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January 31, 2009

Madison School District's Strategic Planning Process, An Update

I was honored to be part of the Madison School District's "Strategic Planning Process" this weekend. More than 60 community members, students, parents, board members and district employees participated.

The process, which included meetings Thursday (1/29/2009) from 8 to 6 Friday (1/30/2009) from 8 to 5 and Saturday (1/31/2009) from 8 to 12, thus far, resulted in the following words:

MMSD Mission Statement (1/30/2009):

Our mission is to cultivate the potential in every student to thrive as a global citizen by inspiring a love of learning and civic engagement, by challenging and supporting every student to achieve academic excellence, and by embracing the full richness and diversity of our community.

Draft Strategic Priorities

1. Student:
We will eliminate the achievement gap by ensuring that all students reach their highest potential. To do this, we will prepare every student for kindergarten, create meaningful student-adult relationships, and provide student-centered programs and supports that lead to prepared graduates. (see also student outcomes)

2. Resource/Capacity:
We will rigorously evaluate programs, services and personnel through a collaborative, data-driven process to prioritize and allocate resources effectively and equitably, and vigorously pursue the resources necessary to achieve our mission.

3. Staff
We will implement a formal system to support and inspire continuous development of effective teaching and leadership skills of all staff who serve to engage our diverse student body while furthering development of programs that target the recruitment and retent ion of staff members who reflect the cultural composition of our student body.

4. Curriculum
We will revolutionize the educational model to engage and support all students in a comprehensive participatory educational experience defined by rigorous, culturally relevant and accelerated learning opportunities where authentic assessment is paired with flexible instruction.

5. Organization/Systems:

We will proudly leverage our rich diversity as our greatest strength and provide a learning environment in which all our children experience what we want for each of our children. We will:

  • Provide a safe, welcoming learn ing environment
  • Coordinate and cooperate across the district
  • Build and sustain meaningful partnerships throughout our community
  • Invite and incorporate (require) inclusive decision-making
  • Remain accountable to all stakeholders
  • Engage community in dialogue around diversity confront fears and misunderstandings

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:25 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

New way urged for gauging schools
Lawmakers: Measure using college-readiness

Pat Kossan; The Arizona Republic 7:25 am | 55°:

Half of Maricopa County's high-school graduates who enter Arizona universities or colleges must take a remedial math class. And just under a quarter must take a remedial English class.

The new findings are helping legislators push for a change in how Arizona decides if its high schools are excelling or failing, a move that would topple AIMS test scores as the main measurement.

Two key House leaders are proposing a pilot program that could lead to making the percentage of students who graduate "college-ready" the prime indicator of how well a high school performs.

Rating schools by AIMS scores sets the bar too low because the state's standardized student tests are based on 10th-grade skills, said Reps. Rich Crandall, a Mesa Republican, and David Lujan, a Phoenix Democrat.

Some educators fear that the new approach would put too much emphasis on college-bound students and not enough on marginal students who need extra help or students who don't want to attend college.

The findings come from an Arizona Community Foundation study released this week that aimed to measure how well high schools prepared their college-bound students.

The College Readiness Report calculated how many 2006 high-school graduates could directly enter freshman-level English and algebra classes and how many had to take remedial classes first.

The study tracked graduates at each of 115 Maricopa County districts and charter high schools who entered one of the three state universities or Maricopa Community Colleges. Those students accounted for 55 percent of the county's 2006 graduates, or about 17,400 students.

The results: Seventy-seven percent were prepared to enter a college-level English course without extra help; half were ready for college algebra.

"The glass is half-full or half-empty, depending on how you look at it," said Arizona State University's David Garcia, who conducted the research. All the students in the study had passed Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards, passed their high-school courses and earned diplomas, he said.

"After that, the burning question is: 'What did that mean?'. . . Are we aiming at the right place?" Garcia said. "My primary interest in doing this is to put something else out there for public discussion other than AIMS."

The study is the first to track such data for individual high schools. Garcia said he is preparing to conduct the research statewide and include students who attend colleges and universities out of state. He also is working on tracking students who attend trade schools.

The College Readiness Report caught the attention of Crandall and Lujan, who plan to introduce a bill this week that would establish a pilot program using the report's data as the primary measurement of a high school's performance.

The schools would be measured on improvement in the percentage of graduates who entered college without needing remedial classes.

"When you use AIMS as your total measurement, you get 10th-grade results, and that's not good enough,"
said Crandall, chairman of the House Education Committee. Crandall, once president of the Mesa Unified District governing board, who has already established a legislative task force to examine the future of AIMS. Its recommendations are due in June, and it could suggest changing the AIMS exam, killing it as a graduation requirement, replacing it or adding a college-entrance or another test.

The bill, drafted by Lujan, would keep AIMS scores and graduation rates as part of a new formula to evaluate school instruction, but College Readiness Report data would play the key role. Lujan said it's easier for parents to understand.

In all measures, schools would have to show progress in the percentage of students meeting the new goals.

The AIMS reading, writing and math exam is taken each year by students in third through eighth grades and in 10th grade. It measures how well students are achieving grade-level learning goals, and high-school students must pass the exam to graduate. Test scores are used to rate schools on a six-level scale that ranges from excelling to failing.

"People really don't know what the AIMS test measures," Lujan said. "Looking at how many students have to take remedial classes when they get to college, I think that's a really good indicator."

Schools participating in the pilot would include all the high schools in one district, most likely Phoenix Union High School District, where Lujan still sits on the board, and five charter high schools.

The schools would develop the new formula and use it to determine their rankings by September 2010.

State officials would track and report on the progress of students in schools using the new formula.

Tom Horne, state superintendent of public instruction, said he, too, wants to push all high schools to improve learning for college-bound students. College-readiness numbers could become a small part of the current formula, but AIMS scores should remain the key indicator, he said.

"I worked very hard to make sure the formula, as a whole, is fair," Horne said. "We must be sure the kids who don't go to college are still well prepared for life."

Education & Human Capital:
The transition of students from high school into postsecondary education is an important but under-informed policy issue. To address this research question, the Arizona Community Foundation and Arizona State University tracked high school graduates from the classes of 2005 and 2006 who enrolled in either the Maricopa community college system or one of Arizona's three public universities the year following graduation from high school.

These previously unreleased data provide school-level results on the percentage of high school graduates from Maricopa County district and charter high schools who enter postsecondary education ready for college-level coursework. For the purpose of this study, college-level is defined as any course categorized by the postsecondary institutions as:

  • English - Freshman English or above (courses designated as Pre-Freshman English and Other Lower Division English were not designated as college-level).
  • Mathematics - College Algebra or above (courses designated as Pre-Intermediate Algebra, Intermediate Algebra and those designated as Other Lower Division Mathematics were not designated as college-level).

