best-fitting education is the top priority.

Marina E. Marra from Tucson, Ariz., writes that her son, like me, "was very concerned about spending his parents' money for a degree that can be purchased for less elsewhere. I, too, advised him that it is his job to be accepted at the best school possible with the best education and it is my job to figure out how to pay for it." She adds: "There is an intangible element that isn't apparent in a cost/benefit comparison among colleges, something that can be found only at smaller liberal-arts colleges."

Others held that price should be a top consideration. "YES -- Price DOES Matter!," writes Pat Diamond, also of Tucson. "I can't understand why either of you would consider going into debt for a college education when there's the option of a perfectly good state university system that would provide an education equal to that of a small expensive elite liberal-arts college."

An expensive education is fine if I know what I plan to do with it, writes Robert Lowrie of Georgetown, Texas. "To spend $48,000/year, and then not know what he's going to do with the B.A. degree after four years, is insanity," he says, suggesting that I "look into getting [my] bachelor's degree at a less expensive state university, and then enter a small, probably more prestigious and expensive school for [my] graduate studies."

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Not Everyone Wants to Move Toward Rating Educators by Student Progress

Jay Matthews:

For a while, the fight over how to improve public schools seemed to be quieting down. During the presidential campaign, Republican and Democratic education advisers happily finished each other's sentences on such issues as expanding charter schools, recruiting better teachers and, in particular, rating schools by how much students improve.

Moving to the growth model for school assessment, by measuring each student's progress, seems to be the favorite education reform of the incoming Obama administration. Up till now, we have measured schools by comparing the average student score one year with the average for the previous year's students. It was like rating pumpkin farmers by comparing this year's crop with last year's rather than by how much growth they managed to coax out of each pumpkin.

The growth model appeals to parents because it focuses on each child. It gives researchers a clearer picture of what affects student achievement and what does not. Officials throughout the Washington area have joined the growth model (sometimes called "value-added") fan club. The next step would be to use the same data to see which teachers add the most value to their students each year.

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Keeping Notes Afloat in Class

Michael Alison Chandler:

Third-graders at Hunters Woods Elementary School are required to learn the fundamentals of the violin. They know how to stand up straight, how to hold their instruments and how to use the tippy tips of their fingers when they press on the strings so they don't make what their teacher calls "an icky sound."

After learning a grand total of eight notes, they also know how to make music. Their repertoire one fall morning included pieces from a range of cultures and styles: "Caribbean Island," "Seminole Chant," "Good King Wenceslas."

In Fairfax County and elsewhere, students often begin studying violin in fourth grade. Hunters Woods, an arts and science magnet school in Reston, gives them a one-year head start. Experts say the earlier children begin, the more likely they are to succeed in music.

Hunters Woods, with 950 students, is one of more than a dozen local schools in which teachers are trained through the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to infuse arts education into other subjects. For instance, students might build instruments from recycled materials, learn science through lessons on sound and vibration or study math through measurement and patterning. Some also compose songs with lyrics inspired by Virginia history.

But music programs and the rest of the education budget are under scrutiny as the county School Board seeks to close a $220 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year that begins in July. One proposal to save about $850,000 would trim band and strings teaching positions, making it tough to keep such programs in third and fourth grades, said Roger Tomhave, fine arts coordinator for Fairfax schools.

This tune sounds familiar. Madison formerly offered a 4th grade strings program (now only in 5th).

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Another Look at the Madison School District's Use of "Value Added Assessment"



Andy Hall:

The analysis of data from 27 elementary schools and 11 middle schools is based on scores from the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE), a state test required by the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Madison is the second Wisconsin district, after Milwaukee, to make a major push toward value-added systems, which are gaining support nationally as an improved way of measuring school performance.

Advocates say it's better to track specific students' gains over time than the current system, which holds schools accountable for how many students at a single point in time are rated proficient on state tests.

"This is very important," Madison schools Superintendent Daniel Nerad said. "We think it's a particularly fair way ... because it's looking at the growth in that school and ascertaining the influence that the school is having on that outcome."

The findings will be used to pinpoint effective teaching methods and classroom design strategies, officials said. But they won't be used to evaluate teachers: That's forbidden by state law.

The district paid about $60,000 for the study.

Much more on "Value Added Assessment" here.

Ironically, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction stated the following:

"... 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."
Related:

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Beautiful



D-PAN: Deaf Performing Artists Network. Worth Watching.

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Teachers union talks of big goals in Washington

Greg Toppo:

The head of the American Federation of Teachers signaled the union's willingness Monday to work broadly on education reform with the incoming Obama administration. It said that, with the exception of school vouchers, "no issue should be off the table."

AFT president Randi Weingarten cautioned lawmakers nationwide against a "disinvestment in education" in the face of the economic meltdown. She warned that cutting aid to schools "places our economy in a race to the bottom for years to come."

Weingarten already has told Congress that schools must be included in economic stimulus plans. She testified last month that lawmakers should add $20 billion to a social-services block grant to help state and local governments balance budgets without cutting education. She also said schools need $286 billion for buildings improvements.

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Public vs. Private Schooling: Is There A Wrong Answer?

NPR:

As the Obama family prepares to transition into the White House, one of the most pressing matters is choosing a school for their two daughters, Sasha and Malia. Mary Lord, of D.C. State Board of Education; Mark Gooden, an education professor and Jay Matthews, education columnist for the Washington Post talk about the sometimes complicated choice between public or private schooling for children.

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New York City's School Grades

Jennifer Medina:

The A-through-F grading system for New York City schools is billed as a public information tool, helping people sort out which schools are teaching children and which schools are just moving them along. Instead of inscrutable education jargon and endless score charts, the letter grades act like billboards broadcasting achievements and failures.

But for parents shopping for the best schools, the letter grades can obscure some of the most salient information, because they are determined largely by how much progress students make year to year rather than how well their skills stand up against objective standards.

While the question of how effective teachers are at moving students forward is a critical one for their bosses, many parents are equally interested in which schools are most likely to, say, have students reading at grade level or ensure that sophomores are mastering algebra. The heavy emphasis on peer comparisons to schools serving similar populations is clearly a fairer yardstick for educators, but it can hide schools burdened by particularly challenging demographics.

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November 17, 2008

Obama and the War on Brains

NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

Barack Obama's election is a milestone in more than his pigmentation. The second most remarkable thing about his election is that American voters have just picked a president who is an open, out-of-the-closet, practicing intellectual.

We can't solve our educational challenges when, according to polls, Americans are approximately as likely to believe in flying saucers as in evolution, and when one-fifth of Americans believe that the sun orbits the Earth.

Yet times may be changing. How else do we explain the election in 2008 of an Ivy League-educated law professor who has favorite philosophers and poets?

Granted, Mr. Obama may have been protected from accusations of excessive intelligence by his race. That distracted everyone, and as a black man he didn't fit the stereotype of a pointy-head ivory tower elitist.

An intellectual is a person interested in ideas and comfortable with complexity. Intellectuals read the classics, even when no one is looking, because they appreciate the lessons of Sophocles and Shakespeare that the world abounds in uncertainties and contradictions....

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Incompletes
Most from class of 2000 have failed to earn degrees

James Vaznis:

About two-thirds of the city's high school graduates in 2000 who enrolled in college have failed to earn degrees, according to a first-of-its-kind study being released today.

The findings represent a major setback for a city school system that made significant strides in recent years with percentages of graduates enrolling in college consistently higher than national averages, according to the report by the Boston Private Industry Council and the School Department.

However, the study shows that the number who went on to graduate is lower than the national average.

The low number of students who were able to earn college degrees or post-secondary certificates in a city known as a center of American higher education points to the enormous barriers facing urban high school graduates - many of whom are the first in their families to attend college. While the study did not address reasons for the low graduation rates, these students often have financial problems, some are raising children, and others are held back by a need to retake high school courses in college because they lack basic skills.

The students' failure to complete college could exacerbate the fiscal problems in the state's economy, which requires a highly skilled workforce, say business leaders and educators. While tens of thousands of students around the globe flock to the region's colleges each fall, many of them leave once receiving their degrees.

In response to the study, Mayor Thomas M. Menino plans to announce this morning a major initiative, starting with this year's high school seniors, to increase the college graduation rate by 50 percent and then double the rate for students who are currently high school sophomores. The Boston Foundation, which financed the study along with the Carnegie Corporation of New York, has pledged $1 million this year toward that goal and hopes to allocate the same amount for each of the following four years.

"We want to make sure all our kids in Boston get a good education and graduate from college," Menino said in an interview Friday at City Hall. "It's not just about getting into college but how to stay in college."

Paul Reville, the state's education secretary, said he welcomed the announcement of the mayor's ambitious goals, which comes as the state is trying to create a seamless education system that caters to state residents from birth to college graduation.

"It's clear we are not doing well enough to support students through graduation," Reville said in a phone interview this weekend. "They need more help. We have to think more broadly about our approaches and the mayor is challenging us to do that."

Two years ago, a report by the Boston Higher Education Partnership suggested the city school system needed to do a better job of preparing its graduates. That report found that half of the city's high school graduates who studied math when they arrived at local colleges in fall 2005 had to take remedial courses, which a quarter of them failed.

The report being released today represents the city's first effort to track the college completion rates of its high school graduates. Similar analyses are underway for subsequent graduating classes. Previous studies have followed high school graduates for only a year after graduation.

The Class of 2000 left Boston public schools with big dreams: 64.2 percent of the 2,964 members enrolled in college, about 3 percentage points higher than the national average. They went in greatest numbers to Bunker Hill Community College, followed by the University of Massachusetts at Boston, Roxbury Community College, Massachusetts Bay Community College, Northeastern University, Quincy College, and UMass Amherst.

Yet seven years later, only 675 of those who enrolled, or 35.5 percent, had earned a one-year certificate, an associate degree, or a bachelor's degree. The study suggested that rate was about 8 percentage points below a national average generated by a mid-1990s tracking study that, similar to the Boston study, examined the same types of degrees.

"This puts us on notice that we have to do more and be more aggressive in our efforts to prepare our students and work closely with higher education institutions," Boston schools Superintendent Carol R. Johnson said in an interview Friday at City Hall. "A lot of our students are first-generation college-goers and some are first-generation high school graduates. So when you have students like that, you have to make sure you put in all the safety nets they need to be successful, not just in high school, but in college, too."

The study revealed sharp disparities in success among various ethnic and racial groups. Hispanics had completion rates of 23.9 percent, and blacks 28.2 percent. By contrast 53.3 percent of whites earned degrees, while Asians were slightly below that.

Overall, women were slightly more apt to graduate from college than men. But when gender was broken down by ethnicity and race, huge gaps emerged. Just 19 percent of Hispanic men who enrolled in college went on to graduate, while 27 percent of Hispanic women did. The gap between black men and women was similar.

The study also found that exam school graduates were vastly more prepared than other city graduates. Slightly more than 59 percent of exam school alumni who enrolled in college earned some type of degree, compared with 24 percent of all others.

Menino offered few details about his plan but said some of the Boston Foundation money will expand existing nonprofit programs, such as Bottom Line in Jamaica Plain, that have had success in helping students get into and through college.

"The mayor knew there was going to be some unhappy news in the study," said Paul S. Grogan, president of the Boston Foundation. "The fact he was willing to do the study anyway says a lot about his commitment to education."

The efforts will be in addition to ongoing improvements in the Boston public schools, which include ramping up academic rigor by offering more college-level courses.

The superintendent also has proposed creating a "newcomers academy" for new immigrant students and also is exploring the feasibility of same-gender classes, which studies have suggested can increase student achievement.

Calling attention to college completion rates is a much-needed "game changer" in education overhaul efforts nationwide, which have largely focused on elementary and secondary schools while overlooking colleges, said Neil Sullivan, executive director of the Boston Private Industry Council, a group of city business leaders that works with educators and other officials on education policy. The study could have significant impacts on state and federal budgets.

"A graduate of a four-year college will make almost $1 million more than a high school graduate over a lifetime," said Sullivan, citing a report his group did recently. "We need to help students every step of the way earn the prize: a college degree."

National debates over college graduation rates have been growing louder in recent years. Chicago did a study similar to Boston's within the past few years, and Friday the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education will discuss ways to bolster the state's low graduation rates at community colleges, according to Reville.

J. Keith Motley, the UMass Boston chancellor, said he believes all colleges should set a goal of a 100 percent completion rate, which he said his university has been working toward.

He said that the success rate at his university for Boston public school graduates who had participated in special programs at his campus while still in high school is about 85 percent.

"We are glad there will be a spotlight because we want to demonstrate these students are capable," Motley said. "The mayor is pushing us to pay attention to all those students from the neighborhoods and we should be doing that."

© Copyright 2008 Globe Newspaper Company.

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Bill Gates: "breaking large high schools into smaller units, on its own guaranteed no overall success"

Via a kind reader's email:

Excerpt: "A main strategy of the schools, breaking large high schools into smaller units, on its own guaranteed no overall success, Gates said.
He said the New York City small schools were an example of successes in raising high school graduation rates -- but a disappointment in that their graduates were no likelier than any city student to be prepared to go onto college.

Gates said the small number of successful schools did well not because they were structured as small schools, but because they enacted many different innovations: improved teaching quality, a longer school day, innovative instructional tools, a focus on tracking student achievement data."

The implementation of "Small Learning Communities" in Madison has not been without controversy.

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"Good News isn't News": Addressing Health Care Costs

FoxPolitics via a Steve Loehrke email:

Fremont School District Board of Education and FoxPolitics reader, wrote to update me with positive (!!) financial news from a school district. Refreshing!

In early March, 2007, the Post-Crescent, striving to illustrate the Freedom of Information Act for readers, requested invoices for legal charges from Weyauwega Fremont (W-F), a 1000-student school district west of Appleton. Per one of the newspaper's articles at the time:

Using the state's Open Records law, the newspaper fought for 10 months to see detailed invoices for attorney services after the district released heavily redacted copies ....
(P-C, March 11, 2007. The articles are no longer linkable. You can pay the P-C for an archived copy, or access articles from 1999 and later, free with your library card via Newsbank on the Appleton Public Library website.)

Loehrke objected to carte blanche (unredacted) release of the information and the P/C suit ended up costing district taxpayers about $25,000.

Quoting again from the March 11, 2007 P/C article:

District officials maintain they have not broken the law nor spent money irresponsibly, that the media is hyping the issue, and a handful of antagonistic residents are digging for dirt where none exists.

"We have willingly and openly responded promptly to more than 30 open records requests in the last year," school board president Steve Loehrke wrote in an e-mail to The P-C this past week.

Much of the legal work paid for by W-F and questioned by the P-C, was in response to actions by district retirees unhappy with health insurance changes the board and administration were considering - changes which ultimately led to substantial savings for the District.

Loehrke is proud of his school district and concerned that good news isn't reported.

To update you, our school district changed to a self-funded insurance plan and got rid of the WEAC owned insurance carrier. This year the school district put $800,000 (8%) of our budget into the Fund Balance. Tax rate is lowest of all surrounding school districts. Test scores are up. Permanently fixed the OPEB [Other Post-Employment Benefits] problem. Balanced the next year's budget. Many things the newspaper could have and should have reported. Instead they wanted a whipping boy to help them sell papers. They never showed up at this year's annual meeting. News silence. Good news isn't news.
I talked with W-F District Administrator Jim Harlan to confirm Loehrke's claims, and if accurate, to get the low-down on how the district achieved all this good stuff.

It seems to me the primary story is one of doggedly doing everything they can to reduce costs - to reduce costs that don't impact learning in the classroom. Lo and behold, one way W-F reduced costs was by controlling - surprise, surprise - health insurance costs.

Like the typical school district, teachers had a contracted right to choose the district's health insurance carrier. So again, like most other districts in the state, WEAC members chose the Insurance Trust (WEA IT) run by their union. With no competitive bidding.

In negotiations, Harlan and his teachers agreed to form a committee that would simply look into a possible change. Ultimately all parties saw it as a win-win for the district to self-fund their insurance program. Premiums are lower and coverage is better than the WEA IT program - so good in fact, the district was able to add dollars to their reserve fund, as Loehrke mentions above. ($200,000 of the $800,000 mentioned by Loehrke came from positive performance of the self-funded health insurance program.)

Those dang OPEBs
"Other Post-Employment Benefits" are a huge budget item for most school districts - districts that years ago agreed to fund health insurance benefits for retirees from as early as age 55, to age 65 when employees are eligible for Medicare coverage. As you can imagine, this gets to be a pretty hefty bill, with family coverage per retiree at $14,000 annually and up. (Here's a great primer on the extent of the OPEB problem in Wisconsin. To get a good overview, read the Executive Summary at the beginning and the Recommendations section at the end.)

