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December 31, 2008

New High-School Elective: Put Off College

Toddi Gutner:

Like many motivated, focused high-school students, Lillian Kivel had worked hard academically and in community service in hopes that her efforts would win her acceptance into a good college. It did. Trouble was, Ms. Kivel's focus was much less clear when she had to decide which college to attend -- the Boston-area senior had applied to 38 schools because her interests were so varied.

At the suggestion of friends, Ms. Kivel decided to take a gap year -- a year outside of academia between high-school graduation and college matriculation. It wasn't rest and relaxation that Ms. Kivel sought, but rather an opportunity to gain life experience and focus her goals. Gappers, as they're called, typically feel that taking a year off will give them a head start in college -- and life. "I [have] the opportunity to explore my interests, like medicine and China, outside the classroom," she says.

Ms. Kivel eventually decided to attend Harvard College, but deferred entrance until fall 2009. Ms. Kivel lived at home this fall and interned at the Boston branch of Partners of Health, a global health outreach nonprofit. She's also serving as a legislative aide in the Massachusetts Statehouse. And she's auditing at anthropology class at Harvard.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:04 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Needy Schools Turn to Parents For Funding

Anne Marie Chaker:

Public schools across the country, hurt by state- and local-government cutbacks, are tapping an alternative source of cash: Mom and Dad.

Parent groups and local nonprofit organizations have long raised money for activities like class trips, school dances and after-school clubs. But many parents say they now are shelling out for core curricular items that were once publicly funded -- from classroom supplies to teachers' salaries.

This fall, a parent group in Columbia, S.C., bought 100 dictionaries for a middle-school teacher who had requested them. In Kentucky, the Middletown Elementary School parent-teacher association has been discussing helping to pay the salary of a teacher aide whose job might get cut. And in Sunrise, Fla., the Sawgrass Elementary School PTA is kicking in $3,000 for news magazines that the district used to buy for classroom use. The group also is considering eliminating funding for specialized after-school clubs to free up money for classroom study programs.

Related: A look at Wisconsin's K-12 state spending growth.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:00 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

On Detroit's Union Work Rules

Logan Robinson:

The collective bargaining agreement with the UAW is a heavily negotiated document the size of a small telephone book. It is virtually identical for each of the Detroit Three, owing to "pattern" bargaining, but it doesn't exist at all in their U.S. competition, the nonunionized transplants. Not only work rules, but fundamental business decisions to sell, close or spin-off plants are forbidden without permission. That permission may come, but only at a price, since everything that affects the workplace must be negotiated.

Both the UAW and the Detroit Three maintain large staffs of lawyers, contract administrators, and financial and human-resources representatives whose principal job is to negotiate with the other side. These staffs are at all levels, from the factory floor to corporate headquarters and the UAW's "Solidarity House" in downtown Detroit.

The collective bargaining agreements are now renegotiated every four years; in each negotiation the power and penetration of the union grows. If the company asks to change the flow of work for any reason, from cost-savings to vehicle improvements, the local union president will listen politely, and then say something like, "We can help you with this, but what's in it for my guys?"

Typically, he will have a list of things he wants, some understandable (better cafeterias) some questionable (hire my nephew), but there is always a quid pro quo. These mutually sustaining bureaucracies exist to negotiate with each other.

In an environment of downsizing, the problem is exacerbated, as the entrenched bargaining structure causes innumerable inefficiencies. Typically each plant or warehouse is a "bargaining unit" and has a union president, who has a staff. If the company consolidates facilities, there will be no need for two presidents and two staffs. Since neither president wants to play musical chairs, they will both point to the bargaining agreement and resist consolidation. As a result, unnecessary facilities are not sold, but kept open, lit and heated, just to preserve a redundant bargaining-unit president and his team.

Many teacher union agreements are patterned after the United Auto Workers. Here's a look at several agreements:Teacher Union's "Exposed" looks at work rules and reform, among other topics.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

December 30, 2008

Colorado School District Let's Kids Skip Grades

Jeremy Meyer:

A school district in Westminster struggling with declining enrollment and falling test scores will try something revolutionary next year that many say never has been accomplished in the Lower 48.

Adams 50 will eliminate grade levels and instead group students based on what they know, allowing them to advance to the next level after they have proved proficiency.

"If they can pull this off, it will be a lighthouse for America's challenged school districts," said Richard DeLorenzo, the consultant who implemented a standards-based model in Alaska and is working with Adams 50. "It will change the face of American education."

A district of 10,000 students and 21 schools, Adams 50 serves a working-class suburb north of Denver. Seventy-two percent of its students are poor enough for federal meal benefits, two-thirds are Latino, and 38 percent still are learning English.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:09 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Going to School Online: Georgia Virtual Academy

Laura Diamond:

When Janet Webber's three youngest children head to school, they don't meet up with the yellow buses rolling through their Cumming subdivision.

Instead Roni, the seventh-grader, spreads books across the kitchen table and logs onto the computer. Webber leads her other two children --- a first- and third-grader --- upstairs, to a sunny room with two desks, a laptop computer and bookcases filled with textbooks.

The three kids spend the next five hours or so completing lessons designed by the Georgia Virtual Academy. The online charter school started in 2007 and has quietly become one of the largest public schools in the state. It teaches about 4,400 elementary and middle school students from 163 of the state's 180 school districts.

Internet-based schools have popped up across the country in the past few years because of improved technology and changing education laws. As of January, there were 173 virtual charter schools teaching about 92,000 students in 18 states, according to the North American Council for Online Learning.

Nationally, little research has been done on the effectiveness of such online schools. They're just too new.

But Roni, 12, has no doubts about her school.

"I do everything else on the computer, so why not go to school that way?" she said.

For the Webber children, the computer is their classroom.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:37 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

A look at Chicago's School Reforms

Maria Glod:

At Cameron Elementary School west of downtown, most kids don't know the alphabet when they start kindergarten, nearly all are poor, and one was jumped by a gang recently, just off campus. But the school this year posted its highest reading and math scores ever -- a feat that earned cash bonuses for teachers, administrators, even janitors.

City schools chief executive Arne Duncan, President-elect Barack Obama's choice for education secretary, pushed that performance-pay plan and a host of other innovations to transform a school system once regarded as one of the country's worst. As Duncan heads to Washington, the lessons of Chicago could provide a model for fixing America's schools.

"Obama chose Arne Duncan for a reason, and part of that reason is the experimentation that Duncan has done in Chicago and his real attention to data and outcomes," said Elliot Weinbaum, assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education. "Duncan's willing to try new things and see if they work, hopefully keep the ones that do and drop the ones that don't. I expect that experimentation to continue on a national scale."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:25 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Offer vouchers for special education: It would save money and improve quality

Marcus Winters:

About 13% of public school students in New York State are enrolled in special education. Educating each of them costs taxpayers many thousands of dollars more than it does to educate a regular student. With the financial crisis compelling Gov. Paterson, Mayor Bloomberg and other officials around the state to make cuts that have the least impact on services to which we have become accustomed, now is the time for them to give a special-education voucher program a second look. Aside from offering better educational outcomes, such a program would significantly reduce expenditures.

Contrary to popular belief, tuition charged by private schools, where vouchers can be used, is actually lower than public school per-pupil expenditures. Take Florida, which is home to the nation's first voucher program for disabled students. Under the program, all disabled students are eligible for a voucher that is worth the lesser of the amount the public school would have spent on them or the tuition at a chosen private school. The value of the average voucher for disabled students there is $7,295. Not only is this far less than what the state spends to educate a disabled student in a public school, it is even below the state's much lower average per-pupil cost of educating all students, both disabled and regular enrollment.

In other words, the public system actually saves money when it pays for students to attend private school, and even more money when those students are disabled.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:56 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Philadelphia Charter schools' problems surfacing

Martha Woodall:

When an unusual coalition of Republicans and Philadelphia Democrats led by State Rep. Dwight Evans joined forces to pass a law bringing charter schools to Pennsylvania, they spoke in glowing terms about this "innovative" alternative to troubled public schools.

At that time - 11 years ago - few could have predicted the explosive growth - and controversy - that now surround the charter movement.

About 67,000 students are enrolled at 127 charter schools statewide, including several in Philadelphia that are now under criminal investigation.

The "innovation" most in evidence at the Philadelphia Academy Charter School in Northeast Philadelphia, as The Inquirer has reported, has led to allegations of nepotism, conflicts of interest and financial mismanagement, all now under investigation by federal authorities.

Philadelphia Academy Charter is hardly alone.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Murders of Black Teens Are Up 39% Since 2000-01

Gary Fields:

Homicides in which blacks ages 14 to 17 years old were the victims rose to 927 over the two-year period of 2006-07, the last years for which statistics are available, compared with 666 during 2000-01, according to the study by criminal-justice professors at Boston's Northeastern University. The 39% increase is much greater than the rise in overall homicides, which jumped 7.4% from 2000-01 to 2006-07.

Murders rose among black teens in 2006 and 2007 as overall homicides dropped compared with the previous year. And the 2000-07 rate of increase among black teens was more than twice the rate of increase among white teens, the study found.

The authors explained that they compared two-year periods to try to limit a statistical skewing of the numbers that might have occurred if they had simply looked at differences in 2000 and 2007.

The data confirm a pattern identified earlier this year by The Wall Street Journal, which found that while most communities in the U.S. were seeing a decline in homicides, many African-American neighborhoods were continuing to see an increase. The Northeastern University research shows that the pattern is more pronounced among juveniles.

Complete report 240K PDF.

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High school IB programs becoming more popular


A growing number of Indiana high schools are offering rigorous International Baccalaureate programs that emphasize critical thinking and cultural awareness.

IB coordinators at Bosse High School and Signature School told the Evansville Courier & Press that the program helps create well-rounded students. Students in the challenging IB program study a foreign language, social sciences and the arts as well as math and experimental sciences.

When Bosse and Signature were approved as IB schools three years ago, they were only the eighth and ninth Indiana schools to offer the program. The number since has doubled, and 18 Indiana schools now offer IB programs.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:01 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

December 29, 2008

Corruption in schools a big problem in Vietnam

Ben Stocking:

The thugs came after dark, as Do Viet Khoa and his family were getting ready for bed.

He says they punched him, kicked him, stole his camera and terrified his wife and children.

Khoa, a high school math and geography teacher, says the message was clear: Stop blowing the whistle on school corruption - or else.

For several years, Khoa has been fighting the petty bribery and cheating that plagues schools across Vietnam, where poorly paid teachers and administrators squeeze money out of even poorer parents.

Vietnam's leaders approved a sweeping anti-corruption law in 2005, but implementation is uneven. The country still ranks poorly on global corruption surveys, and for ordinary Vietnamese, who treasure education, school corruption is perhaps the most infuriating of all.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:11 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

K-8 or middle school? Which is better?

Alex Bloom:

As the Scottsdale Unified School District debated closing a school earlier this year, a parent group petitioned the district to let the school grow from providing pre-K through fifth grade into providing pre-K through eighth grade (K-8).

The group included one parent who said she was terrified to send her child to a middle school, which provides sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

K-8 schools have become the norm in the Valley in recent years, although research remains inconclusive on which school structure is better for students.

Regardless, educators agree that success in middle school is vital. A report released earlier this month by ACT Inc., which administers the content-based standardized college entrance exam, found the level of academic achievement students reached by eighth grade has the biggest impact on college and career success.

"By the time they leave eighth grade and go into high school, it's too late," said Al Summers, director of professional development for the National Middle School Association.

From the ACT report [341K PDF]:
However, the most recent results for the 2008 ACT-tested high school graduating class are alarming: only one in five ACT-tested 2008 high school graduates are prepared for entry-level college courses in English Composition, College Algebra, social science, and Biology, while one in four are not prepared for college-level coursework in any of the four subject areas (ACT, 2008).

Current international comparisons of academic achievement show students in the United States at a deficit compared to students in many other nations. According to the most recent results of the TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study), U.S. eighth graders rank fifteenth of forty-five countries in average mathematics score and ninth in average science score (Gonzales et al., 2004). The most recent results of the PISA (Programme forInternational Student Assessment) rank U.S. 15-year-olds twenty-eighth of forty countries in average mathematics performance, eighteenth in average reading performance, and twenty-second in average science performance (Organisation for Economic Co-
operation and Development, 2004).

Recent ACT research has investigated the multifaceted nature of college and career readiness. We first analyzed the low level of college and career readiness among U.S. high school graduates in Crisis at the Core (ACT, 2004). The critical role that high-level reading skills play in college and career readiness in all subject areas was the focus of Reading Between the Lines(ACT, 2006a). And when ACT data showed that many high school students were still not ready for college and career after taking a core curriculum, we examined the need for increased rigor in the high school core curriculum as an essential element of college and career readiness in Rigor at Risk (ACT, 2007b). The Forgotten Middleextends this research. This report examines the specific factors that influence college and career readiness and how these factors can have their greatest impact during a student's educational development. This report suggests that, in the current educational environment, there is a critical defining point for students in the college and career readiness process--one so important that, if students are not on target for college and career readiness by the time they reach this point, the impact may be nearly irreversible.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:45 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Comparing College's Athletic Admission Qualifications

Atlanta Journal Constitution:

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution gathered information about athletes' admissions qualifications from 54 public universities nationwide. We surveyed the members of every Bowl Championship Series conference, plus the University of Memphis and the University of Hawaii, two other public schools that finished in the 2007-08 season's football or men's basketball Top 25s.

The information listed here was calculated from data contained in a report, called an NCAA certification self-study, that each school files once every 10 years. Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh refused to provide the information. The University of Kansas and West Virginia University said their most recent NCAA certification self-study did not include the information. Kansas State University deleted all of its sport-by-sport data.

The SAT scores are on the 1600-point scale that predates the addition of an SAT writing component. For schools that reported ACT scores, we derived comparable SAT scores using the NCAA's conversion chart. Some schools refused to provide men's basketball SAT scores on the grounds it would violate the privacy rights of individual athletes.

A few links:

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

10 Lessons of an MIT Education

Gian-Carlo Rota:

Lesson One: You can and will work at a desk for seven hours straight, routinely. For several years, I have been teaching 18.30, differential equation, the largest mathematics course at MIT, with more than 300 students. The lectures have been good training in dealing with mass behavior. Every sentence must be perfectly enunciated, preferably twice. Examples on the board must be relevant, if not downright fascinating. Every 15 minutes or so, the lecturer is expected to come up with an interesting aside, joke, historical anecdote, or unusual application of the concept at hand. When a lecturer fails to conform to these inexorable requirements, the students will signify their displeasure by picking by their books and leaving the classroom.

Despite the lecturer's best efforts, however, it becomes more difficult to hold the attention of the students as the term wears on, and they start falling asleep in class under those circumstances should be a source of satisfaction for a teacher, since it confirms that they have been doing their jobs. There students have been up half the night-maybe all night-finishing problem sets and preparing for their midterm exams.

Four courses in science and engineering each term is a heavy workload for anyone; very few students fail to learn, first and foremost, the discipline of intensive and constant work.

Lesson Two: You learn what you don't know you are learning. The second lesson is demonstrated, among other places, in 18.313, a course I teach in advanced probability theory. It is a difficult course, one that compresses the material typically taught in a year into one term, and it includes weekly problem sets that are hard, even by the standards of professional mathematicians. (How hard is that? Well, every few years a student taking the course discovers a new solution to a probability problem that merits publication as a research paper in a refereed journal.)

Students join forces on the problem sets, and some students benefit more than others from these weekly collective efforts. The most brilliant students will invariably work out all the problems and let other students copy, and I pretend to be annoyed when I learn that this has happened. But I know that by making the effort to understand the solution of a truly difficult problem discovered by one of their peers, students learn more than they would by working out some less demanding exercise.

Posted by Richard Askey at 1:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

December 28, 2008

Scientist sets High Expectations for Milwaukee High School

Alan Borsuk:

High expectations. High performance.

It's been that way throughout Patricia Hoben's life.

A doctorate in biophysics and biochemistry from Yale. Influential work as a science adviser in Washington.

And now: founder and head of a small high school on the south side, where low-income students are being pushed to commit themselves to two things: High expectations. High performance.

In its second year, many of the 140 students of Carmen High School of Science & Technology show signs they are making those commitments. And Hoben shows the traits that make schools like this succeed: Unrelenting dedication, clear vision, an ability to bring people together, and a positive outlook.

Hoben's personal path to founding the charter school is definitely different from the personal paths, up to this point, of Carmen's students, more than 90% of them Latino, almost 90% low-income.

That hasn't stopped them from coming together. It's too early to see definite results, but the school seems to have its act together more than many schools with such short histories.

Attendance is high, averaging 92%. There is a serious-minded feeling in classrooms and even (comparatively speaking) in the lunchroom. Kids appear to be on-task a high portion of the time. The dress code includes ties for the boys and buttoned shirts with collars for both boys and girls. The aim here is to give teens from an impoverished neighborhood something much like a private high school experience.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 11:53 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

All's Fair in the Middle School Scramble

Elissa Gootman:

In the quest to find the perfect middle school for her 10-year-old daughter, Aimée Margolis has zig-zagged across Manhattan for 11 school visits, grilled pre-teenagers at a school fair on music classes and the preferred attire at dances, and compiled a dog-eared folder full of notes.

After a 90-minute tour of the Clinton School for Writers and Artists in Chelsea, Ms. Margolis casually slipped away for what appeared to be a quick pit stop. She carefully occupied a stall, waited for a cluster of students to walk in, and listened.

"It gives you a glimpse behind the scenes," Ms. Margolis explained of her sub rosa research. "At the tour everybody's ready for you, everybody has a happy face. They say what they want to say, and you hear what they want you to hear."

As the Bloomberg administration has created hundreds of new schools, centralized the admissions process and publicized the options, there is a wave of panic among many parents of fifth graders facing the next step. And throughout the country, middle school is increasingly seen as a kind of educational black hole where raging hormones, changes in how youngsters learn and a dearth of great teachers can collide to send test scores plummeting.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:44 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The Parent-Teacher Talk Gains a New Participant

Karen Ann Cullotta:

For years attendance was minimal at Tefft Middle School's annual parent-teacher conferences, but the principal did not chalk up the poor response to apathetic or dysfunctional families. Instead, she blamed what she saw as the outmoded, irrelevant way the conferences were conducted.

Roughly 60 percent of the 850 students at Tefft, in this working-class suburb some 30 miles northwest of Chicago, are from low-income families. Many are immigrants, unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the tradition of parents perched in pint-size chairs, listening intently as a teacher delivers a 15-minute soliloquy on their child's academic progress, or lack thereof.

"Five years ago, the most important person -- the student -- was left out of the parent-teacher conference," Tefft's principal, Lavonne Smiley, said. "The old conferences were such a negative thing, so we turned it around by removing all the barriers and obstacles," including allowing students not only to attend but also to lead the gatherings instead of anxiously awaiting their parents' return home with the teacher's verdict on their classroom performance.

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

A Doctorate in the School of Life

Tony Barboza:

Rueben Martinez is known for his many callings: Barber. Longtime bookstore owner. MacArthur award winner. Speaker at high schools, colleges and universities across the country. Holder of more honorary degrees than he can count.

And now Martinez, 68, is a college professor. A presidential fellow, to be exact.

Starting next month, Martinez will be responsible for Chapman University's efforts to recruit first-generation students, especially Latinos, into science and math programs.

University administrators said the fellowship is part of a twofold strategy of boosting its science enrollment while more aggressively recruiting students from such central Orange County communities as Santa Ana, Anaheim and Orange -- where the 6,000-student campus is located.

Martinez said that during his visits to high schools, he likes to conduct one-on-one interviews with rapid-fire questions to find out about students' interests and determine how serious they are about pursuing their education.

"What I tell these kids today is that a college degree can be a reality," he said. "I tell them: 'If you don't like high school you're going to dig college, man.' "

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Jamestown, ND starts women's wrestling program

Eric Peterson:

Jamestown College athletic director Lawrie Paulson anticipated some would have a skewed view of his school's first-year women's wrestling program.

"I think for a lot of people who heard 'women's wrestling,' they thought we were going to have a place with mud or Jell-O in there," he said.

Paulson, a 1977 Jamestown College graduate, recalls his college days in the early Title IX years as a time when such women's sports as basketball and volleyball were viewed with similar cynicism.

"This is never going to go; this is never going to go," Paulson said in reference to what skeptics thought of those sports at that time.

Any doubts Paulson had about his school's newest female athletic offering were answered swiftly.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Obama's $10,000,000,000 Early Childhood Education Pledge

Sara Mead:

Advocates for early childhood education are understandably excited about their prospects under President-elect Barack Obama's administration. During the campaign, Mr. Obama pledged to increase federal early education spending by $10 billion annually.

Currently, the two largest federal early childhood programs, Head Start and the Child Care and Development Block Grant, spend about $12 billion annually combined. A $10 billion increase would almost double that investment.

Just as remarkably, Mr. Obama deliberately singled out early education as an important investment he would prioritize even in tight economic times. Add in a potentially $1 trillion economic stimulus package that's raising the prospects for even previously inconceivable public investments, and advocates are downright giddy.

It seems terribly Grinch-like to throw cold water on these hopes. But in fact this is a dangerous moment for both Mr. Obama and the early education movement.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:01 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

December 27, 2008

Is Recess Necessary?

Jay Matthews:

I often spout opinions on matters about which I know nothing, so I understand when my favorite peer group -- the American people -- does the same. The latest example is a survey of 1,000 U.S. adults [931K PDF] by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which specializes in public health projects, and Sports4Kids, a national nonprofit organization that supports safe and healthy playtime in low-income elementary schools.