Posted by Will Fitzhugh at 5:11 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Why Easy Grading Is Good for Your Career

Jay Matthews:

New Jersey high school teacher Peter Hibbard flunked 55 percent of the students in his regular biology class the year before he retired. There were no failures in his honors classes, he said, but many of his regular students refused to do the work. They did not show up for tests and did not take makeups. They did not turn in lab reports. Homework was often ignored.

"Still, the principal told me that the failure rate was unacceptable, and I needed to fix it," Hibbard said. "The pressure to give grades instead of actually teaching increased. A colleague told me that he had no problem. If students showed up, they got a C. If they did some work, they got a B. If they did fair or better on tests, they got an A. No one ever complained, and his paycheck was the same. He was teacher of the year, and a finalist for a principal's job."

I often get helpful letters from teachers. They are fine people who assume I am educable, despite evidence to the contrary. Sometimes, as in Hibbard's case, teachers are so candid and wise I am compelled to quote them, and see if readers share their view of reality.

Here is what Hibbard told me:

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:11 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Well-Connected Parents Take On School Boards

Michael Alison Chandler:

For a new generation of well-wired activists in the Washington region, it's not enough to speak at Parent-Teacher Association or late-night school board meetings. They are going head-to-head with superintendents through e-mail blitzes, social networking Web sites, online petitions, partnerships with business and student groups, and research that mines a mountain of electronic data on school performance.

In recent weeks, parent-led campaigns helped bring down a long-established grading policy in Fairfax County and scale back the unpopular practice of charging fees for courses in Montgomery County. They have also stoked debates over math education in Frederick and Prince William counties.


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

January 30, 2009

Duncan: Incentive Grants May Be Used to Reward Rigor

Alyson Klein:

Arne Duncan, the brand-new Secretary of Education, said today that he would consider using $15 billion in proposed federal incentive grants to reward states for setting more "rigorous" standards. The money would be available to him under a broad $819 billion stimulus package that passed the House, with no GOP support, last night.

"There's a series of things we're looking for," in allocating those funds, Duncan told me, in the first of a round of one-on-one interviews he gave to reporters. He indicated that the Department would want states that receive the funds to have a comprehensive data system, strong assessments, and rigorous standards. "With this fund, we really have a chance to drive dramatic changes, to take to scale what works, invest in what works."

Given his emphasis on standards, I asked him whether he might use the fund to push for national or more uniform, rigorous standards. He left the door open for that. "Sure, absolutely," he told me (though without committing himself.) "Lots of folks are already thinking this way. We want to reward rigor and challenge the status quo."

I asked him about some of the reform-oriented programs in the stimulus package. He wasn't specific about which items the administration had pushed for until I brought up the $200 million for the Teacher Incentive Fund in one version of the bill, which doles out grants to districts for alternative pay programs, the $25 million for charter school facilities, and the $250 million state data systems.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:55 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Building hope for financial literacy

Sean Rush:

Rarely in our history have two more critical and incredible moments collided – the Inauguration of Barack Obama and the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression. We feel the excitement of change no matter what our party affiliation may be, and yet our enthusiasm is tempered by what we know lies ahead.

In Sept. of 2008, our financial illiteracy as a nation dramatically revealed itself and the unraveling continues today. The propensity of many to spend beyond their means and make unwise financial decisions demonstrates that many of us don't even know the basics of budgeting or handling debt.

But we have an opportunity to turn this crisis into the ultimate learning experience. Our new leaders, including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, fresh from Chicago Public Schools, can help make sure future generations don't repeat our mistakes.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:55 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Wauwatosa's Trade Charter School

Lori Weiss via a kind reader's email:

Wauwatosa School District officials have found a home for the trade charter school that will be opening for the 2009-10 school year.

For the first year, the School of the Trades will be housed in the basement of the Fisher Building, 12121 W. North Ave.

Superintendent Phil Ertl said the district is looking at the location for one year as it evaluates the viability and efficiency of the building.

It was determined that the Fisher Building would be the best place to house the district's second trade charter school because it doesn't need major renovations.

"It's all there right now," Jason Zurawik, West associate principal who has been working with the trade charter school committee, told the School Board on Jan. 26.

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

January 29, 2009

Middle School Report Cards Continues

Several parents from Jefferson Middle School have been meeting with Dr. Nerad and administrators to discuss the evolution of the standards based report cards in Middle School.

After much research on my part, it is clear standard based report cards are the "new" thing and a result of NCLB. It is easily adaptable at the elementary school, but very FEW school districts have implemented these changes in the middle school and in the high school it is almost nonexistent due to the difficulty adapting them for college entrance. It seems the goal of standard based report cards from the NCLB legistation is to make sure teachers teach the standards. It is kind of backwards that way but many teachers feel it makes sure they cover all the required standards.

Our local concerns and response from district include:

  1. Infinite Campus, which was up and running last year is no longer functioning for middle school students.

    Their response: Yes there are problems and we have provided training but the staff have not taking us up on the paid training made available.

    My response: If you are going to implement a change, since when is it optional to learn a new system the district is implementing. My daughter has no grades, assignments, or anything on IC accept the final grade. When asked if this will be mandatory in the future I was told we have no idea and we can't promise that it will be. It is clear after two meetings and several discussion with Lisa Wachtel that IC will not accommodate standards based grading. Basically elementary students will never be up. She projected 5 years and the middle school while up it is not easy to use the grade book for a program designed for 100% grading. I am only left to believe 2/3 of MMSD students will not benefit from a potentially good way for parents to stay informed about their students progress, grades, test, assignments, etc.....

  2. While some areas are better (Language Arts, Spanish, PE) evaluation includes written, oral,as well as comprehension for the languages, and for PE it includes evaluation for knowledge, skill, and effort.

    In Math my child made a 4 on Content 1, 2 on Content 2, 1 on Content 3, and a 3 on Content 4. She received a cummulitative grade of D. When I add 4 + 3 + 2 + 1 and divide by 4 it equals 2.5 which is not a D. After much research I found out each area is weighted different which is not explained on the report card. I also asked and it required much investigation to find out what each content area (1,2,3,4) was evaluating. She clearly understands one of them and has poor understanding in the one weighed higher but I had no idea what they were as they were only labelled by a number.

    Administration response: Math is a problem we are working on.