For newly hired employees, W-F is phasing in a defined contribution retirement plan meant to fund retiree health care coverage. The District now establishes (and funds half of) a 403(b) (like a 401(k), only used by public sector and nonprofit corp. employees) that ultimately is meant to pay for health insurance benefits on retirement. And it's portable - traveling with a teacher if he moves to another district - or another position.

Other school districts, and several local governments have huge health insurance and OPEB challenges. Kudos to W-F for addressing theirs.

Much more on Steve Loehrke here.

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Research scientist helps Edgewood eighth-graders explore biochemistry

Pamela Cotant:

Students at Edgewood Campus School are learning with the help of a research scientist.

This is the third year Edgewood is participating in the SMART (Students Modeling A Research Topic) Team program where students learn what active research scientists investigate in their labs. Along the way, students learn hands-on molecular modeling to better understand biochemistry and what happens when diseases occur.

"It tries to show students what research science is like," said Edgewood Campus School teacher Dan Toomey. "Science is not a collection of facts."

Toomey's three eighth-grade science classes are participating in the program, which was integrated into his classroom after he first ran it as an after-school program.

For one activity this year, the students created a three-dimensional model of amino acids to learn how they interact.

"It's a lot easier than, like, seeing a picture," said eighth-grader Anna Heffernan.

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Fenty, Rhee Look for Ways Around DC Teacher's Union
Proposals Would Set Stage For School System Rebuild

Bill Turque:

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee are discussing a dramatic expansion of their effort to remove ineffective teachers by restoring the District's power to create nonunionized charter schools and seeking federal legislation declaring the school system in a "state of emergency," a move that would eliminate the need to bargain with the Washington Teachers' Union.

If adopted, the measures would essentially allow the District to begin building a new school system. Such an effort would be similar to one underway in New Orleans, where a state takeover after Hurricane Katrina placed most of the city's 78 public schools in a special Recovery School District. About half of the district's schools are charters, and it has no union contract.

Pursuit of the ideas would intensify the considerable national attention that Washington has drawn as a staging ground for school reforms. The moves could force a major confrontation with the union and its parent organization, the American Federation of Teachers, which has denounced the changes in New Orleans. The proposals also could place Fenty (D) and Rhee at odds with President-elect Barack Obama, who has praised their reform efforts but who also counts federation President Randi Weingarten as a major supporter in the labor movement.

Fenty and Rhee referred questions about the proposals to mayoral spokeswoman Mafara Hobson.

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Social Security Administration looks at Dallas schools' practice of issuing fake numbers

Tawnell Hobbs:

he Social Security Administration is looking into DISD's practice of issuing fake Social Security numbers to employees hired from foreign countries and will determine whether a formal investigation is needed, Wes Davis, the agency's spokesman in Dallas, said Friday.

Mr. Davis said the review would look at whether there was any criminal intent by the Dallas Independent School District and whether further investigation or prosecution is called for by the U.S. attorney's office. He said he hasn't heard of any other school districts issuing false Social Security numbers.

Richard Roper, U.S. attorney in Dallas, said he could not comment on whether his agency would investigate the matter.

DISD had been issuing the fake numbers - some of which had already been assigned to people elsewhere - for several years before ending the practice this past summer. The false numbers were issued to get the foreign citizens - mostly teachers brought in on visas to teach bilingual classes - on the payroll quickly.

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Milwaukee's neighborhood schools' troubles go unaddressed

Dave Umhoefer:

A slight improvement in enrollment this fall - equal to about one student per building - is about all that has changed for 25 schools that were at the heart of a troubled $102 million construction program for Milwaukee Public Schools.

Officials have taken no major steps to change the situation at schools where enrollment is far below the goals set when the Neighborhood Schools Initiative was launched in 2000. A series of stories in the Journal Sentinel in August described how millions of dollars of building projects had brought little visible gain.

The lack of action has at least one School Board member unhappy.

"I see waste in the district, but no one wants to cut," said Michael Bonds, chair of the board's finance committee. "We have to reduce the number of buildings we have. It's almost a mockery."

No serious proposals related to the neighborhood project have been discussed publicly this fall to close schools or take other steps aimed at getting more bang from the $102 million.

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Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Jonah Raskin:

Still, "Outliers" is unabashedly inspiring. Education is at its vital heart; teachers and parents ought to put it on Christmas lists and bring it to PTA meetings. The students in my own classes, many of whom never seize opportunities, and blame others for failures, would benefit greatly by reading Gladwell's provocative and practical book about the landscape of success.
Gladwell's website. Jeffrey Trachtenberg has more.

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November 16, 2008

A Fascinating Look at Wisconsin's K-12 and Higher Ed Finance Battles



Much continues to be written about Wisconsin's K-12 and Higher Education spending growth, an issue that will be front and center as the State grapples with a structural deficit and slowing tax revenue growth. Following is a recent roundup of rhetoric on this matter:

We'll certainly see many more articles on this topic as the Governor and Legislature address the state's spending difficulties.

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High School Rugby Team Breaks Down Barriers

Will Bardenwerper:

The rugby practice field at Hyde Leadership Public Charter School bears little resemblance to the manicured lawns of the English boarding school where the sport was born. It is more brown than green, and sirens sometimes drown out the shouts of players. Then there are the occasional interruptions, like when play was briefly halted during a recent practice as a man darted about wildly on a nearby street, calling football plays and evading imaginary tacklers.

But this patch of mud and grass is more than the home of what is believed to be the nation's first all-African-American high school rugby team. It is also where a growing number of students have been exposed to a sport they once knew nothing about and to parts of society that once seemed closed to them.

Hyde players have a hard time explaining rugby to friends who do not attend their school and who do not know much about the sport. Others say things like, "You're crazy, that's a white person's sport," said Lawrenn Lee, a senior on the team. One parent, Clifford Lancaster, recalled his reaction when his son Salim announced he was going to play: "My eyes got this big. I said, 'That's a wild sport.' "

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Putting education -- not unions -- first

Ben DeGrow:

This year brought the biggest electoral Democratic wave in more than three decades. Yet Colorado teachers union officials may have lost, rather than gained, political ground.

Sometimes, the interests of the Democratic Party and teachers union officials align closely. The Colorado Education Association and Colorado Federation of Teachers together give Democrats about $50 in contributions for every $1 they give Republicans.
Of course, not all Democratic legislators are in the pockets of the teachers union hierarchy. It is remarkable, though, to see not one but two legislators without union connections assume the highest positions at our state Capitol. Peter Groff's Democratic peers voted to re-elect him as state Senate president, and Rep. Terrance Carroll was selected to become the new speaker of the House.

Supporters of public school parental choice could find no better friends in the Democratic caucus than Groff and Carroll. Both men have a strong record of protecting charter schools against union-backed legislative attacks, even attacks launched by other Democrats.

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ADHD Primer for Parents Part I

Susan Crum:

Although called Attention Deficit Disorder, and thus many parents and teachers believe that the primary problem is distractibility or poor attention, in reality this disorder is primarily a disorder of impaired executive function. When an individual has ADHD, executive functions are not emerging or unfolding as expected for the child chronological age. By executive functions I refer to a wide range of central control process of the brain that temporaneously connect, prioritize and integrate cognitive functions in the same manner that a conductor directs a band. Clearly, this does not refer to a single task at a given point in time such as focusing on getting a hamburger when hungry, or pushing a button at a given moment in order to stop a character is a video game from going forward. But, it does mean there is impairment in the ability to sustain concentrated focus on a task that requires constant monitoring and adjustment, as well as intermediate and long-term projection into the future such as driving a car, following a complicate classroom lecture or interacting with others and anticipating their reactions and the long-term outcomes of my statements or actions. In short, impaired executive functions negatively impact the real stuff of day to day life.

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November 15, 2008

Should Schools Tackle Poverty?
Yeah, let's add that between recess and lunch.

Alexander Russo:

Don't be surprised if you hear a lot more from teachers and board members about "out of school" social issues and programs this year. Chatter about more daring and wider-ranging approaches to school improvement is all the rage right now, as part of a longer-term pushback against accountability-based reform like NCLB.

Jumping into efforts to reach children in their home lives, however, may stretch schools' abilities to make a real difference--and may take you and your team's eyes off quality classroom instruction and academic improvement.

Over the past few months, there has been a slew of ideas and proposals to move beyond reform efforts that are primarily school-based. Just as the Democratic primary was wrapping up, a coalition of educators put out a call for a "broader, bolder" approach to education reform. Later in the summer, aft president-elect Randi Weingarten called for "community schools" that would provide social services as well as education. Early in the fall, Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama began touting a proposal to create "Promise Neighborhoods" around the country, in which low-income children and their parents would receive a comprehensive set of medical and social services in addition to a quality education. About a third of states have recently embarked on new antipoverty programs, according to Stateline.org .

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Top national honor goes to Simpson Street Free Press

The Capital Times

Madison's Simpson Street Free Press, the newspaper written and produced by young people for other young people, was recognized Thursday in a White House ceremony as one of the country's best youth programs.

The paper, which was founded in 1992 to help struggling students on the south side of Madison improve their writing and academic skills, received the 2008 "Coming Up Taller" award, an initiative of the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities that is designed to recognize the nation's best and most innovative youth programs.

The national honor is one of several awards the paper has earned in recent years for its effective methods of engaging and building the skills of young people.

The Free Press' first headquarters was a makeshift community center in the old Simpson Street apartments on the city's southeast side and involved just a handful of students. It now has its office and newsroom in nearby South Towne Mall and has a staff of nearly 40 student reporters who come from diverse backgrounds and neighborhoods. Young people apply for jobs at the paper and, once hired, meet assignment deadlines and attendance and school performance guidelines while they produce regular issues of the newspaper.

The staff, which ranges in age from 11 to 18, writes and produces the content of the Free Press. They research and produce articles on history, geography, science, literary criticism and the arts. Some write sports stories, and others write regular columns. The young reporters all work in an authentic newsroom environment. They write and rewrite articles several times before they are accepted for publication.

The paper is circulated at numerous outlets in the Madison area, including in all city schools. The Free Press provides lesson plans to teachers who want to use the paper in their classroom. Currently about 23,000 copies of each issue are printed. Subscription information is available online.

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Competing for Grammar School

Lisa Freedman:

It's a brisk Friday morning and a skinny little boy in a large blazer stands shivering by locked school gates. Close beside him are his mother, his father and his two grandmothers, both in saris. The trembling child is right to be anxious. He is about to sit the entrance tests for Queen Elizabeth's School in Barnet, north London, one of England's leading grammar schools, and the odds against him passing through this narrow gateway to academic success are extremely slim. There are just 180 places available in the school's Year Seven each year and 1,200 boys hoping to fill them.

Grammar schools have always been popular but with the financial meltdown affecting many affluent families, a free education in a traditional environment is looking highly attractive to parents of bright 10-year-olds. Fees for three children at independent secondary schools cost £50,000 or more a year, and four out of five parents pay those fees out of income.

Jenny Jones, secretary of the National Grammar Schools Association, a non-political body of parents, teachers and heads promoting grammar schools, confirms that "there have definitely been more applications from families who would normally go to independent schools".

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Universal preK brings new challenges for public elementary schools

David McKay Wilson:

In 2005, when Boston mayor Thomas Menino announced his plan to make prekindergarten available to all four-year-olds in the city, parents and early childhood advocates applauded this initiative to add a 14th year to the city's public school system.

Three years later, after preK classrooms were established in 50 of the city's 67 elementary schools, educators say implementing the mayor's vision has proved to be a major challenge. There were facility issues: none of the classrooms had running water or bathrooms, so administrators lobbied to build toilet facilities in the rooms--at the cost of $35,000 each. There were oversight issues: many of the elementary school principals weren't sensitive to the needs of four-year-olds, so Boston established a professional development academy for administrators faced with the prospect of educating preschoolers.

Then there was the impact on the elementary schools where those four-year-olds were getting ready for kindergarten. When those students turned five, they were so well prepared that the district had to retool its kindergarten curriculum to keep pace with children much more ready to learn.

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AP Students Forced to Accept Less

Jay Matthews:

A teacher with the sign-on name of pfelcher posted a provocative comment on the Web version of my Nov. 3 column for the Post's Metro section. I was repeating for the 4,897th time my view that even low-income students who have not performed well in school can learn in a college-level high school course, like Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate, if given extra time and encouragement.

Pfelcher would have none of my argument. To support his opinion, he cited a personal experience in his classroom. I always find first-person accounts helpful when debating this issue. I decided to send his comment to a few other AP teachers I knew, and see what they had to say.

Here is the post from pfelcher, whom I do not know and cannot identify further, followed by the reactions of three teachers, plus a student who sent me his view. If we want to make our high schools better, we have to work this out. I think such exchanges help us figure out what to do:

......

It's not about who wins in a class of students with such disparate preparation and skill; it's about who loses. The students ready to march ahead are forced instead to grind to a halt as the other students have to be taught the basics with which they should have entered the class.

At the end of the year, those unprepared students who might have gained from my class but who still had too far to go to attain the literacy and competence the test requires, failed miserably on the AP exam. So, did these lower-end students gain from the experience? Yes, they did to some degree, even though egos that had never really been tried suffered when they saw how they compared to the nation.

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Madison School Board Update

Board President Arlene Silveira:

Thank You: On behalf of the BOE, I would like to thank the community for their support in the recent referendum vote. Your support of our students and schools is appreciated. Because of your support, you have maintained our foundation and provided us three years to focus on ways to improve our schools without the constant specter of compulsory budget slashing. We are committed to continuing the "Partnership Plan" that was at the heart of the referendum. We look forward to working together, with each other and with the community. More information on our future plans is below.

Governance: As we have stated, the referendum was only a piece of a bigger plan for the district. This week the Board and the Superintendent have continued discussions on governance models which will allow us to focus our energies and attention on student achievement. We plan on starting the implementation of a new governance model in December. Community engagement will be a key part of any model we pursue. More details will be available after our November 24 BOE meeting.

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November 14, 2008

Vouchers in Texas, A Worthy Experiment

The Economist:

THE Edgewood independent school district covers an unassuming part of west San Antonio, a district of fast-food joints and car-body shops, with houses that run from modest to ramshackle. It is mostly poor and mostly Hispanic, and in 1968 its government-funded public schools were so bad that a parents' group sued the state, prompting a debate over school funding that lasted for decades. By 1998 the situation had improved. The National Education Association, America's largest teachers' union, said that Edgewood could be a model for other urban school districts.

Then its voucher programme started. In 1998 the Children's Educational Opportunity Foundation, a private group, announced that it would put up $50m over the next ten years to provide vouchers for private education to any low-income Edgewood student who wanted one. The "Horizon" plan was meant to show legislators that vouchers could help students and motivate schools through competition.

Critics said the programme would take money from a school district that was poor already. One teacher wrote an angry editorial comparing Horizon to Napoleons invasion of Russia">Napoleon's invasion of Russia, destined for "history's trash heap of bad ideas".

But a report published in September [3.5MB PDF Report] by the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), a conservative think-tank, argues that the programme was a hit over its ten-year span. More than 4,000 students claimed the vouchers; their test scores jumped, and only two dropped out.

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The Best Places in the USA to Raise Your Children

Prashant Gopal:

A Chicago suburb beats out thousands of other communities around the U.S. as the best, most affordable place to raise kids.

Mount Prospect, Ill., is a quiet Chicago suburb with a population of just over 56,000. It is a tight-knit town where over the past eight years Prospect High School's football team won three state championships, its Marching Knights picked up their 26th straight grand champion title at the annual state marching band festival, and just last month the school itself ranked 12th among all state high schools. Now the town is also the winner of Businessweek's second annual roundup of the Best Places in America to Raise Kids.

Founded by German immigrants and incorporated in 1917, Mount Prospect hasn't strayed far from its values of fiscal conservatism and community involvement, even as it has expanded to include new immigrants from Poland, Mexico, Korea, and India. It is a middle-class community with low crime, affordable homes, award-winning schools, ethnic restaurants, a major regional mall, and a small-town charm that makes the big city less than an hour away seem much farther away.

Other cities mentioned include: Euless, TX, Murfreesboro, TN, Huntsville, AL and Eau Claire, WI.

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Tempe High relishes chance to become IB school

Georgann Yara:

A 3.7 grade-point average and a schedule stacked with honors classes may be enough for Tempe High School sophomore Fabian De La Cruz to attain his goal of attending Harvard University.

A new program slated for implementation at his school next year could only help the aspiring surgeon reach his dream and become the first person in his family to go to college.

The International Baccalaureate program comprises a rigorous interdisciplinary curriculum that emphasizes an international perspective and critical and creative thinking skills.