According to the survey's press release, "seven out of 10 Americans disagree with schools' policies of eliminating or reducing recess time for budgetary, safety or academic reasons." I realize most people don't know how poisonous recess can be for urban schools with severe academic needs, but I was surprised to see the news release fail to acknowledge this. It even suggests, without qualification, that "in low-income communities" recess time "offers one of our best chances to help children develop into healthy, active adults who know how to work together and resolve conflicts."

Few Americans have an opportunity to experience what teaching in urban schools is like. The people I know who have done so have developed a well-reasoned antipathy for the typical half-hour, go-out-and-play-but-don't-kill-anybody recess. In my forthcoming book, "Work Hard. Be Nice," about the Knowledge Is Power Program, I describe the classroom and playground chaos KIPP co-founders Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin encountered before starting their first KIPP fifth grade in a Houston public elementary school, the beginning of their successful program:

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CRG Network Posts Milwaukee Public Schools' Expenditures Online

Alan Borsuk:

CRG Network, the citizen organization that emerged from the recall campaign against Milwaukee County Executive Tom Ament in 2002, has come up with more than 432,000 answers to the question of how Milwaukee Public Schools spends its money.

The organization has posted a massive database with that many bills paid by MPS in 2006, 2007 and the first half of 2008.

Given that MPS is, among other things, a $1.2 billion-a-year business, there's a lot of stuff there, ranging from payments for a few bucks to reimburse a principal for parking at a conference to six-figure amounts for contracts with University of Wisconsin researchers and millions of dollars in payments to bus companies.

Conservative talk show hosts and bloggers in recent weeks have targeted items in the database for attention, such as $16,958 in 49 invoices for Cousins Subs, many of them involving food for events involving teacher training.

Chris Kliesmet, executive administrator of CRG Network, said there have been more than 50,000 hits on the Web site with the database, some of them from foreign countries, including Iraq.

A great idea. Every school district should do this.

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Geoffrey Canada Talks about Schools & Harlem

GEL Video:

In one of the all-time most popular Gel talks, Geoffrey Canada describes how his nonprofit, the Harlem Children's Zone, works to help young people in inner-city Harlem. Canada issues a sober indictment of failing schools, then describes the solution he has created.

Canada was recently profiled in the book Whatever It Takes, on Fresh Air with Terry Gross, and two years ago on 60 Minutes. If you don't know about Geoffrey Canada, you should. This video is a good place to start.

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December 26, 2008

In College, But Only Marginally

Globe Editorial
The Boston Globe
In college, but only marginally
December 23, 2008

MUCH SOUL-SEARCHING is taking place on local college campuses after a recent study showing that college was a bust for almost two-thirds of Boston high school graduates in the class of 2000. Students attending two-year community colleges--the least-expensive option--fared the worst in the survey by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, with an abysmal 12 percent graduation rate.

Specific results for all public and private colleges in the study should be available shortly after Christmas. But some figures are trickling in. Roxbury Community College fell flat. Of the 101 students from the high school class of 2000 who enrolled in RCC shortly after high school, only 6 percent would go on to earn a diploma there--or anywhere else--by June 2007. Quincy College, a low-profile, two-year college on the South Shore, did comparatively well (but not good enough) by its 62 Boston students, posting a 19 percent graduation rate. Bunker Hill Community College, which drew 155 enrollees from Boston's class of 2000, yielded a 14 percent graduation rate.

The study, which was funded by the Boston Foundation, strips away some of the hype about college attendance rates in Boston. Seven out of 10 public school graduates may get into college, but many lack the preparation to succeed. At Bunker Hill, for example, more than 80 percent of the Boston students from the class of 2000 required a remedial math course. Wisely, Bunker Hill and Boston school officials are now introducing students at some city high schools to the placement exams they will face on campus in the coming year.

The study should put an end to common claims by community college officials that their graduation rates don't reveal much because many of their students transfer to four-year colleges before earning associate degrees. In this study, a student merely needed to earn a diploma or certificate from any institution of higher education, not just the original college. And by providing at least a six-year window, the study made allowances for students who often juggle college with work or family obligations. Rationalizations are now off the table.

Bad numbers as motivation

There will be more than a few red-faced college officials when the final statistics are released. Only about one-third of students at four-year state colleges pulled through. Students at four-year, private colleges fared best, with a 56 percent graduation rate. Still, the study is proving to be a good motivator. UMass-Boston, which struggles with graduation rates, is expected to take a lead role in crafting solutions. And the Boston Private Industry Council, a co-author of the study, is keeping up the pressure with plans to publish graduation data for future Boston public school classes.

The stakes are highest at the community colleges, a traditional choice for students who struggled in high school. Mary Fifield, Bunker Hill Community College president, has launched a program that pairs remedial courses with college-level classes for incoming full-time students. Students are grouped by ability or academic interest and placed with handpicked professors who take an interest in their academic achievement and social adjustment. The college is also planning a "survival skills" class for freshmen, focusing on everything from reading class schedules to maximizing financial aid.

At Roxbury Community College, officials say they are also launching initiatives with the help of a Lumina Foundation grant to provide more intensive advising and tutoring, as well as a mandatory course on study skills for first-semester students. Impending cuts in the state budget, however, threaten these offerings.

Progress on the South Shore

Self-supporting Quincy College, a public community college operated under the auspices of the South Shore city, may have a lot to teach in tough times. Although the college offers few formal retention programs and no on-site day care for its roughly 4,000 students, it manages to outperform some of its state-operated counterparts. College president Sue Harris says that student advisers are widely available in the evening.

The college also offers so-called "nested semesters" that allow students to take accelerated courses over 10- or even 5-week periods in addition to the traditional 15-week schedule. The faster pace creates a sense of urgency missing on many campuses. Minority students, who make up 42 percent of the student body, appear to fare especially well at Quincy College. Black and Hispanic graduation rates for a recent class, says Harris, outstripped that of Asian students.

No one believes that ill-prepared urban students will suddenly cruise through college. But any college that can't help at least half to the finish line needs to reexamine what value it is adding to the educational experience.

© Copyright 2008 Globe Newspaper Company.

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Striking Against Students Why Pennsylvania leads the nation in teacher walkouts

Wall Street Journal Editorial:

Teachers unions routinely claim that the interests of students are their top priority. So we would be interested to hear how the Pennsylvania affiliate of the National Education Association explains the proliferation of teacher walkouts in the middle of the school year.

According to a recent study by the Allegheny Institute, Pennsylvania is once again the worst state in the country for teacher strikes. No less than 42% of all teacher walkouts nationwide occur in the Keystone State, leaving kids sidelined and parents scrambling to juggle work and family, potentially on as little as 48 hours notice required by state law.

The strikes take place despite the state's ranking in the top 20% nationwide for teacher salaries in 2006-2007 -- the most recent data available -- with an average of $54,970. Those paychecks go even further when adjusted for the state's cost of living compared to top-spending school districts in places like California.

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How Not to Get Into College: Submit a Robotic Application

Sue Shellenbarger:

Swamped by a rise in early applications from the biggest class of high-school seniors ever, college admissions officials have some advice for the class of 2009: Be yourself.

Although this year's applicant pool is by many measures the most highly qualified yet, admissions deans at a dozen top-tier colleges and universities said in interviews last week that they're also seeing a disappointing trend: Too many students are submitting "professionalized" applications rendered all too slick by misguided attempts at perfection, parental meddling and what one admissions dean describes as the robotlike approach teens are taking in presenting themselves.

Among the symptoms: Too many formulaic, passionless personal essays. Too many voluminous résumés devoid of true commitment. And too many pointless emails and calls from overanxious students and parents -- a trend one dean labels "admissions stalking."

"We keep looking for authenticity and genuineness, for kids who are their true selves," says Jennifer Delahunty, dean of admissions at Ohio's Kenyon College. Instead, anxious students, and the adults who help them overpolish their applications, "leach all the personality out" of them, she says.

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Local, Fresh Lunches Would be a Tasty Change

Margaret Krome:

My friend gave a guest presentation at a local high school last week and was invited to stay for lunch. "Horrible," was her description of the meal. "I appreciated the generous invitation, and I'm sure the lunch ladies worked hard, but it was awful. Pizza, totally tasteless chicken sandwiches and fried food -- that's what we offer our children at school."

Any parent who has peered into their school cafeteria's garbage can to see what children throw out knows my friend is right. But it's not for lack of caring on the part of school nutritionists. The amount of funding they receive for school meals is ridiculously low and not been updated for years. Fruits and vegetables are reimbursed at 10 cents a day, and the state school meal reimbursement rates haven't changed since 1981.

But panels of legislators, medical experts, school dieticians, educators, agency staff and others have been working this year to change the situation. They are motivated largely by the high and increasing rates of overweight and obese adults in Wisconsin.

Obesity's significance for health is clear. Being obese or overweight increases one's risk of chronic diseases like hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and osteoarthritis. Our state's annual obesity-related medical costs were estimated in 2004 to be $1.5 billion.

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UW commencement speech creates controversy

Kristin Czubkowski:

UW-Madison's winter commencement ceremonies have passed, but one student's speech has generated continuing controversy for giving parents and families a little too much detail about what their graduates may have been doing over the past four or more years.

UW-Madison graduate Savannah Ziegelbauer spoke on behalf of graduates at the 10 a.m. ceremony Sunday. While her speech's focus was on three campus landmarks that symbolized the growth and achievements of graduates, it also made eight references to drinking or partying -- including four in the first 30 seconds -- which caused offense for some faculty and audience members.

Julie Mitchell, a professor of biochemistry and mathematics at UW, said the number of references were not as troubling as the visceral image that Ziegelbauer, a journalism and political science major who graduated with honors, was able to portray.

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December 24, 2008

L.A.'s new arts school an expensive social experiment

Mitchell Landsberg:

The campus has long been intended as a local school, mostly serving students from surrounding neighborhoods. Critics say the district's best resources shouldn't be restricted geographically.

With just nine months left before it opens, a new arts high school in downtown Los Angeles still lacks a principal, a staff, a curriculum, a permanent name and a clearly articulated plan for how students will be selected -- critical details for a school that aims to be one of the foremost arts education institutions in the United States.

Central High School No. 9 does have a completed campus, believed to be the second most expensive public high school ever built in the United States. But the very fact that it offers what may be the finest such facilities in the region has fueled a debate over the district's plan to operate it primarily as a neighborhood school, with fewer than one-quarter of its slots allotted to students citywide.

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Scientists discover gene that explains why naughty children are popular

Kate Devlin:

Researchers found that people find those who are more likely to break the rules more likeable, even after meeting them for just a short time.

They found that the people who achieve popularity by defying authority all tend to carry a specific "rebel" gene.

The findings could explain how Just William inspired the devotion of his bunch of Outlaws in the famous novels and why children labelled "teachers' pets" have traditionally attracted the attention of bullies.

"The idea is that your genes predispose you to certain behaviours and those behaviours elicit different kinds of social reactions from others," said Alexandra Burt, assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University.

"And so what's happening is, your genes are to some extent driving your social experiences.

"So the gene predisposes (people) to rule-breaking behaviour and their rule-breaking behaviour made them more popular," Burt said.

More here.

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An Article Full of "Good Cheer" - Merry Christmas! Bringing the Power of Education to Children around the World

Knowledge @ Wharton via a kind reader's email:

After a trek in the Himalayas brought him face-to-face with extreme poverty and illiteracy, John Wood left his position as a director of business development at Microsoft to found Room to Read, an award-winning international education organization. Under his leadership, more than 1.7 million children in the developing world now have access to enhanced educational opportunities. Room to Read to date has opened 725 schools and 7,000 bilingual libraries, and funded more than 7,000 scholarships for girls. Wood talked with Knowledge@Wharton about the launch of Room to Read, the book he wrote called Leaving Microsoft to Change the World and his personal definition of success.

Knowledge@Wharton: Our guest today is John Wood, founder of Room to Read. John, thank you so much for joining us.

John Wood: Thank you.

Knowledge@Wharton: I read your book back in 2006. You began it with the epiphany you had during your trip to Nepal which inspired you to do what you're doing now and led to the creation of Room to Read. Can you tell us a little bit about that story?

Wood: Certainly. The book is called Leaving Microsoft to Change the World. The nice thing is I got that title before Bill Gates could get that title for his book, because, of course, Bill has now left Microsoft and is going to do amazing things to change the world through the Gates Foundation. My own personal journey to devoting my life to education was undertaken because, in so many places where I've traveled, whether it be post-Apartheid South Africa or post-Khymer Rouge Cambodia or the mountains of Nepal, you just find so many kids who have so little opportunity to gain the gift of education. To me, it just seemed like a very cruel Catch-22, that you would meet people who say, "We are too poor to afford education, but until we have education, how will we ever not be poor." Throughout places I traveled, be it India, Nepal, Cambodia or Vietnam, I kept meeting kids who wanted to go to school but they couldn't afford it. I would have kids ask me for a pencil. I thought, "How could something so basic be missing?"

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Should voters pick School Board representatives?

Doug Hissom:

Milwaukee Ald. Bob Donovan apparently doesn't have room for democracy, at least when it comes to the Milwaukee School Board.

Donovan wants an appointed School Board as opposed to letting the public choose their representatives. He calls it a priority on his Christmas wish list.

"To me (improvements and gains made under appointed boards) shows that the problems lie with bloated bureaucracy and poor governance that keep real improvements from happening in the classroom," Donovan says.

"Sadly, this mayor (Tom Barrett) and this administration can't seem to make up its mind on what to do, and so we continue to drift."

Perhaps the timing is right for major changes at MPS, Donovan says, seemingly unaware that no one is actually calling for a wholesale sacking of the School Board and the MPS administration.

"The clock is ticking," he says.

State superintendent rejects Detroit Public Schools' bid to avoid finance manager

Chastity Pratt Dawsey:

Michigan's top school official today rejected Detroit Public Schools' fight against a state takeover of the district's $1.1-billion budget.

The decision comes after a Thursday hearing where Flanagan allowed school board attorneys to explain why the state should not take control over the deficit-ridden budget. The attorneys argued that the two-day lead time Flanagan gave was not enough time to prepare a case.

Flanagan was not moved by the argument.

"I confirm my previous determination that a financial emergency exists in the Detroit Public Schools," Flanagan wrote in an 11-page letter to the school board on Tuesday.

School board officials offered no comment today.

"The Board has received the letter and is reviewing it at this time," DPS spokesman Steve Wasko wrote in an e-mailed response today.

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Some advice for the Detroit Public Schools

Detroit Free Press Editorial:

Now that Connie Calloway has been ousted as superintendent by the Detroit school board that hired her less than two years ago, a group of prominent local citizens is offering the DPS board some unsolicited advice about finding a good successor.

It won't be easy, given the mess the district is in and especially given the board's reputation as an employer and the state's impending appointment of a powerful financial manager to get the DPS books in order. Here's the text of a letter the group sent Tuesday to DPS Board President Carla Scott. The names of the signers are at the bottom.

Dear Honorable Carla D Scott, M.D.:
We are united in a fervent belief that a dynamic public education system is both imperative and possible here in Detroit. Because of that belief and our commitment to public education, we have conducted extensive research, both individually and collectively, to identify the dynamics that have enabled other urban districts to achieve turnarounds in the education they provide their students.

Clearly, a cornerstone of any successful school district, large or small, is aneffective superintendent who is focused on improving achievement scores, graduation rates and other critical indicators of performance.

Our kids need all of us working together to fix a broken system. Including these criteria in your selection process can help assure that we are working together with the single focus of improving the education that our children receive.

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December 23, 2008

Fast food + nearby schools = fat kids

Julie Steenhuysen:

Youth who study just a short walk from a fast-food outlet eat fewer fruit and vegetables, drink more soda and are more likely to be obese than students at other schools, according to research published Tuesday.

The study, which involved more than 500,000 adolescents at middle schools and high schools in California, lends new fuel to a growing backlash against the fast-food industry as studies suggest they contribute to the rising obesity epidemic in the United States.

"We've basically discovered that kids who are going to a school that is near a fast-food restaurant have a higher chance of being overweight and obese than kids who are at a school that is not near a fast-food restaurant," said Brennan Davis of Azusa Pacific University in California, whose study appears in the American Journal of Public Health.

U.S. youth obesity rates have tripled since 1980, although they leveled off this decade. The government says 32 percent of U.S. children are overweight and 16 percent are obese.

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Benjamin Zander Talk

Well worth watching as Zander discusses giving students an A on their first assignment. Zander begins with a discussion of living in either the "Downward Spiral" or an alternative world of "Possibilities". A 15 year old cello player makes an appearance. Clusty search on Benjamin Zander.
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Madison's Foundation for Public Schools

Melanie Conklin:

In the woodworking shop at Memorial High School, senior Taylor Trummer configures the toe-kick on a three-dimensional computer model of a bookshelf.

He's designing an "instant library" for mass production as a special project. The class will then make the shelves to distribute books to families in need.

Nearby, in a biology classroom, Dan Wise cradles a corn snake as it attempts to wrap around the sunglasses tucked into his sweater, while Brooke Ferrell extends her arm as a walking stick strolls up it.

Much more on the Foundation for Madison Public Schools here.

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University Applications in Britain

The Economist:

FOR the 300,000 or so British youngsters putting the finishing touches to university-application forms over the Christmas holidays, it is decision time. Which institutions to choose? Which of the myriad alluringly (and sometimes improbably) titled degree courses? Weighty decisions, no doubt, but evidence is mounting that the more crucial choices were made two years earlier, when students picked which three or four subjects they would continue to study until leaving school.

According to research published earlier this month, many may have chosen the wrong ones, and damaged their chances of getting into a highly regarded university. Policy Exchange, a centre-right think-tank, looked at the A-levels offered by successful applicants to a group of 27 very selective universities--some ancient, some modern--and concluded that, despite the fact that all subjects are notionally equal, in reality admissions tutors think more of some than of others.

A tenth of all A-levels are in art and design, or drama, film and media studies--but only a twentieth of those taken by students who gained places at top universities. They were also less likely than the average A-level candidate to have studied psychology or sociology, and more likely to have studied maths or a science. The think-tank concluded that although only two universities, Cambridge and the London School of Economics (LSE), openly list the A-levels they are less keen on, others have similar, unstated, biases. They should come clean, it said, in order to avoid penalising students whose schools (or parents) are not wise to the unwritten distinction between "hard" and "soft" A-levels.

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Hawaii attempts random drug tests of teachers

Mark Niesse:

Hawaii public school teachers signed off on first-in-the-nation statewide random drug testing in exchange for pay raises, but now the state claims the educators are trying to take the money and run.

Since the teachers' union approved the pact nearly two years ago, they've accepted the 11 percent boost in pay while fighting the random tests as an illegal violation of their privacy rights. No teacher has been tested.

The showdown over teacher drug testing arose from the highly publicized arrests of six state Education Department employees in unrelated drug cases over a six-month period. One, special education teacher Lee Anzai at Leilehua High School, pleaded guilty to selling more than $40,000 worth of crystal methamphetamine to an undercover agent.

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L.A. can use race as factor in 'magnet schools'

Bob Egelko:

Los Angeles can continue to seek racial balance in assigning tens of thousands of students to specialized "magnet schools" despite California's voter-approved ban on race preferences in government programs, a state appeals court has ruled.

Friday's decision by the Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles preserves the long-standing desegregation program in the state's largest school district in the face of a challenge by backers of Proposition 209, the 1996 ballot measure. Lawyers in the case disagreed on whether the ruling could also affect a lawsuit against the use of race in Berkeley school enrollments.

The court said a judge's order in 1981 that required the district to consider the race of students applying to magnet schools in Los Angeles - the culmination of a discrimination case that began in 1963 - remains in effect and allows the program to continue under an express exemption in Prop. 209.

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Judge Blocks California's 8th Grade Algebra Plans

Samantha Young:

A judge on Friday blocked a plan to make California the first state in the nation to require algebra testing for all eighth-graders.

The ruling sidelines an ambitious mandate approved by the state Board of Education in July after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recommended it over the concerns of California's school superintendent and education groups.

The board pushed through the effort in order for the state to meet federal testing requirements or face losing up to $4.1 million in funding. The mandate would have affected students in the 2011-12 school year.

But the California School Boards Association and the Association of California School Administrators sued in September to overturn the requirement. They questioned whether the state had the money, staff and training to comply with the state board's decision.

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December 22, 2008

2008 Geograph Quiz

John Flinn:

Don't despair if you can't get all, or most, or even more than a few, of them right. Anyone who has all this arcane knowledge cluttering up his brain is immediately eligible for a grant from the Get-A-Life Foundation.

As in years past, there are no prizes at stake, only the smug satisfaction that you probably know more about the world than a would-be vice president.

In a week or two, I'll print the inevitable corrections and clarifications.

1. Little Diomede Island was discussed constantly during the recent presidential election, although almost never by name. What is its claim to fame?

2. It's officially known as the Archipelago of Ecuador. What do we more commonly call it?

3. If you're in Windsor, Ontario, but would rather be in Detroit, which direction should you head?

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Special education teachers refocus strategies to passing Wisconsin tests

Amy Hetzner:

Main point. Topic sentences. Supporting paragraphs. Organization.

Arrowhead High School teacher Kathy Kopp ticked through her lesson on essay construction. Then she gave her sophomores one more tip for their upcoming language arts test from the state.

"Please, don't panic and say, 'I can't write,' " she called out. "Your ideas are good enough to put down on paper and have someone else read."