I accept with many reservations that we are doing standards based reporting for middle school students. I am angry that the district picked Infinite Campus at about the same time they were discussing going to Standards Based Report cards and did not realize 2/3 of the students will not benefit from IC. I am also upset that a pilot of the middle school report card was not conducted with staff, parents and student input. At Jefferson the staff feel under trained, overwhelmed and as though this was pushed down their throats. It says to me the staff were not consulted. When the staff person that was in charge of training the rest of the staff at Jefferson is not even using the I.C. it says a lot about the implementation of the middle school reporting. As far as standards based report cards moving to high school for MMSD, this would be very difficult. Not just due to college entrance but because MMSD high schools do not have standards to base the report cards upon.

Posted by Mary Battaglia at 11:31 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Do You Want An Internship? It'll Cost You

Sue Shellenbarger:

Faced with a dismal market for college summer internships, a growing number of anxious parents are pitching in to help -- by buying their kids a foot in the door.

Some are paying for-profit companies to place their college students in internships that are mostly unpaid. Others are hiring marketing consultants to create direct-mail campaigns promoting their children's workplace potential. Still other parents are buying internships outright in online charity auctions.

Even as the economy slows, internship-placement programs are seeing demand rise by 15% to 25% over a year ago. Critics of the programs say they deepen the divide between the haves and have-nots by giving students from more affluent families an advantage. But parents say the fees are a small price for giving their children a toehold in a treacherous job market. And operators of the programs claim they actually broaden access to internships by opening them to students who lack personal or political connections to big employers.

The whole idea of paying cash so your kid can work is sometimes jarring at first to parents accustomed to finding jobs the old-fashioned way -- by pounding the pavement. Susan and Raymond Sommer of tiny St. Libory, Ill., were dismayed when their daughter Megan, then a junior at a Kentucky university, asked them to spend $8,000 so she could get an unpaid sports-marketing internship last summer in New York City. Paying to work "was something people don't do around here," says Ms. Sommer, a retired concrete-company office worker; her husband, a retired electrical superintendent, objected that if "you work for a company, you should be getting paid."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:11 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Loudon School Board Freezes Teacher Pay

Michael Birnbaum:

The School Board in Loudoun County, where the recession might be having a greater effect on teachers' wallets than in any other Washington area jurisdiction, late last night approved a budget of $747. million that would freeze teacher salaries.

The spending plan, which passed by an 8 to 1 vote, would omit cost-of-living and seniority raises to save $31. million. It would be the second straight year that Loudoun teachers have gone without a cost-of-living increase. The other type of raise, for rising seniority, is also known as a step increase. The no vote came from John Stevens (Potomac).

Last week, Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III proposed forgoing the step increase, a move he said would align Loudoun schools with others in the state. Some of the savings would preserve jobs that had been in jeopardy.

"We've been weighing this against the positions that were disappearing in order to keep the step alive," Hatrick said before the board meeting in Ashburn. "We're cognizant that there's a lot of economic strife out there."

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

Private Schools Feel the Pinch Amid Recession

Mary Pilon:

Trinity Episcopal School survived Hurricane Ike last fall. But then another storm hit -- the economy.

The Galveston, Texas, school, where tuition is between $5,000 and $8,000 a year, has seen its enrollment drop 12%, says David Dearman, the head of the school. Many parents of its students were among the 3,000 workers laid off by the area's largest employer, the University of Texas Medical Branch. At the end of 2008, the school's endowment was $800,000, down about 20% from July.

The school has ramped up donation efforts through its Web site, and held car washes and bake sales. It stopped using substitute teachers -- other staff members now step in when a teacher is out sick. "Our school will survive, but it will take years to recover," Mr. Dearman says.

Trinity Episcopal School is one of many kindergarten-through-12th-grade private schools caught in the middle of an economic tempest: anemic endowments, dwindling donations, financially strapped parents slashing tuition from the family budget, and an exodus to suburbs with more appealing public schools where costs are lower.

"The discourse has shifting from sustainability to survivability," says Myra McGovern, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Independent Schools.

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

Obama Should Acknowledge His Catholic School Roots

William McGurn:

Of the many parallels between Barack Obama and John F. Kennedy, one has eluded all coverage: Both attended Catholic school as children. In fact, while JFK may have been the Irish Catholic from Boston, he spent less time at the Canterbury School in Connecticut than did young Barry (as he was then called) at St. Francis of Assisi in Indonesia.

At a time when America's 6,165 Catholic elementary and 1,213 secondary schools are celebrating Catholic Schools Week, President Obama's first-hand experience here opens the door to a provocative opportunity. In his inaugural address, the president rightly scored a U.S. school system that "fail[s] too many" of our young people. How refreshing it would be if he followed up by giving voice to a corollary truth: For tens of thousands of inner-city families, the local parochial school is often the only lifeline of hope.

"When an inner-city public school does what most Catholic schools do every day, it makes the headlines," says Patrick J. McCloskey, author of a new book called "The Street Stops Here," about the year he spent at Rice High -- an Irish Christian Brothers school in Harlem. "President Obama has a chance to rise above the ideological divide simply by giving credit where credit is due, by focusing on results, and the reason for those results."

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

House Vote on the Stimulus / Splurge

HR1 on 28 January 2009: 244 (all Democrats) -188 (11 Democrats and 177 Republicans).

Much more on the splurge here.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:22 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Ohio Governor Strickland's K-12 Finance Proposal

Seth Roy & Kent Mallett:

At least one local school administrator is encouraged by Gov. Ted Strickland's education plan unveiled during Wednesday's State of the State address.

The plan includes the elimination of phantom revenue and a new conversion-levy option that would allow tax revenue to grow with inflation, Newark City Schools Superintendent Keith Richards said.

"House Bill 920 has been one of my pet peeves since I've become an administrator," he said of the 1976 bill that freezes levy revenues at the amount of money they're originally passed for. "I believe conversion is the way schools should be funded."

The other funding portion Strickland addressed -- the phantom revenue -- means that the state will fund districts at the 20-mill floor, instead of funding them as if they were taxing at 23 mills.

Those funding ideas, however, didn't hold weight with state Rep. Jay Hottinger, R-Newark, who said the solution was nowhere to be found.

"There was no new formula, no significant change. I'm flabbergasted and really underwhelmed," he said.

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

Reporting the Stimulus/Splurge: Notes on Education Spending

Ryan Chittum:

've lost count of how many trillions of bailout money have been laid out (fortunately for all of us, Bloomberg keeps track: $8.5 trillion and counting). Layoffs are being announced in the tens of thousands in a single day. The housing market continues to collapse, as does the banking industry. We have a new administration, which has created a huge appetite for any shred of news from the White House. Those two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan still drone on. The news industry is collapsing. And Oklahoma is 20-1 in basketball (Beg pardon on this last one.)

But today, the heavy guns are out for the approaching-trillion-dollar stimulus package Obama is pushing through Congress. And it's an impressive performance.