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Arts Integration Aids Students' Grasp of Academics

Julie Rasicot:

Teacher Karen McKiernan's science class at Dr. Charles R. Drew Elementary School seemed more like a lesson in art appreciation than the laws of physics as students focused on a poster of an abstract painting propped against the blackboard.

The room buzzed with questions as the fifth-graders at the Silver Spring school queried each other about the piece, "People and Dog in the Sun," by Joan Miró.

"What would this painting look like if it was not abstract?" 10-year-old Annesha Goswami asked her classmates.

"Why do you think there are so many dark colors and only one bright color?" asked Elizabeth Iduma, 10.

The students, participants in the school's talented and gifted magnet program, were practicing a thinking routine called "creative questions" which was designed to help them "think outside the box," McKiernan said. For the class's next meeting, McKiernan said, she planned to have students relate their thoughts about the artwork to the concepts of force, motion and energy that the fifth-graders had been studying.

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Bill Gates on Ed in '08 & School Reform Impediments

Erik Robelen quotes Bill Gates:

"We have not found a way to do it. We have not been very successful at it...the problem we tend to run into is that the most influential and well-educated people either have their kids in private schools, or they have their kids in an enclave inside the high school that are called honor's courses, where the teaching is pretty decent and so, if we go to a school and say, let's change things here, they say, no way, you're going to mess our little enclave up. All the kids go through the same front door, but really it's a separate school inside there that's allowing us not to be part of that insanity, and so don't mess with the thing that works well for us. And I do think, if you want to stand up to some of the practices that are not focused on the needs of the students, you need a broad set of parents. I think we're very weak on this point.

During the presidential election, we had two advocacy efforts. One about global development, and one about education. And we didn't end up spending the amount of money that we had available for the advocacy because most of what we were causing people to do was to mouth platitudes. ... On global development, which I thought was the harder of the two, we actually succeeded because people never even talked about it at all, and we actually got them to talk about it."

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India's Colleges Battle a Thicket of Red Tape



Geeta Anand:

Under the labyrinthine regulations that govern technical colleges nationwide, the Principal K.M. Kundnani College of Pharmacy must provide 168 square feet of building space for each student. The rule is intended to ensure students have enough space to learn. But it effectively caps enrollment at 300, even though students are spread so thinly in the eight-story building that the top floor remains unused, its lecture halls padlocked.

The rules also stipulate the exact size for libraries and administrative offices, the ratio of professors to assistant professors and lecturers, quotas for student enrollment and the number of computer terminals, books and journals that must be on site.

"I am not free to run this school as I wish," Ms. D'Mello, 51 years old, says. "I am at the whim of unrealistic demands."

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November 13, 2008

On College-Entrance Exam Day, All of South Korea Is Put to the Test

Sungha Park:

One foggy morning last November, officer Kang Jin-jin heard the distress call on his police radio: An 18-year-old girl about to take the national college-entrance exam had left her admission ticket at home.

Mr. Kang dashed off to the girl's apartment, got the ticket from her father, and raced across town on his motorcycle, arriving at the school just in time for the test.

"I had to ignore traffic signs and turn on the siren," he said. "It was a bit risky, but I tried my best."

Mr. Kang's heroic effort is hardly an isolated one. On the day each November that high-school seniors take the college-entrance test -- Nov. 13, this year -- South Korea is a changed country.

Many offices and the stock market open at 10 a.m., an hour later than usual, to keep the roads free for students on their way to the test. All other students get the day off to keep schools quiet for the test takers. And while students are taking the listening portions of the tests, planes can't land or take off at the nation's airports. Aircraft arriving from other countries are ordered to circle at altitudes above 10,000 feet.

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BIBLIOPHOBIA
Will Fitzhugh in Madison 11/19 @ 7:00p.m.

Madison meeting details here

The Boston Globe reported recently that Michelle Wie, the 16-year-old Korean-American golfing phenomenon, not only speaks Korean and English, but has also taken four years of Japanese, and is beginning to study Mandarin. She is planning to apply early to Stanford University. I would be willing to bet, however, that in high school her academic writing has been limited to the five-paragraph essay, and it is very likely that she has not been assigned a complete nonfiction book.

For the last two years, and especially since the National Endowment for the Arts unveiled the findings of its large ($300,000) study of reading of fiction in the United States, I have been seeking funding for a much smaller study of the assignment of complete nonfiction books in U.S. public high schools. This proposed study, which education historian Diane Ravitch has called "timely and relevant," has met with little interest, having so far been turned down by the National Endowment for the Humanities as well as a number of foundations and institutes both large and small.

Still, I have a fair amount of anecdotal evidence some of it from people who would be quite shocked to hear that high school English departments were no longer assigning any complete novels that the non-assignment of nonfiction books on subjects like history is unremarkable and, in fact, accepted.

A partner in a law firm in Boston, for instance, told me there was no point in such a study, because everyone knows history books aren't assigned in schools. This was the case, he said, even decades ago at his own alma mater, Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, where he was assigned only selections, readings, and the like, never a complete book. A senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, said when I lamented that I couldn't find anyone who agrees that high school students should read at least one nonfiction book, "The only hope is parents introducing their kids to reading, and that's a mighty slim hope."

For the last two decades, I have been working to encourage the writing of history research papers by high school students. But it has become apparent to me that one of the problems involved in getting students to undertake such a task is that so many do not read any history, and so have little to write about. Even so, as I began to try to find out about the reading of nonfiction books, I found more and more apathy and acceptance of the situation. As long as the English department controls reading and writing in schools, the reading will be fiction, and the writing will be personal, creative or the five-paragraph essay.

Why is this important? ACT found last Spring that 49% of our high school graduates (half of the 70% who do graduate) cannot read at the level required by freshman college texts. Common sense, buttressed by such work as that of E.D. Hirsch, Jr., would lead to the conclusion that perhaps the reason so many students need remedial work in college and don't return for sophomore year, is that they have never faced a nonfiction book, and thus have so little knowledge that they don't know what their professors are talking about.

These days, of course, there is a great deal of attention given to many educational issues, and one of the current Edupundit maxims is that the most important variable in student academic achievement is teacher quality. So lots of attention and many millions of dollars go into teacher training, re-training, professional development, and the like.

The truth may lie elsewhere. The most important variable in student academic achievement is, in my view, student academic work. Those who concern themselves with teacher quality only assume that better teachers will lead to more student work. If they would care to look, however, examples of both lousy teachers with students who do well, and superior teachers with students who do no academic work are everywhere to be found.

Ignoring academic writing and the reading of nonfiction books at the high school level can only prolong our national bout of remediation and failure in college. Let's find out whether our high school students are indeed discouraged from reading a history book and writing a serious term paper. Then we may be able to turn more of our attention to assigning the kind of academic work that leads to the levels of academic achievement we wish for our students.

Will Fitzhugh is the founder of The Concord Review, a journal of high school student research papers, based in Sudbury, Massachusetts. He also founded the National Writing Board, in 1998, and the TCR Institute in 2002, to encourage student writing in history. He can be reached at fitzhugh@tcr.org

"Teach by Example"
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
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
www.tcr.org; fitzhugh@tcr.org
Varsity Academics®

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Page Per Year Plan

Diane Ravitch recently pointed out that, "the campaign against homework goes on. Its success will guarantee a steady decline in the very activities that matter most in education: independent reading; thoughtful writing; research projects."

It is clearer and clearer that most high school students, when they do read a book, read fiction. The College Board's Reading List of 101 Books for the College-Bound Student includes only four works of nonfiction: Walden, Emerson's Essays, Night, and The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass. Nothing by David McCullough, David Hackett Fischer, or any other great contemporary (or past) historian is suggested for the "College-Bound Student."

The SAT, ACT, and NAEP writing assessments, and most state writing standards, require no prior knowledge and challenge students to write their opinions and personal stories in 25 minutes. Unless college history professors start assigning term papers by saying: "'History repeats itself.' See what you can write about that in 25 minutes and turn it in six weeks from now," our high school graduates will continue to find that they have been sadly misled about the demands for academic writing they will face.

A national study done for The Concord Review in 2002, of the assignment of high school history term papers, found that 81% of public high school history teachers never assign a 20-page paper, and 62% never assign a 12-page paper any more, even to high school seniors. The Boston Latin School, a famous exam school, no longer assigns the "traditional history term paper."

One reason for this, I believe, is that teachers find that by the time their students are Juniors and Seniors in high school, they have done so little academic expository writing that they simply could not manage a serious history research paper, if they were asked to do one.

For eight years, I have suggested, to those who doubt the ability of U.S. high school seniors to write academic history research papers, that schools should start on our Page Per Year Plan, which would work as follows:

Each first grader would be required to write a one-page paper on a subject other than herself or himself, with at least one source.

A page would be added each year to the required academic writing, such that, for example, fifth graders would have to write a five-page paper (five sources), ninth graders would have to write a nine-page research paper, with nine sources, and so on, until each and every senior could be asked to prepare a 12-page academic research paper (twelve sources), with endnotes and bibliography, on some historical topic, which the student could choose each year.

This would gradually prepare students for future academic writing tasks, and each senior could graduate from high school knowing more about some important topic than anyone else in the class, and he/she might also have read at least one nonfiction (history) book before college. This could reduce the need for remedial instruction in writing (and perhaps in remedial reading as well) at the college level.

At each grade level, teachers would need more time to help students plan their papers and to evaluate and comment on them when the papers came in, but with our Page Per Year Plan, all students would be likely to graduate from U.S. high schools with better academic expository writing skills and better reading skills.

In our public schools, the power over reading and writing belongs to the English Department, and many social studies and history teachers, perhaps especially those who are preparing students for AP exams, do not believe their students have the time to read a history book or write a history research paper.

While this is the rule, there are exceptions, and I have been glad to publish [835] history papers written by AP history students [from 36 countries] in the last 20 [21] years of The Concord Review. But all too often, those exemplary papers were written by students putting in the extra time and effort to do an independent study, of the sort that Diane Ravitch believes is now in steady decline in our schools.

Of course it is rewarding for me to receive letters, like one from Shounan Ho when she was at Notre Dame Academy in Los Angeles, which included a comment that: "I wrote this paper independently, during my own time out of school. My motives for doing so were both academic and personal. Although history has always been my favorite subject, I had never written a paper with this extensive research before. After reading the high quality of essays in The Concord Review, I was very inspired to try to write one myself. I thought it was a significant opportunity to challenge myself and expand my academic horizons. Thus during the summer before my Senior year, I began doing the research for my own paper." She is now a John Jay Scholar at Columbia University, and it seems likely she found that she had prepared herself well for college work.

But what about those students who depend on educators to set academic standards which will prepare them for the reading and writing tasks ahead? For those students, I recommend that teachers consider the Page Per Year Plan to help their students get ready. Again, this plan would also make it somewhat more likely that our high school graduates would have been asked to read perhaps one complete history book before they leave for college or for work.

"Teach by Example"
Will Fitzhugh (founder)
Consortium for Varsity Academics® (2007)
The Concord Review (1987)
National Writing Board (1998)
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, MA 01776 USA
(800) 331-5007; (978) 443-0022
fitzhugh@tcr.org; www.tcr.org
Varsity Academics®

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How Much Homework is Too Much?

Linda Thomas, via email:

Q: My son is in elementary school and has already gotten far more homework than last year, going from fourth to fifth grade. The work isn't difficult, but there's a lot of it. Keeping him on task is a nightly struggle at our house. I've talked with his teacher and she says no one else has complained. How much is too much homework?

A: I hate homework. Do I lose my mom sash and crown for admitting that?

I understand the importance of homework: It gives students a chance to review what they're learning in class; it is feedback for teachers so they'll know whether students understand the subjects covered in school; it's a way to extend learning by having students discover new information about a subject; it's practice; it gives parents an opportunity to be involved in their kids' education. That's all positive. But some nights, the homework routine in our house makes me feel like a crinkled, crumpled sheet of notebook paper.

Seattle Public Schools requires its teachers to assign homework. The district's homework policy was adopted way back in 1983 and hasn't been modified since. Here are the district's guidelines for the minimum/maximum amount of homework a student should receive:

Grades K-2: Five to 10 minutes per day or 20 to 40 minutes each week
Grades 3-4: 10 to 20 minutes per day, 40-80 minutes each week
Grades 5-6: 20 to 40 minutes per day, 80-160 minutes a week
Middle School: One to two hours per night, five to 10 hours per week
High School: Two hours per night, 10 hours each week

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Obama Is Expected to Put Education Overhaul on Back Burner

Robert Tomsho & John Hechinger:

With the federal government under pressure to rescue banks, auto makers and homeowners, as well as a federal budget deficit that could double to $1 trillion this fiscal year, many observers question whether Mr. Obama will undertake education measures that require significant spending.

Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a think tank, said he expects Mr. Obama to sidestep most major issues involving public schools and instead focus on small, symbolic initiatives in the mold of former President Bill Clinton's promotion of school uniforms as a way to instill discipline in classrooms.

Economically, the new president faces a "tough, tough balancing act," said Arne Duncan, chief executive of the Chicago Public Schools and an education adviser to Mr. Obama. Even so, Mr. Duncan said education has been pivotal to Mr. Obama's personal story, and he predicted "a very strong, aggressive and comprehensive strategy" on the issue. "This is something that is hugely important to him," said Mr. Duncan, who has been mentioned as a possible secretary of education in the Obama administration.

Incoming White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, speaking on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday, said stimulating the economy and getting people back to work will be the new administration's top priority. But he added that the president-elect sees the financial crisis as an opportunity to make changes in energy policy, health care and education. "Those issues that are usually referred to as long-term are immediate," he said.

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An Interview with Madison's Glendale Elementary Principal Mickey Buhl

Melanie Conklin:

Mickey Buhl, 40, became principal at Glendale in 2005, taking the helm of a Madison school with significant challenges: the highest rate of low-income students at 80 percent, annual student turnover rate around 40 percent and a majority of students in either special education or English as a Second Language classes. He's passionate about the good things happening at Glendale and working with staff members to beat those statistical odds. He's also clearly obsessed with baseball.

MC: Is it true you worked in the Congressional Budget Office?

MB: It was my first job working for anyone other than my father. I started at the CBO after I got my master's degree in public policy. They would send a bill and I'd estimate the cost of it. The Family and Medical Leave Act came through and I got that. The politics of Washington permeated every aspect of life, and there was enough nastiness to it that I just decided I didn't want to make a life of it.

MC: How did you end up as a principal?

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Obese kids have arteries of 45-year-old

John Fauber:

Neck arteries of obese children as young as 10 resembled those of a typical 45-year-old, a new study has found.

The research is more evidence that the process of artery disease can begin early in life, increasing the risk of premature heart disease in adulthood.

"These findings confirm some of our big picture concerns about childhood obesity," said Aaron Carrel, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. "It is a very direct link with disease."

Carrel, who was not a part of the research, said artery disease in obese children was something that doctors had long suspected, but the level of disease found in the study was higher than anticipated.

UW doctors also have been finding abnormally high levels of cholesterol in obese kids ages 5 to 18, Carrel said.

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Chinese Language Part Of Day At School

David Steinkraus:

The melody was familiar - "Frere Jacques," the nursery rhyme sung by generations of schoolchildren - but the words weren't.

"Xia zhou jian, Xia zhou jian," intoned Xu Chen to the final notes of the song. Gathered around her, the children attending the first day of the first Panda Academy at the Racine Montessori School followed along even if they didn't know what they were saying. Roughly translated it meant "See you next week," and it was the phrase which students would be expected to repeat as they left the room following their first lesson in the Chinese language.

The academy, which began Sept. 27, grew out of a desire to teach adopted Asian children about their heritage, to offer the language of a nation important to modern commerce, and to eliminate long drives for parents.

"I think every community has a burgeoning Asian population and not necessarily by adoption. The percentage of Asians in the country is very small, but it's the fastest-growing," said Kelly Gallaher, one of the people who organized the academy.

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November 12, 2008

Washington, DC School Chief Takes on Teacher Tenure, and Stirs a Fight

Sam Dillon:

Michelle Rhee, the hard-charging chancellor of the Washington public schools, thinks teacher tenure may be great for adults, those who go into teaching to get summer vacations and great health insurance, for instance. But it hurts children, she says, by making incompetent instructors harder to fire.

So Ms. Rhee has proposed spectacular raises of as much as $40,000, financed by private foundations, for teachers willing to give up tenure.

Policy makers and educators nationwide are watching to see what happens to Ms. Rhee's bold proposal. The 4,000-member Washington Teachers' Union has divided over whether to embrace it, with many union members calling tenure a crucial protection against arbitrary firing.