Part educators, part cheerleaders, Kopp and her colleagues in Arrowhead's special education department cajole students to finish their math homework, help them learn new reading strategies and prepare them for the state's annual testing regimen.

Last year, the school's 10th-graders with disabilities fell short of the state's reading proficiency standard under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Under President George W. Bush's signature change to federal education law, schools are evaluated based on how their students perform on state tests in math and reading.

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Free Maryland Teachers from Unions

Tom Neumark:

Though some teachers may not realize it, Maryland's laws infringe on their freedoms, place the interests of unions over individual teachers and restrict the ability of teachers to become entrepreneurs.

Teachers ought to have the right to be represented by a union. But they should also have the right to not be represented. Maryland forces teachers to be represented by unions, which violates teachers' rights and has negative consequences for teachers and students.

There is an important distinction between being "represented" by a union and being a "member" of a union. Maryland law - like that in many other states - does not require that teachers be members of a union, but it does require them to be represented. This means that individual teachers are not permitted to negotiate their own salaries, benefits and working conditions, even if they want to. Forbidding workers from negotiating on their own behalf and requiring that a third party be involved serves no public purpose, but it does benefit unions.

Loretta Johnson responds

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2005-2007 US County Property Tax Comparison

Tax Foundation:

Interestingly, while local property taxes have remained relatively flat, taxpayers have supported a large increase in State of Wisconsin taxes spent on K-12 public school districts. Of course these funds largely come from the same wallets that support property taxes.


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Shared School Buildings: Looking for Common Ground

Elissa Gootman:

Ben Sherman, principal of the new East-West School of International Studies in Flushing, Queens, was mortified one morning when a fire drill unexpectedly interrupted a cultural program, sending students and visitors from Korea scurrying outside.

The drill had been planned by the principal of Intermediate School 237, whose building Mr. Sherman's school shares and who was unaware of the performance because of what both now say was poor communication.

Relations were difficult. "He expected us to throw up our arms and welcome him," I.S. 237's longtime principal, Joseph D. Cantara, said of Mr. Sherman. "I didn't like the idea of another school coming into my building."

But after a tense year, Mr. Sherman said he swallowed his ego and started popping by Mr. Cantara's office for daily advice. Over dinner, they found that Mr. Cantara had been a student teacher at Mr. Sherman's elementary school. Lately, when their monthly meeting arrives, "there's almost nothing to talk about," Mr. Sherman said.

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Illinois Ripples Reach Vallas

Sarah Carr:

The sudden rise of one Chicagoan and fall of another in recent days holds a unique significance for New Orleans' Recovery School District superintendent, Paul Vallas.

Arne Duncan, President-elect Barack Obama's pick for secretary of education, was among Vallas' trusted deputies when Vallas led the Chicago Public Schools.

Rod Blagojevich, the scandal-ridden Illinois governor, edged out Vallas to secure the Democratic Party nomination in the 2002 gubernatorial election.

Vallas' former protege in urban education has made a name for himself in use of innovations such as a financial reward system for successful teachers, a pay-for-performance strategy. His former political rival, on the other hand, has become a household name because of pay-to-play allegations.

Shortly after his loss to Blagojevich, Vallas left his native city to lead the Philadelphia school system. A year-and-a-half ago, he moved to New Orleans to take over the recovery schools position.

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On Nashville School Demographics

Chris Echegaray:

Her father, Tim Clo, was asked if he would send her to a public school in East Nashville, a working-class neighborhood that over the past decade has attracted legions of young professionals and their families.

The oddity was that East Nashville parents and neighbors seemed as interested in Kenya's education as her parents, Clo said. Parents were adamant that Clo should send his daughter to Lockeland Design Center elementary school.

"It was word of mouth more than anything," Clo said, as he waited for Kenya, now 5, outside the school. "We had these conversations in parks, by the pool, with people asking where we were going to go for kindergarten. In general, at first, what we heard was that public schools were not that good. We thought about private school."

For years, many white parents like Clo would choose private schools over Metro public schools for their children.

Lockeland enrollment figures show that parents of white students have bucked that trend.

The student population is 60 percent white and 35 percent African-American, with the rest divided between Asians and Hispanics. The removal of two pre-kindergarten classes, which were predominantly black, helped boost the numbers.

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December 21, 2008

"Educating children is not the same as directly funding school systems"

Brian Gottlob @ the Buckeye Institute, via a kind reader's email 1.1MB PDF:

A child-centered school finance policy that supports the choices of parents can create higher-quality schools and more equality in the educational opportunities available to children. The only way to ensure that all children have the same educational opportunities and equal resources to obtain them and at the same time create powerful incentives to improve school performance, is to adopt a student-centered school funding system.

Public schools are nominally "free," but pricing, which implicitly occurs through housing markets, fundamentally limits access to better schools and consigns less wealthy families to less desirable schools. The subsequent separation of students along class lines also means that the non-financial inputs critical to good schools, such as peer and family influences, can be even more unevenly distributed than financial resources. The unequal distribution of opportunity remains even when state aid is targeted at the "neediest" schools. state money that simply equalizes financial resources will have limited effects on the root causes of education inequities.

This report outlines an alternative approach that seeks to overcome the limits of past attempts to equalize opportunities. It investigates the combined policies of open enrollment (in public, charter, and private schools) with financial support that follows the child. such a system will make the differences in local resources for education funding largely irrelevant. We limit our report to the mechanics and implementation issues of such a system, but to highlight how key policy choices would affect its implementation and costs. The report and demonstrate its fiscal impacts. our purpose is not to argue for particular policies within such a systeis an introduction to and not the final word on a fundamental shift in school finance policy in Ohio. As such, it will invite many questions and concerns that will deserve further research.

The report:

  • highlights the need for a reform of ohio's school finance system.
  • Documents ohio's level of financial support and compares it to other states.
  • Discusses the role of property taxes in funding schools.
  • outlines the basic structure of a child-centered school finance system.
  • Presents a basic weighted system of per-pupil financial support and creates a matrix of students in ohio schools to estimate the expenditures required to fund each child under a child-centered finance system.
  • Presents a model to calculate the expenditures required to fund a child-centered system at different levels of per-pupil financial support and under various policy choices.
  • Analyzes the implications for property taxes within communities under different policy choices within a child-centered funding system.
  • Estimates how much money businesses and individuals would contribute towards the education of deserving, needy students after the introduction of a tax credit for donations to scholarship-granting organizations.

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Intellectual Combat

Shawn Briscoe:

In the fall of 1990, I somewhat reluctantly joined my high school debate team. My first debate focused on whether the United States should increase manned space exploration. I was completely lost; it seemed I had forgotten how to speak. Thankfully, I had a supportive community in my hometown of Nevada, Missouri, and a talented coach by the name of Tim Gore. I quickly found there is nothing quite like watching the faces in the audience as people realize you have taken control of the debate. I admit I became intrigued by the idea of intellectual combat.

As an educator today, I draw on the writings of University of Washington political science and education professor Walter Parker, who has noted that "engaged citizens do not materialize out of thin air. They do not naturally grasp such knotty principles as tolerance, impartial justice, the separation of church and state, the needs for limits on majority power, or the difference between liberty and license." If our students are to understand the pressing issues of the day, they must be exposed to myriad viewpoints and able to synthesize information from multiple sources.

Forensics challenges students through events in both speech and debate. In the discipline of platform speaking, students select a controversial subject and conduct extensive research before trying to persuade the audience. Competitors in extemporaneous speaking have 30 minutes to prepare a seven-minute response to a question, complete with source citations. Topics the National Federation of State High School Associations developed for extemporaneous speaking contests in 2008 included, Should public schools be allowed to segregate along gender lines? Should phone companies that aided in illegal wiretaps by the government be immune from prosecution? Should China relax its one-child policy?

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Schools Invest in Athlete's Degrees

Christ Talbott:

From the moment he stepped on campus, 320-pound tackle Michael Oher seemed destined to be a star on Mississippi's football team and a failure in its classrooms.

Oher was the son of a crack-addicted single mom, and as a teen could barely read. His educational record - 11 schools in nine years as he moved from home to home in Memphis - read like an indictment of a failed education system.

But four years later, at a school that graduates fewer than 60 percent of all students within six years, Oher has cleared every hurdle and nearly earned his degree - all that stands between him and graduation are a final semester and workouts for the NFL draft.

"I haven't struggled a bit in college," the All-American offensive lineman says. "It's been a breeze."

It's a tribute to Oher's determination and character, to be sure.

His story also says something about the state of big-time college athletics.

Like a lot of other athletes at Ole Miss and elsewhere, Oher got not only tutoring help but a full range of academic support services throughout his career. At Ole Miss, 14 full-time staffers line up tutors for student-athletes, help them choose classes, monitor study halls and check attendance. More than 60 percent of the Rebels' 390 athletes receive at least some tutoring, and together they averaged about 1,000 sessions a week this fall.

Such services are not unusual.

Oher was featured in the recent book "Blindside".

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December 20, 2008

Home Schooling Goes Mainstream

Milton Gaither:

"I never really told anybody about my music at school, only my really close friends," Cheyenne Kimball told People Magazine in 2006. "Then [school officials] actually aired the show around the whole entire school, and that caused a lot of problems. I was a straight-A student and all of a sudden I didn't want to go to school anymore because of the things people were saying. That's why I'm homeschooled now." Cheyenne, winner of NBC's America's Most Talented Kid at age 12, recording artist, and star of her own MTV show, is just one of many high-profile Americans whose educational choice is home schooling. Movie stars Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, married in 1997, home school their two children along with Will's nephew. Why? "For flexibility," Pinkett Smith told an Essence reporter, "so they can stay with us when we travel, and also because the school system in this country--public and private--is designed for the industrial age. We're in a technological age. We don't want our kids to memorize. We want them to learn." While home schooling may have particular appeal to celebrities, over the last decade families of all kinds have embraced the practice for widely varying reasons: no longer is home schooling exclusive to Christian fundamentalism and the countercultural Left. Along with growing acceptance of home schooling nationally has come increasing diversification of who home schools and of what home schooling actually means.

Though parents and tutors have been teaching children in the home for centuries, in the late 1960s and 1970s there emerged for the first time in the United States a political movement that adopted this practice as a radical, countercultural critique of the public education system. Conservatives who felt the public schools had sold out to secularism and progressivism joined with progressives who felt the public schools were bastions of conservative conformity to challenge the notion that all children should attend them. By the early 1990s they had won the right to home school in every state. Some home-school advocacy groups have attempted to secure a federal law or Supreme Court ruling that would establish uniform national guidelines grounded in First or Fourteenth Amendment rights, but to date such efforts have failed (to the great relief of home-school advocacy groups that oppose this strategy). Home schooling thus falls under state law, and these laws vary widely. A complex matrix of specific statutory language and judicial interpretations emerged out of the maelstrom of political activism over the issue that started in the late 1970s. In Indiana and Michigan, for example, there are virtually no restrictions on home schoolers and very little accountability to government. Home-schooling parents are not even required to register. In Pennsylvania and New York, state agencies oversee and regulate home schooling in a number of ways, from curricular requirements to parental qualifications to mandatory home visits by certified personnel to obligatory standardized testing.

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The Big U-Turn: How to bring schools from the brink of doom to stellar success

Emily Ayscue Hassel & Bryan Hassel:

In the 1990s Continental Airlines was struggling, even more than its troubled U.S. airline peers. As the company's then-president Greg Brenneman explained in a 1998 article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR), "Continental ranked tenth out of the ten largest U.S. airlines in all key customer service areas as measured by the Department of Transportation: on-time arrivals, baggage handling, customer complaints, and involuntary denied boardings." The airline had already been in bankruptcy twice, and was headed for a third round as its cash dried up.

In 1994, Gordon Bethune took the helm, with Brenneman becoming president and chief operating officer. They staved off bankruptcy by renegotiating with their creditors. And they launched an organizational turnaround that proved remarkably successful, catapulting Continental from worst to best among big U.S. carriers.

By 1995, Continental was moving up on the Department of Transportation's (DOT's) performance measures (see Figure 1). Its stock price was soaring. And the turnaround stuck. The latest rankings by Consumer Reports place Continental first among the seven big U.S. airlines. Zagat's 2007 survey of frequent flyers found overall ratings for the big airlines were low and declining, with the "notable exception" of Continental. Continental was the only big airline, and one of only five overall, to be a Zagat Top Spot.

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Geoffrey Canada and Education's Future

Jay Matthews:

I have devoted many years to writing about schools, but much of the time I am really writing about poverty. Paul Tough has devoted several years to writing about poverty, but much of the time he is really writing about schools.

This is apparent in his insightful book "Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America." You don't see the words "schools" or "education" in the title, but be assured this is one of the best books ever written about how poverty influences learning, and vice versa.

As usual, I am late reviewing the book because I took my time reading it. I got a copy in September, when it came out. Books like this I like to absorb slowly and carefully. I keep them in a small room in my house where I know I will be alone, at least for short periods of time. It makes for great concentration, even if my reviews always miss their deadlines.

I have institutionalized this personal failing by creating the Better Late Than Never Book Club, of which Tough's book is the latest featured selection. The club -- which sells no books and offers no discounts, sorry -- celebrates volumes I consider so important that I review them even if they are months, and in some cases years, past their publication dates.

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December 19, 2008

Obama's Education Secretary is a "Diplomatic Reformer"

The Economist:

DURING the election campaign the economy submerged most talk of education. But beneath the surface, a debate churned between the self-proclaimed reformers and the teachers' unions. By choosing Arne Duncan, Chicago's schools chief and one of his own basketball buddies, Barack Obama this week has managed to please both sides.

School reformers had been edgy for weeks, noting that Mr Obama's transition team included Linda Darling-Hammond, an education professor at Stanford University. Ms Darling-Hammond is a vocal critic of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the federal law that promotes testing and accountability. Many feared that she would nudge Mr Obama towards the unions or even become education secretary herself.

If Ms Darling-Hammond represented one end of the debate, at the other extreme were Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee, chancellors of the school systems of New York and Washington, DC, respectively. Both have supported charter (independently-run but government-funded) schools and paying teachers by results. Both have championed tough accountability. But both have infuriated unions, and Mr Obama has opted not to pick a fight.

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A Doomed Crusade for More Diverse Schools

Peter Applebome:

Dick Hubert's one-man campaign to desegregate, however slightly, the Blind Brook school district thudded to its inevitable close at 10:55 p.m. Monday, at the end of a long school board meeting.

The auditorium where the meeting took place was virtually empty. The board members, so animated earlier about the cost of glue sticks and the intricacies of earth science curriculum, seemed to make a point of looking as uninterested as possible as he read his statement.

"At this point, there is nothing more for me to add to this dialogue," Mr. Hubert concluded. "The United States will be a majority nonwhite country in the adult lifetime of the children in your care. The only question is: How well will you have prepared them for being citizen leaders in this society?"

The board members barely looked up. He left the building and walked out into the cold rain.

Mr. Hubert, a 70-year-old retired television journalist who runs a small video production company, may not have made the most adroit case for his argument that Blind Brook, which is wealthy and 93 percent white, should make it a priority to merge some services and build links with its neighboring school district in Port Chester, which is largely poor and working class and 80 percent minorities.

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December 18, 2008

Do It Yourself Athletic Scholarship

Matthew Futterman:

Kirsten Bladek had a problem.

Three weeks into her senior season on the Monarch High School volleyball team in Colorado, the 5-feet, 10-inch setter found herself warming the bench. Her dream of an athletic scholarship seemed dead -- especially since her family couldn't afford the $1,000 or so that many parents pay these days to hire a private athletic-recruiting counselor.

But then in September, Ms. Bladek spent $39.99 to post her athletic résumé and pictures of her playing on the Web site The shots, combined with videos posted later, highlighted her ability to set the ball from in front of her forehead, with arms thrust out like Superman in flight. That display, combined with some telephone campaigning by Kirsten and her mother, got college coaches to start paying attention.

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Primary Education in India

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Wisconsin Virtual Schools Leader Running For State Post


The leader of an independent coalition for families of students who attend virtual schools wants to become the Wisconsin state superintendent.

Rose Fernandez announced her candidacy for education secretary on Wednesday.

She joins three other announced candidates. They are Beloit schools superintendent Lowell Holtz, Concordia University professor Van Mobley and deputy state superintendent Tony Evers.

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No Democrat Left Behind

RiShawn Biddle:

There wasn't much celebration yesterday for Barack Obama's nomination of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education from either the American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten (who praised Duncan for helping "students with the greatest needs") or from National Education Association honcho Van Roekel (who said nothing at all). The unions, long used to getting their way with Democratic Party leaders, were more disappointed that their favorite pick -- Obama adviser and No Child Left Behind Act critic Linda Darling-Hammond -- didn't get the nod.

But the real celebration came from another corner of the Democratic National Committee -- the motley crew of centrist city officials and liberal activists who have long-championed (and helped pass) No Child in the first place. Declared former Daily News reporter, Joe Williams, who runs the New York-based Democrats For Education Reform: "[Duncan] will lead the charge of breaking the existing ideological and political gridlock to promote new, innovative and experimental ideas in education."

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Texas Teacher Merit Pay

Stella Chavez:

It remains unclear whether the merit pay program for teachers in Texas is yielding the results its proponents have advocated - higher student achievement.

But a two-year evaluation of the Texas Educator Excellence Grant program released Thursday shows that 90 percent of the eligible schools have participated in the voluntary initiative. That means teachers and schools are interested in the concept, said Matthew Springer, the lead author of the report and director of the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University's Peabody College.

The study also found that turnover is lower among teachers who received bonus pay than those who did not.

The report said the greatest problem two years into the new system is that too many schools have to discontinue the program too quickly. A majority of the schools eligible to participate one year did not return the following year because they failed to meet eligibility requirements.

To be eligible, schools must have a high percentage of low-income students. They must also earn a recognized or exemplary state rating, or passing rates on the state math and reading tests must rank in the top quarter of Texas schools.

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School Choice Group Recruits 10,000 New Supporters in Just Five Weeks


More than 10,000 people signed up to join a coalition supporting school vouchers and scholarship tax credit programs over the past five weeks, the Alliance for School Choice announced today. The Alliance, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., had anticipated reaching its goal of recruiting 10,000 new supporters by the end of January.

The new supporters are members of the School Choice Works campaign, which officially launched in mid-November. Membership in School Choice Works is free. School Choice Works is the first national interactive and social media campaign launched by the coordinated school choice movement. More information is available at

The Alliance, which is the nation's largest organization promoting school choice, provides members with free bumper stickers, e-mail action updates, free news magazines, and information on how they can help promote education reform in their states.
"The quick and overwhelming success of this campaign is testament to the strength of support for school choice across the country," said Andrew Campanella, national campaign director for the School Choice Works project. "We look forward to continuing to recruit individuals who want to make a difference in education reform in their states."

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December 17, 2008

Obama Education Pick Backs Test-Heavy Regime

John Hechinger, Janet Adamy & Robert Tomsho:

The Obama administration's selection of Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan as education secretary signals an intent to maintain a rigorous system of standardized tests in public schools, while experimenting with reforms disliked by unions, such as teacher merit pay.

In announcing the appointment Tuesday at a Chicago news conference, President-elect Barack Obama said he and Mr. Duncan share a "deep pragmatism" and a willingness to tap ideas often associated with conservatives. "Let's not be clouded by ideology when it comes to figuring out what helps our kids," Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Duncan's "strength is really his openness to ideas and a real interest in data and how things are working," said John Easton, executive director of the Consortium of Chicago School Research, a University of Chicago program that has studied the city's schools.

One of Mr. Duncan's first tasks will be deciding what to do about the federal No Child Left Behind law, enacted in 2002, and now due for reauthorization. The statute, which has divided educators, requires all students to be proficient in math and reading by 2014. Schools that don't make adequate progress on tests measuring student achievement face sanctions.

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Obama's Education Choice:

Wall Street Journal Editorial:

Barack Obama has chosen Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan to be his Secretary of Education. As scarred veterans of the school-reform wars, we applaud the choice with great caution.

We've long said there is no more urgent domestic issue than the collapsed state of inner-city education. Going back to the Clinton Presidency, we have argued on behalf of vouchers that would let parents of students in the poorest public schools have the same shot at a sound education as do more affluent children, such as those of Mr. Obama. The opposition from public teachers' unions to this or almost any significant reform is legendary. Thus, we listened closely when Senator Obama said nearly nothing during the campaign that would offend the unions, mostly urging more spending on preschool and after-school programs.

We now read that Mr. Duncan is an ardent proponent of public charter schools, though probably not of vouchers for private schools. Chester E. Finn Jr., the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and a frequent contributor to this page on school reform, likes Mr. Duncan. "He's a proven and committed and inventive education reformer," Mr. Finn wrote yesterday on the Institute's blog, "not tethered to the public-school establishment and its infinite interest groups."

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College Students Using ADHD Drugs to Study for Exams


It's final exam week for thousands of UW students on campus.

For years, some students have quietly taken drugs like Ritalin and Adderall to help them focus and prepare for exams.

The drugs are widely prescribed by physicians to help school children focus longer and perform better in school.

College students told WISC-TV it's no secret that students use the medicines and get them illegally

An opinion article in Nature Magazine on Sunday suggested there is a responsible way for the "healthy to use the drugs without an ADHD diagnosis" - but many medical doctors disagree.

UW student Jonathan Roffee has been studying all weekend.

"Ten to twelve hours a day, takes a toll after a while," said Roffee.

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Charter Schools Make Gains On Tests

Dan Keating & Theola Labbe-DeBose:

Students in the District's charter schools have opened a solid academic lead over those in its traditional public schools, adding momentum to a movement that is recasting public education in the city.