First, The New York Times has a double-barreled effort with its lead stories on page one today, one about the unprecedented education spending in the bill and the other on the massive health-care expenditures it contains.

The Times is excellent on both counts. On education, it reports that fully $150 billion of the stimulus package is allocated for learnin'. It puts the numbers in great context:

...a vast two-year investment that would more than double the Department of Education's current budget...
...would amount to the largest increase in federal aid since Washington began to spend significantly on education after World War II...

...New York would be among the biggest beneficiaries, at $760 per student, while New Jersey and Connecticut would fall near the bottom, with $427 and $409 per student, respectively. The District of Columbia would get the most per student, $1,289, according to the foundation's analysis...

And it clearly explains the potential ramifications of implementing such an enormous plan:

Critics and supporters alike said that by its sheer scope, the measure could profoundly change the federal government's role in education, which has traditionally been the responsibility of state and local government...

The bill would, for the first time, involve the federal government in a significant fashion in the building and renovation of schools, which has been the responsibility of states and districts...

Much more on the stimulus/splurge here.

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

January 28, 2009

2009 Madison Teachers, Inc. Candidate Questionnaire

1.2MB PDF File. This document includes responses from Madison School Board seat 1 candidates Arlene Silveira and Donald Gors, Seat 2 candidate Lucy Mathiak and a number of other local and statewide candidates for office in the upcoming April, 2009 election. Via a kind reader's email.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:23 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

4 Year Old Kindergarten Again Discussed in Madison

Tamira Madsen:

But there is controversy with 4K, and not just because of the cost. In other districts that have started programs, operators of private centers that stand to lose tuition dollars have emerged as opponents.

That's unlikely to be true for Renee Zaman, director of Orchard Ridge Nursery School on Madison's west side, who said last week that her center would be in a good position to participate with a 4K program because they already teach 84 4-year-olds and because all of their early childhood teachers are state certified.

But Zaman also said she hopes that the district doesn't push a 4K program through too quickly. She is particularly worried that the curriculum might focus too heavily on academics.

One sticking point in past 4K discussions in Madison was concern from the teachers union, Madison Teachers Inc., that preschool teachers at off-site programming centers might not be employees of the school district.

But Nerad and MTI Executive Director John Matthews have had many discussions about 4K over the past several months, and Matthews said as long as no district teachers are displaced, he is in favor of the program.

Related: Marc Eisen on "Missed Opportunities for 4K and High School Redesign".

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:48 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The Obama Splurge / Stimulus: "A 40 Year Wish List"

Via a kind reader's email: The Wall Street Journal:

"Never let a serious crisis go to waste. What I mean by that is it's an opportunity to do things you couldn't do before."

So said White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel in November, and Democrats in Congress are certainly taking his advice to heart.

And don't forget education, which would get $66 billion more. That's more than the entire Education Department spent a mere 10 years ago and is on top of the doubling under President Bush. Some $6 billion of this will subsidize university building projects. If you think the intention here is to help kids learn, the House declares on page 257 that "No recipient . . . shall use such funds to provide financial assistance to students to attend private elementary or secondary schools." Horrors: Some money might go to nonunion teachers."

Jeffrey Sachs:
The US debate over the fiscal stimulus is remarkable in its neglect of the medium term - that is, the budgetary challenges over a period of five to 10 years. Neither the White House nor Congress has offered the public a scenario of how the proposed mega-deficits will affect the budget and government programmes beyond the next 12 to 24 months. Without a sound medium-term fiscal framework, the stimulus package can easily do more harm than good, since the prospect of trillion-dollar-plus deficits as far as the eye can see will weigh heavily on the confidence of consumers and businesses, and thereby undermine even the short-term benefits of the stimulus package.

We are told that we have to rush without thinking lest the entire economy collapse. This is belied by recent events. The spring 2008 stimulus package of $100bn (€76bn, £71bn) in tax rebates was rushed into effect in a similar way and we now know it had little stimulus effect. The rebates were largely saved or used to pay down credit card debt, rather than spent. The $700bn troubled asset relief programme bail-out was also rushed into effect and its results have been notoriously poor.

The Tarp has not revived the banks or their lending, but it has supported a massive transfer of taxpayer wealth to the management and owners of well-connected financial institutions. Some of those transfers - as in the case of Merrill Lynch using its government-financed sale to Bank of America to enable $4bn in bonuses last month - are beyond egregious. Yet the US is now inured to corruption and in such a rush that even billions of dollars of public funds shovelled into Merrill's private pockets in broad daylight barely merited a day's news cycle.

More from Victor Davis Hanson and Greg Mankiw on the Congressional Budget Office:
So only 8 percent of this spending occurs in budget year 2009, and only 41 percent occurs in first two years. Note that spending on transfer payments and tax relief occurs much faster than this: click through to the above link for details.
Mario Rizzo quotes Keynes:
"Organized public works, at home and abroad, may be the right cure for a chronic tendency to a deficiency of effective demand. But they are not capable of sufficiently rapid organisation (and above all cannot be reversed or undone at a later date), to be the most serviceable instrument for the prevention of the trade cycle."
Finally, a look at the origins of the Madison School District's $18M slice of the splurge. Long time Wisconsin Congressman David Obey is chair of the House Appropriations Committee, a position that gives him a prime seat for earmarks.

Finally, Nanette Asimove notes the proposed borrowing and printing money for California.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:13 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

World Chess Queen is a Model Player

Evan Benn:

The best women's chess player in the world flipped a dirty diaper into the trash as she pondered her next move after a dominating year.
"I want to open a chess academy online, keep training, doing the podcast," says south Floridian Alexandra Kosteniuk. "But right now, my priority is being a mother."

Kosteniuk, 24, won the Women's World Chess Championship in her homeland, Russia, in September. After several months of travelling the globe, Kosteniuk, her husband, Diego Garces, and their 20-month-old daughter Francesca are home.

About 3,000 people subscribe to her podcast at, and about 10,000 others log on each month to her website, where they can see photos of Kosteniuk in bikinis and buy her instructional DVDs. "It's the most popular chess site out there," says her husband, 49, who is also her webmaster and publicist.

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

Obama Stimulus/Splurge K-12 Reform Initiatives Gone?