"If Michelle Rhee were to get what she is demanding," said Allan R. Odden, a professor at the University of Wisconsin who studies teacher compensation, "it would raise eyebrows everywhere, because that would be a gargantuan change."

Last month, Ms. Rhee said she could no longer wait for a union response to her proposal, first outlined last summer, and announced an effort to identify and fire ineffective teachers, including those with tenure. The union is mobilizing to protect members, and the nation's capital is bracing for what could be a wrenching labor struggle.

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ACT or SAT? More Students Answering 'All Of the Above'

Daniel de Vise:

For students in the Washington region, picking a college entrance test has become a multiple-choice question.

The SAT has long dominated the bustling college-prep market in the District and its suburbs. But the rival ACT is making inroads, buoyed by a shift in conventional wisdom, which now holds that the tests are of about equal value and that a student would be wise to take both. Colleges are driving the trend because admission officers are spreading the word that it doesn't matter which test students take.

The ascendance of the ACT has brought Hertz-Avis style competition to the test-obsessed D.C. region. It's a boon to students, who find they have more ways than ever to impress colleges. The SAT tests how students think. The ACT measures what they have learned. Each is a better fit for some students than others.

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A Look Back at the November, 2008 Madison School District's "Easy Referendum" Win

Tamira Madsen:

In the aftermath of the successful Madison Metropolitan School District referendum, many critics and supporters agree on one thing: They were surprised with district voters' overwhelming approval of the operating referendum.

Nearly 68 percent of voters favored the referendum, which will allow the district to exceed its tax limits by $5 million during the 2009-10 school year, then by an additional $4 million in each of the following two years. The total increase of $13 million will be permanent for every year after that.

The referendum won a majority in almost every ward in the district, but Superintendent Dan Nerad admitted afterward that he wasn't sure that the initiative would pass due to the tumultuous economy. District officials say the referendum will increase taxes for the owner of an average Madison home by $27.50 the first year, then $43 more the second year and an additional $21 in the third.

Much more on the recent referendum here.

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Charters lead California's traditional schools in achievement for poor children, survey finds

Mitchell Landsberg:

Four Southern California charters and one L.A. Unified campus are among the top 15 serving students living in poverty.

The burgeoning charter school movement in California has largely made its mark as an alternative to low-performing inner-city schools. An analysis being issued today suggests that, at their best, charters are doing that job well, outperforming most traditional public schools that serve children in poverty.

Using the Academic Performance Index as a measuring tool, the California Charter Schools Assn. found that 12 of the top 15 public schools in California that cater primarily to poor children are charters.

"These results show that charter schools are opening doors of opportunity for California's most underserved students, and effectively advancing them on the path to academic success," said Peter Thorp, interim head of the association. He urged traditional public schools to study the charters to replicate their success.

The association, which is an advocate for charter schools, focused on schools where at least 70% of the children qualify for free or reduced price lunch. Of more than 3,000 public schools statewide that fit that description, the highest API score -- 967 -- was earned by American Indian Public Charter, a middle school in Oakland whose students are primarily Asian, black and Latino, and have a poverty rate of 98%. It was followed by its sibling, American Indian Public High School, with a score of 958.

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On Class Size & Adversity

Malcolm Gladwell:

The man who boasts of walking seven miles to school, barefoot, every morning, happily drives his own grandchildren ten blocks in an S.U.V. We have become convinced that the surest path to success for our children involves providing them with a carefully optimized educational experience: the "best" schools, the most highly educated teachers, the smallest classrooms, the shiniest facilities, the greatest variety of colors in the art-room paint box. But one need only look at countries where schoolchildren outperform their American counterparts--despite larger classes, shabbier schools, and smaller budgets--to wonder if our wholesale embrace of the advantages of advantages isn't as simplistic as Carnegie's wholesale embrace of the advantages of disadvantages.

In E. J. Kahn's Profile, he tells the story of a C.E.O. retreat that Weinberg attended, organized by Averell Harriman. It was at Sun Valley, Harriman's ski resort, where, Kahn writes, it emerged that Weinberg had never skied before:

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A School District Asks: Where Are the Parents?

Winnie Hu:

Then teachers and administrators noticed something else: Jericho High School's 90-member orchestra had become 70 percent Asian-American (the student body over all is about 30 percent Asian-American), but it still played for a mostly white audience at concerts with many empty seats.

The Chinese and Korean families that flocked to Jericho for its stellar schools shared their Jewish and Italian predecessors' priorities on excellent education. But the new diversity of the district has revealed a cultural chasm over the meaning of parental involvement. Many of the Asian-Americans whose children now make up a third of the district's enrollment grew up in places where parents showed up on campus only when their children were in trouble.

"They think, 'My kids are doing well -- why should I come?' " said Sophia Bae, 38, a Korean immigrant who shied away from P.T.A. meetings when she first moved here from Queens four years ago. Now a member of the organization, she invites other Koreans to her home and encourages them to participate in pretzel sales. "They don't realize it's necessary to come and join the school to understand their kids' lives."

Parental involvement is a perennial struggle in poor urban neighborhoods, where many innovative school leaders have run parent academies and strongly encouraged school visits or committee membership in hopes of mimicking the success of the suburbs. Now Jericho is taking a page from that handbook, trying to lure Asian parents into the schools with free English classes and a multicultural advisory committee that, among other things, taught one Chinese mother what to wear and what to bring to a bar mitzvah. The P.T.A. has been trying to recruit more minority members and groom them for leadership roles.

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November 11, 2008

School Spending Climate: State & Federal Deficits

Greg Bump:

He said all agencies are going to have to tighten their belts.

"The new increase is a flat line," he said.

Doyle said one of his priorities will be to protect K-12 education and the university system from major cuts, but said the state "may have to save some money on school aids" and the UW System is "definitely going to have to participate in this."

"The bottom line of this," Doyle said, "is I'm willing to make very deep cuts."

Doyle added, "But I don't want to see schools go into total crisis mode."

Jason Stein:
Sen. Mark Miller, D-Monona, co-chairman of the Legislature's budget committee, said he would not rule out a general income or sales tax increase but would see it as a "last resort."

"I think the priority needs to stay on job creation," Miller said of the budget. He said new jobs would help the state begin to climb out of its budget hole.

Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, said he would want to know more about how the budget shortfall was calculated, including more about the size of agencies' requested spending increases, before he could truly say how serious it was. That's because governors have an incentive to play up the size of the budget shortfall to emphasize the challenge they face, he said.

Randall Forsyth:
WHAT ONCE WAS UNTHINKABLE has come to pass this year: massive bailouts by the Treasury and the Federal Reserve, with the extension of billions of the taxpayers' and the central bank's credit in so many new and untested schemes that you can't tell your acronyms or abbreviations without a scorecard.

Even more unbelievable is that some of the recipients of staggering sums are coming back for a second round. Or that the queue of petitioners grows by the day.

But what happens if the requests begin to strain the credit line of the world's most creditworthy borrower, the U.S. government itself? Unthinkable?

Patrick Marley:
The $5 billion shortfall includes up to $500 million in the current budget, which runs through June 30. Doyle stressed that the deficit may continue to balloon as the scope of the national economic crisis becomes clear. Less than a month ago, Doyle estimated the deficit at more than $3 billion.

Sen. Mike Ellis (R-Neenah) said the deficit was mostly caused by matters out of the control of lawmakers, but that it was significantly worsened by bad budgeting practices in the past.

"This is a monster problem," he said.

Projections change

When lawmakers approved a budget-repair bill in May, state officials believed revenue would increase by a modest 1.5% through next June. Now, they say, revenue will instead drop 2.5% because declining jobs and fewer sales translate into lower tax collections.

Revenue will drop further in the first year of the next budget, Doyle said.

Doyle said his No. 1 priority is funding education. He said he also wants to protect state health care programs, as well as key economic development programs that fund biotechnology and renewable energy programs.

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Madison school cafeterias have "impressive" safety records

Melanie Conklin:

While there's no controlling what happens once kids get their hands on the food, some of the safest public places to buy meals are Madison school cafeterias.

A review of Madison-Dane County Health Department records of Madison school cafeteria inspections showed that school scores were far better than the average restaurant score. Out of 164 Madison cafeteria inspections, 49 resulted in a perfect score of zero and 115 found no critical violations.

To put that in perspective, the average score for restaurants hovers around 20, and anything above 50 is viewed as troublesome. Madison school cafeterias averaged 3.3 over the past four years. The worst school score -- Spring Harbor Middle School with a score of 22 in 2005 -- was on par with restaurants. And the next two years Spring Harbor scored a perfect zero.

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Sun Prairie parents turn up heat on school boundaries, and board responds

Karyn Seamann:

Eight months after the Sun Prairie School Board capped a hugely divisive debate over elementary boundaries by deciding to bus town of Bristol children to Westside school, Bristol parents are demanding further review.

After the March decision some School Board members said they wanted to form a committee to look long-term at elementary boundaries and related issues such as socio-economic and racial balance between buildings.

The committee never materialized.

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DeForest High To Reopen After Threat Closed School Tuesday

Channel3000:

DeForest Area High School was closed Tuesday after school officials found a threatening note, but officials said the school will reopen on Wednesday.

Officials said that the note, which was found on Monday afternoon in the school, said that there would be a bomb in a boys' restroom.

School officials, along with the DeForest Police Department, were unable to determine whether the threat had merit. As a precaution, officials made the decision to cancel all classes, events and after-school activities Tuesday at the high school.

On Tuesday, the DeForest police, along with school administrators and a canine unit from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, searched the entire high school and grounds, and did not find any signs of explosive devices. Based on the search and the status of the investigation, school officials and law enforcement personnel said they feel confident that they can reopen the school Wednesday.

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Gates Foundation releases new giving plans for education & Plans "National Standards"

Linda Shaw:

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today unveiled new directions for its education giving, which include working to double the number of students who complete some kind of postsecondary degree.

Efforts also would be made to identify and reward good teaching, help average teachers get better, devise better tests and create a national set of learning standards for high schools.

Bill and Melinda Gates announced these and other plans today to a group of about 100 guests in Seattle that included many big names in U.S. education.

The leaders of the nation's two largest teachers unions were there, as well as superintendents of some of the biggest districts in the country, including New York, Chicago, and Washington D.C. Advisers to president-elect Barack Obama also were present, as were several people who are rumored to be in the running to be the next U.S. Secretary of Education.

More here.

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Are Schools Really to Blame for Poor Eating?

Tara Parker-Pope

Schools have been vilified for giving kids access to soda in vending machines. But new data suggests that school soft drink sales may not be an important factor in how much soda kids drink.

In the current issue of The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, researchers compared soda consumption among nearly 500 students in Maine who attended seven schools over two school years. Four of the schools cut back on soft drink availability at the schools, while three of the schools made no changes.

Notably, all the students were drinking less soda by the end of the study period, but there were no meaningful differences in overall soft drink consumption among the different schools. The data suggest that curbing soft drink availability at school doesn't result in meaningful changes in beverage consumption patterns. While there were no changes in overall soda consumption, there was a notable shift in diet soda drinking among girls. If the school cut back on soda availability, girls were less likely to drink diet soda, compared to girls in schools that made no changes.

The data are the latest to suggest that schools may not play as big of a role in kids' poor eating habits as widely believed. Last year, The American Journal of Public Health published a provocative study showing that childhood weight problems often get worse in the summer, when kids are out of school.

Data from kindergarteners and first graders found that body mass index increased two to three times as fast in summer as during the regular school year. Minority children were especially vulnerable, as were children who were already overweight.

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Madison Business Employees Help Tutor Students; Local Reading Scores

Channel3000:

Years after graduation, he's hearing the ring of the school bell at Sherman Middle School on Madison's north side.

"I've had an effect on a number of the kids' math scores," said Schmidt, 44, whose background is in computer software design. "I know they're doing better because they tell me they're doing better."

He said that he isn't happy to take the credit, which is something that almost has to be pulled out of him. But the five students who he tutors weekly in math as part of the "Schools of Hope" tutoring program sing his praises when he's out of the room.
"Monty's awesome," said seventh-grader Henrietta Allison.

"They know that when he comes in on Monday, he's going to be asking, 'Did you do your homework? What are you missing?'" said teacher Chrissy Mitlyng. "They expect that, and I think that's a really good relationship to have."

Teachers report that students who work with the tutors are more confident after their sessions, and are more likely to speak up in class and participate in group work. While classroom confidence might be the most notable impact, it trickles down to fill the racial achievement gap the program was designed to help close, WISC-TV reported.

In 1995, 28.5 percent of black students in the Madison Metropolitan School District tested below the minimal standard on the third grade reading test, along with 9.7 percent of Latino students, 24.2 percent of Asian students and 4.1 percent of white students.

Related: When all third graders read at grade level or beyond by the end of the year, the achievement gap will be closed...and not before:
On November 7, Superintendent Art Rainwater made his annual report to the Board of Education on progress toward meeting the district's student achievement goal in reading. As he did last fall, the superintendent made some interesting claims about the district's success in closing the academic achievement gap "based on race".

According to Mr. Rainwater, the place to look for evidence of a closing achievement gap is the comparison of the percentage of African American third graders who score at the lowest level of performance on statewide tests and the percentage of other racial groups scoring at that level. He says that, after accounting for income differences, there is no gap associated with race at the lowest level of achievement in reading. He made the same claim last year, telling the Wisconsin State Journal on September 24, 2004, "for those kids for whom an ability to read would prevent them from being successful, we've reduced that percentage very substantially, and basically, for all practical purposes, closed the gap". Last Monday, he stated that the gap between percentages scoring at the lowest level "is the original gap" that the board set out to close.

Unfortunately, that is not the achievement gap that the board aimed to close.

......

What the superintendent is saying is that MMSD has closed the achievement gap associated with race now that roughly the same percentage of students in each subgroup score at the minimal level (limited achievement in reading, major misconceptions or gaps in knowledge and skills of reading). That's far from the original goal of the board. We committed to helping all students complete the 3rd grade able to read at or beyond grade level as demonstrated by all students in all subgroups scoring at proficient or advanced reading levels on the WRCT.

More here and here.

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Faulkner or Chaucer? AP Teachers Make the Call

Valerie Strauss:

At Clarksburg High School in Montgomery County, teacher Jeanine Hurley's English class finished "The Canterbury Tales" and just started "Hamlet." Senior Raphael Nguyen says he doesn't spend a lot of time on homework because Hurley doesn't give much.

At Langley High School in Fairfax County, teacher Kevin Howard's English class is studying "Othello" after reading William Faulkner's "Light in August." Senior Ryan Ainsworth, 17, said he does an average of 75 minutes reading and writing each night because Howard can pour it on.

Although students in these classes don't read the same works, they are taking the same course: Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition. And their teachers have the same goal: for students to learn how to connect text to meaning through skills assessed on the AP exam in May.

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Should Kids Be Able to Graduate After 10th Grade?

Kathleen Kingsbury:

High school sophomores should be ready for college by age 16. That's the message from New Hampshire education officials, who announced plans Oct. 30 for a new rigorous state board of exams to be given to 10th graders. Students who pass will be prepared to move on to the state's community or technical colleges, skipping the last two years of high school. (See pictures of teens and how they would vote.)

Once implemented, the new battery of tests is expected to guarantee higher competency in core school subjects, lower dropout rates and free up millions of education dollars. Students may take the exams -- which are modeled on existing AP or International Baccalaureate tests -- as many times as they need to pass. Or those who want to go to a prestigious university may stay and finish the final two years, taking a second, more difficult set of exams senior year. "We want students who are ready to be able to move on to their higher education," says Lyonel Tracy, New Hampshire's Commissioner for Education. "And then we can focus even more attention on those kids who need more help to get there."

Joanne has more.

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LA Private Schools Feel The Pinch

Carla Rivera:

At the private New Roads School in Santa Monica, 20 families decided not to re-enroll in the fall because of financial nervousness.

At Loyola High School near downtown, 40 families have come forward since the beginning of the school year seeking financial aid to help cover tuition costs, even as the school's endowment -- heavily invested in equities -- has taken a battering in the financial market.

Pacific Hills School in West Hollywood is creating flexible payment schedules for some families and is tightening its own belt with an eye toward more tough times ahead.

The economic meltdown that has ravaged many banks and homeowners is also affecting private schools in Los Angeles and nationwide, forcing educators to revise budgets, plan extra fundraising appeals and brace for possible lower enrollments next year. The distress comes at a time when some independent schools already have seen potential students gravitate to public charter schools, which are free and offer some of the same advantages of private campuses.

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School Bake Sales Fall Victim to Push for Healthier Foods

Patricia Leigh Brown:

Tommy Cornelius and the other members of the Piedmont High School boys water polo team never expected to find themselves running through school in their Speedos to promote a bake sale across the street. But times have been tough since the school banned homemade brownies and cupcakes.