The gains show up on national standardized tests and the city's own tests in reading and math, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. Charters have been particularly successful with low-income children, who make up two-thirds of D.C. public school students.

A dozen years after it was created by Congress, the city's charter system has taken shape as a fast-growing network of schools, whose ability to tap into private donors, bankers and developers has made it possible to fund impressive facilities, expand programs and reduce class sizes.

With freedom to experiment, the independent, nonprofit charters have emphasized strategies known to help poor children learn -- longer school days, summer and Saturday classes, parent involvement and a cohesive, disciplined culture among staff members and students.

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Science or Garbage?

John Tierney:

If we want our children to be scientifically literate and get good jobs in the future, why are we spending precious hours in school teaching them to be garbage collectors?

That's the question that occurred to me after reading about the second-graders in West Virginia who fought for the right to keep recycling trash even after it became so uneconomical that public officials tried to stop the program. As my colleague Kate Galbraith reports, their teacher was proud of them for all the time they spent campaigning to keep the recycling program alive.

My colleague Andy Revkin suggests that the West Virginia students might be learning something useful about the interplay of economics and ecology, but I fear they and their teacher have missed the lesson. The reason that public officials cut back the program, as Matt Richtel and Kate reported, is the market for recyclables has collapsed because the supply vastly exceeds the demand. This could be a valuable learning experience for the students about markets and about the long-term tendency of prices of natural resources to fall while the cost of people's time rises.

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December 16, 2008

Most Textbooks Should Just Stay On the Shelf

Jay Matthews:

Most people think textbooks are important. Schools that don't have all of theirs might find themselves accused of dereliction of duty. The Washington Post, for instance, was aghast last year that several thousand D.C. schoolbooks hadn't yet left the warehouse when classes began.

My colleague Michael Alison Chandler underlined this in her story two weeks ago about an effort by some Virginia teachers to break the $8 billion-a-year textbook industry's tight grip on science instruction, which often stops abruptly about the time Albert Einstein published his theory of special relativity in 1905.

The fact that such obsolescence is tolerated shows how much faith we put in textbooks. So does our acceptance of the difficulty most students have reading through a standard textbook without falling asleep. Reid Saaris, founder of the D.C.-based Equal Opportunity Schools Organization, remembers teaching 12th-grade history in Beaufort, S.C., with a particularly tedious required text. The few seniors who chose his class usually did so for inappropriate reasons. One year, five boys showed up, gave Saaris disappointed looks and said they had enrolled only "because of the hot lady who was supposed to be teaching the class."

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Milwaukee Schools Likely to Require more Math & Science

Alan Borsuk:

Three years of math, three years of science - start getting ready, all you sixth-graders in Milwaukee Public Schools.

A School Board committee voted 3-0 Monday night to increase the requirements for graduating from MPS from two years each of math and science to three, effective with the class of 2014-'15, members of which are currently sixth-graders.

In addition, students would need to complete a half-year's worth of either an online course, community service or a service-learning project.

The proposal will go to the full board tonight and is expected to be approved.

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Obama Chooses Duncan for Education Secretary

John Hechinger & Laura Meckler:

President-elect Barack Obama named Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan as his education secretary on Tuesday -- choosing a hometown friend who has introduced some education reforms popular with conservatives without alienating teachers unions.

As Chicago's top school official for seven years, Mr. Duncan has overseen the closure of struggling schools, advocated merit pay for better teachers, and adopted a program to use private money to reward children for better grades.

"When it comes to school reform, Arne is the most hands-on of hands-on practitioners," Mr. Obama said, making the announcement at a school that he said has made remarkable progress under Mr. Duncan's leadership.

"He's not beholden to any one ideology, and he's worked tirelessly to improve teacher quality," Mr. Obama said.

Wall Street Journal live blog.

Sam Dillon has more:

Mr. Duncan, a 44-year-old Harvard graduate, has raised achievement in the nation's third-largest school district and often faced the ticklish challenge of shuttering failing schools and replacing ineffective teachers, usually with improved results.

He represents a compromise choice in the debate that has divided Democrats in recent months over the proper course for public-school policy after the Bush years.

In June, rival nationwide groups of educators circulated competing educational manifestos, with one group espousing a get-tough policy based on pushing teachers and administrators harder to raise achievement, and another arguing that schools alone could not close the racial achievement gap and urging new investments in school-based health clinics and other social programs to help poor students learn.

Mr. Duncan was the only big-city superintendent to sign both manifestos.

Much more here

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12 Universities Offering Free Business Courses Online

Melissa Kahney:

Free business courses are a great way to get a university-level education without the hassle of student loans. There are a number of top-ranked universities that offer free business courses online. Examples include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon and the University of California, Berkeley.

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Milwaukee Schools to consider future of busing, middle schools

Alan Borsuk:

The Milwaukee School Board on Tuesday night will face a serving of a stew with many of the ingredients that make life complicated in Milwaukee Public Schools. How it decides what parts to eat or not eat will say a lot about the prospects for change in the system.

The board will take up a multi-part proposal from north side member Michael Bonds to realign a cluster of schools in the vicinity of W. Hampton and W. Silver Spring avenues from N. Green Bay Ave. to N. 35th St.

Included in the proposals are closing Carleton School, converting McNair Academy to a middle school with an emphasis on arts and science, and attempting for the first time to provide short-distance bus service to nearby schools as an alternative to busing to distant parts of town. For families living in the affected area, busing options to schools elsewhere would be restricted as a way of encouraging enrollment in the local schools.

Bonds' proposal is one of the boldest attempts in years to reduce busing and invigorate the idea of attending schools near home. It comes after the board agreed in principle to make major cuts in busing - a stand that has not been translated into action yet.

But two School Board committee meetings last week brought out how many factors are at play. Among them:

Busing: Do people put their kids on buses to distant schools because they want to or because they don't have much choice? Milwaukee has one of the most expansive busing policies in the country. The $102 million neighborhood school plan in recent years failed to persuade parents to take their kids off buses. Is anything different now?

K-8 vs. middle schools: Middle schools have been in sharp decline in MPS as schools offering kindergarten through eighth grade programs have increased rapidly. Is that because parents really want K-8s or because they haven't been given quality choices in middle schools? The prevailing thinking in MPS has been that K-8s are popular, but there appears to be a growing counter-movement, with Bonds as a leading voice for middle schools.

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December 15, 2008

An Update on Madison's Small Learning Community / High School "Redesign" Plans

The Madison School Board recently received a presentation (25mb mp3 file) from the Administration on its plans for High School "redesign" and the use of the $5,500,000 Small Learning Community grant funded by our federal tax dollars. Assistant Superintendent Pam Nash along with representatives from the four large high schools participated in the discussion. The Board asked some interesting questions. President Arlene Silveira asked how this initiative relates to the District's "Strategic Planning Process"? Vice President Lucy Mathiak asked about opportunities for advanced students.


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

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In Praise of Facts or avoiding "Fact Free" education

The Economist:

The British government's latest crack at reforming schools is yet another step towards contentless learning

"NOW, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life." How horrible for the pupils at Professor Gradgrind's school; Charles Dickens pulled out all the grim stops in describing it. No one today really thinks that school, especially in the early years, should consist of nothing but dreary rote learning.

But children do love learning real things--why trees have leaves, how two minuses make a plus, the number of wives' heads Henry VIII removed. Only if they begin to build up a core of knowledge can they develop the habits of mental discipline that must last them a lifetime. You cannot look up on Google something you do not know exists; and the ability to hold facts in your head is a prerequisite for many careers--the law, say, or engineering. It is not enough in primary school to learn about learning; children need to learn actual stuff.

So it is a particular disappointment that the interim version of the biggest review of British primary schooling in decades nudges the country a little further down its path toward factfree education (see article). The existing curriculum is not without its faults: repeatedly re-engineered since it was set in place 20 years ago, it is now cluttered and prescriptive. And Sir Jim Rose, once Britain's chief inspector of primary schools, was dealt some marked cards for his review: computer skills had to be ranked alongside literacy and numeracy (though employers complain not that young job-seekers are clueless online but that they are illiterate); room had to be made to teach a modern foreign language (thank heavens); and a gaggle of personal-development goals (learning not to set fire to your friends or trash the classroom) were to be emphasised.

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Menomonee Falls Superintendent Dr. Keith Marty to Facilitate Madison's "Strategic Planning Process"

A recent Madison School Board meeting discussed the planned "Strategic Review" 10MB mp3 audio. Superintendent Dan Nerad mentioned that he planned to retain Menomonee Falls Superintendent Dr. Keith Marty to facilitate the process. Links:

Board members asked the Superintendent about committee staffing (public & staff names), timing and funding.

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9th Circuit: Parents Cannot Deduct Payments to Their Children's Religious Schools


The Ninth Circuit yesterday affirmed the Tax Court (125 T.C. 281 (2005)) in holding that a couple's tuition and fee payments to their children's Jewish day schools do not qualify for the charitable deduction because they received a substantial benefit from their payments and lacked charitable intent. Sklar v. Commissioner, No. 06-72961 (9th Cir. Dec. 12, 2008). From the DOJ press release:
The Sklars sought charitable deductions under § 170 for portions of their tuition payments made to the religious day schools their children attended, asserting that those portions of the tuition payments were for "intangible religious benefits." The Sklars made three arguments in support of their position, each of which was rejected by the Ninth Circuit.

First, the Sklars argued that their tuition and fee payments to exclusively religious schools were deductible under a "dual payment analysis" to the extent the payments exceeded the value of the secular education their children received. The Ninth Circuit rejected this argument, finding that the Sklars had not shown that the payment exceeded the fair market value of the benefit received for their payments (i.e., an education for their children), and they had not shown that any excess payment was made with the intent of making a gift.

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Dane County High School AP Course Offering Comparison

The College Board recently updated their AP Course Audit data. Dane County offerings are noted below, including changes from 2007-2008:

  • Abundant Life Christian School: 3 Courses in 2007/2008 and 3 in 2008/2009
  • Cambridge High School: 1 Course in 2007/2008 and 0 in 2008/2009
  • De Forest High School: 8 Courses in 2007/2008 and 8 in 2008/2009
  • Madison East High School: 12 Courses in 2007/2008 and 12 in 2008/2009
  • Madison Edgewood High School: 11 Courses in 2007/2008 and 10 in 2008/2009 (11 are on offer this year. There's been a paperwork delay for the 11th course, AP Biology due to a new teacher)
  • Madison LaFollette High School: 12 Courses in 2007/2008 and 6 in 2008/2009
  • Madison Memorial High School: 18 Courses in 2007/2008 and 17 in 2008/2009
  • Madison West High School: 6 Courses in 2007/2008 and 0 in 2008/2009 (I'm told that West has 6, but the College Board has a paperwork problem)
  • Marshall High School: 5 Courses in 2007/2008 and 5 in 2008/2009
  • McFarland High School: 6 Courses in 2007/2008 and 6 in 2008/2009
  • Middleton-Cross Plains High School: 8 Courses in 2007/2008 and 8 in 2008/2009
  • Monona Grove High School: 9 Courses in 2007/2008 and 8 in 2008/2009
  • Mt. Horeb High School: 5 Courses in 2007/2008 and 5 in 2008/2009
  • Oregon High School: 9 Courses in 2007/2008 and 9 in 2008/2009
  • Sauk Prairie High School: 10 Courses in 2007/2008 and 10 in 2008/2009
  • Stoughton High School: 7 Courses in 2007/2008 and 10 in 2008/2009
  • Sun Prairie High School: 15 Courses in 2007/2008 and 17 in 2008/2009
  • Verona High School: 10 Courses in 2007/2008 and 11 in 2008/2009
  • Waunakee High School: 6 Courses in 2007/2008 and 6 in 2008/2009
  • Wisconsin Heights High School: 6 Courses in 2007/2008 and 6 in 2008/2009
Related: Dual Enrollment, Small Learning Communities and Part and Full Time Wisconsin Open Enrollment.

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December 14, 2008

Some K-12 Schools Cutting Costs

Anne Marie Chaker:

As state governors warn of significant shortfalls in their budgets, many schools districts are facing the biggest cutbacks they've seen in decades. And in some cases, they're already slashing.

In Virginia, the Fairfax County school district is considering everything from increasing class sizes to eliminating certain high-school sports starting next fall. In Florida, the Broward County School District is looking at thousands of layoffs and eliminating certain courses and activities. The Seattle School District is even considering shuttering certain schools. This year, the Los Angeles Unified School District has already reduced 600 administrative jobs at headquarters and delayed textbook purchases.

These moves have fired up parents. Julie Jackson, the parent of a fourth-grader at Kettering Elementary School in Long Beach, Calif., says parents there have for several years been raising money for salaries, supplies and programs that the state should be paying for in the first place. She and other parents are petitioning the governor and members of the state legislature to stop any further cuts. "The parents are now at a breaking point," the petition states.

Among the forces behind the shortfalls: Job losses are cutting into state income-tax revenue; the erosion of home values is hurting property-tax revenue; and the drop in consumer spending reduces revenue from sales tax. As a result, 37 states are projecting midyear shortfalls this fiscal year, according to a survey by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. That is compared with only seven a year ago. Based on how things are going, the center estimates that total state budget gaps for next fiscal year will likely be around $100 billion, almost 10 times what it was last fiscal year, according to Elizabeth McNichol, senior fellow at the Washington D.C.-based center.

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A Look at Stephen Strachan: Principal of LA's Jordan High School

Sandy Banks:

Under Stephen Strachan, students wear uniforms, it takes a C to pass and a 'fifth-year senior' program is bringing dropouts back.

You can blame the failure of Los Angeles' latest school superintendent on racial politics, an incompetent school board or a bureaucracy impervious to reform.

But you can't sell that to Stephen Strachan.

Strachan is the principal at Jordan High in Watts. Like Supt. David Brewer, Strachan thinks big and is brimming with self-confidence.

But unlike Brewer, Strachan has managed to move beyond summits and slogans to remake a high school long considered one of the district's worst.

I met Strachan two years ago -- about the time Brewer arrived in Los Angeles. I visited Jordan High because I wanted to know what it was like running a school that bordered one of the city's most dangerous housing projects.

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My Daughters/My Self

Judith Warner:

There was something about last week's column that left me dissatisfied. I wrote about the difficulty of helping my 8-year-old daughter Emilie process disturbing news, particularly when she tends to over-focus on life's ugliness.

But what I really wanted to discuss - via the vehicle of our obsessive replaying of the death of the trampled Wal-Mart worker Jdimytai Damour - was emotional enmeshment.

I find myself these days, to a surprising degree, dealing with the problem of enmeshment. This surprises me because not so long ago I wrote a book that was largely a polemic against enmeshment: against the boundary collapsing that I think is the signature characteristic of motherhood (and parenthood) in our time.

Clusty search: Judith Warner.

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December 13, 2008

Uncertainty on Obama Education Plans

Sam Dillon:

As President-elect Barack Obama prepares to announce his choice for education secretary, there is mystery not only about the person he will choose, but also about the approach to overhauling the nation's schools that his selection will reflect.

Despite an 18-month campaign for president and many debates, there remains uncertainty about what Mr. Obama believes is the best way to improve education.

Will he side with those who want to abolish teacher tenure and otherwise curb the power of teachers' unions? Or with those who want to rewrite the main federal law on elementary and secondary education, the No Child Left Behind Act, and who say the best strategy is to help teachers become more qualified?

The debate has sometimes been nasty.

"People are saying things now that they may regret saying in a couple of months," said Jack Jennings, a Democrat who is president and chief executive of the Center on Education Policy in Washington. "Unfortunately, they're all friends of mine, which makes it awkward."

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Madison West's Natalia Thompson earns top Girl Scout honors

The Capital Times:

Awards continue for Natalia Thompson of Madison, who was named as one of the Girl Scouts of USA top 10 Girl Scout Gold Award recipients, which makes her one of the nation's 2008 Young Women of Distinction for extraordinary leadership through the recipients' remarkable community action projects.

Only 5 percent to 6 percent of girls involved in the Scouts receive the award, considered the organization's highest achievement. Thompson and the other nine winners were honored at the 2008 Girl Scout National Council Session in Indianapolis.

Kathy Cloninger, who heads the Girl Scouts of USA, said Thompson and the other award winners are "outstanding examples of the kind of leadership Girl Scouts are capable of."

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The New Examined Life

Jamin Brophy-Warren:

In the first week of January, New York graphic designer Nicholas Felton will boil down everything he did in 2008 into charts, graphs, maps and lists.

The 2007 edition of his yearly retrospective notes that he received 13 postcards, lost six games of pool and read 4,736 book pages. He tracked every New York street he walked and sorted the 632 beers he consumed by country of origin.

Part experimentation, part self-help, such "personal informatics" projects, as they are known, are gathering steam thanks to people like Mr. Felton who find meaning in the mundane. At their disposal are a host of virtual tools to help them become their own forensic accountants, including Web sites such as Dopplr, which allows people to manage and share travel itineraries, and Mon.thly.Info, for tracking menstrual cycles. Parents can document infant feeding schedules with Trixie Tracker. And couples can go from between the sheets to spreadsheets with Bedpost, which helps users keep track of their amorous activities.

The objective for Mr. Felton and others is to seize data back from the statisticians and the scientists and incorporate it into our daily lives. Everyone creates data -- every smile, conversation and car ride is a potential datapoint. These quotidan aggregators believe that the compilation of our daily activities can reveal the secret patterns that govern the way we live. For students of personal informatics, the practice is liberating because it shows that our lives aren't random, and are more orderly than some might expect.

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More Families Move to Lock In Tuition Rates

Jane Kim & Melissa Korn:

As the stock market swoons and tuition costs soar, more families are deciding to pay for college in advance through their 529 plans.

For years, families have preferred the savings type of 529 plan -- named for the relevant section of the tax code -- salting away after-tax dollars, investing them in mutual funds and other investments, and then taking the money out, tax-free, when the time comes to pay for school. But as many of these accounts have been savaged by the market's plunge this year, families are now turning to the prepaid variety of 529.

Prepaid plans allow families to lock in current tuition rates by making an upfront cash payment in exchange for tuition contracts or credits tied to current rates. They can prepay either the full tuition bill or a portion of it, typically based on the average tuition costs in the state. States usually manage the money, and when a student finally enrolls, he won't have to pay more -- no matter how much tuition costs have risen.

If investors buy only a portion, that same amount is credited toward future tuition bills. In general, the tuition guarantee applies only to state schools within that state, though you can use the money to pay for out-of-state schools. If a beneficiary elects not to attend a college covered by the plan, the investor can withdraw his contributions, usually with interest.

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The "Certified" Teacher Myth

Wall Street Journal Editorial:

Like all unions, teachers unions have a vested interest in restricting the labor supply to reduce job competition. Traditional state certification rules help to limit the supply of "certified" teachers. But a new study suggests that such requirements also hinder student learning.

Harvard researchers Paul Peterson and Daniel Nadler compared states that have genuine alternative certification with those that have it in name only. And they found that between 2003 and 2007 students in states with a real alternative pathway to teaching gained more on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (a federal standardized test) than did students in other states.

"In states that had genuine alternative certification, test-score gains on the NAEP exceeded those in the other states by 4.8 points and 7.6 points in 4th- and 8th-grade math, respectively," report the authors in the current issue of Education Next. "In reading, the additional gains in the states with genuine alternative certification were 10.6 points and 3.9 points for the two grade levels respectively."

The study undermines the arguments from colleges of education and teachers unions, which say that traditional certification, which they control, is the only process that can produce quality teachers. The findings hold up even after controlling for race, ethnicity, free-lunch eligibility, class size and per-pupil state spending.

From the report:
Forty-seven states have adopted a pathway to teaching, alternative to the standard state certification otherwise required. Is this new pathway genuine or merely symbolic? Does it open the classroom door to teachers of minority background? Does it help--or hinder--learning in the classroom? Claims about all of these questions have arisen in public discourse. Recently, data have become available that allow us to check their validity.

To receive a standard state certification in most states, prospective teachers not only must be college graduates but also must have taken a specific set of education-related courses that comprise approximately 30 credit hours of coursework. Prospective teachers are well advised to pursue studies at a college or university within the state where they expect to teach, because it is often only within that state that students can get the courses required for state certification in the subject area and for the grade levels that they will be teaching.

Such certification requirements limit the supply of certified teachers, and as a result, serious teaching shortages are regularly observed. For example, in California, one-third of the entire teacher work force, about 100,000 teachers, will retire over the next decade and need to be replaced, compounding what the governor's office calls a "severe" current teacher shortage. Other states are facing a similar situation. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics projects a shortfall of 280,000 qualified math and science teachers by 2015. As former National Education Association president Reg Weaver put it, "At the start of every school year, we read in the newspaper...stories about schools scrambling to hire teachers."

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State of the Art

Olive Garden's 13th-annual Pasta Tales essay contest begins October 6, 2008

Kids and teens lead the digital revolution, sharing their ideas online every day. Now Olive Garden wants them to channel that knowledge and creativity to make a difference in their local communities. This year, Olive Garden's 13th-annual Pasta Tales essay writing contest asks students in first through 12th-grade: "How would you use the Internet to change your community for the better?" The grand prize winning essay is worth a three-day trip to New York and a $2,500 savings bond.

Beginning Monday, Oct. 6 through Friday, Dec. 19, Olive Garden will accept essays of 50 to 250 words from students in the U.S. and Canada. Entry forms and complete rules will be available beginning Oct. 6 at local Olive Garden restaurants or by logging on to

The grand prize is a trip to New York, dinner at the Olive Garden in Times Square and a $2,500 savings bond. A winner also will be chosen in each grade category and will receive a $500 savings bond and a family dinner at their local Olive Garden.