Mike Petrelli:

I'm writing about the Democrats' intra-party squabbles on schools, the kind that exploded during the campaign and grew more vociferous in the election's aftermath but quieted down somewhat with President Obama's appointment of (consensus candidate) Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education. Well, they've returned. Word is that Senate Democrats have stripped virtually all of the reform-friendly provisions out of the House stimulus bill (a bill that was not terribly reform-friendly to begin with ). The Teacher Incentive Fund (which supports merit pay programs): gone. Charter school facilities dollars: gone. Money for data infrastructure projects: gone. Language ensuring that charter schools have equitable access to the money: gone. The teachers unions firmly in control of the Democratic Party: back with a vengeance.
Related: Carl Hulse talks with the Splurge's author: 40 year congressional veteran David Obey (D-Wisconsin):
Indeed, it was Mr. Obey, the third-most-senior member of the House, who, in large measure, shaped the bill, in concert with other House Democratic leaders. And though Mr. Obama has embraced the bill, not a single House Republican has lent it support. The president himself is scheduled to visit Capitol Hill on Tuesday to try to address Republican concerns that Mr. Obey and others are using the legislation to push vast amounts of money into health care and other favored initiatives.

Mr. Obey's impatience, temper and occasionally cutting tone are well known. Even as he outlined the economic plan before Mr. Obama's inauguration, he flippantly referred to the new president as "the crown prince." The remark was evidence that Mr. Obey, like other veteran chairmen involved in writing the stimulus package, might not be entirely deferential to the new president until he proved he could exert his influence.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California placed Mr. Obey in charge of producing the economic measure and shares his view that the spending for health, nutrition and unemployment programs is justified and a quicker way than tax breaks to pump money into the economy. Ms. Pelosi is very loyal to the chairman, who was a top ally in her 2001 race for Democratic whip.

Putting the economic bill together turned out to be challenging. Mr. Obey and a contingent of Democratic staff members worked over the holidays, meeting with other lawmakers. They were in talks with Rahm Emanuel, who was soon to be the White House chief of staff, and Rob Nabors, a former staff director of the Appropriations Committee who had left to join the Obama team as a budget official.

More here:
For some House Democrats, the problem is less a matter of balancing the short and long term than a shortage of focus and will on the part of the administration. Their disappointment centers on the relatively small amount devoted to long-lasting infrastructure investments in favor of spending on a long list of government programs. While each serves a purpose, the critics say, they add up to less than the sum of their parts, and fall far short of the transformative New Deal-like vision many of them had entertained.

The bill to be voted on today includes $30 billion for roads and bridges, $9 billion for public transit and $1 billion for inter-city rail -- less than 5 percent of the package's total spending. Administration officials have said they did not push for more infrastructure spending because of concerns about how many projects are "shovel ready" -- a view that House members say is held most strongly by Lawrence H. Summers, Obama's chief economic adviser.

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Gates Advocates Charter School Growth

Bill Gates 2009 Letter:

These successes and failures have underscored the need to aim high and embrace change in America's schools. Our goal as a nation should be to ensure that 80 percent of our students graduate from high school fully ready to attend college by 2025. This goal will probably be more difficult to achieve than anything else the foundation works on, because change comes so slowly and is so hard to measure. Unlike scientists developing a vaccine, it is hard to test with scientific certainty what works in schools. If one school's students do better than another school's, how do you determine the exact cause? But the difficulty of the problem does not make it any less important to solve. And as the successes show, some schools are making real progress.

Based on what the foundation has learned so far, we have refined our strategy. We will continue to invest in replicating the school models that worked the best. Almost all of these schools are charter schools. Many states have limits on charter schools, including giving them less funding than other schools. Educational innovation and overall improvement will go a lot faster if the charter school limits and funding rules are changed.

One of the key things these schools have done is help their teachers be more effective in the classroom. It is amazing how big a difference a great teacher makes versus an ineffective one. Research shows that there is only half as much variation in student achievement between schools as there is among classrooms in the same school. If you want your child to get the best education possible, it is actually more important to get him assigned to a great teacher than to a great school.

Whenever I talk to teachers, it is clear that they want to be great, but they need better tools so they can measure their progress and keep improving. So our new strategy focuses on learning why some teachers are so much more effective than others and how best practices can be spread throughout the education system so that the average quality goes up. We will work with some of the best teachers to put their lectures online as a model for other teachers and as a resource for students.

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California Plans to Reduce Education Spending

Jordan Rau & Evan Halper:

Although lawmakers continue to argue over how to resolve the state's fiscal crisis, they already have endorsed $6 billion in spending cuts that provide a painful preview of what is likely to be in store for Californians.

The proposed cuts would mean that money for the state's university systems would decrease. Transportation and schools would take a hit. Funds for regional centers that help treat developmental disabilities in babies and toddlers would decline. Cash to help the elderly, blind and disabled keep up with rising food costs would be slashed.

None of these cuts has been enacted. But the fact that they were included in the fiscal plan that Democrats passed last month -- and have been separately backed by Republicans -- ensures that they will be at the top of the list when lawmakers finally decide how to bridge a budget gap projected to exceed $40 billion within a year and a half.

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January 27, 2009

School Spotlight: McFarland School Forest becomes classroom outside the classroom

Pamela Cotant:

Indian Mound Middle School students are spending study halls in an outdoor classroom right next to their school.

Two groups of sixth-graders trek weekly through the McFarland School Forest adjacent to their school during their study hall period. They participate in various activities such as the recent scavenger hunt to look for and photograph things like deer tracks and evidence of animals eating.

"It's just a good way to get outdoors (and) shed off the extra energy we have," said sixth-grader Dayne Mickelson. "We just have one recess."

The field trips are part of an effort to have students spend more time in the immense natural resource in the school's backyard.

"I would love to take every child in this school out in the woods as much as possible," said Janet Moore, community outreach/school forest coordinator in the McFarland School District. "It is good to kind of get an ongoing relationship with the place."

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Countries with the Most Internet

The Economist:

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Obama Stimulus/Splurge: School money will be hard to cut later

Libby Quaid & Justin Pope:

Democrats want to use the big spending package designed to jump-start the staggering economy to send billions to long-term programs to help poor and disabled school children.

President Barack Obama's recovery plan amounts to the biggest increase ever in federal money for schools. Many Republicans say it is not a short-term boost but an immense expansion that will be impossible to roll back.

"What will happen two years from now when the Democrat spending spree comes to an end?" asked California Rep. Buck McKeon, top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee.

"It'll never go away," said Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. "You're talking about a permanent increase at a time when we are in the worst financial shape we've ever been in."

The measure making its way through Congress would achieve a long-sought goal of Obama and other Democrats. For the first time, it would fully fund No Child Left Behind, former President George W. Bush's education program. Democrats complain Bush never provided enough money for the kindergarten-through-12th grade program.
Not a coincidence, critics said.

Related: Democrats dispute the Congressional Budget Office's report on the stimulus/splurge.

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Minnesota's Shared School Services Proposal

Joe Kimball, via a kind reader's email:

Some details emerged today from the proposal by Gov. Tim Pawlenty and several lawmakers for what they call a bipartisan effort to require Minnesota school districts and charter schools to combine efforts to reduce costs.