The old-fashioned school bake sale, once as American as apple pie, is fast becoming obsolete in California, a result of strict new state nutrition standards for public schools that regulate the types of food that can be sold to students. The guidelines were passed by lawmakers in 2005 and took effect in July 2007. They require that snacks sold during the school day contain no more than 35 percent sugar by weight and derive no more than 35 percent of their calories from fat and no more than 10 percent of their calories from saturated fat.

The Piedmont High water polo team falls woefully short of these standards, selling cupcakes, caramel apples and lemon bars off campus in a flagrant act of nutritional disobedience.

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Navigating 9th Grade

Jenna Johnson:

Teacher Rebecca Cline was walking her ninth-grade class through the intricacies of scientific notation when, in the back of the room, a student rested his head on his desk. Another instructor quickly stepped in to get him back on task, which was no surprise. Classes at the newly opened Fairlead Academy in St. Mary's County match two teachers with about 10 kids.

The 60 students enrolled at the public school this year were quiet underachievers in middle school. Although they didn't warrant placement in special education programs, they tended to score consistently lower than their peers on standardized tests. Their teachers worried that they might fall behind as freshmen and eventually drop out of school.

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The Obamas: Public or Private School?

Jay Matthews:

This is a tricky subject. School choice is very personal. The president-elect's fifth-grade daughter, Malia, and second-grade daughter, Sasha, have been attending the first-rate, private University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. I bet they transfer to Georgetown Day School, a good fit because of its similarity to their current school, its historic role as the city's first racially integrated school and the presence of Obama senior legal adviser Eric H. Holder Jr. on its board of trustees. It would be a sensible decision by two smart, caring people.

But it wouldn't hurt to look around first. Georgetown Day, like other private schools, would charge them nearly $56,000 a year for two kids. Why not see what their tax dollars are paying for? One educational gem happens to be the closest public school to their new home. Strong John Thomson Elementary School is at 1200 L St. NW, three-fifths of a mile from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Go north on 15th, turn right on L and three blocks farther it's on the right.

Greg Toppo has more along with the AP.

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Charter School Fights for Funding

AP:

Advocates of a new charter school in this city's Potowomut neighborhood are fighting for state help after winning a $750,000 federal grant.

Backers of the proposed Nathanael Greene/Potowomut Academy of Technology and Humanities said they were disappointed with budget cuts the state Board of Regents budget made to charter schools.

The group is vowing to pressure lawmakers to include funding for the school in the state budget.

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November 10, 2008

Paterson Says NY Schools and Medicaid Will Face Cuts

Danny Hakim:

Gov. David A. Paterson said in an interview on Sunday that he would almost certainly seek billions of dollars in cuts to Medicaid, as well as midyear reductions in school aid, to address New York's worsening fiscal condition.

He also said he expected to urge labor unions to reopen the contracts they have struck on behalf of public employees as a way to avoid or decrease layoffs.

Such a step is reminiscent of measures taken by New York City in the financial crisis of the 1970s or moves made more recently by the Big Three domestic automakers to reduce their labor costs after years of granting steady raises and comprehensive health and pension benefits.

Those same types of wage and benefit concessions have long weighed on New York, though the catalyst for the state's current predicament has been the collapse in tax revenue from Wall Street.

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Needed: fresh ideas for school lunches

NewsDay:

Do as I say, not as I do. That's the lesson being taught every day in school cafeterias across Long Island. According to a series of Newsday reports, school lunches are high in fat and sodium, and low on fresh ingredients. Lunch programs, which are expected to pay their own way without help from the school budget, rely on chip and cookie sales - not to mention sugary soda machines - to amp up their profits.

We are sending kids all the wrong messages by placing these bad-habit-forming temptations in their paths. For a few cents more per meal, children could be eating healthfully and learning by example about good nutrition.

Sure, the few cents add up. But aren't we already paying a price? New Yorkers spend $242 million a year to treat obesity-related illness in children, and $6.1 billion a year on adults. Studies show that overweight children often carry the weight into adulthood.

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20,000 Milwaukee Students Now Use Vouchers

Alan Borsuk:

The number of Milwaukee children attending private schools using publicly funded vouchers has crossed 20,000 for the first time, according to data released by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

At the same time, the number of students in the main roster of Milwaukee Public Schools elementary, middle and high schools has fallen below 80,000 for the first time in well over a decade and declined for at least the 10th year in a row.

Amid a host of other factors shaping the school landscape in Milwaukee, those two trends point to some of the key stresses and looming issues for both MPS, which remains one of the nation's larger school systems, and the voucher program, the largest, oldest and arguably most significant urban school voucher program in the United States.

For MPS, declining enrollment means greater financial pressure, a need to close school buildings and a continual search for ways to attract students and raise overall levels of achievement.

For the voucher program, the increase means the state-imposed cap on its size is coming into view, and issues related to the property-tax impact of the funding program are becoming more urgent. In addition, with Democrats having gained control of the state Legislature, efforts to impose more regulations on schools with voucher students are likely to become much more serious.

Nationwide, the momentum behind support for voucher programs such as the one in Milwaukee has been limited, and most likely has lost further steam with the election of Sen. Barack Obama to be president. Although Obama favors charter schools - generally, independent publicly funded schools that have more public accountability than private schools - he has not favored vouchers, and the Congress, controlled firmly by Democrats, is not going to support such plans either.

Somewhat related: A Madison School District enrollment analysis discloses an increase in outbound open enrollment.

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Athletes Choose Colleges
They're good to go For some top high school athletes, decision on college comes this week

Brendan Hall:

Her dazzling fastball and sizzling bat have been on the radar of college coaches for quite a while. As a junior at Ashland High School, Nicole D'Argento was named the state's softball player of the year.

Letters from colleges started arriving for D'Argento, a senior this year, in the summer of 2005, before her freshman year. Now, that stack of letters sits in her living room and "looks at least a foot tall," she said recently with a laugh.

Softball has long been a year-round commitment for D'Argento. Her older brother, Russ, played baseball at Old Dominion and the University of Connecticut after helping propel Ashland High to the Division 3 state title in 2000.

Last spring, Nicole hurled the Clocker softball team to a perfect 28-0 season, and the Division 2 state title. She has a career earned-run average hovering under 0.50 and she will enter her senior season just 16 strikeouts shy of the exclusive 500 mark for her high school career.

With so many colleges lining up for her services, D'Argento made her decision early.

Last fall, she made a nonbinding verbal agreement to attend Boston College, which nosed out the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the University of Virginia.

Last fall, she made a nonbinding verbal agreement to attend Boston College, which nosed out the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the University of Virginia.

On Wednesday, the first day that nonfootball student-athletes are allowed to officially commit, D'Argento will sign her letter of intent to Boston College, joining a number of other local area athletes who will make their college choice official as early as possible.

It's a decision she is glad to be done with.

"You have no idea," D'Argento said. "All my friends right now are looking at schools, visiting schools. They always tell me how lucky I am. It's such a relief; I couldn't be happier."

The early-signing period starts Wednesday and ends Nov. 19. According to the NCAA, early signees accounted for 52 percent of scholarship athletes that signed for the 2007-2008 academic year, an eight percent increase from 2006-2007.

"For athletes that are getting full scholarships, the early-signing period allows them to cease the recruiting process," said Cindy Scott, Bentley University's assistant athletic director, who oversees compliance for the Waltham school. Before arriving at Bentley in 1997, Scott served as the women's basketball coach at Southern Illinois for 21 seasons. "A lot of them have seen the process begin much earlier for them, sometimes their freshman and sophomore years. It lets them end a stressful process faster, because it's lasted longer for them."

For many athletes such as D'Argento, the process can be stressful. College coaches are not allowed to make direct contact with prospective student-athletes until the July 1 before their senior year. Student-athletes may be contacted by mail and are allowed to call coaches themselves.

Making a decision early relieves a lot of the anxiety, at least for some students.

Elaine Schwaiger, the women's softball coach at Merrimack College, said "most of the time, you can sense what a kid wants and how sure they are of it.

"Some kids know what they want; they have a vision for their future and they're all business. When you have a kid who knows what she wants, the early-signing period is perfect. When you have one that doesn't, it could make things more stressful because it's one more deadline to deal with."

However, Elaine Sortino, University of Massachusetts softball coach, wonders if the early-signing process is "pigeon-holing kids."

"I think that you're seeing fewer multi-sport athletes," said Sortino, entering her 30th season in Amherst.

"We're having dialogue right now with juniors; I can feel their level of stress."

D'Argento has starred at Ashland High, but she was essentially recruited through her play with the Polar Crush, a Worcester-based select team that traveled to showcases all over the country during the summer. Ashland High coach Steve O'Neill said that he never received an inquiry from a college coach regarding D'Argento.

Erik Murphy, a 6-foot-10 senior on the basketball team at St. Mark's School in Southborough, was on the watch list early on. Clemson sent him a mailing before his freshman year, and Boston College made an offer a bit later. His father, Jay, had starred for the Eagles during the Tom Davis era.

He considered BC but verbally committed to the University of Florida in January.

"I never really stressed out," said Murphy, who will sign his letter at St. Mark's on Wednesday. "My dad helped me out a lot because he went through the same thing; we went through all of the visits together. When I did Florida, I knew I was in the right place.

"When I got my first offer from BC, I was real excited, obviously because my dad went there. At first, that was where I thought I was going to end up, but my dad sat me down and had me weigh my options. He told me to take my time, and make my decision based on what I thought was the right fit."

One of his teammates, 6-foot-9 junior Nate Lubick of Southborough, the son of St. Mark's coach Dave Lubick, verbally committed to Georgetown last month.

Weston High pitcher Sahil Bloom, who gave a verbal commitment to Stanford in July, said that he started receiving standard, nonpersonalized letters two to three times per week as a sophomore.

So with the aid of coaches and a personal trainer, he started to get the word out on himself, through e-mails and letters. A leap in his athleticism didn't hurt; his fastball was clocked this summer in the low 90s. By the time he committed to Stanford, a number of other schools were on his trail.

Once things started picking up, Bloom was receiving personalized letters, some of them handwritten.

"You really always want baseball to be fun, and it wasn't for a little while," Bloom said. "I started thinking about recruiting way too much during the high school season. It kind of alienated me from my teammates who weren't going through the process. They couldn't understand what I was going through."

Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High senior Derek Lowe can relate. A senior captain on the football team, he verbally committed to play baseball at William & Mary in August. He recalls receiving at least one call a day.

"It was brutal," he said, laughing and sighing at the memory.

Brendan Hall can be reached at bhall59@hotmail.com.

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Quality Education

YP Gupta writes from India:

Free and compulsory education for all children in the age group of 6-14 has become a fundamental right under the Constitution. Its objective is to improve the socio-economic status of the backward communities.
But it is not an easy task to enforce this because a majority of the children in this age group continue to remain half-fed and educationally backward. The goal of education for all seems a distant reality because states have been lagging behind in implementing Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, and owing to poverty there has been severe discrimination against girls in having access to schooling. The World Education Forum has urged removal of gender disparity for equal enrolment of girls and boys to achieve education for all.

At the same time, the need for quality education should not be overlooked. The backward communities must have access to quality education to uplift them to improve their living standards. It is proposed that some seats be reserved for children of poor families in the affluent private schools to provide them with quality education. But it is argued that this step may be detrimental to their interests as the children from a poor background may develop an inferiority complex while interacting with children from a higher status; this could be embarrassing to their respective families

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Milwaukee Gives Used Computers to Students

Dani McClain:

Georgia Jordan walked into the North Division High School building Friday afternoon holding her mother's hand and stating her mission.

"I'm going to get my laptop, I'm going to get my laptop," the 2-year-old sang.

On Friday, Milwaukee Public Schools gave away 42 computers - a mix of iMacs and PCs and all of them desktops, despite Georgia's wish for a laptop - to the families of students at African-American Immersion High School.

Georgia's 17-year-old brother is a student there, so the family received a computer, a modem, free Internet access and a password that will allow Delisa Scott to check her children's grades, attendance and, in some cases, homework through the Parent Assistant link on the MPS homepage.

The district's Digital Inclusion Program, new this school year, is expected to distribute about 8,000 out-of-warranty computers to families whose children qualify for a free- or reduced-price lunch. The computers will be given to families throughout the year. Applications are available at district schools, said Trinette Harmon-Patterson, MPS' coordinator of learning technologies.

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Stoughton teacher hopes to get kids stuck on fruits, veggies

Pamela Cotant:

Physical education teacher John Ames wants to teach kids about the importance of healthy eating habits while they're young.

So for the last couple of months Ames has been spending his lunch hour in the Kegonsa Elementary School cafeteria handing out stickers to kids who eat a fruit or vegetable in their lunch. The students have been excitedly showing him empty grape vines, apple cores and banana peels -- evidence that they are eating fruit.

The students placed the stickers on the large wall poster that reads, "We Go Bananas for Physical Education." The students filled up one letter and then moved on to the next on the poster in the cafeteria, which also is the school's gym.

Ames calls the effort Project Banana.

"I wanted to get the kids excited about physical education class and add a health component to it," said Ames, who was wearing a yellow "Banana Man" T-shirt he found on the Internet. "Diet and exercise are the main staples to a healthy life."

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November 9, 2008

Bake Sales Fall Victim to Push for Healthier Foods

It's not just Madison...

Patricia Leigh Brown

Tommy Cornelius and the other members of the Piedmont High School boys water polo team never expected to find themselves running through school in their Speedos to promote a bake sale across the street. But times have been tough since the school banned homemade brownies and cupcakes.

The old-fashioned school bake sale, once as American as apple pie, is fast becoming obsolete in California, a result of strict new state nutrition standards for public schools that regulate the types of food that can be sold to students. The guidelines were passed by lawmakers in 2005 and took effect in July 2007. They require that snacks sold during the school day contain no more than 35 percent sugar by weight and derive no more than 35 percent of their calories from fat and no more than 10 percent of their calories from saturated fat.

The Piedmont High water polo team falls woefully short of these standards, selling cupcakes, caramel apples and lemon bars off campus in a flagrant act of nutritional disobedience.

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Education Issues for the Republicans in the Obama Era

Lance Izumi:

Decentralization must be accompanied by transparency so the public easily understands how tax dollars are being used or misused. One way to make education financing more transparent is to simplify the way Washington doles out money. Federal dollars could be attached to the individual child -- so-called backpacking -- and that money would be portable, meaning it would follow the child to whichever school he or she attends.

Dan Lips, an education analyst at the Heritage Foundation, notes that federal Title I dollars, which are supposed to go to disadvantaged students but because of complicated financing formulas result in wide per-student funding differences from school to school, "could be delivered through a simple formula based on the number of low-income students in a state" and "states could be allowed to use Title I funds in ways that make it follow the child." The result would be a "simple and transparent system of school funding."

Furthermore, Republicans should advocate for widespread state-based parental empowerment, specifically through school-choice options, to ensure that the state and local affiliates of Mr. Obama's friends at the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers do not hijack decision-making power. Only if all children, not just those who are poor or have special needs, have an exit ticket out of the public school system through, say, a voucher or a tuition tax credit will state and local officials have the incentive to use their greater powers for the benefit of students rather than special interests.

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The Most Promising Schools in America

Jay Matthews:

My publisher and I had a fight over the subtitle of my upcoming book, "Work Hard. Be Nice," about the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP). Okay, it wasn't a fight exactly. My editor at Algonquin Books, Amy Gash, is too polite and professional for that. It was a spirited discussion. Gash said the Algonquin view was that my subtitle, "How Two Inspired Teachers Created America's Best Schools" was off-putting and hyperbolic. Who was I to say what was best and what wasn't?

I defended the loaded adjective because I thought it was accurate and would inspire useful arguments about how to make schools better. Nonetheless, Algonquin seemed more interested in selling books than encouraging my pugnacious tendencies, and I saw their point. We considered more than 100 alternatives before settling on "How Two Inspired Teachers Created the Most Promising Schools in America." That seems like a trivial change, but it's not. A new research assessment by Columbia University scholar Jeffrey R. Henig suggests it is the right way to think about these intriguing but still developing schools, and about other new approaches to schooling that may bloom in the future.

The 66 KIPP schools in 19 states and the District feed off the work of KIPP co-founders Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg, who started teaching impoverished children in Houston when they were just out of college in 1992. The first KIPP class began in 1994. It had a longer school day, required summer school, required homework, frequent contact with parents, consistent methods of discipline, imaginative and energetic teaching and lots of singing and fun. It has become the best known and most researched network of independent public charter schools in the country.

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Parents expect way too much from their kids.