Entries must be titled, include the writer's name, complete address, phone number with area code, grade, date of birth including year and a statement that the work is their own. Entries must be submitted either online or postmarked by Friday, Dec. 19 and sent to Pasta Tales, PMB 2000, 6278 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale, FL, 33308-1916.

Submissions are judged based on creativity, adherence to theme, organization, grammar, punctuation and spelling by the Quill and Scroll Society of the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Iowa with finalists selected by Olive Garden.

For more information about Pasta Tales, call Katie Lennon at (954) 776-1999, ext. 240 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. EST.

Olive Garden is the leading restaurant in the Italian dining segment with 662 restaurants, more than 80,000 employees and $3.1 billion in annual sales. Olive Garden is a division of Darden Restaurants Inc. (NYSE:DRI), the world's largest full-service owned and operated restaurant company.


Winners Announced in Olive Garden's 2008 Pasta Tales National Essay Writing Contest
Thirteen students around the nation recognized

ORLANDO, Fla. - Michelle Fauber's favorite family activity is the time she spends gathering with her father, stepmother and younger sister to watch home videos of her late mother. Fauber's moving description of why this is special to her was chosen by judges as the grand prize winner in the 12th-annual Olive Garden Pasta Tales national essay writing contest.

A 12th-grader at Cheltenham High School in Wyncote, Pa., Fauber's essay was selected from more than 28,300 entries, the most ever received in the history of the contest. Students in first through 12th grade were asked: "What is your favorite family activity and what makes it so special?"

In her essay, Fauber recounts the cherished details of her mother brought to life on video. "There she was: laughing, touching the arms of her friends, making bad jokes that sounded frighteningly like my own. A woman with strikingly pale skin and jet black hair; a person with a life, a laugh, a voice that seemed strangely unfamiliar and yet exactly as I thought; my mother," Fauber wrote. "I saw on that night that the ability to look back on a painful yet indispensable past and to be smiling in the present in the company of each other. ..."

Fauber's essay was "happy and sad, optimistic, inspiring and nostalgic. There wasn't a wasted word, and in only a handful of sentences she brought readers into a whole new world. ... Her moving, efficient, genuine tone had no match in this contest," noted one of the judges from the Quill and Scroll Society of the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Iowa who reviews the essays.

As the Pasta Tales grand prize winner, Fauber received a $2,500 savings bond, a trip with her family to New York City and dinner at the Olive Garden in Times Square.

"Michelle's beautifully written essay was heartfelt and shared an intimate look into a very special moment for her family," said Mara Frazier, spokesperson for Olive Garden. "Every year, we are impressed by the creativity and talent of these young writers. Thanks to them for their efforts, as well as to the parents and teachers who encourage them to express their thoughts and emotions through writing."

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Please, sir, what's history?
A missed chance to make hard choices about what children should learn

The Economist:

IF YOU are in your 40s and British, it is quite possible that your spelling is an embarrassment. You may never have been taught the distinction between "there", "their" and "they're", or perhaps even your times tables. If you moved house during your primary years you may have entirely missed some vital topic--joined-up writing, say. And you may have struggled to learn to read using the "initial teaching alphabet", a concoction of 40 letters that was supposed to provide a stepping stone to literacy but tripped up many children when they had to switch to the standard 26.

Those days of swivel-eyed theorising and untrammelled experimentation--or, as the schools inspectorate put it at the time, "markedly individual decisions about what is to be taught"--ended in 1988 with the introduction of a national curriculum. But though that brought rigour and uniformity, it also created an unwieldy--and unworldly--blueprint for the Renaissance Child. Schools have struggled to fit it all in ever since. Now, 20 years later, the primary curriculum is to be cut down.

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Flirting goes high-tech with racy photos shared on cellphones, Web

Sharon Jayson:

Passing a flirtatious note to get someone's attention is so yesterday. These days, young people use technology instead.

About a third of young adults 20-26 and 20% of teens say they've sent or posted naked or semi-naked photos or videos of themselves, mostly to be "fun or flirtatious," a survey finds.

A third of teen boys and 40% of young men say they've seen nude or semi-nude images sent to someone else; about a quarter of teen girls and young adult women have. And 39% of teens and 59% of those ages 20-26 say they've sent suggestive text messages.

"One of the reasons we wanted to do the survey was to put some sort of structure around the anecdotes," says Marisa Nightingale of the non-profit National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, which commissioned the survey with the Hearst Digital Media site Chicago-based market research firm Teenage Research Unlimited surveyed 1,280 teens and young adults online Sept. 25 to Oct. 3.

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Montgomery County Schools Seek 2% Budget Increase

Daniel de Vise:

Montgomery County School Superintendent Jerry D. Weast released a budget request yesterday that seeks almost level funding for the coming school year, a gesture of fiscal restraint likely to be repeated across the region's school systems in coming months.

The $2.1 billion spending proposal for the fiscal year that begins in July reflects a net increase of $40 million, or 2 percent, the smallest year-to-year bump Weast has requested in nine years as Montgomery superintendent. The budget assumes just $20 million in new local funds, all cost savings from this year that Weast would carry over as revenue for next year, and $20 million from the state, chiefly to cover enrollment growth.

"It's a flat budget," Weast said. It is the first formal fiscal 2010 spending plan for a major local school system.

Weast said he had to close a $176 million revenue gap to balance the budget. He did that by eliminating contracted cost-of-living increases for all school system employees and by cutting $36 million in projected spending across the 139,000-student system, shedding 300 jobs.

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Painful Choices as College Bills Wallop Families

Philip Shishkin:

The day after Thanksgiving, Glen O'Brien had bad news for his two children, who were visiting from college. With his electronics business pummeled by weak demand, he told them he couldn't afford to keep paying their bills at New York University.

"We were both completely in shock," recalls his daughter Caitlin, a junior majoring in Spanish. She was looking forward to spending her spring semester abroad in Chile. Instead, she is planning to move back to California, get a job and take cheaper courses at a state college. She hopes to return to NYU next fall. The school costs about $50,000 a year for tuition, room and board, and fees.

As the economy shrinks, joblessness expands and small-business owners lose income, many students and their parents are struggling to make payments for the second half of the academic year, which are typically due this month or in January. Midyear applications for financial aid, typically rare, are up at a number of colleges, as families who believed they wouldn't need help earlier in the year are now feeling squeezed. Michigan State University, where students have been hit hard by the woes of the auto industry, last month set up a $500,000 fund for families hurt by the economy's slide.

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December 12, 2008

Madison High School students Could Get On-Campus Banking

Tamira Madsen:

As soon as next year, if La Follette or Memorial high school students reach into their wallets and find they're short on cash for lunch, they might step up to an in-school teller window and withdraw money from their own savings account.

Business teachers Darrin Graham and Dave Thomas presented a proposal last week to the Madison School Board that could bring on-campus financial institutions to the two high schools as early as the 2009-10 school year, and they got an enthusiastic response. The board gave the teachers a green light to send out request for qualification materials to potential banks and credit unions, and they plan to bring back a proposal in February.

Graham and Thomas would like to get branches running by September, but the timetable will depend on the financial institution.

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On Changing the High School "Challenge Index"

Jay Matthews:

The minute I saw that Coolidge High School in the District had given a startling 750 Advanced Placement tests last May, and that only 2 percent of those exams had received passing scores, I knew I was in trouble.

For 10 years I have been ranking high schools based on participation in AP, International Baccalaureate and other college-level exams. I call this the Challenge Index. It is the system used by Newsweek in its annual list of top high schools and by The Washington Post in its annual ratings of all Washington area schools, published today in The Post Extra sections and on

Every year I receive thousands of e-mails about these lists, and my refusal to include test scores in the ranking calculations. Some readers praise me for recognizing schools that work hard to prepare students from poor families for college-level courses and tests, even if their scores aren't good. Others denounce me for giving high ratings to schools full of such students, because many people think low scores should disqualify a school from appearing on anybody's best schools list.

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TIMSS-07 comment

In the comments on TIMSS-07 math scores, one important aspect
has not been mentioned.

Grade 8US Minn.KoreaSingapore
Number510537 583597
Algebra 501515596579
Geometry480 505587578
Data and Chance531560 580574
Korea and Singapore have balanced scores, the US and Minnesota do not. The first three areas are the core areas of mathematics on which otherthings are built. We have to improve on them.

Dick Askey

John Hechinger has more:

U.S. fourth- and eighth-graders improved their math scores in a closely watched international test, but continued to lag well behind peers from top-performing Asian countries. U.S. students also failed to show measurable gains in science.

The U.S. and other governments on Tuesday released the results of the test, Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, the world's largest assessment of international achievement. Some 425,000 students in almost 60 countries took the exam, administered every four years, starting in 1995.

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Ira David Socol on Teach for America, KIPP Schools, and Reforming Education


Today we present readers an in-depth interview with Ira David Socol, author of "The Drool Room" and the web site "SpeEdChange." Our interest in talking with Ira centered upon three critical factors.

First, there is little doubt that Ira is passionate about education and the process of learning. More importantly, that passion is relentlessly focused on creating a learning process that is responsive to the needs of learners.

Second, to be frank, Ira shares some of our views on how best to reform education. He notes that there are a multitude of ways to create positive learning opportunities for students but our current school structures prevent the flexibility necessary to provide alternate paths. Like, he is also a strong proponent of the use of technology yet does not buy into the "digital natives" nonsense.

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Blueprint for Change

The Wisconsin Way 686K PDF:

Even more troubling are two sobering facts. First, Wisconsin continues to experience a net loss of college degree earning workers, leaving our work force trailing the national average in terms of the number of people in our work force with a college degree. Second, of the 10 fastest growing jobs in Wisconsin, nine only require a high school degree or less. All of which makes clear that, unless we can take steps now to change these trends, future revenue streams from the existing income tax structure will be limited by a comparatively smaller work force earning comparatively less robust wages.
Steven Elbow & J.E. Espino have more.

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WEAC Wisconsin 2008 Legislature Campaign Expenditures in Five Districts: About $2M

David Blaska:

Through Oct. 20, WEAC spent:
  • $539,660 on into the 43rd Assembly District to support freshman Dem Rep. Kim Hixson in his re-match with Republican Debi Towns.
  • The 47th Assembly District north of metro Madison, where it spent $513,132 supporting Dem Trish O'Neil and opposing Republican Keith Ripp.
  • The 68th Assembly District in Eau Claire, where it spent $406,322 supporting Dem Kristen Dexter and opposing GOP Rep. Terry Moulton.

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Hopes, Fears, & Reality: A Balanced Look at American Charter Schools in 2008

Robin Lake, via email:

Over the last three years, Hopes, Fears, & Reality has provided new evidence and analysis about what is going on in charter schools, how well they are doing, where they need to improve, and what can be learned from the research on these types of public schools. Past volumes have outlined how achievement studies should be conducted and interpreted, suggested how to achieve more effective public oversight of charter schools and how to eliminate barriers to growth, and presented nationwide trends in the number of charters opened and closed and the characteristics of these schools.

In this year's edition, the National Charter School Research Project (NCSRP) brings new evidence to some of these past questions and turns to some new ones.

What is striking throughout this year's essays is that charter schools are more different than alike, not only in terms of the populations they serve, the academic missions they pursue, and the results they produce, but also in their response to local need and capacity.

The essays in this volume show, for example, that:

National charter school achievement is promising overall, but highly varied

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December 11, 2008

Informational and Community Discussion Sessions on the Madison Mathematics Task Force

Date: January 6th, 2009

Time: 6:00 - 8:00 pm

Where: LaFollette High School - LMC
Date: January 7th, 2009

Time: 6:00 - 8:00 pm

Where: Memorial High School - Wisconsin Neighborhood Center
You are cordially invited to attend an information session and discussion about the findings and recommendations of the Math Task Force which recently completed a review of the MMSD K-12 Mathematics program. Please also share this information with others who may be interested in attending.

At each session, there will be a brief informational presentation followed by an opportunity for discussion. The Executive Summary and complete Task Force Report can be found at

We are looking forward to sharing this information with you and learning about your reactions to the research and recommendations included in the report. Your thoughts are important to us as we work to improve the MMSD K-12 Mathematics program.

Questions/comments? Please contact Brian Sniff at

Looking forward to seeing you on January 6th or 7th.

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High School Elites (no HS history scholars need apply)




Wen Chyan of Denton, Texas, Wins Individual Grand Prize;

Sajith M. Wickramasekara of Raleigh, North Carolina and Andrew Y. Guo of Cary, North Carolina, Win Team Grand Prize

NEW YORK, NY, December 8, 2008 - The nation's brightest minds and the innovators of tomorrow bravely took on groundbreaking research of life-threatening infections and deadly side effects of chemotherapeutics. As a result, Wen Chyan and the team of Sajith M. Wickramasekara and Andrew Y. Guo were named $100,000 Grand Prize winners in the 2008 Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology. The prestigious Siemens Competition, a signature program of the Siemens Foundation, is administered by the College Board. The annual awards were presented this morning at New York University, host of the Siemens Competition National Finals.

Wen Chyan, a senior at Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science in Denton, Texas, won the $100,000 scholarship in the individual category for chemistry research on combating hospital-related infections. Sajith M. Wickramasekara and Andrew Y. Guo, both seniors at North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham, North Carolina, won the $100,000 prize in the team category, which they will share equally, for genetics research of chemotherapy. The three science superstars have an exciting journey ahead; they will ring The Closing Bell™ at the New York Stock Exchange in February among other honors.

"These remarkable students have achieved the most coveted and competitive high school science recognition in the nation," said Thomas McCausland, Chairman of the Siemens Foundation. "There is no doubt that these scholars will change the world, starting right now, with their passion for math and science," he said.

The national finals were judged by a panel of nationally renowned scientists and mathematicians headed by lead judge Dr. Joseph Taylor, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics and James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Physics, Emeritus, Princeton University. Eighteen national finalists competed in this year's national finals, including six individuals and six teams. The finalists previously competed at one of six regional competitions held at leading research universities throughout the month of November.

The Winning Projects

Wen Chyan won the top prize, and a $100,000 college scholarship, for his bioengineering research of antimicrobial coatings for medical devices. Mr. Chyan looked to design a specialized coating for medical devices aimed to prevent common hospital infections, called nosocomial infections, which afflict more than two million patients each year, killing more than 100,000 of those patients. Mr. Chyan's project is entitled, Versatile Antimicrobial Coatings from Pulse Plasma Deposited Hydrogels and Hydrogel Composites.

"This research was not only a creative idea, but required a proactive approach where cross-disciplinary initiatives had to be taken. The fields of electrochemistry, material science and biology all had to be explored in depth by Mr. Chyan," said W. Mark Saltzman, Goizueta Foundation Professor of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering at Yale University, a competition judge. "With further testing, these findings have the potential to improve a wide range of medical devices from intravascular devices at hospitals or catheters used in insulin pumps."

Mr. Chyan would like to major in Chemistry or Chemical Engineering once in college. Upon completing his studies he would like to pursue a position in academia, preferably at a research university where he can continue conducting research and teach at the same time. His various honors in science include recognition from the U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad, U.S. Biology Olympiad and Texas Science and Engineering Fair. He is the recipient of the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science Summer Research Scholarship (2008), and also founded a student chapter of the American Chemical Society at the University of North Texas. He also composes music and plays piano and violin in his spare time.

Mr. Chyan developed an interest in science with the encouragement of his parents, both scientists, whom would take him to tour their laboratories and perform demos since an early age. His mentor for this project was Dr. Richard B. Timmons, of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Sajith Wickramasekara and Andrew Guo won the team category and will share a $100,000 scholarship for their genetics research that has the potential to easily identify new chemotherapeutic drugs and greatly improve existing ones. Their project is entitled, A Functional Genomic Framework for Chemotherapeutic Drug Improvement and Identification.

"Mr. Wickramasekara and Mr. Guo used a modern way of screening for drugs with yeast to address an important problem regarding the limitations of chemotherapy including resistance, toxicity and discrimination," said Dr. Jeffrey Pollard, Louis Goldstein Swan Chair in Women's Cancer Research, Department of Developmental and Molecular Biology, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, a competition judge. "The project required a very large amount of work, organization, and discipline to obtain and then fully verify these results, which the team did in three ways. Sophisticated, innovative bioinformatics also enabled them to identify new therapeutic targets and potential drugs. Not only is this a process currently done by many large pharmaceutical companies, with much more resources, but my own graduate students have done similar work for their graduate theses."

Mr. Wickramasekara is the team leader and heard about the Siemens Competition in 2006 when seniors from his high school were selected as Regional Finalists. Mr. Wickramasekara is Captain of his school's Science Bowl and has participated in various science competitions including the 2008 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, the North Carolina State Science and Engineering Fair as well as the North Carolina Junior Science Humanities Symposium. He is an Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America and dreams of one day owning his own biotech startup, specializing in personalized medicine.

Mr. Guo is a Science Olympiad winner and Co-Captain of the Quiz Bowl. Mr. Guo received First Place State Team in the Goldman Sachs National Economics Challenge. Mr. Guo was captain of the 2008 State Champion Varsity Tennis Team and plays Ultimate Frisbee as part of his extracurricular activities. Mr. Guo speaks Mandarin Chinese and aspires to manage his own company one day. Mr. Guo's mother works in the field of genetics and sparked his interest to study the sciences by discussing her work and activities at home, and he credits his father with helping him become who he is today.

Both team members co-founded the Student Journal of Research of the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics; they both serve as Editors of the publication. Additionally, Mr. Wickramasekara and Mr. Guo were recently named 2009 National Merit Scholarship Semifinalists.

The team's project combined traditional genetics with cutting-edge computational modeling to streamline the gene discovery process. Their project addresses the need in the field to identify new genes to target for cancer therapy. The team worked on this project with the help of their mentor, Dr. Craig B. Bennett, Assistant Professor, Duke University Medical Center in Durham, NC, and their high school advisor, Dr. Myra Halpin, Dean of Science, North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, Durham, NC.

The other national winners of the 2008 Siemens Competition were:


  • $50,000 scholarship - Eric K. Larson, Eugene, Oregon
  • $40,000 scholarship - Nityan Nair, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York
  • $30,000 scholarship - James Meixiong, Evans, Georgia
  • $20,000 scholarship - Ashok Cutkosky, Columbia, Missouri
  • $10,000 scholarship - Hayden C. Metsky, Millburn, New Jersey


  • $50,000 scholarship - Eugenia Volkova of South Salem, New York and Alexander Saeboe of Katonah, New York
  • $40,000 scholarship - Erika Debenedictis and Duanni (Tony) Huang of Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • $30,000 scholarship - Christine S. Lai and Diyang Tang of Acton, Massachusetts
  • $20,000 scholarship - Raphael-Joel (RJ) Lim of Indianapolis, Indiana and Mark Zhang of Sugar Land, Texas
  • $10,000 scholarship - Aanand A. Patel and William Hong of Fullerton, California

    The Siemens Competition

    The Siemens Competition was launched in 1998 to recognize America's best and brightest math and science students. In another record setting year, 1,893 students registered to enter the Siemens Competition with a total of 1,205 projects submitted - this includes an increase of more than 10 percent in team and individual project submissions and an increase of more than 16 percent in the number of registrations. Entries are judged at the regional level by esteemed scientists at six leading research universities which host the regional competitions: California Institute of Technology; Carnegie Mellon University; Georgia Institute of Technology; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; University of Notre Dame; and The University of Texas at Austin. Winners of the regional events compete at the National Finals which take place at New York University in New York City, December 5 - December 8, 2008. Please visit for more information.

    About the Siemens Foundation

    The Siemens Foundation provides more than $7 million annually in support of educational initiatives in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math in the United States. Its signature programs, the Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology and Siemens Awards for Advanced Placement, reward exceptional achievement in science, math and technology. The newest program, The Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge, encourages K12 students to develop innovative green solutions for environmental issues. By supporting outstanding students today, and recognizing the teachers and schools that inspire their excellence, the Foundation helps nurture tomorrow's scientists and engineers. The Foundation's mission is based on the culture of innovation, research and educational support that is the hallmark of Siemens' U.S. companies and its parent company, Siemens AG. For more information, visit


    "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;
    Varsity Academics®

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Gangs in Dane County? Yes, they're everywhere, detective says

Karyn Saemann:

Gangs are everywhere in Dane County, from the largest Madison high schools to the smallest rural hamlets.

In the latest of a series of informational meetings led by a Dane County detective who monitors local gang activity, Sun Prairie parents were told their help is needed.

Detective Joel Wagner estimated that 3 to 4 percent of Dane County youths are involved in a gang. Recruiting begins in the fourth grade, he said; gang members can be of any race and socioeconomic status, but are primarily kids who have fallen away from school and family and are looking for a group to belong to.

"The best thing is prevention," Wagner said. "We need to get back to eyes and ears."

"Know your children's friends. Know them well," he said. "Know your children's friends' parents. Know them better."

Wednesday night's meeting at Sun Prairie High School stretched more than two hours and included disturbing video of gang fights and other violence from Dane County and across the nation as well as online photos of gang members who identify themselves as being from Sun Prairie and other Dane County communities.

Particularly disturbing was video -- not from Dane County -- of a gang initiation in which a teen's head was smashed into a cement curb and into a florescent light tube. In another video, a teen was beaten in a bathroom as part of an initiation.