Under their Minnesota K-12 Shared Service proposal, school districts and charter schools will be able to pool their purchasing power for information technology, food services, supplies and equipment, operations, transportation and other goods and services. All Minnesota public school districts and charter schools will be required to participate in shared services.

The proposal calls for the Minnesota Department of Education to create and maintain a list of preferred vendors for various shared services. Once the list was compiled, the ed department would create contracts with the preferred vendors on behalf of the state and work with school administrators, educators and other stakeholders on a two-year shared-services plan to best realize cost savings.

Discussion here:
he bill would require (note the "require" part) all public K-12 and charter schools to purchase services in the following areas from a list of approved vendors: all school materials, supplies, tools, and equipment for school facilities operations and maintenance; technology equipment and communication services; food services; and transportation services. MDE would be responsible for approving the vendors and maintaining the list. The bill would be effective July 1, 2009. A consultant would be hired for the first two years to help the department implement the program. The consultant would be paid on a percentage of realized savings not to exceed 5%. The consultant's fee would be paid from the savings realized by individual school districts, so each district would have to calculate how much their participation in the shared services program had saved them. MDE would reduce their state funding by a certain amount to recover the funds to pay the consultant. Each district's savings would be required to be allocated to "classroom education."

The senators quickly moved to the heart of the matter, and Sen. Bonoff introduced a Mr. Dahl from Deloitte, the accounting firm. Apparently Deloitte had done some work on shared services in schools in Pennsylvania. He shared a PowerPoint with the committee describing the benefits and anticipated savings. He estimated a potential savings for MN schools of $1M/week. The questions starting coming right after he was done.

Sen. Hann (R-Eden Prairie) wondered how the new bureaucracy would not consume all of the potential savings. Dahl recognized the work of the OET and existing service coops and said that their work would be made more effective.

Sen. Hann asked if it was possible that some schools in the state would see an increase in their costs because they had already negotiated very favorable contracts. Dahl said possible, but not likely.

Sen. Hann asked what constitutes "classroom use" for the allocation of savings. Sen. Bonoff said that the intent of the legislation is to be "loose" with the classroom use restriction.

Sen. Saltzman (DFL-Woodbury) asked if the bill would have curriculum implications for textbooks, etc. Bonoff said no.

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Dubuque's School Referendum

Telegraph Herald:

When voters on Feb. 3 decide on the Dubuque Community School District's tax proposal, the decision comes down to one thing: trust.

Do they trust school officials when they say this is a revenue-neutral proposition?

Basically, the school district is cash-strapped in one account and adequately funded in another -- but money from those funds cannot be commingled.

So, the proposal is that voters double the Instructional Support Levy and the school board promises to reduce the Cash Reserve Levy an equivalent amount. That way, taxpayers will pay the same but the district has the authority to spend dollars where they are most needed.

Voters should support the change.

However, taxing issues are never that simple. Taxpayers might vote against the Instructional Support Levy if they don't trust the school district to keep its word. It's a matter of trust. During this past decade, especially, the Dubuque Community School District has worked hard to earn and retain citizens' trust.

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In School for the First Time, Teenage Immigrants Struggle

Jennifer Medina:

Fanta Konneh is the first girl in her family to go to school. Not the first to go to college, or to graduate from high school. Fanta, 18, who grew up in Guinea after her family fled Liberia, became the first to walk into a classroom of any kind last year.

"Just the boys go to school, so I always knew I was left out," said Fanta, a student at Ellis Preparatory Academy in the South Bronx. "But here, I am trying. I can say many things I did not know before. I can learn things more."

New York City classrooms have long been filled with children from all over the world, and the education challenges they bring with them. But hidden among the nearly 150,000 students across the city still struggling to learn English are an estimated 15,100 who, like Fanta, have had little or no formal schooling and are often illiterate in their native languages.

More than half of these arrive as older teenagers and land in the city's high schools, where they must learn how to learn even as their peers prepare for state subject exams required for a diploma.

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Schools debate: Is cursive writing worth teaching?

Megan Downs:

Are the flowing curves and fancy loops of cursive writing disappearing from elementary school classrooms?
Some fear classic penmanship has been left behind as preparation for state assessment tests dominates class time. Others blame the rise of the Internet, combined with a push to ensure that children are technologically literate, for rendering delicate handwriting an art of yesteryear.

"With all the other subjects we must teach, we just don't have the time to spend a lot of effort on cursive," said Carl Brown, principal of Manatee Elementary in Viera, Fla.

That's a big change from years past. Brown recalled that he had to attend a summertime handwriting camp in Brevard County, Fla., about 25 years ago because of his illegible scrawl.

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Success, Learned and Taught

Joyce Roche CEO of Girls, Inc.:

I WAS born in Iberville, La. My mom moved to New Orleans after my dad died in an accident. I have seven sisters and three brothers; all but one brother are still living. At the time we moved, I was the baby of the family. My mom had two other children after she remarried.

When I was growing up, segregation was real. When we rode the bus, there was something we called the screen. African-Americans, or Negroes as we were called then, were expected to sit behind a piece of wood. Since where we lived had movie theaters and grocery stores, it was only when we traveled to Canal Street to department stores that segregation was most noticeable.

One of my older sisters moved in with my Aunt Rose, my mother's sister, who was married but had no children of her own. Soon I lived there almost permanently, too. She made sure I was doing well in everything at school. As a black female, I expected to be a nurse, a teacher or a social worker. I had an English teacher in high school who made me feel like an A student, even though I was a strong B student. She became the person I could see myself being.

Girls Inc website.

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January 26, 2009

Professor wants 'risk literacy' on the curriculum

Mark Henderson:

Pupils in every secondary school should be taught the statistical skills they need to make sensible life decisions, one of Britain's leading mathematicians says.

A basic grasp of statistics and probability -- "risk literacy" - is critical to making choices about health, money and even education, yet it is largely ignored by the national curriculum, according to the UK's only Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk.

David Spiegelhalter, of the University of Cambridge, told The Times that as the internet transformed access to information, it was becoming more important than ever to teach people how best to interpret data.

Familiarity with statistical thinking and the principles of risk could help people to make sense of claims about health hazards and the merits of new drugs, to invest money more wisely, and to choose their children's schools.

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Give All You Can: My New "Spread the Wealth" Grading Policy

Mike S. Adams, 26 January 2009:

Good afternoon students! I'm writing you this email to announce that I'm making some changes in the grading policies I announced two weeks ago when I sent an email with an attached course syllabus. As you know, we now have a new president and I thought it would be nice to align our class policies with some of the policies he will be implementing over the next four years. These will be changes you can believe in and, I hope, changes that will inspire hope, which is our most important American value.