Alan Kazdin:

Because parents love their children and want the best for them, they worry about them a lot, and one of the things that parents worry about most is whether their children are hitting age-appropriate targets for behavior. Shouldn't a child be toilet trained by the age of 4? Should a 10-year-old to be able to sit down and do an hour of homework? One reason why such questions produce so much conflict and woe in the home is that parents' expectations for their children's behavior tend to be too high. I'm not talking about permissiveness or strictness here; I'm talking about accurately estimating children's actual abilities. A reliable body of research shows that we expect our children to do things they're not yet able to do and that we judge and punish them according to that expectation.

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Green Charter School Conference

Anita Weier:

"No child will be left inside."

That's the theme of the Green Charter Schools Network, an organization headquartered in Madison that links environmental charter schools around the nation. It was also the theme of a conference Saturday at the Pyle Center that drew 200 people from around Wisconsin and more than 10 other states.

"We hope to make this a national movement," said Jim McGrath, president of the new Green Charter Schools Network. "We have identified 135 green charter schools around the country, and we believe there are another 150."

That includes 18 in Wisconsin, in locations as far flung as Green Lake, Merrimac, Rhinelander, Oshkosh and Stevens Point.

Charter schools are innovative public schools that provide educational choices for families and school-site accountability for results. Forty states allow charter schools, and they are formed in Wisconsin when a contract is signed between a charter school and its school district or school board. The arrangement gives the school more autonomy, more on-site decision-making, but also considerable responsibility for results.

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November 8, 2008

Fairfax County Schools to Address Tough Grading Policy

Michael Alison Chandler and Michael Birnbaum:

Deputy Superintendent Richard Moniuszko said he will direct principals to prepare a grade distribution chart for this year's seniors to show, for example, how many students earned 4.0 or 3.0 grade-point averages at a given school. The form, meant to accompany college applications, also will be sent as an addendum to thousands of early applications that have been filed by students in the region's largest school system.

The action was prompted by parents who are lobbying to change the county's grading scale, which requires 94 percent for an A and gives no extra credit for honors courses. They say the policy is punitive compared with the 90 percent standard used in many other places, including Montgomery County, and puts their children at a disadvantage in applying for colleges and scholarships. Fairfax County gives half a point for Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes, less than what many other school systems give.

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Beauty Contests & High School Diplomas in Vietnam


Da Nang, Vietnam

James Hookway:

Vietnam's new penchant for beauty pageants took an ugly turn after government inspectors found that the new Miss Vietnam didn't live up to their exacting standards.

Like many up-and-coming nations, Vietnam has been using beauty contests to quickly make its mark on the world. In July, Vietnam played host to the Miss Universe pageant, which was presided over by Jerry Springer and former Spice Girl Melanie Brown (the one known as "Scary Spice").

For many ordinary Vietnamese, the event was more compelling evidence that the country has arrived than joining the World Trade Organization was the year before. Newspapers and TV channels repeatedly pointed out that this was the first time Miss Universe has been held in a Communist country.

But that pride crumbled after government investigators found that the new Miss Vietnam, crowned on Aug. 31, hadn't finished high school.

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November 7, 2008

Singing Our Song

6 November 2008

Dear Mr. Fitzhugh,

My name is Lindsay Brown, and I am the chair of the history department at St. Andrew's School in Delaware. I have been thinking about the role of academics and athletics in college placement for some time, and being at a boarding school I wear many hats and so see multiple sides of this issue. I do a great deal of work with athletes that I coach in the sport of rowing, helping them to be recruits for college coaches. I began talking to people and commenting about how I had never done any recruiting for our top history students, and that there was a significant contrast between athletic and academic interest in the admission process for colleges.

With these vague thoughts, I decided to write something, possibly to send to some publication(?) or maybe just to do some therapeutic venting on my keyboard. I sent a draft of my thoughts to several of my colleagues, including our librarian who is a relentless researcher. In response to my short essay, she sent me your article on the "History Scholar" on very similar ideas--I guess I wasn't as original as I thought! But I wanted to send you my thoughts, ask if you had a moment to give me any feedback, and then also ask if you think it was acceptable for me to potentially send my essay out--where exactly I'm not sure.

In any case, I was impressed with your work and your information on this topic.

Many thanks,
Lindsay Brown
History
St. Andrew's School

My essay is copied below and attached:

The headlines are meant to grab our attention and alert us to a crisis in education: "High school graduates are not ready for college" or some variation on this idea that college freshmen can't do the work their professors demand of them. Colleges and professors lament this situation, and, in a related vein, often complain that athletics and athletic recruiting are running out of control to the detriment of the academic mission of their institutions. And not just the big schools that compete for national championships in football or basketball are sounding this alarm; even top tier, highly selective colleges and universities sing a similar melody. What should happen to correct this situation?

Ironically, I would like to suggest that colleges look to their athletic departments for inspiration and a possible way to improve the academic strength of their student body.

I am a high school history teacher and chairman of the history department at a boarding school that sends 100% of its graduates on to colleges and universities, including many of the most selective schools. I am also the boys' varsity crew coach, and many of our athletes compete in the world of college rowing. There is an overlap in many cases between the most selective academic and rowing colleges, and the Ivy League schools would be at the top of that list but there are many others including schools such as Cal, Trinity, Wisconsin, Williams, Colby to name a few.

There are numerous articles available that bemoan the poor level of preparation of high school students for college academics, or that assert that college athletics have run wild, destroying academic integrity. In my dual roles as teacher and coach, I have some observations to offer from the perspective of a high school teacher, albeit a teacher at a rigorous, selective boarding school, and the perhaps counterintuitive suggestion that if colleges are serious about improving the quality of their students, they should learn from their coaches. Here is the crux of the matter: during my 22 years of working as a teacher/coach, I have fielded innumerable calls and emails from rowing coaches asking me for direct information about my top athletes. Coaches want to learn about the athletes they are recruiting, and they want to get past the basic numbers--height, weight, or score on a rowing machine--and determine if the athlete would contribute to their program. In that same time I have never once had a professor or department head call me and ask for information about our top history scholars. Professors seem to be totally separated from the admission process of their college while coaches are working closely with admissions to try to bring the best athletes to the school. Why don't professors, or at least department heads, work more directly with their college and with high schools to recruit the top students?

Rowing is not a widespread sport; there are no youth rowing leagues, for example, that students join at age 5. There is, however, a rowing machine that serves to give basic information about a rower's strength, stamina, and therefore athletic potential. It is called a Concept 2 Ergometer, and the score a rower earns on this machine can be compared with any other rower anywhere in the country, or even the world. It is an SAT for rowing, so to speak, with many the same drawbacks of that standardized
test. Brute force on the rowing machine does not necessarily tell a college coach about the athlete's commitment to his team, his love of the sport itself, his attitude, his work ethic, or his willingness to take learn and take coaching. On the other hand, an athlete from a small or obscure high school rowing program can get noticed and even recruited if he can achieve a top score on the machine. In other words, a coach looks at an athlete's score, assesses potential, and then follows up by contacting the coach to learn what lies beyond the mere numbers.

When coaches call me, they ask questions such as "does this student work hard?" Or "does he contribute to the team spirit?" They ask about his technique while rowing, and his general level of athleticism. They are searching for information about the intangibles of the sport that will give them a better picture of the applicant. I am friends or at least friendly with many of these college coaches, having gotten to know them
over the years, and I give a positive but always honest evaluation of the athletes I coach
. Then, if a coach decides that he likes the profile of the athlete, he will talk with his college admissions office and offer his support for the athletes application. The admissions office might ask further questions of the coach, but there is a working relationship there that in the end is trying to find student/athletes that are good fits for
the school.

Do college professors or department heads do the same thing? Do they seek out high school students who are interested in their subject area and make the effort to improve the quality of the students they teach by recruiting? Do they take the time to talk to the admissions office on behalf of high school students with particularly strong talent? As far as I can tell, they do not. So then I wonder why professors lament the poor quality of the students they teach and why sometimes those same professors complain that athletics are dominating their school. It seems to me that the better response would be to follow the model of the coaches and talk to high school teachers about their top students, build a relationship with those students and assist them in the process of applying to their school.

Furthermore, when I talk to our alumni about their college experience, it seems that most find their coach is the adult with whom they have the closest personal relationship. Their coach is the one who knows them by name. Their coach is the person who shows a genuine interest in their general health and well-being, including their academic progress. In the best rowing programs, the coaches work with the athletes to make sure those athletes are finding success academically: they put their athletes in study hall or get them help with study skills if that is needed. In the best-run rowing programs, the coach is actually a strong supporter of the academic program. For one thing, in rowing there is no professional league and no potential lucrative rowing contracts out there, so coaches know that it will be success in academics that will lead to each athlete's future employment. Furthermore, rowers as a group tend to be driven, goal-oriented, and self-disciplined, and my experience has been that the best students are often the best rowers. They know how to work hard: both in sports and in academics. Rowers generally insist on keeping their academic work strong, and a coach who ignores the rowers' desire to achieve success academically risks losing athletes. Again, coaches understand that they get the best performance by connecting with their athletes and caring for them. Could the academic side of colleges learn
from this example
?

I know that I worked hardest for those professors I believed had my best interests at heart and who made the effort to get to know me as an individual. I have tried to do the same with the students I teach and with the students I coach.

Having challenged colleges and professors to think like their athletic colleagues and work to "recruit" top students in their respective fields, I also want to challenge high school students to work in their own self-interest and pursue academic, departmental-specific recruiting. Just as athletes contact college coaches and try to get support from those coaches in the admissions process, students with a special talent or interest in a given subject area should contact department chairs at colleges of interest. In the world of rowing, I am confident that when a rower makes such a telephone call or sends off an email, the coach will respond and follow up. They will have a conversation, and the coach will make some initial decisions about the compatibility of the athlete with
their program. The coaches not only ask questions about rowing prowess, they also, even first, ask about academic strength, because they know that this is the first and highest hurdle for any potential recruit. The key point, though, is that there is a conversation, and the coach follows up with any potential recruit. My rowers know this, and so they are motivated to seek out the assistance of a coach. Since no one has ever heard of a history department chair working actively to recruit a top history scholar, my top students don't even think to make such a call. I wonder what would happen if they did?

I will be talking with coaches soon about the rowers who have applied to their college from my school--I know those calls are coming, and I look forward to talking about the strengths of our athletes. I am still waiting to hear from any history chair at any of these same schools about the many fine history scholars we have here; I would love to explain our history curriculum and give them a picture of the students beyond the score of any of the standardized tests.

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Wisconsin School Finance Climate: $3,000,000,000 Budget Hole

Steven Walters & Patrick Marley:

The 2009-'10 budget that Doyle must recommend early next year will be his hardest, for several reasons. It's the last budget before he is expected to seek a third term in 2010. The current budget had $750 million in tax and fee increases, which raised taxes on cigarettes and license plate renewals. Accounting tricks used by both parties over the past eight years are no longer available. Long-term debt has risen dramatically, raising questions about how much more debt the state can handle.

"This is going to be a very difficult time," Doyle said.

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison) said Democrats would quickly pass bills to increase job training, boost spending on green energy, require businesses to more publicly disclose their tax liabilities and bar the state from contracting with companies that ship jobs overseas.

"Our number one thing we want to do is get in there and work on the economy and jobs and the cost of living," Pocan said. "And when working on the (state) budget, we're going to do it with working families and the middle class first and foremost in mind, and not the special interests."

Republican Sen. Ted Kanavas of Brookfield said Thursday that Republicans know they won't be able to pass anything in the next legislative session, but they can be advocates for taxpayers.

"We can't lead, but we can point out" problems in the choices Democrats make, Kanavas said.

Much more on Wisconsin state finances & school spending here.

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Civic Spirit Shines in School Vote

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

It also says something about Madison that, despite a troubled economy, people still felt they could afford to pay more. No other school referendum across the state passed with such a big majority -- and many failed.

By more than a 2-1 margin, voters gave Madison schools permission to spend millions more than the state would otherwise allow.

The public seemed to recognize the difficult predicament the district is in. And good vibes from the historic election of Barack Obama framed every question on Tuesday's ballot with a theme of hope.

Another factor in the school district's favor was the vote of the many residents who don't directly pay property taxes because they're in college or rent apartments.

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Racine Promise: City officials explore college funding for Racine graduates

Dustin Block:

A group of city officials are exploring a program that would pay for Racine high school graduates to attend college.

The idea is based on the Kalamazoo Promise, a program started three years ago in Kalamazoo, Mich. to attract families to the city. The program is simple: If a child graduates from a Kalamazoo High School, their tuition is paid to any Michigan university or tech school. That could amount to $36,000 for a student attending the University of Michigan. The only requirement is that a student maintains a 2.0 GPA and makes continual progress toward their high school diploma.

Aldermen Aron Wisneski and Greg Helding, and City Administrator Ben Hughes, are seeking two $8,000 grants to study creating a similar program here. The City Council is expected to grant permission to pursue the grant on Wednesday.

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Bullying, Brawling and Bringing Weapons; Maryland Students Discuss Realities of School Life

Nelson Hernandez:

As about 200 students from across Maryland took their seats at a summit to discuss the problem of school violence, the stereo played an instrumental version of a song familiar, questionable and yet somehow appropriate: "Gangsta's Paradise."

Coolio's elegy to gang violence (sample lyric: "You better watch how you talking, and where you walking/Or you and your homies might be lined in chalk") perhaps didn't speak to the experience of the students from rural Garrett County in western Maryland, but the causes and tragic outcomes of school violence haven't changed much since the hit song was released in 1995.

Gossip, rumors, dirty looks exchanged in the hallway. Neighborhood beefs or quarrels over a girlfriend or boyfriend. The temptation to bully somebody defenseless or different. All could kick off a fight back then, and to listen to the students who spoke at the summit last week in Greenbelt, they still do.

A girl from Parkville High School in Baltimore County rattled off a list of the things she sees at her school: "Gang violence. Student-teacher violence. Sexual harassment. Bullying."

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Are We Pushing Our Young Athletes Too Hard?

Scott Shafer:

When Lori Molitor's 9-year-old daughter, Madison, participates in gymnastics, she wears a heel cushion. After her training session she ices. And before she goes to bed she stretches. All of this is done in hopes of keeping her injury-free as she continues her progression as a budding gymnast.

The Verona mother's cautious approach with her daughter was borne partially from observing her eldest daughter deal with injuries while competing in sports, but many parents remain in the dark about the dangers of overtraining.

To address that problem, Harbor Athletic Club will host a presentation on the topic on Tuesday, Nov. 11. Guest speakers include Dr. David Bernhardt, a pediatric physician at UW Sports Medicine, and Kierstin Kloeckner, a personal trainer at the Middleton club.

Their message: Young athletes may think they're indestructible, but they must be treated with care.

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So You think the Milwaukee Public Schools Have Financial Troubles?

Rob Henken:

Those who think there couldn't possibly be another major urban school district under greater fiscal stress than Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) need look no further than across Lake Michigan. Articles in Saturday's and today's Detroit News report how Detroit Public Schools (DPS) was required either to accept a consent decree issued by a state review team examining its fiscal situation, or have a state-appointed manager take control of its finances. The school board opted to accept the decree, which requires it to submit a deficit elimination plan within four weeks and abide by a host of stringent reporting requirements.

How did the Detroit school district get into this predicament? To start, there is the district's perennial budget deficit (at least $10 million per year since 2000), which at one point earlier this year was estimated at $400 million in a $1.1 billion annual budget. Then there was the district's inability to meet payroll obligations during two separate months last summer, necessitating a $103 million advance in state aid payments, and its continued heavy reliance on borrowing to address cash flow needs.

DPS also faces steep declining enrollment, with a reduction of 67,000 students since 2000 to the current estimate of 98,000 students. In a recent article in Education Week, an official with the Council of the Great City Schools attributed this decline both to the flight of Detroit residents with school-age children out of the city and to competition from charter schools.

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November 6, 2008

Indiana's New School Superintendent

John Tuohy:

The state's new superintendent of public instruction said he would begin his tenure by taking a long look at the Indiana Department of Education as an organization to make sure it is run as efficiently as possible.

"I want to make this a customer service resource that school districts can depend on," Republican Tony Bennett said.

He defeated Democrat Richard D. Wood, who had been superintendent of Tippecanoe County Schools, on Tuesday.

Bennett, superintendent of Greater Clark County Schools, said another priority will be to reduce regulations from the state Department of Education so districts can work on improving student achievement.

"We need to see some deregulation," he said. "Regulation handcuffs the schools from pursuing their agendas. I intend on spending the first 60 to 90 days going through each state regulation and deciding which are restrictive and which are not."

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Uneducated

Sanitsuda Ekachai:

The issue is not about the quality of education for the children who can afford it. It is about a serious lack of access for those who cannot.