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Where Children Find Hope

Pictorial from Kathleen Galligan in Detroit.

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Most Colorado Area schools get rating of 'high' or better

Hallie Woods:

Forty of Poudre School District's 50-plus schools scored "excellent" or "high" for academic performance on the state's School Accountability Reports released Tuesday.

The reports use scores from the Colorado Student Achievement Program, or CSAP, as well as ACT scores for high schools, to rank schools on their academic growth. The reports also profile school characteristics such as teacher pay, enrollment and other demographic data.

Thirteen schools scored "excellent," 27 schools scored "high" and 10 schools scored "average."

One school, Polaris Expeditionary Learning School's High School, a choice seventh- through 12th-grade school, ranked "low."

Centennial High School and Poudre Transition Center, two alternative schools, were exempt from the report.

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December 10, 2008

Scores on Science Test Causing Concern in U.S.

Maria Glod:

U.S. students are doing no better on an international science exam than they were in the mid-1990s, a performance plateau that leaves educators and policymakers worried about how schools are preparing students to compete in an increasingly global economy.

Results of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), released yesterday, show how fourth- and eighth-graders in the United States measure up to peers around the world. U.S. students showed gains in math in both grades. But average science performance, although still stronger than in many countries, has stagnated since 1995.

Students in Singapore, Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong outperformed U.S. fourth-graders in science. The U.S. students had an average score of 539 on a 1,000-point scale, higher than their peers in 25 countries.

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Dynamo Brought IB and Rigor To All Students

Jay Matthews:

The first story Bernie Glaze ever told me was about Kevin and Duc, two basketball-crazed teens who felt her Theory of Knowledge class at Mount Vernon High School was not their thing. All that talk of Kant and Aristotle and other dead guys with no jump shot made their brains hurt, they told her.

But one day she heard them talking about an NBA playoff game. They were interpreting, predicting, differentiating and synthesizing. Ha! She had them. "Listen to yourselves," she said. "Your brains know what to do. Just treat Plato as though he were Michael Jordan."

Bernie died Nov. 20 of complications from lung cancer. She was 62. Some people might remember her as the talkative woman who unaccountably left the faculty of the celebrated Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, with its 7 percent annual bonus for all teachers, to help start an International Baccalaureate program at Mount Vernon High in Fairfax County, then considered one of the worst schools in Northern Virginia. I remember her as the dynamo who helped turn Fairfax, known for gifted education and science prodigies, into a national model for teachers, like her, who preferred to spend their days looking for the hidden potential in C students.

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U.S. students' math, science scores deliver mixed results

Greg Toppo:

If there were a math-and-science Olympics for elementary and middle schoolers, USA students could hold their heads high -- they're consistently better than average. In math, it turns out, they're improving substantially, even as a few powerhouse nations see their scores drop.
But at the end of the day, the USA never quite makes it to the medal podium, a dilemma that has educators and policymakers divided, with some saying factors outside school play a key role in both achievement and productivity in general.

For the first time since 2003, the results of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, or TIMSS, a battery of international math and science tests among dozens of nations, are out -- and they paint a somewhat mixed picture of achievement: On the one hand, the USA ranks consistently above international averages in both subjects.

On the other hand, several nations consistently outscore our fourth- and eighth-graders, with a few countries turning in eye-popping performances.

Joanne has more along with Gerald Bracey:
First, comparing nations on average scores is a pretty silly idea. It's like ranking runners based on average shoe size or evaluating the high school football team on the basis of how fast the average senior can run the 40-yard dash. Not much link to reality. What is likely much more important is how many high performers you have. On both TIMSS math and science, the U. S. has a much higher proportion of "advanced" scorers than the international median although the proportion is much smaller than in Asian nations.

Second, test scores, at least average test scores, don't seem to be related to anything important to a national economy. Japan's kids have always done well, but the economy sank into the Pacific in 1990 and has never recovered. The two Swiss-based organizations that rank nations on global competitiveness, the Institute for Management Development and the World Economic Forum, both rank the U. S. #1 and have for a number of years. The WEF examines 12 "pillars of competitiveness," only one of which is education. We do OK there, but we shine on innovation.

Innovation is the only quality of competitiveness that does not show at some point diminishing returns. Building bigger and faster airplanes can only improve productivity so much. Innovation has no such limits. When journalist Fareed Zakaria asked the Singapore Minister of Education why his high-flying students faded in after-school years, the Minister cited creativity, ambition, and a willingness to challenge existing knowledge, all of which he thought Americans excelled in.

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Will Fitzhugh Live in Madison

Michael Shaughnessy:

) Will, you recently gave a talk in Madison, Wisconsin, and now, with the miracle of technology, interested others can hear your presentation live at

First of all, were you warned that your speech was going to be taped and secondly, did you think it would be made available to the general population?

I knew it would be videotaped, and now that I am 72, and hear "Time's winged chariot hurrying near," I don't mind who sees it, although it seems likely that few in "the general population" will bother with it.

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Advocating for Public Education Reform

Gary Sharrer:

Five Texas education leaders, including former Education Commissioner Mike Moses, are proposing college or workplace readiness as the standard for all high school graduates in their plan to improve public education.

They also advocate a better accountability system, more money to improve student performance and a shared partnership between the state and local school districts.

The education leaders have often disagreed on education ideas but drafted a framework of shared principles they believe can serve as a starting ground for continued debate.

The five are attorney David Thompson, a school finance expert; Sandy Kress, who helped President Bush develop No Child Left Behind; Don McAdams, president of the Center for Reform of School Systems and a former member of the Houston Independent School District board; Jim Windham, former chairman of the Texas Association of Business; and Moses, education commissioner under Gov. George W. Bush.

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December 9, 2008

Beijing Hoop Dreams

Basketball is fast becoming China's national sport with teenagers like Wang Chenyang hoping to be its new stars.

Video by Dan Chung

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Up Close, Rhee's Image Less Clear
Schools Chief's Media Stardom Hasn't Dispelled the Misgivings in D.C.

Bill Turque:

The Atlantic Monthly, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have chronicled her battles with the Washington Teachers' Union. The PBS "NewsHour" and "60 Minutes" have trailed her up and down school corridors. She can be seen at A-list gatherings, from Herbert Allen's annual Sun Valley, Idaho, retreat for corporate moguls to education summits hosted by Bill Gates and the Aspen Institute.

Last week, on the cover of Time, D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee cemented her status as the national standard-bearer of tough-minded, no-excuses urban school reform. She is photographed at the front of a classroom, stern-faced and clutching a broom, symbolizing her promise of sweeping change.

For journalists and pundits who follow education, Rhee's narrative has elements that are irresistible. A slight, young Korean American woman with no big-city school leadership experience is plucked from the nonprofit world by a reform-minded mayor in June 2007 to fire bad teachers, face down their union and take on hidebound bureaucrats, all in the name of turning around a system with a legacy of failure. The stories are not uniformly glowing, but they generally depict Rhee as a gutsy, gritty agent of change driven to turn around the District's schools.

"Michelle Rhee charged in as chancellor of the Washington, D.C., public schools wielding BlackBerrys and data -- and a giant axe," said the Atlantic's November issue.

Closer to home, Rhee's media stardom has inspired a mix of praise, puzzlement and resentment. Boosters say her high profile can only help the District overhaul its schools. Others see her pursuing a national platform for a message that is hostile to older, experienced teachers and partial to younger instructors from nontraditional training programs such as Teach for America, where she started her career.

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Student Weeks

The High School Survey of Student Engagement (Indiana University, 2004) found that 55% of the 80,000 students surveyed said they did fewer than three hours of homework each week, and most received As and Bs anyway.

I just received a paper by a HS student from Oregon, and her information sheet
included a listing of the hours per week she spends on activities:

Equestrian Team: 5 hours a week [52 weeks a year]

Theater/Drama: 15 hours a week [13 weeks a year]

Teach Africa: 3 hours a week [40 weeks a year]

Volunteering at the Hunt Club: 1 hour a week [50 weeks a year]

Volunteering for NARAL: 10 hours a week [1 week a year]

Scholars' Alliance: 3 hours a week [10 weeks a year]

Food Drive: 15 hours a week [2 weeks a year]

Total outside of homework and school: 52 hours a week for one or more weeks.

[To be fair, the "Scholars' Alliance" is a Saturday seminar taught by the superintendent
of the district on critical thinking skills, metacognition, the Art of War, the Tao, etc.]

Even so, it might be instructive to note this level of commitment (52 hours/week), in addition to any computer games, television, and instant messaging and other social activities during perhaps an average HS student week--the Kaiser Foundation has found that the average American teen spends nearly 45 hours a week on electronic entertainment media--and compare it with the Indiana University finding of half the HS students spending less than three hours a week on homework.

Could this have something to do with current levels of academic achievement? Is the question of the number of hours American HS students spend on non-academic activities during their waking periods each week worthy of a research study? I think so. If this has been done, please refer me to the study.

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review

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Montgomery County Schools Post All Time High on Advanced Placement Exams

Daniel de Vise:

Superintendent Jerry D. Weast cited competing magazine rankings as evidence Maryland's largest system, with 139,000 students, now offers arguably the premier AP program in the nation.

Three county high schools appear on a list of the nation's top 100 from U.S. News & World Report, published online last week and based in part on AP and International Baccalaureate test performance. Weast said only the million-student New York system had more "gold medal" schools.

Six Montgomery schools rank among the top 100 on Newsweek magazine's 2008 Challenge Index, a measure of AP and IB test participation created by Washington Post education writer Jay Mathews. Weast said no other school system had as many schools at the top of that list.

Speaking at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, Weast said the county's students "are doing things that are historic, are doing things that, no matter who's measuring them, are coming out at the top of the chart in the United States."

Montgomery students took 25,921 AP tests this year, representing a 53 percent increase over six years. Of those tests, 18,306 earned a score of 3 or higher on a 5-point scale, a threshold for college credit.

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Scarsdale Adjust to Life Without Advanced Placement Classes

Winnie Hu:

The Advanced Placement English class at Scarsdale High School used to race through four centuries of literature to prepare students for the A.P. exam in May. But in this year's class, renamed Advanced Topics, students spent a week studying Calder, Pissarro and Monet to digest the meaning of form and digressed to read essays by Virginia Woolf and Francis Bacon -- items not covered by the exam.

A similarly slowed-down pace came at a cost for some students in one of Scarsdale's Advanced Topics classes in United States history; it was still in the 1950s at the time of the exam, whose main essay question was on the Vietnam War.

Sarah Benowich, a senior, said that the A.T. approach had improved her writing but that she would have liked more dates and facts worked in. Despite studying Advanced Placement exam review books on her own, she still felt "shaky on some of the more concrete details," she said.

A year after Scarsdale became the most prominent school district in the nation to phase out the College Board's Advanced Placement courses -- and make A.P. exams optional -- most students and teachers here praise the change for replacing mountains of memorization with more sophisticated and creative curriculums.

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Los Angeles Superintendent Takes a Buyout

Howard Blume, Jason Song and Mitchell Landsberg:

Under pressure by civic leaders and members of his own school board, Los Angeles Schools Supt. David L. Brewer announced Monday that he would leave his post rather than drag the district through a racially divisive fight.

The Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education is expected to hash out the final details of an exit package today for Brewer, the retired Navy vice admiral who was supposed to bring military know-how and a deep passion for education to the job of running the nation's second-largest school district.

"As an African American, I've experienced my share of discrimination," he told reporters, school board members and district employees Monday. "I know what it looks like, smells like, and the consequences."

"Although this debate is disconcerting and troubling, it must not become an ethnic issue. When adults fight, it can manifest itself in our children," said Brewer, the district's second African American superintendent. "This must not become an ethnic or racial battle that infests our schools, our campuses, our playgrounds. This is not about settling an old score; this must be about what is best for every LAUSD student."

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Siemens Competition Winners Announced

Amanda Fairbanks:

Practical advances in medicine ruled the day in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology, one of the nation's most coveted student science awards, whose winners were announced Monday morning at New York University.

While highly regarded, a Tamari lattice, a mathematical structure, and Bax and Bak, two proteins, lost out to a project by Wen Chyan, 17, a senior at the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science in Denton, Tex. Mr. Wen won the top individual prize -- a $100,000 scholarship -- for research on fighting hospital-related infections with antimicrobial coatings for medical devices.

For genetics research that has the potential to identify new chemotherapeutic drugs and improve existing ones, Sajith M. Wickramasekara and Andrew Y. Guo, both 17 and seniors at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham, N.C., took home $50,000 each -- the top team prize.

Trailing not far behind, four high school seniors in the New York region won a total of $100,000 in scholarships.

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December 8, 2008

The Age of Mass Intelligence

Intelligent Life:

We've all heard about dumbing down. But there is plenty of evidence that the opposite is also true. Is this, in fact, the age of mass intelligence? John Parker reports...

Russell Southwood is queuing outside his local cinema in south London, listening to his iPod. Hip-hop and jazz, as usual. What is less usual is what he is queuing up for: not a film but a live transmission of this season's opening night from the Royal Opera House. "I like hip-hop and opera," he says. "Not a big deal."

That's increasingly true. Every other Saturday, Darren Henley is at the Priestfield football ground cheering on his beloved Gillingham. In the evening, he goes to a concert by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic or the London Symphony Orchestra, because he is also the boss of Classic FM, a radio station that sponsors those orchestras.

Cultural incongruities are popping up everywhere. When the Guardian, which sponsors the Hay-on-Wye literary festival, picked ten visitors to interview, one turned out to be a check-out clerk at Tesco who saved all his money during the year so he could go to the festival for his holiday. He was far from the most unlikely visitor who might have been found. High-ranking officers from the SAS (Special Air Service), Britain's crack covert-operations regiment--who have to remain anonymous--have been known to spend their holidays each year travelling from their base at Hereford to Hay for lectures on Wordsworth and Darwin.

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A Retired Teacher on Governance, Administrators and Education Flavor of the Month Theories

James Behrend:

Extraordinary times command extraordinary measures and grant extraordinary opportunities. Our state's budget crisis calls already for kids and schools to sacrifice. It does not have to be. This is Olympia's chance to substantially improve our entrenched education system and save some money.

Here are three problems Olympia must tackle to make a real difference:

1. Washington taxpayers support 295 independent school districts. Each district is top-heavy with too many administrators: superintendents, assistant superintendents, executive directors, curriculum directors, special ed directors, human resources directors, finance directors, transportation directors, purchasing directors and other nonteaching executives.

2. The second problem is lack of stability. Administrators introduce too often "new" educational theories. With each new administrator come new ideas. What was the silver bullet in education one year ago is toxic with a new principal or new superintendent.

I experienced over a period of 12 years changes from a six periods day to a four periods "block system" (several years in the planning). After starting the block, my school planned for two years to establish five to six autonomous Small Schools, but only one was eventually organized. In the midst of those disruptive changes, Best Practices was contemplated but never enacted; special ed and ESL students were mainstreamed, and NovaNet, a computerized distant learning, was initiated with former Gov. Gary Locke present and praising our vision. Finally, all honors classes were abandoned and differentiated instruction was introduced.

Eventually, all these new methods were delegated to the trash heap of other failed educational experiments. By 2008, the school was where it had been in 1996, minus some very good teachers and more than a few dollars.

3. The third problem is the disconnect between endorsements and competency. A sociology major gets a social sciences endorsement from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and may teach history, or math, or Spanish. A PE teacher may instruct students in English literature or history. A German or English teacher may teach U.S. history.

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Wide world of greed

by Yvonne Abraham
Globe Columnist / December 7, 2008
The Boston Globe

The Dorchester Eagles, the powerhouse of their Pop Warner football league, had another undefeated season this year.

Their regional championship earned them a spot in the national playoffs in Florida. Oh, and a week of acute anxiety over how to get there.

It's as messed up as it is predictable. Every year around this time, talented kids and their coaches across the country scramble to raise tens of thousands of dollars so they can compete in the Pop Warner superbowl.

Little Leaguers go to their World Series in Williamsport, Pa., for free. Why do Pop Warner teams have to come up with as much as 45 grand to go to the playoffs they've spent an entire season working toward?

One big reason: unlike Little League, Pop Warner doesn't have its own stadium or dorms. So, for more than a decade now, the Super Bowl has been held at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando.

And under its contract with Pop Warner, Disney has the whole thing locked down. To compete in Disney's pristine facilities, players must stay at Disney hotels and buy passes to its theme parks. They eat in Disney restaurants, with nonrefundable Disney dining cards, and they use Disney transportation.

While all of this might be a logistical dream for organizers, it's a fiscal nightmare for teams.

Adults spend days and nights on the phone pleading for donations. Kids shake cans on corners. Parents hand over cash they can't afford to give.

And all of their labors help pad the coffers of a company that racked up a whopping $4.7 billion in profits last year.

This year, five nights' accommodation with the most basic theme park pass costs $450 per person for a four-bed room. A Disney spokesman said that rate is deeply discounted, though he declined to say by how much. It means Disney collects $360 per room per night--about six times the going rate at the nearby Orlando Vista Hotel.

With 9,000 players and cheerleaders, plus coaches and other supporters
descending on Florida this weekend, that's a huge payday for Mickey. Disney could afford to give a big break to needy teams in national championships like this one.

Pop Warner spokesman Jon Butler says he encourages teams to raise money all season long, to avoid the mad scrambles and shortfalls in November. Pop Warner even helps with a couple of programs: In one, teams get to keep 60 percent of the money they make by selling subscriptions to ESPN Magazine.

The other 40 percent? Surprise! It goes to Disney, which owns ESPN.

In some communities, though, people can't afford ESPN magazine, especially now. They can't even afford their kids' $30 registration fees.

Most of the year, Pop Warner says that doesn't matter. The league has done magnificent work for kids, particularly those in poor neighborhoods. It has given them focus, and scholarships, and it has doubtless saved some lives. The way the playoffs work--requiring teams to raise obscene amounts of money that could be put to much better use--is utterly at odds with the organization's philosophy.

On Friday afternoon, the Dorchester kids got on a bus with less than $20,000 in hand, including a $4,000 grant from the NFL. They were still negotiating with Disney over the rest of the costs. They may have to forgo the theme park visits, or the big players' party. They may have to take their bus in search of cheaper fast food. They may be paying down their debt for months.

All season long, their coaches tell the Eagles, "If you have the heart of a champ, then you're going to play like a champion," team president Leslie Goodwin says. "It doesn't matter where you come from."

Except at Disney this week, where it matters a lot.

Abraham is a Globe columnist. Her e-mail address is
© Copyright 2008 Globe Newspaper Company.

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Milwaukee Voucher Funding: Fairness is in the Eye of the Beholder

Alan Borsuk:

The voucher funding flaw is a bigger problem than ever and is costing Milwaukee property taxpayers millions of dollars a year.

The voucher funding flaw effectively no longer exists, and the publicly funded program that allows children to go to private schools is saving Milwaukeeans property tax dollars.

Can both of those things be true?

Decide for yourself.

When Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and leaders of the Milwaukee Public Schools system look at the issue, one number jumps out: 14.6%. That's how much the property tax levy to pay for schools in the city is going up this year.

They associate a lot of that increase with the impact on local taxes of the school voucher program, which is allowing 20,000 low-income Milwaukee children to attend private schools this year.

The way vouchers are paid for now, through a combination of money from state government and Milwaukee property taxes, is a major reason why the property tax increase is so large, they say. If the formula were fair, in the eyes of Barrett and the MPS leaders, the school tax increase would be in the neighborhood of 4%, and maybe less. They say changing the voucher funding system is an urgent priority for the Legislature to tackle.

When leaders of School Choice Wisconsin, an influential group of supporters of the voucher program, look at the issue, a different number jumps out: $123. That's how much more is being spent in property taxes this year on each student in MPS than on each voucher student.

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Schools set aside meeting time for teachers to collaborate

Amy Hetzner:

To most of the working world, the business meeting is a usual - if not exactly appreciated - part of professional life.

To Jeanne Paulus, a resource teacher at Roosevelt Elementary School in Wauwatosa, her weekly meetings with fellow teachers are nothing less than earth-shattering.

While conversations between teachers might have been fleeting in years past, conducted quickly during bathroom breaks or brief moments in the day when they found themselves without their students, this year such discussions have become a regular part of the teachers' week.

"To me, this is a huge, gigantic shift for teachers," said Paulus, who teaches math and gifted education at Roosevelt.

The reaction is no less fervent at Kettle Moraine High School, which - like the Wauwatosa School District - started setting aside time this year for its teachers to meet after school.

At both places, students are dismissed early once a week to give their teachers time to plan, reflect on their teaching and analyze their students' performance.

"What happens during this time is our teachers are learners, they're not just teachers," said Kettle Moraine High School Principal David Hay.

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December 7, 2008

Safe & Sound: A Parent's Nightmare

Liz Rappaport:

'Liz, you have to come to the hospital now," my husband, David, said in the office voicemail message that late April morning. "We're in an ambulance. ... Something happened to Georgia. She had some kind of seizure. I don't know. Just come."

My 3-year-old daughter -- who just days earlier was hosting a tea party for me and her dolls -- was in trouble. That's how this mystery begins.

I rushed from the office and grabbed a taxi to our local hospital in Brooklyn. "She's unresponsive to pain, to everything," David told me when I called him from the taxi.

Georgia's breathing had slowed to nearly a full stop, he said. The EMTs had jabbed her heel with a needle to gauge her responsiveness, he said. Nothing. They had then given her a shot of seizure medication. Still nothing.

I arrived through the swinging emergency-room doors to see my daughter's tiny feet on a gurney through a gap in the white curtains. At least a dozen doctors and nurses huddled around her, working to push a tube down her throat and get her started on a mechanical ventilator.