Previously, I announced that I would use a ten-point grading scale, which means that 90% of 100 is an "A," 80% is a "B," 70% is a "C," and 60% is enough for a passing grade of "D." I also announced that I will refrain from using a "plus/minus" system - even though the faculty handbook gives me that option.

The new policy I am announcing today is that those who score above 90 on the first exam will have points deducted and given to students at the bottom of the grade distribution. For example, if a student gets a 99, I will then deduct nine points and give them to the person with the lowest grade. If a person scores 95 I will then deduct five points and give them to the person with the second lowest grade. If someone scores 93 I will then deduct three points and give them to the next lowest person. And so on.

My point, rather obviously, is that any points above 90 are really not needed since you have an "A" regardless of whether you score 90 or 99. Nor am I convinced that you need to "save" those points for a rainy day. Those who are failing, however, need the points--not unlike the failing banks and automakers that need money to avoid the danger of bankruptcy.

After our second examination, I intend to take a more complex approach to the practice of grade redistribution. I will not be looking at your second test scores but, instead, at the average of your first two test scores. In the process, I may well decide to start taking some points from students in the "B" range. For example, if someone has an average of 85 after two tests I may take a few points and give them away to someone who is failing or who is in danger of failing. I think this is fair because the person with an 85 average is probably unlikely to climb up to an "A" or fall down to a "C." I may be wrong in some individual cases but, of course, my principal concern is not the individual.

By the end of the semester I will abandon any formal guidelines and just redistribute points in a way that seems just, or fair, to me. I will not rely upon any standards other than my very strong and passionate feelings concerning social justice. In the process, I will not merely seek to eliminate inequality. I will also seek to eliminate the possibility of failure.

I know some are concerned that my system may impact their lives in a very profound way. Grade redistribution will undoubtedly cause some grade point average redistribution. And this, in turn, will mean that some people will not get into the law school or medical school of their choice. Or maybe some day you will be represented by a lawyer--or operated on by a doctor--who is not of the highest quality.

These are all, of course, legitimate long-term concerns. But I believe we need to remain focused on the short term. I think my new system will immediately help the self-esteem of those failing or in danger of failing. It should also help the self-esteem of those who are not in danger of failing. After all, it just feels good to give--even if the giving is compelled and not really "giving" in the literal sense.

Finally, I want to note that this idea was also inspired by a former presidential candidate named George McGovern. In a debate with the late William F. Buckley, McGovern said that people who earn more money should pay more taxes. Buckley replied that the rich do pay more in taxes--and more as a percentage of their income. McGovern looked confused.

But I don't think there's anything confusing about our pending social responsibilities. Whether we are talking about income or grades it does not matter how much or what percentage we are giving. The question is and should always be "Can we give more?"

Posted by Will Fitzhugh at 11:39 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Wisconsin school open enrollment starts February 2, 2009


Wisconsin parents who want to send their children to a school outside the district in which they live can start applying Feb. 2.

The open enrollment period for next school year ends three weeks later on Feb. 20.

The program has grown in popularity since it started in the fall of 1998. Only about 2,400 students participated that school year. But last year, nearly 26,000 did.

Parents interested in enrolling their children are encouraged to do so online at the Department of Public Instruction's Web site. Parents will be notified April 10 about whether their request has been approved or denied.

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Informational Community Sessions on the Madison Fine Arts Task Force

Tuesday March 10, 2009 6 to 8p.m.
Memorial High School - Wisconsin Neighborhood Center [Map]

Thursday March 12, 2009 6 to 8p.m.
LaFollette High School in the LMC [Map]

The Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) will be sharing the recommendations of the Fine Arts Task Force. We are cordially inviting you to attend one or both of these sessions.

The focus of each session will be a presentation of the findings and recommendations of the Fine Arts Task Force followed by an opportunity for discussion. The Executive Summary and complete Fine Arts Task Force Report can be found at

We are looking forward to sharing this information with you and hearing your thoughts about the research and recommendations provided by the Fine Arts Task Force.

Feedback from sessions and the recommendations from the Fine Arts Task Force will assist in improving the MMSD K-12 Fine Arts program and opportunities for our students,

If you have any questions or comments, please contact Julie Palkowski at

Lisa Wachtel
Executive Director of Teaching and Learning

Julie Palkowski
Coordinator of Fine Arts

Please share this information with others that may be interested in attending these sessions and/or sharing their comments.

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DC Discipline Code Under Review As Suspensions Lose Impact

Bill Turque:

Senior class president Christopher Jolly says suspensions are so common at Anacostia High School -- where eight students were injured, including three who were stabbed, in a melee two months ago -- that they have become meaningless as a form of discipline.

"The fact that everyone knows someone who has been suspended before often causes kids not to respect the suspension process," Jolly said at a community forum this month on D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's proposal to revise the District's student behavior code.

Rhee's changes would move the system in a direction that makes sense to Jolly: away from out-of-school suspension as the disciplinary method of choice and toward counseling, peer influence and more options for keeping suspended students in school.

Officials said reliable data on suspensions are hard to come by because recordkeeping has been slipshod. But the available numbers suggest a dramatic surge. According to District figures, suspensions grew 72 percent between the 2006-07 and 2007-08 school years, from 1,303 to 2,245. That represents 4.5 percent of total enrollment. Numbers through November, the latest available for the current academic year, show suspensions running slightly behind last year.

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Challenging Assumptions About Online Predators

Mike Musgrove:

Are your kids safe online? A recent report about this sensitive subject is stirring up controversy.

The study, released by Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet & Society, finds that it's far more likely that children will be bullied by their peers than approached by an adult predator online.

The 278-page document cites studies showing that sexual solicitation of minors by adults via the Web appears to be on the decline. "The image presented by the media of an older male deceiving and preying on a young child does not paint an accurate picture," reads one of document's conclusions. "The risks minors face online are complex and multifaceted and are in most cases not significantly different than those they face offline."

In other words, children are about as savvy online as they are offline, said Ernie Allen, president of the Alexandria-based National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which contributed to the report.

"The vast majority of kids in this country have heard the messages about the risks online and are basically dealing with them as a nuisance, as a fact of life, and aren't particularly vulnerable," he said. "This report should not be read as saying there are not adults out there doing this."

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Fairfax County to Ease Grading Policy

Michael Alison Chandler:

he Fairfax County School Board voted unanimously late last night to abandon a strict grading policy it has long upheld as a hallmark of high standards, after a year of intense pressure from parents who have argued that the policy hurts students' chances for college admission or scholarships.

The School Board decided to move toward a more commonly used grading scale that parents have championed. The board also approved a plan to add extra points to the grade-point averages of students who take college level or honors classes.