One of our national problems that has been swept under the carpet because of the preoccupation with the current political crisis is our education system.

With a high youth literacy rate and a primary school attendance ratio at 98 per cent, you might feel there is nothing to worry about. But sighing with relief will be our big mistake.

Although the constitution ensures every child's right to a free 12-year education, many are still falling through the cracks. And that starts early; only 88 per cent of primary school pupils make it to lower secondary and a mere 69 per cent to higher secondary. It is the same pattern when the pupils move up the education pyramid.

The issue here is not about the quality of education for the children who can afford it. It is about a serious lack of access for those who cannot - even though compulsory education is supposed to be free.

According to a recent study by Thai Education Watch Network, more than 1.3 million children still do not have access to compulsory education. They are primarily poor children from ethnic minorities along the borders as well as those in the restive deep South, and immigrant children. Other vulnerable groups include street children, slum children and those who live in very remote villages.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:11 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Minneapolis Voters Approve School Board Geographic Districts

Suzanee Ziegler:

The school board now has seven members, all elected at large from the entire district. The new plan board will expand from six to nine members, with six of those members to be elected from districts that correspond with the current Minneapolis park board districts. The remaining three board members would be at large. That measure passed 104,283 to 54,042.

Supporters argued that it would guarantee representation from every part of the city and give parents just one point person to contact. Opponents said it would balkanize the board into factions with local, rather than citywide, concerns, could lead to political deal-making on budgets and school closings, and might diminish minority representation. Voters rejected a similar proposal in 1987.

Madison should move to geographic representation, which would significantly reduce the cost of running, and hopefully attract more candidates.

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Politics holds new role in high school classrooms

Greg Toppo:

Tuesday's historic election of Barack Obama was, to most onlookers, a watershed event -- a political game-changer, a passing of the generational torch and a defining moment in American race relations.
To the students in Gil Stange's second-period AP Economics class at Towson High School, it was a chance to test a theory: What if the Republican candidate had been the African American and the Democrat the 72-year-old white guy?

"Is it really overcoming race?" asked Allison Rich, 17, dressed in a bright-red University of New Hampshire sweatshirt. "Or is it just a party issue?"

As the results of the election sank in Wednesday, teachers in high school classrooms across the USA found themselves debriefing a group of young people who are, by all accounts, more informed and civic-minded than any in recent memory. They came of age after 9/11, after all.

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November 5, 2008

Start-Up Teaches Math to Americans, Indian-Style

Claire Cain Miller

The New York Times recently reported on a study that found, once again, that the United States is failing to develop the math skills of its students, particularly girls, especially compared to other countries where math education is more highly valued.

Indian Math Online is a start-up that aims to take on that disparity by teaching math to American kids using techniques from Indian schools.

Bob Compton, an Indianapolis-based venture capitalist and entrepreneur who co-founded Indian Math Online, hatched the idea when he was producing Two Million Minutes, a documentary comparing high school education in India, China and the United States. He realized that Indian teenagers who were the same age as his daughters were three years ahead of them in math.

"If you don't get mathematics to the highest level you possibly can in high school, your career options shrink dramatically in the 21st century," Mr. Compton said. "Our society basically tells girls they're not good at math. I was determined that was not going to happen to my daughters."

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Virtual School Chalks Up Gains

Veronica Dagher:

Students at Wyoming Virtual School don't have to worry about what to wear on the first day of school. They just stay home, log on to personal computers lent by K12 Inc., and start the day.

The Herndon, Va., technology-based education company provides specialized curriculum and educational services to students in kindergarten through 12th grade. It launched its first offering seven years ago for 900 students in two states. Since then, it has seen enrollment climb. K12 now enrolls about 40,800 students in 21 states and the District of Columbia.

K12 says virtual schools are a viable alternative for students in a range of different circumstances. For instance, it might help students who are gifted, have special needs, are unhappy with the education in the local schools, or are located in rural areas. The services also can alleviate overcrowding in urban schools, the company says.

One of K12's founders was William J. Bennett, the former U.S. education secretary, although he subsequently resigned as chairman. The company's stock went public in December.

K12's growth may be challenged, however, by education budget cuts on the local, state and federal levels, mounting competition and opposition coming from proponents of traditional education.

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Madison School District's November 2008 Referendum Passes, 68% in favor

Preliminary voter results. Tamira Madsen:

The tumultuous state of the economy was a nagging concern for supporters of the $13 million Madison Metropolitan School District referendum, but it passed Tuesday night with a surprisingly large 68 percent of the vote.

A handful of wards were still uncounted after midnight, but the totals then were 84,084 in favor and 39,116 opposed to the measure that will allow the school district to raise its taxing limits.

Voters approved an operating referendum to maintain current services, which district officials say shows that the community places a high value on quality education.

"We also knew this was not an easy time for people and that was not lost on us," Superintendent Dan Nerad said late Tuesday night. "We are heartened by this response, and what this will allow us to do is to maintain our existing programs as we move into a new discussion about what should our priorities be going forward, and involving the community in that discussion in regard to the strategic planning."

The referendum allows the district to exceed its tax limits by $5 million during the 2009-10 school year, then by an additional $4 million in each of the following two years. The referendum will add $27.50 onto the taxes of a $250,000 home in the first year, district officials say, and add an extra $43 to that tax bill in 2010-11 and an additional $21 to the bill in 2011-12.

The recurring referendum will increase the current tax limit by $13 million in 2011-12 and in every year after that.

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

By comparison, the district's total budget for the current school year is $368 million.

Referendum backers hoped voters would set aside concerns about the economy to help the district avert multimillion-dollar budget cuts that would lead to larger class sizes and other changes in school operations.

The measure faced no organized opposition.

Arlene Silveira:
A big thanks to those who voted in support of the school referendum. Your support is appreciated.

To those who chose not to support the referendum, please let us know why. This feedback is very important to us.

So...what are the next steps? As we have been saying throughout the referendum campaign, the referendum is really only one piece of a bigger picture. A couple of things about the bigger picture. On November 10 we continue our discussions on board-superintendent governance models. How can we best work together to strengthen our focus on student achievement?

My sense of these local questions after observing them for a number of years is that:
  • 33 to 40% of the voters will always vote yes on school related issues, and
  • 30 to 35% will always vote no, or anti-incumbent and,
  • elections are won or lost based on the remaining 25 to 35% who will vote "independently".

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Food allergies on rise in children

Erin Richards:

One M&M, swallowed whole, and little Noelle's skin turned as red as a Cortland apple.

A month later, after eating soy ice cream, the 2-year-old turned colors again and started drooling, prompting her mother to inject a syringe full of epinephrine into the child's leg.

Karen Tylicki of Mukwonago has no idea why her daughter's body treats certain foods as if they were poison. Tylicki, like parents of a growing number of food-allergic kids in Milwaukee and elsewhere around the country, is familiar with the fear, uncertainty, grief and sorrow that frequently accompany the condition.

Add hope to that list. Thanks to a La Crosse clinic that's gaining attention for its work desensitizing patients with food allergies, Noelle, now 6, can ingest almost 2 ounces of milk without a reaction.

The spike in the number of kids with food allergies - an 18% increase nationwide over the past decade, according to a newly released study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - has prompted many schools and day-care facilities to develop new safety measures.

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Toyota Eyes India Market, Builds School to Get Edge

John Murphy:

To get ahead in India's increasingly competitive auto market, Toyota Motor Corp. is building a new plant and freshening its lineup. It has also made an unusual investment: It opened a school.

Built on a rugged hillside in southern India that is populated by wildcats and monkeys, Toyota's sprawling technical training school, which opened last year, gives about 180 junior-high-school graduates an education in everything from dismantling transmissions to Japanese group exercises.

Toyota wants to turn students like Satish Lakshman, the son of a poor farmer, into a skilled employee who can boost the auto maker's fortunes in this key emerging market. "We are learning discipline, confidence and continuous improvement," says Mr. Lakshman, an energetic 18-year-old.

Competition for entrance to Toyota's school is tough. The institute received 5,000 applications for 64 slots when it opened last year. The draw for these young men, all from poor families, is a free education and a job if they do well. The first class will graduate from the three-year program in 2010, when Toyota plans to open the plant to make its new small car.

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Discouraging political trashtalk in kids

Katie Allison Granju:

As a parent, I am very bothered when I hear other parents teach their children that it's acceptable or useful to mock or insult candidates or the President in ways that aren't directly related to issues. I hate hearing children spout nasty, ad hominem stuff like "Bush is stupid." When I hear that from a child or teenager, I challenge him or her to clearly articulate at least three substantive policy issues on which they disagree with Bush. If they can't, I point out that calling him "stupid" only draws attention to their own ignorance on the issues. And frankly, in my anecdotal experience (your mileage may vary), it's more likely to be progressive/liberal parents who encourage this sort of political trashtalk from their children, some too young to even understand what the president even does.

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Personal finance urged for Oregon schools

Kimgerly Melton:

Since she started working at the mall six months ago, Joy Stout has come close to draining her bank account to buy clothes and eat out with friends.

The Cleveland High School senior hoped to save about half the cash from her weekend job at Jamba Juice in the Lloyd Center but found she was going paycheck to paycheck.

She's getting better -- her parents encouraged her to open a bank account and keep track of where her money went. And this fall, only a couple of months into her first personal finance class, she's learning lessons about spending and saving that can take years to master.

"When you are trying to figure out whether to buy something, you got to ask yourself if you want this or if you need it," says Stout, 18. "If you only want it, is it worth spending on if you could save money for later? I want to save money to have a car."

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Teen arrested in threats at Middleton High School that forced relocation of polling places

Wisconsin State Journal:

Middleton police have arrested a 16-year-old male Middleton High School student in connection with a bomb threat at the high school that forced the evacuation of the school Tuesday and caused election officials to move the polling place from the school to the new Middleton fire station at 7600 University Ave.

Lt. Charles Foulke of the Middleton Police Department said in a release that the student used the school's computer lab to access an Internet relay Web site which translated a typed threat into a verbal message which he then sent to a school official.

Foulke said the student would be charged with making a bomb threat at the Dane County Juvenile Reception Center, and that Middleton police would consult with state and federal officials about the disruption of the voting process.

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November 4, 2008

Sun Prairie Family Adopts 10 Children, Advocates For Adoption

Channel3000:

November is National Adoption Month, and in the United States, about 51,000 children were adopted in 2006, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

With this in mind, one local family shared their adoption experience they said in hopes of encouraging others to do so, WISC-TV reported.

Ten years ago, Reed and Sharon Leonard adopted their daughter from China.

"On the plane ride home, my wife said, 'Well, we have our daughter, we're done.' I said, 'No, I think we'll be back,'" said Reed Leonard.

"I said no way," laughed Sharon Leonard.

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No middle school report cards??!!

I received a newsletter in the mail yesterday from Toki Middle School, where my son is now a sixth-grader. The principal's letter says:

"With the introduction of standards-based middle school report cards, we decided to send first quarter progress reports only to students currently not meeting grade level standards in curricular areas."

So, assuming my child meets the standards, he just doesn't matter? He's not worth the time to figure out how to fill out the new report cards? The teachers are taking an extra half day today (early release: 11:30) to work more on dealing with these new report cards - and they've already taken at least one or two other days - but it's still too hard to give my child a report card?

What if I want to know how well my child is doing? What if I want to know if he's EXCEEDING the standards? Oh, wait.... I forgot. MMSD doesn't care if he exceeds them. They just want to know if he MEETS them. God forbid I learn how MUCH he's exceeding them by, or if he's just skating and is merely meeting the standards. Or if he excels in one subject but is simply OK in another. We went through this in elementary school, so I suppose it should be no surprise that it's happening in middle school.

I know there's a teacher conference coming up, but if they're not giving us report cards, then I'm thinking 15 minutes isn't enough time to really lay out my child's strengths and weaknesses in several different subjects. It's not enough time for the teacher to give me a thorough assessment of my child's progress. Oh, wait....I forgot. MMSD doesn't care about giving me a thorough assessment. Judging from our experience in elementary school, the teachers just want you in and out of there as quickly as possible. They don't want to answer my questions about how we can help him at home so he can do better in any subjects. ("Your son is a joy to have in class. He's doing well in all subjects. He talks a little too much, but we're working on that. Thanks for coming!")

They DID send home a note asking if I needed to meet with any of his Unified Arts teachers (in addition to just his homeroom teacher) - but I checked no, because I assumed we'd be getting report cards with information from all his teachers! Nice of MMSD to wait until AFTER those papers had been turned in to let us know we wouldn't be GETTING report cards. (Yes, I'll be emailing the principal to let her know I've changed my mind.)

Oh, and I CAN sign in to Infinite Campus to see what's going on with my child's record (which hopefully is updated more often that the Toki Web site, which we were told would be updated every three or four weeks, but hasn't been updated since before the beginning of school). But to do this, I have to **go into the school during school hours** with a photo ID. I can't just use social security numbers or anything else to access this online. Could they be more clear in the message that they'd rather you not use Infinite Campus?

Isn't it bad enough that MMSD doesn't do thorough third-quarter report cards, because they believe not enough time has elapsed between the second and third quarters to make any discernible improvement? If my child isn't making any improvement, if my child's work isn't worthy of a report card, then WHAT'S HE DOING IN SCHOOL?

We moved here four years ago, so looking forward to the "great" Madison schools. We couldn't have been more wrong. My bright children are lagging. My sixth-grade son who tested as gifted before we moved to Madison is no longer (witness his dropping test scores - oh, wait...they're still average or above, so MMSD doesn't care).

I've brought up my concerns repeatedly. I've offered constructive suggestions. I've offered to help, at school and at home. I did two years as a PTO president in the elementary school and struggled unsuccessfully to get improvements. I might as well have thrown myself in front of a semi truck for all the good it's done and for how beaten down I feel by this school system. The minute this housing market turns around, I'm investigating the nearby schooling options with an eye toward getting the heck out of here. I'm SO FED UP with MMSD and it's reverse-discrimination against children who are average and above.

Class-action lawsuit, anyone?

Posted by Diane Harrington at 11:44 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Vote!



Wisconsin polling locations can be found here.

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Boston's Single Sex Academies hit a Snag

James Vaznis:

One of the most eye-catching elements of Boston School Superintendent Carol R. Johnson's reorganization plan - the creation of two single-gender academies - seems to have just one problem: They appear to be illegal in Massachusetts.

Public schools cannot deny a student admission based on gender under state law, which could prevent Boston from trying a strategy that has been gaining momentum in other cities nationwide and that advocates say leads to much higher rates of learning.

The problem could lead to one of several possible changes to the reorganization plan, which Johnson is scheduled to revisit with the School Committee tonight after passionate objections were raised by many parents, students, and teachers who do not want their schools to close.

The School Committee requested more details on the plan to close about a dozen schools, which would leave five buildings empty while the others would be used to house new schools or expand popular ones.

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November 2008 Madison School District Referendum Watch List Report Card

Active Citizens for Education presents this "Watch List Report Card" as a means of reporting relevant information, facts and analyses on topics appropriate for consideration by taxpayers in voting on the Madison Metropolitan School District referendum question November 4, 2008. This document is dynamic in nature, thus it is updated on a regular basis with new information and data. Questions, analyses, clarifications and perspectives will be added to the entries as appropriate. Review Ratings will be applied to report the progress (or lack thereof) of the Board of Education and Administration in its plans, data, information, reports and communications related to the referendum.

Complete PDF Document. Madison School District Revenue Summary 2005-2011 PDF

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Meet a 'Mother on Fire' for public school

Greg Toppo:

Last June, when Los Angeles performance artist and public radio commentator Sandra Tsing Loh helped lead a rally to the California Capitol for more school funding, perhaps no one was more surprised than Loh herself. Her transformation from popular author and comic to public schools activist began four years earlier, when her plans to get her older daughter into a good kindergarten went awry. She eventually started an organization called Burning Moms. Loh recounts the journey in Mother on Fire (Crown, $23). She talks with USA TODAY about her experience.

Q: It's 2004. You, your musician husband and your two daughters live in Van Nuys. Your 4-year-old is in preschool and you begin searching for a kindergarten. What happens next?

A: We're a middle-class family, which feels like we're the last middle-class family in Los Angeles -- the last one had packed up the Volvo wagon and gone to Portland a year earlier. When kids hit school age, people just start fleeing the city unexplained. So I didn't have much real information. ... I'd go on www.greatschools.net, look at the statistics, freak out and not even visit my local school, which is what many parents do.