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LAUSD superintendent's expense account alone could pay a teacher's salary

Steve Lopez:

I had lunch with Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. David Brewer earlier this year at a restaurant near downtown Los Angeles and almost choked. Not on the food, but the prices.

I wasn't that hungry, fortunately, so I had the Chinese chicken salad, which cost an eye-popping $28.95. Brewer wasn't famished either, so he just had an appetizer, the crab cakes, and those ran $16.95.

Over lunch, he defended himself against widespread criticism that he was the wrong man for the job and had been a big disappointment. But instead of talking about students, he went on and on about building a "matrix" system and "vertical" as well as "horizontal articulation." By the end of it I had an expensive stomachache.

The L.A. Times picked up the tab, but Brewer had chosen the restaurant and he seemed to know his way around there, so I started wondering if his tastes always ran so high-end. To find out, I called the school district and requested all of his expense reports dating back to his hiring in 2006.

When the documents arrived, much of the information had been blacked out. Why? Because several high-level officials use the same credit card account, I was told, and I hadn't asked for their expenses; only Brewer's.

Related: What do students mean to LAUSD superintendent? by Sandy Banks

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December 6, 2008

America's Best High Schools 2008

US News & World Report:

The Top 100


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Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:27 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Laugh and the World Laughs With You: How Happiness Spreads

Alice Park:

Ever wonder whether happy people have something you don't, something that keeps them cheerful, chipper and able to see the good in everything? It turns out they do -- they have happy friends.

That's the conclusion of researchers from Harvard and the University of California at San Diego, who report in the British Medical Journal online that happiness spreads among people like a salubrious disease. Dr. Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler studied nearly 5,000 people and their more than 50,000 social ties to family, friends and co-workers, and found that an individual's happiness is chiefly a collective affair, depending in large part on his or her friends' happiness -- and the happiness of their friends' friends, and even the friends of their friends' friends. The merriment of one person, the researchers found, can ripple out and cause happiness in people up to three degrees away: So, if you're happy, you increase the chance of joy in your close friend by 25%; a friend of that friend enjoys a 10% increased chance. And that friend's friend has a 5.6% higher chance.

"This is a very serious piece of research; it's pioneering," says Dr. Richard Suzman, director of the division of behavioral and social research at the National Institute on Aging. "We are barely beginning to understand its translational and applied aspects."

The authors analyzed data from the Framingham Heart Study, an historic study of heart disease among nearly 5,000 people begun in 1948. Because it was designed to follow participants and their offspring over several generations, the study's creators recorded detailed information about each person's closest relatives and friends, to better keep tabs on the original participants. That database served as an ideal social laboratory for Christakis and Fowler, who questioned each participant and his or her friends and family about their emotional state three times over 20 years.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:22 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Balls & Brains: The quality of a man's sperm depends on how intelligent he is, and vice versa

The Economist:

THERE are few better ways of upsetting a certain sort of politically correct person than to suggest that intelligence (or, rather, the variation in intelligence between individuals) is under genetic control. That, however, is one implication of a paper about to be published in Intelligence by Rosalind Arden of King's College, London, and her colleagues. Another is that brainy people are intrinsically healthier than those less intellectually endowed. And the third, a consequence of the second, is that intelligence is sexy. The most surprising thing of all, though, is that these results have emerged from an unrelated study of the quality of men's sperm.

Ms Arden is one of a group of researchers looking into the connections between intelligence, genetics and health. General intelligence (the extent to which specific, measurable aspects of intelligence, such as linguistic facility, mathematical aptitude and spatial awareness, are correlated in a given individual) is measured by psychologists using a value called Spearman's g. Recently, it has been discovered that an individual's g value is correlated with many aspects of his health, up to and including his lifespan. One possible explanation for this is that intelligent people make better choices about how to conduct their lives. They may, for example, be less likely to smoke, more likely to eat healthy foods or to exercise, and so on.

Alternatively (or in addition) it may be that intelligence is one manifestation of an underlying, genetically based healthiness. That is a view held by many evolutionary biologists, and was propounded in its modern form by Geoffrey Miller of the University of New Mexico, who is one of Ms Arden's co-authors (and, as it happens, her husband). These biologists believe intelligence, as manifested in things like artistic and musical ability, is such a reliable indicator of underlying genetic fitness that it has been chosen by members of the opposite sex over the millennia. In the ensuing arms race to show off and get a mate it has been exaggerated in the way that a peacock's tail is. This process of sexual selection, Dr Miller and his followers believe, is the reason people have become so brainy.

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

7 Habits of Highly Ineffective Principals

Jay Matthews:

Joe Nathan, a University of Minnesota school leadership scholar, dropped by recently to tell me about his latest project: the Minnesota Leadership Academy for Charter and Alternative Public Schools. He wants to produce all-star principals for innovative schools, including the charter school movement he has been studying since its beginnings.

Nathan gave me a report he just produced with Carleton College junior Joanna Plotz. Their paper, "Learning to Lead," reveals the secrets of good management of schools and companies, derived from interviews with 24 business leaders. In the Leadership Academy, which opened this fall in cooperation with the Minnesota Department of Education, each participating educator has two mentors, one a successful business executive and the other a successful school leader.

That sounds peachy, but it doesn't get to the heart of what many teachers tell me is the key issue in school leadership today: How did we produce so many lousy administrators?

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Washington Teacher's Union Settles Campaign Finance Lawsuit

Amy Rolph:

After eight years and several go-rounds in court, Washington's teacher and school employee union will pay $975,000 to settle a campaign finance lawsuit.

The Washington Education Association was accused in 2000 of illegally spending nonmember fees on political campaigns. The lawsuit, instigated by a complaint from the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, has bounced through several levels of court -- most recently the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that states can force public-sector unions to get workers' approval before spending dues on politics.

But the Legislature modified Washington's law in 2007, effectively reducing the influence of that provision by stating unions can use dues on political spending provided they have sufficient general-treasury funding from other sources.

The WEA reached a settlement with the state Attorney General's Office on Wednesday, agreeing to pay the state $735,000 and return $240,000 to nonmembers who paid fees from the academic years starting in 2003 and ending in 2007. During that time the WEA's political action committee spent more than $2.7 million on state political races, with most of the money going to Democratic candidates and causes.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:01 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

December 5, 2008

Bill Gates: Invest in Charters

Nelson Smith:

Bill Gates was all over DC yesterday, talking about charter schools at every stop. He told the President-elect that investing in charters is a great example of how to think long-term while trying to rescue the economy, and repeated that thought in chatting with Wolf Blitzer at CNN. Then he stopped by George Washington U to talk to an invited audience about poverty, recession, and education - and delivered some remarkably forceful endorsements of charter schools and the charter model itself. Full text of this important speech here.

Here's his central economic-strategy point. Note how he prioritizes charters:

"In a crisis, there is always a risk that you take your eyes off the future - and you sacrifice long-term investments for near-term gains...But I want us to have a bigger goal than getting the economy growing again. I want us to expand the number of people who are contributing to the economy and benefiting from it. The young woman who needs help paying for college, the young man whose charter school needs government support, the children whose parents need AIDS drugs, the poor family trying to farm in Ghana--if we don't make these people part of our investments, when the economy comes back, they won't be coming back with it."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:44 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The next bailout: Here comes public education

Jim Carlini:

Public schools will be the next institutions to want more money to fix crumbling buildings, patch bloated budgets, buy more buses, and perpetuate stagnated objectives but in reality they need to re-invent education to take wholesale advantage of proven technologies from sophisticated software and broadband connectivity to distance learning and interactive video capabilities.

For the most part, public schools are an anachronism. They were designed in the Industrial Age to assimilate an agrarian society into a workforce for the Industrial Age. The Industrial Age surged into the Information Age a good forty years ago and we did not do much to change the framework of education. If anything, we bloated it with multiple assistant superintendents, curriculum advisors, crisis counselors, and a dozen more positions that were unheard of twenty years ago.

We are now well past the Information Age and are in what some would call a Mobile Internet Age. We need to embrace a whole new set of educational concepts and discard those that include teaching obsolete skills, protecting deadwood teachers and adhering to schedules that reflect the harvesting of crops.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:44 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Montgomery County Teachers & Administrators Forego 5% Pay Raise to Help Balance the Budget

Daniel de Vise & Ann Marimow:

Montgomery County teachers and other school employees have agreed to give up a 5 percent pay raise next year, a concession that saves the school system $89 million and allows Superintendent Jerry D. Weast to balance the budget.

The Montgomery County Board of Education, meeting in closed session last night, tentatively accepted the renegotiated labor deals, according to a school official.

Leaders of four employee associations, representing more than 22,000 workers, agreed Tuesday to forgo the raise all workers would have received in the fiscal year that begins in July. Weast said he and other top administrators in Maryland's largest school system would also lose annual raises.

School officials said it was the first time since the early 1990s that Montgomery school employees had given up a contractual pay raise, a sign of the magnitude of the economic challenge. School board President Nancy Navarro (Northeastern County) credited unions with "tremendous sacrifice during these tough times."

Budget constraints have prompted Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) to consider requiring unpaid furloughs for more than 67,000 state employees and contractors. And across the region, school officials are wondering whether they can fund cost-of-living raises in the 2009-10 academic year. Loudoun County teachers were forced to go without such raises this school year.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:44 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

After Quake, Parents In China Start Over

Mei Fong:

Ten days after his daughter died in May's earthquake, Zhu Jianming thought of having another child. Five weeks later, he had a reverse vasectomy, paying for it in part with money he received from the government.

Now, the lean miner, who is 50 years old, and wife Lu Shuhua, 45, are trying to conceive again. Though still mourning, the aging couple felt they had to move quickly if they wanted to start a new family. "If we don't try now, we will totally miss the chance," Mr. Zhu says

Moving fast is something of a specialty for China, a nation that has sprung from the poverty of the Cultural Revolution to being the world's fourth-largest economy in a single lifetime. So it is with many of the survivors of the Sichuan earthquake, which left nearly 90,000 people dead or missing. The most devastating natural disaster to hit China in three decades, the quake was one of several big challenges to the Chinese leadership in a tumultuous year that included protests in Tibet, the Olympic Games in Beijing and an economic slowdown that is erasing thousands of factory jobs.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:44 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

A 12 Year Old Takes up Boxing

in Lexington, KY. Video.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

December 4, 2008

Videographic: A Short Recent History of Congo

A powerful new media example for education. This piece is well written, nicely illustrated and in the end, adds depth to our understanding of Congo's recent history. Links to sources and further information would be useful.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:34 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Seeking a Corwin Kronenberg Contact

Gayle Strawn emailed asking if anyone has contact information for Corwin Kronenberg

Contact Gayle at or 612-767-3203

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:59 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Math Task Force Feedback Sessions Slated for January

Last year the MMSD School Board appointed a committee to look at the math curriculum in the district. The task force recently presented their findings to the School Board. We accepted their report and referred it to the Superintendent for recommendations. The next step in the process is a community input session.

Sessions were originally scheduled for December 8 and 9. Those sessions have been postponed until January in order to better publicize the sessions and avoid conflicts with holiday-season events. The dates have not yet been selected, and I will post the dates, places, and times when they have been confirmed.

If you want to comment directly on the math curriculum/task force recommendations, you can send e-mail or post here. I'll make sure the Superintendent receives your feedback.

Posted by Lucy Mathiak at 8:59 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Number of MPS students suspended is down 15%

Alan Borsuk:

Suspensions across the Milwaukee Public Schools system are down sharply so far this school year, Superintendent William Andrekopoulos said Monday.

Andrekopoulos released figures that show suspensions in MPS, as of the end of November, down sharply from last year, showing declines of about 15% in the number of students who have been suspended and of more than 20% in the number of days students have spent on suspensions, compared with the same period a year ago.

The new figures come as MPS is under pressure to lower its high suspension rate - Andrekopoulos has called it "appalling" in the past - and improve the overall behavior climate in schools.

The Council of the Great City Schools, an organization of large urban districts, submitted a report to MPS officials last spring that called for an urgent districtwide mobilization over behavior issues, especially related to suspensions. The report says MPS schools used suspensions, often for minor matters, instead of lesser steps that could bring more constructive results. It suggests the MPS suspension rate was among the highest in the country.

Andrekopoulos said data through last week showed that 12.3% of students had been suspended at least once so far this year, compared with 14.4% in the same period last year, and that the number of "suspension days" had declined from 42,994 to 33,846.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:31 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The Making of a Rhodes Scholar - Duke University Graduate Earns Coveted Award

Open Education:

Parker Goyer has certainly tasted her share of success even if she is just 23-years-old.

Following her graduation from Duke, Goyer received a fellowship from the Robertson Scholars Program, a merit scholarship program that seeks to encourage social entrepreneurship and to increase collaboration between Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill. Goyer was the only non-Robertson Scholar to be selected for the one year fellowship.

That same year, the 2007 graduate would go on to see her benchmark concept, the Coach for College Program, come to fruition. Securing nearly half-a-million dollars in funding, Goyer led a group of college student-athletes to Vietnam to deliver the first ever edition of the program to 200 middle school-aged children.

Yet, when it comes to recognition for a job well-done, the first-year student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education recently hit new heights even for her. On Saturday, November 22nd, the Coach for College founder learned she was one of 32 American students chosen to receive a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship.

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

Going off to College for Less

Tamar Lewin:

St. Andrews has 1,230 Americans among its 7,200 students this year, compared with fewer than 200 a decade ago.

The large American enrollment is no accident. St. Andrews has 10 recruiters making the rounds of American high schools, visiting hundreds of private schools and a smattering of public ones.

With higher education fast becoming a global commodity, universities worldwide -- many of them in Canada and England -- are competing for the same pool of affluent, well-qualified students, and more American students are heading overseas not just for a semester abroad, but for their full degree program.

Ryan Ross of Annapolis, Md., applied only to St. Andrews; McGill University in Montreal; and Trinity College in Dublin. "I knew I wanted a different experience," said Mr. Ross, now a freshman studying international relations at St. Andrews.

The international flow has benefits, and tradeoffs, for both sides.

For American students, a university like St. Andrews offers international experience and prestige, at a cost well below the tuition at a top private university in the United States. But it provides a narrower, more specialized course of studies, less individual attention from professors -- and not much of an alumni network to smooth entry into the workplace when graduates return to the United States. For overseas universities, international students help diversify campuses in locations as remote as coastal Fife, home of St. Andrews.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Changing the Tuition Discussion

Scott Jaschik:

If tuition policy is a vexed question in normal budget years for public universities, it will be especially challenging to discuss public policy on the subject this year. States are facing record deficits and many public colleges are seeing enrollment and application increases -- a formula that could combine to create large, unpopular tuition increases.

In this environment, the leaders of a national association of public universities hope to shift the debate -- calling for better information about what really is going on with college costs, and also urging colleges to consider some potentially radical ways to control their costs. "University Tuition, Consumer Choice and College Affordability," being released today by the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, both defends public higher education and criticizes it. While suggesting that colleges are more affordable than many people realize today, the report sees a "looming affordability challenge" in which public institutions could move out of the reach of many Americans, a potential shift that the association sees as counter to the values of its institutions.

The beginning of the report -- consistent with efforts by others in higher education -- tries to shift public attention away from colleges' sticker prices and broad generalizations about affordability, arguing that sticker prices rarely reflect what students actually pay and that affordability depends both on the charges of a college and the means of a student, and is thus unique for individual circumstances. The report then goes on to suggest that much is unknown about whether colleges can save money through various means -- such as providing more instruction online -- and suggests that now is the time for serious research on such questions. The report faults universities for not having the data that would allow for better decision making.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

December 3, 2008

Children Offended: Red pen too aggressive, Queensland teachers told

By Gabrielle Dunlevy

December 03, 2008 12:54 pm

* Teachers told to "reconsider pen colour"
* Children might be offended by red
* Pictures: Evil red pens from The Courier-Mail

TEACHERS have been told to stop marking schoolchildren's work with red pen because it is an "aggressive" colour.

Queensland's Deputy Opposition Leader Mark McArdle told parliament today that teachers were being advised to reconsider their pen choice because it may offend children.

Mr McArdle tabled a Queensland Health document proposing "strategies for addressing mental health wellbeing in any classroom."

It says: "Don't mark in a red pen (which can be seen as aggressive)--use a different colour."

"Given your 10-year-old Labor government presides over the lowest numeracy and literacy standards of any state in Australia, don't you think it's time we focused on classroom outcomes rather than these kooky, loony, loopy, lefty policies?" Mr McArdle asked.

Premier Anna Bligh called the question trivial at a time of "such economic peril."

Posted by Will Fitzhugh at 4:49 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

SEED School receives $2 million pledge

Milwaukee Business Journal:

The SEED School of Wisconsin said Tuesday that the Elizabeth A. Brinn Foundation is pledging $2 million towards SEED's campaign to bring a public, urban boarding school to the state.

The boarding school is being proposed by a local coalition of leaders, cooperating with The SEED Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that operates boarding schools in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. Both schools are publicly funded and educate children who start, on average, with skills two to three years behind grade level. More than 98 percent of SEED school graduates have been accepted at a four-year college, according to The SEED Foundation.

"The children of Milwaukee and other challenged communities around the state will benefit from the Brinn Foundation's gracious gift," said Robert Sowinski, president of The SEED School of Wisconsin's board of directors.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:44 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

"Rice Paddies and Math Tests"

Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers
New York: Little, Brown, 2008, pp. 247-249
"Rice Paddies and Math Tests"

Every four years, an international group of educators administers a comprehensive mathematics and science test to elementary and junior high students around the world. It's the TIMSS...and the point of the TIMSS is to compare the educational achievement of one country with another's.

When students sit down to take the TIMSS exam, they also have to fill out a questionnaire. It asks them all kinds of questions, such as what their parents' level of education is, and what their views about math are, and what their friends are like. It's not a trivial exercise. It's about 120 questions long. In fact, it is so tedious and demanding that many students leave as many as ten or twenty questions blank.

Now, here's the interesting part. As it turns out, the average number of items answered on that questionnaire varies from country to country. It is possible, in fact, to rank all the participating countries according to how many items their students answer on the questionnaire. Now, what do you think happens if you compare the questionnaire rankings with the math rankings on the TIMSS? They are exactly the same. In other words, countries whose students are willing to concentrate and sit still long enough to focus on answering every single question in an endless questionnaire are the same countries whose students do the best job of solving math problems.

The person who discovered this fact is an educational researcher at the University of Pennsylvania named Erling Boe, and he stumbled across it by accident. "It came out of the blue," he says. Boe hasn't even been able to publish his findings in a scientific journal, because, he says, it's just a bit too weird. Remember, he's not saying that the ability to finish the questionnaire and the ability to excel on the math test are related. He's saying that they are the same: if you compare the two rankings, they are identical.

Think about this another way. Imagine that every year, there was a Math Olympics in some fabulous city in the world. And every country in the world sent its own team of one thousand eighth graders. Boe's point is that we could predict precisely the order in which every country would finish in the Math Olympics without asking a single math question. All we would have to do is give them some task measuring how hard they were willing to work. In fact, we wouldn't even have to give them a task. We should be able to predict which countries are best at math simply by looking at which national cultures place the highest emphasis on effort and hard work.

So, which places are at the top of both lists? The answer shouldn't surprise you: Singapore, South Korea, China (Taiwan), Hong Kong, and Japan. [Mainland China doesn't yet take part in the TIMSS study.] What those five have in common, of course, is that they are all cultures shaped by the tradition of wet-rice agriculture and meaningful work. They are the kind of places where, for hundreds of years, penniless peasants, slaving away in the rice paddies three thousand hours a year, said things to one another like "No one who can rise before dawn three hundred and sixty days a year fails to make his family rich."

Posted by Will Fitzhugh at 5:44 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Corcoran builds a 'Bridge to Literacy'

Greg Toppo:

John Corcoran made a splash in the 1990s with his memoir, The Teacher Who Couldn't Read. A vivid account of his nearly five-decade struggle to conceal his illiteracy -- and of his first successful attempts to read, at age 48 -- the book thrust Corcoran into the national spotlight.

He appeared on 20/20, Oprah and Larry King Live, was profiled in Esquire and became the only "adult learner" to serve on the advisory board of the National Institute for Literacy.

Now 70 and president of a charitable foundation bearing his name, Corcoran has a new book, The Bridge to Literacy (Kaplan Publishing, $24.95), which lays out his vision for eliminating illiteracy in the USA.

Corcoran has dubbed the book a "call to action" for literacy efforts and says reading programs need "a bigger, broader and more universal vision." He says K-12 schools and universities must train principals and teachers -- especially new teachers -- in the most up-to-date, research-based reading instruction.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:11 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Financial Literacy

The Economist:

I SUPPOSE I could be described as financially literate. I have a doctorate in economics; my dissertation focused on financial decision-making. I write about economics and finance, and I've worked in the financial industry, designing investment strategies. But, when I look at the balance of my brokerage account (those low-fee global-equity index funds do not seem like such a good idea at the moment) or my credit card statement (peppered with frivolous impulse purchases), I question my financial savvy.

Nonetheless, I have volunteered to provide financial-literacy training to young mothers at a local homeless shelter. This is the first time I have volunteered since school, when my guidance counsellor forced me into it. She thought the experience would look good on my college applications.