Q: You began looking into private schools, but many had "nosebleed tuition."
A: I found that the religious ones were more affordable -- the more religious, the more affordable. Catholics were more expensive, Lutherans middle and Baptists were the only ones we could afford. The Quakers were off the charts, particularly if there's the word "Friends" in the title -- or if the kids were being taught in an old Quaker wooden schoolhouse with authentic Shaker furniture.

Much more on Sandra Tsing Loh here.

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Open Yale Courses

Yale University:

Open Yale Courses provides free and open access to a selection of introductory courses taught by distinguished teachers and scholars at Yale University. The aim of the project is to expand access to educational materials for all who wish to learn.

Open Yale Courses reflects the values of a liberal arts education. Yale's philosophy of teaching and learning begins with the aim of training a broadly based, highly disciplined intellect without specifying in advance how that intellect will be used. This approach goes beyond the acquisition of facts and concepts to cultivate skills and habits of rigorous, independent thought: the ability to analyze, to ask the next question, and to begin the search for an answer.

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Fixing the Freshman Factor

Nelson Hernandez:

The ninth-grader slouched in the chair one fall day, avoiding the principal's glare. He had the body of a boy, but he was deciding right there what kind of man he would be.

At the start of the school year, this child's education was flying off the rails. Mark E. Fossett, principal of Suitland High School in Prince George's County, called up the boy's attendance record on a computer and rattled off a lengthy list of days missed and classes cut. Unless something changed, he would fail ninth grade.

As schools push to raise graduation rates, many educators are homing in on ninth grade as a moment of high academic risk. Call it the freshman factor.

Last week, Maryland reported that one of every six seniors statewide is at risk of not receiving a diploma in spring because they have not reached minimum scores on four basic tests in algebra, biology, government and English. At Suitland High and countywide in Prince George's, more than a third of seniors are in jeopardy. But for many of those students, troubles began in their freshmen year. That's often when the state algebra test is taken.

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Study First to Link TV Sex To Real Teen Pregnancies

Rob Stein:

Teenagers who watch a lot of television featuring flirting, necking, discussion of sex and sex scenes are much more likely than their peers to get pregnant or get a partner pregnant, according to the first study to directly link steamy programming to teen pregnancy.

The study, which tracked more than 700 12-to-17-year-olds for three years, found that those who viewed the most sexual content on TV were about twice as likely to be involved in a pregnancy as those who saw the least.

"Watching this kind of sexual content on television is a powerful factor in increasing the likelihood of a teen pregnancy," said lead researcher Anita Chandra. "We found a strong association." The study is being published today in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

There is rising concern about teen pregnancy rates, which after decades of decline may have started inching up again, fueling an intense debate about what factors are to blame. Although TV viewing is unlikely to entirely explain the possible uptick in teen pregnancies, Chandra and others said, the study provides the first direct evidence that it could be playing a significant role.

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November 3, 2008

Online Grading Systems Mean No More Changing D's to B's

Daniel de Vise:

Parents and students in a growing number of Washington area schools can track fluctuations in a grade-point average from the nearest computer in real time, a ritual that can become as addictive as watching political polls or a stock-market index.

The proliferation of online grading systems has transformed relations among teachers, parents and students and changed the rhythm of the school year. Internet-based programs including SchoolMAX and Edulink are pushing mid-term progress reports into obsolescence. Prospective failure is no longer a bombshell dropped in a parent-teacher conference. A bad grade on a test can't be concealed by discarding the evidence. A student can log on at school, or a parent at work, to see the immediate impact of a missed assignment on the cumulative grade or to calculate what score on the next quiz might raise an 89.5 to a 90. Report cards hold little surprise.

"Half of the time, I know what grade my daughter got on something before she does," said Susan Young, mother of an eighth-grader at Montgomery Village Middle School in Montgomery County.

Parents say the programs reconnect them to the academic lives of their children, a relationship that can decay as students move from elementary to middle and high school.

The Madison School District uses a system called "Infinite Campus". A number of nearby districts use Powerschool, among others.

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Cap on New Jersey school adminstrator buyouts challenged

Newsday:

A proposed cap on payouts for vacation and sick time for New Jersey school administrators is being challenged in federal court on Monday.

The Record of Bergen County reports that taxpayers are footing the bill for more than $36 million in sick pay and vacation time accrued by school administrators.

The newspaper reports that buyouts will reach $9 million in Bergen and Passaic counties alone, and that some school leaders are due to receive six-figure checks when they leave a district because of contracts that allow them to cash out on unused sick and vacation time.

The New Jersey Association of School Administrators has filed suit to preserve the payouts and challenge a new contract rule that caps accrued time payouts at $15,000.

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Madison School District Enrollment Data Analysis

The Madison Metropolitan School District [724K PDF]:

The following document explores enrollment trends based on four different factors: intemal transfers, private school enrollments, inter-district Open Enrollment, and home based enrollments. The most current data is provided in each case. Not all data are from the current school year. Certain data are based on DPI reports and there are lags in the dates upon which reports are published.

Summary
Most internal transfers within the MMSD are a function of two factors: programs not offered at each home school (e.g., ESL centers) and students moving between attendance areas and wishing to remain in the school they had been attending prior to the move. Notable schools in regard to transfers include Shorewood Elementary which has both a very high transfer in rate and a very low transfer out rate, Marquette which has a high transfer in rate, and Emerson which has a high transfer out rate.

Based on data reported to the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), private school enrollments within the MMSD attendance area have held fairly steady for the past several years, with a slight increase in the most recent two years. The District's percentage of private school enrollment is roughly average among two separate benchmark cohort groups: the largest Wisconsin school districts and the Dane County school districts. Using data supplied annually to the MMSD by ten area private schools it appears that for the past three year period private school elementary enrollment is declining slightly, middle school enrollment is constant, and high school enrollment has been variable. Stephens, Midvale, Leopold, and Crestwood Elementary Schools, and Cherokee and Whitehorse Middle Schools have experienced declines in private school enrollment during this period. Hawthorne and Emerson Elementary Schools, Toki and (to a lesser extent) Sherman Middle Schools, and West and Memorial High Schools have experienced increases in private school enrollments. The East attendance area has very limited private school enrollment.

Home based education has remained very steady over the past six years based on data reported to the DPI. There is no discernible trend either upward or downward. Roughly 420 to 450 students residing within the MMSD area are reported as participating in home based instruction during this period. Like private school enrollment, the MMSD's percentage of home based enrollment is roughly average among two separate benchmark cohort groups: the largest Wisconsin school districts and the Dane County school districts.

Open Enrollment, which allows for parents to apply to enroll their Children in districts other than their home district, is by far the largest contributor to enrollment shifts relative to this list of factors. In 2008-09, there are now over 450 students leaving the MMSD to attend other districts compared with just under 170 students entering the MMSD. Transition grades appear to be critical decision points for parents. Certain schools are particularly affected by Open Enrollment decisions and these tend to be schools near locations within close proximity to surrounding school districts. Virtual school options do not appear to be increasing in popularity relative to physical school altematives.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:21 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Wide Access To AP, IB Isn't Hurting Anybody

Jay Matthews:

Jason Crocker, an educational consultant in Prince George's County, is exasperated with me and my rating of high schools, called the Challenge Index, based on how many college-level Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate tests schools give. In response to one of my columns, Crocker vowed to refute anything nice I say about AP, particularly in his county.

He reflects the views of many in the Washington area. People wonder why kids are taking wearisome three-hour AP exams (or five-hour IB exams) in history, calculus or physics when their grades aren't that good and their SAT scores are low. Crocker, who is African American, is particularly worried about what all this testing is doing to black students.

"Mr. Mathews, AP in Prince George's County is about setting African American students up for failure to satisfy your Challenge Index," he said. "The flip side of this is that most of these new students taking the exam are not adequately prepared for the exam and Prince George's County cannot recruit enough teachers to teach the exam who are highly qualified."

Related: Dane County, WI High School AP course offering comparison.

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Healthier meals served at pricier Long Island private schools

Jennifer Sinco Kelleher:

Typical lunchtime fare includes quinoa, bean cakes, Swiss chard, fresh beets, tofu, tempeh, kimchee.

There are no sloppy joes. Hamburgers are served only three times a year during field days, and the beef is organic.

Private schools such as the Ross School in East Hampton don't operate under the same cost constraints public schools face when attempting to serve healthy food, allowing them more freedom to go beyond traditional school cafeteria meals.

Ross' food often is held up as a model for student dining.

A staff of 17 line chefs with impressive culinary backgrounds cook from scratch in a kitchen that rivals a five-star restaurant. And students actually like the healthy offerings, evidenced by the fact that they go through about 25 pounds of tofu per day.

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Vanishing Native Languages

Nicholas Ostler and Francene Patterson, both linguists, discuss the perils of monolingualism and the need to protect endangered languages

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A Letter to Jay Matthews

To Jay Matthews:

Let me suggest that Gerald Bracey is not an appropriate person to quote when dealing with mathematics education. First, it was TIMSS in 1995 rather than 1999 when students in the last year of high school were tested. Second, while some of our students who took the advanced math test had only had precalculus, all of them had studied geometry and we did worse in geometry than we did in calculus. Bracey never mentions this. Check the figures yourself to see the disastrous results in geometry.

We had 14% of our students take this test so the fact that some other countries did not test students in vocational tracts is irrelevant since they have a much larger fraction of their students in academic programs than 14%, as we do. About the ETS restudy, while they claim that the original sample was not comparable with other countries, their population was also not comparable with that of other countries. When you take the top say 7% of our students, judged by the courses they take which is not a perfect match but
not bad, and compare them with the top say 20% of the students in another country, that is not the same as comparing them with the top 7% in another country. ETS never mentions this in their press releases on this study.

Richard Askey

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Incentives Can Make Or Break Students

Bill Turque:

The inducements range from prepaid cellphones to MP3 players to gift certificates. But most of them are cash: $10 for New York City seventh-graders who complete a periodic test; $50 for Chicago high school freshmen who ace their courses; as much as $110 to Baltimore students for improved scores on the Maryland High School Assessments.

Desperate for ways to ratchet up test scores and close the achievement gap separating white and minority students, school officials from Tucson to Boston are paying kids who put up good numbers.

The District joined the list this fall, launching a one-year study of 3,300 middle schoolers who can earn up to $100 every two weeks for good grades, behavior and attendance. On Oct. 17, the first payday for the Capital Gains program, students collected an average of $43.

The efforts vary widely in scope and objective. But nearly all trigger pa

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On an Amazing Journey, and He's Only 12

Lary Bloom:

A FEW weeks ago, the youngest of the 20,953 students at the Storrs campus of the University of Connecticut went shopping for a calculator. Colin Carlson, who lives in nearby Coventry, took his mother along, as she had the driver's license and the money. He also took a reputation well beyond his 12 years.

Another male student spotted him and said, "Hey, Colin, I hear you're a babe magnet." The boy smiled. But with a full course load and the usual schedule of public appearances ahead of him, he had yet to make finding a girlfriend a priority. So he suspected a bit of social manipulation afoot. The guys know that several female students have become friendly with Colin, and, in his view, they're cozying up to him so that women will notice them.

Even at Colin's tender age, his emergence at Storrs is no longer an oddity. He became a full-time student this fall, but has been a familiar face since he was 8, beginning with a course in French, and a year later in environmental physics and European history. This made him a local celebrity but also resulted in a view in some academic quarters that he is too small for his breeches.

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School's Success Gives Way to Doubt

Adam Nossiter:

MiShawna Moore has been a hero in the worn neighborhoods behind this city's venerable mansions, a school principal who fed her underprivileged students, clothed them, found presents for them at Christmas and sometimes roused neglectful parents out of bed in the nearby housing projects.

As test scores rocketed at her school, Sanders-Clyde Elementary, the city held her up as a model. The United Way and the Rotary Club honored her, The Charleston Post and Courier called her a "miracle worker," and the state singled out her school to compete for a national award. In Washington, the Department of Education gave the school $25,000 for its achievements.

Somehow, Ms. Moore had transformed one of Charleston's worst schools into one of its best, a rare breakthrough in a city where the state has deemed more than half the schools unsatisfactory. It seemed almost too good to be true.

It may have been. The state has recently started a criminal investigation into test scores at Ms. Moore's school, seeking to determine whether a high number of erasure marks on the tests indicates fraud.

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Fewer Children Entering Gifted Programs

Elissa Gootman & Robert Gegeloff:

The number of children entering New York City public school gifted programs dropped by half this year from last under a new policy intended to equalize access, with 28 schools lacking enough students to open planned gifted classes, and 13 others proceeding with fewer than a dozen children.

The policy, which based admission on a citywide cutoff score on two standardized tests, also failed to diversify the historically coveted classes, according to a New York Times analysis of new Education Department data.

In a school system in which 17 percent of kindergartners and first graders are white, 48 percent of this year's new gifted students are white, compared with 33 percent of elementary students admitted to the programs under previous entrance policies. The percentage of Asians is also higher, while those of blacks and Hispanics are lower.

Parents, teachers and principals involved in the programs, already worried at reports this spring that the new system tilted programs for the gifted further toward rich neighborhoods, have complained since school began that they were wasteful and frustrating, with high-performing children in the smallest classes in a school system plagued by pockets of overcrowding.

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November 2, 2008

O'Conner on the Crisis in K-12 Civics Education

Chloe White:

A survey shows more young people today can name the Three Stooges than the three branches of government, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor told a packed auditorium Friday at the University of Tennessee. Civic education has "really lost ground" in the United States, and "unless we do something to reverse that disturbing trend, the joke may be on us," O'Connor said at the 1,000-seat Cox Auditorium at the UT Alumni Memorial Building.

O'Connor was at UT to celebrate the opening of the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy.

"Only an educated citizen can ensure our nation's commitment to liberty is upheld. If we fail to educate young people to be active and informed participants at all levels, our democracy will fail," said O'Connor, the first woman on the nation's high court.

She spoke about the need for civic education, citing three problems with what she calls "civic illiberty": the lack of time schools spend teaching civics; a static approach to civic education; and the lack of modern teaching methods such as computer programs in teaching civics.

"Creating engaged and active citizens is too important a priority to shortchange in curriculum planning in schools," she said.

O'Connor, 78, is co-chairwoman of the National Advisory Council of the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, a group with which the Baker Center works. The campaign promotes civic education and provides K-12 curriculum.

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Graduate Opportunities 2009

The Economist:

The biggest winner from recession may be the teaching profession--particularly in maths and physics, where it has long struggled to compete for talent with banking and finance. Applications for teacher training in these subjects go up when the government offers golden hellos and other incentives, say Alan Smithers and Pamela Robinson of Buckingham University--but high graduate unemployment causes a surge too. It looks as if the pattern is set to repeat: the Training and Development Agency, which oversees teacher training, says its website has received a third more hits this year than last, and registrations of interest are also up. Hidden inside one crisis may be the solution to another.

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Wisconsin School District's Global Financial Gamble in "Synthetic Collaterilized Debt Obligations"

Charles Duhigg & Carter Dougherty:

On a snowy day two years ago, the school board in Whitefish Bay, Wis., gathered to discuss a looming problem: how to plug a gaping hole in the teachers' retirement plan.

It turned to David W. Noack, a trusted local investment banker, who proposed that the district borrow from overseas and use the money for a complex investment that offered big profits.

"Every three months you're going to get a payment," he promised, according to a tape of the meeting. But would it be risky? "There would need to be 15 Enrons" for the district to lose money, he said.

The board and four other nearby districts ultimately invested $200 million in the deal, most of it borrowed from an Irish bank. Without realizing it, the schools were imitating hedge funds.

Half a continent away, New York subway officials were also being wooed by bankers. Officials were told that just as home buyers had embraced adjustable-rate loans, New York could save money by borrowing at lower interest rates that changed every day.

SIS Links. NPR covers the story here. Madison Assistant Superintendent for Business Services Erik Kass held the same position at the Waukesha School District, which was involved in this investment strategy.

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November 1, 2008

Juvenile Crime During the School Year, 2000-2006



City of Jacksonville, NC:

The map was created at the request of the Jacksonville Police Department to show juvenile crime patterns over space and time. Using the city's criminal geodatabase and ArcGIS, it was possible to query the system for arrests of people younger than 18 and arrests during school days. Organizing the crimes by hour clearly showed patterns in which the bulk of criminal activity occurred during school hours, with some after school, and the least number of crimes occurring in the evening.

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What School Sports Taught These Political Contenders

Preston Williams:

For the 2008 presidential hopefuls, the road to the White House included an extended stay in the field house. No matter which ticket prevails Tuesday, a pair of former high school athletes will run the country come January.

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) was a reserve on the Punahou Academy basketball team that won the 1979 state title in Hawaii. He would be the first serious basketball player to occupy the Oval Office.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) competed in several sports at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, most notably wrestling.

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