I always justified not volunteering by figuring that my actual time was worth less to the charity than the monetary value of my time. But something about this project intrigued me. I thought I'd learn from the experience; it could make me a better economist. I even spent weeks fancying myself the next Suze Orman, empowering the financially downtrodden with my economic knowledge.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:44 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Stuck-in-the-Past Va. Physics Texts Getting Online Jolt

Michael Alison Chandler:

The average high school physics class in Virginia traverses 2,000 years of thinking, encompassing the Archimedes principle of buoyancy and Newton's laws of motion, and stopping abruptly at about the turn of the 20th century. Educators want the course to advance to today's string theorists and atom-smashing particle physicists.

But before they can modernize physics education, they need a breakthrough in a textbook system that often leaves courses in physics and other subjects decades behind the times.

Rather than waiting two years for the Virginia Board of Education to review its science standards, then another year for publishers to print new physics texts, the state secretaries of education and technology asked a dozen teachers to write their own chapters in biophysics, nanotechnology and other emerging fields and post them online.

By February, physics teachers from Vienna to Tappahanock should be able to rip, mash and burn new chapters in real-time physics, said Secretary of Technology Aneesh P. Chopra. The virtual pages, which cost the state and schools nothing except teacher time, will be an optional, free supplement to hardbound books.

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December 2, 2008

Testing Students Abroad

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Poor behavioral effects on gifted students due to them sitting bored and stagnant in classes

What Do They See in Me That I Don't See in Myself?:

Jesse wished he could run away, far away. Someplace where no one knew him. A place where everything wasn't his fault and nothing was beyond his reach... Jesse Hardaway is used to things being his fault. It's just him and his mom at home, and she's always yelling at him. School is like home, only about ten times worse! He's in fifth grade special education and has to battle ADHD and an anger/behavior disorder every day. If he isn't in trouble, he's getting into it. The only thing Jesse is sure of is that the world is against him, and he is ready to give up.

One good thing Jesse has in his life is his best friend Davess, who never stops trying to look out for him. At school, Mrs. Abogar and Ms. Dubose try to look out for him too, though Jesse doesn't know why and wishes they would stop.

Here it comes, Jesse thought, the thing that drives me nuts. That irritating thing that they are so known for. That thing that makes you wonder whether you should hug them or yell at them. The famous Punishment-with-a-Smile. I hate it... But very soon he is about to discover that these two women not only understand him, for some reason they actually care about him.

via a Nikki Callahan email.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:11 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Media Bombardment Is Linked To Ill Effects During Childhood

Donna St. George:

In a detailed look at nearly 30 years of research on how television, music, movies and other media affect the lives of children and adolescents, a new study released today found an array of negative health effects linked to greater use.

The report found strong connections between media exposure and problems of childhood obesity and tobacco use. Nearly as strong was the link to early sexual behavior.

Researchers from the National Institutes of Health and Yale University said they were surprised that so many studies pointed in the same direction. In all, 173 research efforts, going back to 1980, were analyzed, rated and brought together in what the researchers said was the first comprehensive view of the topic. About 80 percent of the studies showed a link between a negative health outcome and media hours or content.

"We need to factor that in as we consider our social policies and as parents think about how they raise their kids," said lead researcher Ezekiel J. Emanuel, director of the Department of Bioethics at the National Institutes of Health, which took on the project with the nonprofit organization Common Sense Media. "We tend not to think of this as a health issue, and it is a health issue."

The average modern child spends nearly 45 hours a week with television, movies, magazines, music, the Internet, cellphones and video games, the study reported. By comparison, children spend 17 hours a week with their parents on average and 30 hours a week in school, the study said.

"Our kids are sponges, and we really need to remember they learn from their environment," said coauthor Cary P. Gross, professor at Yale School of Medicine. He said researchers found it notable how much content mattered; it was not only the sheer number of hours of screen time. Children "pick up character traits and behaviors" from those they watch or hear, he said.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:47 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

It's 3 p.m. - do you know where your kids are?

As a child, 9:59 p.m. was a crucial time for me.

The local television news was about to begin. My dad was asleep in his easy chair in the living room. If he woke up, the first words he'd say would be "up to bed," and then I'd never know what happened in the world outside my Iowa farm. To delay the inevitable I crept over to the TV set (we didn't have remotes back then) and turned the volume down so the news program's theme song wouldn't disturb him.

Standing inches from the television, I heard this public service announcement every night: "It's 10 p.m.: Do you know where your children are?"

I didn't understand that. Where else would I be, but home? Even as a teenager I was in my room most nights giving my parents little reason to wonder or worry about my location. They had it too easy.

Many parents today aren't so lucky.

More moms and dads are working outside the home and their jobs demand more hours than ever before. They'd love to be home when their kids finish school in the afternoon or during winter and summer breaks from school, but many can't be there.

Continue reading here.

Posted by Linda Thomas at 5:44 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The "Secret to Raising Smart Kids"

Carol Dweck:

Hint: Don't tell your kids that they are. More than three decades of research shows that a focus on effort--not on intelligence or ability--is key to success in school and in life.

A brilliant student, Jonathan sailed through grade school. He completed his assignments easily and routinely earned As. Jonathan puzzled over why some of his classmates struggled, and his parents told him he had a special gift. In the seventh grade, however, Jonathan suddenly lost interest in school, refusing to do homework or study for tests. As a consequence, his grades plummeted. His parents tried to boost their son's confidence by assuring him that he was very smart. But their attempts failed to motivate Jonathan (who is a composite drawn from several children). Schoolwork, their son maintained, was boring and pointless.

Our society worships talent, and many people assume that possessing superior intelligence or ability--along with confidence in that ability--is a recipe for success. In fact, however, more than 30 years of scientific investigation suggests that an overemphasis on intellect or talent leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unwilling to remedy their shortcomings.

The result plays out in children like Jonathan, who coast through the early grades under the dangerous notion that no-effort academic achievement defines them as smart or gifted. Such children hold an implicit belief that intelligence is innate and fixed, making striving to learn seem far less important than being (or looking) smart. This belief also makes them see challenges, mistakes and even the need to exert effort as threats to their ego rather than as opportunities to improve. And it causes them to lose confidence and motivation when the work is no longer easy for them.

Praising children's innate abilities, as Jonathan's parents did, reinforces this mind-set, which can also prevent young athletes or people in the workforce and even marriages from living up to their potential. On the other hand, our studies show that teaching people to have a "growth mind-set," which encourages a focus on effort rather than on intelligence or talent, helps make them into high achievers in school and in life.

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Wisconsin School Finance Climate: State Budget Director & WISTAX President at Odds over Deficit


State budget director Dave Schmiedicke and Wisconsin Taxpayer Alliance President Todd Berry have a fundamental difference over the state's budget deficit.

Schmiedicke says the bulk of the projected $5.4 billion budget shortfall is the result of crashing state revenues. Berry, a former assistant Revenue secretary, says the administration is "double counting" and the deficit is not nearly that large.

Schmiedicke said the difference between a revenue forecast done in June and this month is $3.5 billion. The balance of the $1.9 billion that makes up the rest of the deficit is the result of population growth in state institutions, caseload increases for state services like Medicaid and funding for pay increases already implemented for some state agencies, like the University of Wisconsin System.

"Everything we see is the result of the economy," he said.

But Berry says the numbers assume an 8 percent spending increase in the first year of the biennium based on state agency budget requests. That is a level that is unlikely to be met in the final budget bill, Berry said.

"State spending growth has averaged 3 to 4 percent since 1998. It's not going to rise 8 percent, and that's what this document is saying," he said.

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Milwaukee Special Education Lawsuit

Dani McClain:

When Kina King goes through the classwork her children bring home from school, she has a hard time telling which belongs to 5-year-old Danielle and which belongs to 16-year-old Jamie.

That's because Jamie, a freshman at Wisconsin Career Academy in Milwaukee, reads at the level of a second-grader. Her writing, with its d's and b's reversed and halting attempts at self-expression, is at a third-grade level.

King said she repeatedly had asked Milwaukee Public Schools to evaluate whether Jamie had special needs since the girl was 5. But it wasn't until Jamie failed first grade for the third time that the district determined that she suffers from cognitive delays and needs additional support.

The question of what MPS should do to compensate the students it has failed to place in special education in a timely manner is at the heart of the third phase in an ongoing class-action suit about how MPS serves special education students. Jamie Stokes is the lead plaintiff in that suit and testified during a weeklong trial that wrapped up in November.

"If they gave her the help she would have been better, not doing coloring books her sister in kindergarten is doing," King said.

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December 1, 2008

Teacher does the math, and sells ads on test papers

Greg Toppo & Janet Kornblum:

Tom Farber gives a lot of tests. He's a calculus teacher, after all.

So when administrators at Rancho Bernardo, his suburban San Diego high school, announced the district was cutting spending on supplies by nearly a third, Farber had a problem. At 3 cents a page, his tests would cost more than $500 a year. His copying budget: $316. But he wanted to give students enough practice for the big tests they'll face in the spring, such as the Advanced Placement exam.

"Tough times call for tough actions," he says. So he started selling ads on his test papers: $10 for a quiz, $20 for a chapter test, $30 for a semester final.

San Diego magazine and The San Diego Union-Tribune featured his plan just before Thanksgiving, and Farber came home from a few days out of town to 75 e-mail requests for ads. So far, he has collected $350. His semester final is sold out.

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MMSD Board of Education Progress Report - November, 2008

The major focus of our meetings in November was on aligning the work of the Board to the district's mission and research regarding effective school boards. The emerging literature regarding the role of school board governance in improving student achievement suggests that the manner in which the Board does its work can lead to positive student achievement results. Superintendent Nerad has provided us with great amount of research and experience to guide us in our discussions. An overview of some of our major changes is below. There are a lot of details behind each of the items listed below. If you have any questions, please let us know via email:

Arlene Silveira (516-8981)

Committees: We voted to replace the existing committees with the committees listed below in order to create a greater focus on student achievement and the need for improved student achievement and related development outcomes for the district. The committees are structured along key governing lines. Each committee is composed of the board as a whole with co-chairs.

Student Achievement and Performance Monitoring: Focuses on the district's mission and will consist of matters related to factors leading to the improvement of student learning. Governance function: district's mission - work and related accountability for student learning. Co-chairs: Johnny Winston Jr., Maya Cole

Planning and Development: Focuses on ensuring effective planning related to the district's strategic plan, demographic planning, facility planning and budget planning. Governance function: planning for improved results. Co-chairs: Ed Hughes, Marj Passman

Operational Support: Focuses on financial management, building maintenance and operations, land purchase and district administrative operations, retention and hiring of staff and staff equity issues. Governance function: internal functions and ensuring quality business, finance and human resource systems. Co-chairs: Lucy Mathiak, Beth Moss

Engaging/Linking Stakeholders: We are expanding engagement practices with the goals of determining stakeholder perceptions about the district and educating members of the public to build public will and support.

6 Regular board meeting/year will be held in different schools. As part of the agenda, principals and staff will present learning data and their School Improvement Plan.

Each Board member will serve as a liaison to 7 schools to assist the Board in understanding the learning-related work in our schools.

The Board will schedule 4-6 meetings/year within the community to collect input from community stakeholders regarding "big" questions related to the district's strategic plan and/or educational programs/services.

Ensuring a Focus on Results and Accountability:

Data retreats: As part of the work of the Student Achievement and Performance Monitoring committee, 4 meetings/year will include a data presentation related to specific student achievement and student performance measures.

Program evaluation: As part of the Student Achievement and Performance Monitoring committee, a schedule of program evaluations will be identified and implemented.

Improvement benchmarks: When the district's strategic plan is completed. District level improvement benchmarks will be identified for each student based strategy within the plan.

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Community Forum - Math Task Force Recommendations

There will be 2 forums to receive community feedback on the Math Task Force report/recommendations.

* Monday, December 8 - 6:00-8:00pm at Memorial High School
* Tuesday, December 9 - 6:00-8:00pm at La Follette High School

There will be a brief presentation on the task force recommendations, followed by a break-out session for community feedback and comments.

The Superintendent will use the feedback and comments in developing his recommendations for the Board.

As a reminder, the Math Task Force info can be found at

Thank you.


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Murdoch: "Schools a Moral Scandal"

Glynne Sutcliffe Adelaide:

Rupert Murdoch has used his fourth Boyer Lecture to slam Australian schooling. No punches pulled here. "Our public education systems are a disgrace" was almost his opening sentence. And the reason is clear : "despite spending more and more money, our children seem to be learning less and less."

A residual affection for the land of his birth is probably the main driving force of his critique. His country is going down the gurgler. It is a realistic assessment of the situation we are in. India and China especially are poised to wipe us out. Finland irks. Singapore and Korea also graduate students who both know more and think better than Aussie grads. Intellectual sophistication in Australia is an increasingly rare and obviously endangered phenomenon. Football commands the Aussie imagination. Those who study think of learning as work, from which escape must be regularly programmed in order to maintain sanity.

Explanations for poor results abound. The teaching staffs of our schools manifest a huge compassion for instance, for the children who have a low SES (Socio-Economic Status) rating, and stress that these children don't/can't learn because they don't have space at home to do their homework. Murdoch is properly scathing about this and about all the other various excuses offered to explain why so many children are learning so little:"a whole industry of pedagogues (is) devoted to explaining why some schools and some students are failing. Some say classrooms are too large. Others complain that not enough public funding is devoted to this or that program. Still others will tell you that the students who come from certain backgrounds just can't learn."

While George Bush may be reasonably classified as a major disaster, someone seems to have provided him with a memorable, useful and highly pertinent assessment. (The US Dept of Ed has been a good deal more useful to humanity than its Dept Of Defence).His words were resonant. He said we should overthrow "the tyranny of low expectations".(I have written more extensively on this dereliction of professional duty in a paper that can be read at

Murdoch is of the same view, that all our students need us to have high expectations of them, and"the real answer is to start pursuing success".

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Lessons From 40 Years of Education 'Reform'
Let's abolish local school districts and finally adopt national standards.

Louis V. Gerstner, Jr.:

While the economic news has most Americans in a state of near depression, hope abounds today that the country may use the current economic crisis as leverage to address some longstanding problems. Nowhere is that prospect for progress more worthy than the crisis in our public education system.

So, from someone who realized rather glumly last week that he has been working at school reform for 40 years, here is a prescription for leadership from the Obama administration.

We must start with the recognition that, despite decade after decade of reform efforts, our public K-12 schools have not improved. We can point to individual schools and some entire districts that have advanced, but the system as a whole is still failing. High school and college graduation rates, test scores, the number of graduates majoring in science and engineering all are flat or down over the past two decades. Disappointingly, the relative performance of our students has suffered compared to those of other nations. As a former CEO, I am worried about what this will mean for our future workforce.

It is most crucial for our political leaders to ask why we are at this point -- why after millions of pages, in thousands of reports, from hundreds of commissions and task forces, financed by billions of dollars, have we failed to achieve any significant progress?

Answering this question correctly is the key to finally remaking our public schools.

This is a complex problem, but countless experiments and analyses have clearly indicated we need to do four straightforward things to bring fundamental changes to K-12 education:

  • Set high academic standards for all of our kids, supported by a rigorous curriculum.
  • Greatly improve the quality of teaching in our classrooms, supported by substantially higher compensation for our best teachers.
  • Measure student and teacher performance on a systematic basis, supported by tests and assessments.
  • Increase "time on task" for all students; this means more time in school each day, and a longer school year.
Everything else either does not matter (e.g., smaller class sizes) or is supportive of these four steps (e.g., vastly improve schools of education).

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"The Trouble With Textbooks"

Greg Toppo:

In 2004, the Institute for Jewish and Community Research, a San Francisco think tank, launched an effort to address "anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism" in American education, from K-12 to higher education. Its book, The UnCivil University, focused on the USA's colleges and universities.But the effort also gave rise to an extensive survey on the political, religious and social beliefs of university faculty -- some of whom admitted to holding strong prejudices against evangelical Christians.

The researchers say they found a politically active, vocal minority -- especially within Middle East studies departments -- that held strong anti-Israel positions. Many of the same professors holding what the researchers found were strong political biases are often tapped to review K-12 social studies, history and geography textbooks, which explain religious history, among other topics, to very young children, the institute says.

So authors Gary Tobin and Dennis Ybarra looked at 28 textbooks over nearly five years -- finding what they call "glaring distortions and inaccuracies," many centered on the books' treatment of Israel, Judaism and Christianity. Aside from their findings on how religions are treated, their new book, The Trouble With Textbooks (Lexington Books, $21.95), which appeared on shelves this fall, in part explores problems with the textbook approval process.

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Survey Finds Growing Deceit Among Teens
64 Percent Admit Cheating on Test In High School

David Crary:

In the past year, 30 percent of U.S. high school students have stolen from a store and 64 percent have cheated on a test, according to a new, large-scale survey suggesting that Americans are apathetic about ethical standards.

Educators reacting to the findings questioned any suggestion that today's young people are less honest than previous generations, but several agreed that intensified pressures are prompting many students to cut corners.

"The competition is greater, the pressures on kids have increased dramatically," said Mel Riddle of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. "They have opportunities their predecessors didn't have [to cheat]. The temptation is greater."

The Josephson Institute, a Los Angeles-based ethics institute, surveyed 29,760 students at 100 randomly selected high schools nationwide, both public and private. All students in the selected schools were given the survey in class; their anonymity was assured.

Michael Josephson, the institute's founder and president, said he was most dismayed by the findings about theft. The survey found that 35 percent of boys and 26 percent of girls -- 30 percent overall -- acknowledged stealing from a store within the past year. One-fifth said they stole something from a friend; 23 percent said they stole something from a parent or other relative.

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Why can't Johnny adapt?

Physician & Author Gabor Mate, via a kind reader's email:

Among the major challenges we face, as a society, is the widespread lack of resilience of many young people. Resilience is the capacity to overcome adversity, to let go of what doesn't work, to adapt and to mature. Growing evidence of its absence among the young is as ominous for our future as the threat of climate change or financial crisis.

A disturbing measure is the increasing number of children diagnosed with mental-health conditions characterized by rigid and self-harming attitudes and behaviours, such as bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, eating disorders and "conduct" disorders. Hundreds of thousands of American children under 12 are being prescribed heavy-duty antipsychotic medications to control behaviours deemed unacceptable and unmanageable.

Canadian statistics are less dire but typically follow that trend. University of British Columbia psychologists have warned that today's children between 6 and 12 "will be the first generation to have poorer health status as adults than their parents, if measures are not taken now to address their developmental needs." Their report was presented in Winnipeg at last week's National Dialogue on Resilience in Youth. The conference itself was a marker of the alarm among those concerned with the well-being of youth - educators, business people, people in government.

Beyond mental pathology, many young people exhibit difficulties adapting, as indicated by burgeoning drug use, aggression, bullying and violence. These tendencies all manifest alienation and frustration - that is, an inability to deal creatively and powerfully with life's inevitable setbacks. The less resilient we are, the more prone we become to addictions and aggressive behaviours, including self-harm. We also become more attached to objects. A young Ottawa man was recently killed when he refused to surrender his iPod to a knife-wielding assailant. "I'd rather be stabbed than give up my iPod," a 17-year-old woman told The Globe.

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Obama's Big Test on Education

Jake Tapper:

Interestingly, though Rhee is a Democrat, she almost voted for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

"It was a very hard decision," Rhee says. "I'm somewhat terrified of what the Democrats are going to do on education."

What does President-elect Obama think? Tough to say. He has supported merit pay for teachers, which teachers' unions oppose, and heralded Rhee. He has been a strong advocate of charter schools and in 2002 said he was "not closed minded" on the subject of vouchers, though since then he has come out against vouchers. Over the Summer, I asked him why.

"The problem is, is that, you know, although it might benefit some kids at the top, what you're going to do is leave a lot of kids at the bottom," he said. "We don't have enough slots for every child to go into a parochial school or a private school. And what you would see is a huge drain of resources out of the public schools. So what I've said is let's foster competition within the public school system. Let's make sure that charter schools are up and running. Let's make sure that kids who are in failing schools, in local school districts, have an option to go to schools that are doing well.

"But what I don't want to do is to see a diminished commitment to the public schools to the point where all we have are the hardest-to-teach kids with the least involved parents with the most disabilities in the public schools," Obama continued. "That's going to make things worse, and we're going to lose the commitment to public schools that I think have been so important to building this country."

In March, Josh Patashnik of The New Republic took a closer look at PEBO and education, writing that Obama "has long advocated a reformist agenda that looks favorably upon things like competition between schools, test-based accountability, and performance pay for teachers. But the Obama campaign has hesitated to trumpet its candidate's maverick credentials. As an increasingly influential chorus of donors and policy wonks pushes an agenda within the Democratic Party that frightens teachers' unions and their traditional liberal allies, Obama seems unsure how far he can go in reassuring the former group that he's one of them without alienating the latter. And this is a shame, because Obama may represent the best hope for real reform in decades."

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Internet searching stimulates brain, study says

Heidi Benson:

A new UCLA study, part of the growing research into the effects of technology on the brain, shows that searching the Internet may keep older brains agile - it's like taking your brain for a walk.

It's too early to conclude that technology will help vanquish Alzheimer's disease, but "our study shows that when your brain is on Google, your neural circuitry changes extensively," said psychiatrist Gary Small, director of UCLA's Memory & Aging Research Center.

The new study, which will be published next month in the Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, comes at a time when medical experts are forecasting that Alzheimer's cases will quadruple by 2050. In response to such projections, "brain-gyms" and memory-building computer programs have proliferated.

The subjects in Small's nine-month study were 24 neurologically normal volunteers ages 55 to 76, with similar education levels. They were assigned two tasks: to read book-like text on computer screens and to perform Internet searches.

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