Two board members, Kaye Kory (Mason) and Martina A. Hone (At Large), were absent for the 10 to 0 vote.

At issue is what it means to earn an A or to pass. Currently, Fairfax students must score 94 percent to earn an A and 64 percent to pass. In most school systems, including those in Montgomery and Arlington counties, 90 percent is an A and 60 percent is a passing grade. Many school systems also add points to the GPAs of students who take more challenging classes.

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January 25, 2009

Gates on Small Learning Communities (SLC): "small schools that we invested in did not improve students' achievement in any significant way"

Nicholas Kristof:

In the letter, Mr. Gates goes out of his way to acknowledge setbacks. For example, the Gates Foundation made a major push for smaller high schools in the United States, often helping to pay for the creation of small schools within larger buildings.

"Many of the small schools that we invested in did not improve students' achievement in any significant way," he acknowledges. Small schools succeeded when the principal was able to change teachers, curriculum and culture, but smaller size by itself proved disappointing. "In most cases," he says, "we fell short."

Mr. Gates comes across as a strong education reformer, focusing on supporting charter schools and improving teacher quality. He suggested that when he has nailed down the evidence more firmly, he will wade into the education debates.

"It is amazing how big a difference a great teacher makes versus an ineffective one," Mr. Gates writes in his letter. "Research shows that there is only half as much variation in student achievement between schools as there is among classrooms in the same school. If you want your child to get the best education possible, it is actually more important to get him assigned to a great teacher than to a great school."

I could not agree more. Rather than add coaches and layers of support staff, I'd prefer simply hiring the best teachers (and paying them) and getting out of the way. Of course, this means that not all teachers (like the population) are perfect, or above average!

Much more on Small Learning Communities here.

On Toledo's SLC initiative.

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Proposed House "Stimulus" / Splurge Bill: Nearly $18M for the Madison School District, borrowed from our Grandkids

Click for a larger version of this very simple illustration

Mark Pitsch:

The House version of a federal economic stimulus bill would deliver more than $4.3 billion to Wisconsin over the next two years, under details of the bill released Friday.

That figure includes nearly $18 million for Madison schools and millions more for other local districts.

"I'm very pleased by this. We know this is a difficult time, but at the same time there are needs that our children have that can't go unmet," said Dan Nerad, Madison schools superintendent. "I'm very hopeful. I'm very optimistic and we'll see what comes."

Under bill descriptions released by Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, and an analysis of Medicaid by a Washington, D.C. think tank, the House version would also provide:

$1.2 billion to help the state fill its $5.4 billion budget hole, with at least 61 percent being spent on schools and colleges.
  • Wistax:
    Total taxes collected from Wisconsin averaged $12,281 per person in 2007-08. The $69.4 billion in annual collections was up 3.4%. Relative to personal income, however, taxes were down slightly, from 34.9% in 2007 to 34.2% in 2008.
  • United States Government outstanding debt ($32,795 per citizen).
  • US Population
  • Major foreign holders of US Treasuries.
  • The Congressional Research Service produced the school funding information.
  • "Be Nice to the Countries That Lend You Money". An interview with Gao Xiqing, a man who oversees many of China's US holdings, by James Fallows (more from Fallows). Related:
    • The economic crisis hits China - Video.
    • US Senate Finance Committee Q & A with Tim Geithner 284K PDF, David Kotok comments:
      One telling example is found in the following quote that has already created international consternation. Geithner twice answered questions about currency and China. In so doing he has placed the Obama administration squarely in the middle of the tension between the United States and the largest international buyer and holder of US debt: China. This happened as the same Obama administration is unveiling a package that will add to the TARP financing needs and the cyclical deficit financing needs and cause the United States to borrow about $2 trillion this year. Two trillion dollars of newly issued Treasury debt - and this is how the question was answered. Not once but twice.

      Geithner (on page 81 and again on page 95) answered: "President Obama - backed by the conclusions of a broad range of economists - believes that China is manipulating its currency. President Obama has pledged as President to use aggressively all the diplomatic avenues open to him to seek change in China's currency practices."

      "Manipulation?" "Aggressively?" This is strong language. Geithner did not do this on his own authority. These are prepared answers. He is citing the new President, not once but twice.

      China's response was fast and direct. China's commerce ministry said in Beijing that China "has never used so-called currency manipulation to gain benefits in its international trade. Directing unsubstantiated criticism at China on the exchange-rate issue will only help US protectionism and will not help towards a real solution to the issue."

      Are we seeing the world's largest and third largest economies calling each other names in the middle of a global economic and financial meltdown?

      And, the $150,000,000 inauguration party.
  • Peter Peterson Foundation:
    To increase public awareness of the nature and urgency of key economic challenges threatening America's future and accelerate action on them. To meet these challenges successfully, we work to bring Americans together to find sensible, sustainable solutions that transcend age, party lines and ideological divides in order to achieve real results.
  • Related with respect to printing money: Zimbabwe's central banker defends policies:
    Your critics blame your monetary policies for Zimbabwe's economic problems. I've been condemned by traditional economists who said that printing money is responsible for inflation. Out of the necessity to exist, to ensure my people survive, I had to find myself printing money. I found myself doing extraordinary things that aren't in the textbooks. Then the IMF asked the U.S. to please print money. I began to see the whole world now in a mode of practicing what they have been saying I should not. I decided that God had been on my side and had come to vindicate me.
  • Clusty Search: Lobbyist
It will be interesting to see how this money, assuming it is authorized and borrowed, is spent. Will it be spent in a way that grows the District's operating costs and therefore increases the local property tax burden once the stimulus/splurge is exhausted?

If we must borrow these funds from our grandchildren, then I would like to see it spent in a way that has long term benefits. Superintendent Nerad spoke of children whose needs are going unmet; well, those kids will be paying for these borrowed funds.

Finally, it appears that someone is spreading the love, as it were. The Congressional Research Service (whose work is not publicly available) wrote a report on stimulus/splurge funding for all US school districts. Have a look at all of the Google News references. Defense programs are known for spreading jobs around key congressional districts as a means of self preservation.

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Wisconsin Governor Doyle Plans to Keep K-12 Funding Flat in the 2009-2011 Budget

Amy Hetzner:

"Not getting cut is the new increase in this budget," Doyle said in a speech at the State Education Convention in the Milwaukee Hilton Hotel.

The annual event is sponsored by the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators and the Wisconsin Association of School Business Officials.

In his speech, Doyle called education his No. 1 priority. But, he said, with increasing unemployment and a looming budget deficit, it would be a challenge to even maintain funding.

"We cannot allow our children to be the ones who pay the cost for this recession," Doyle said. "The decisions we make today have consequences that last decades and decades to come."

Doyle did not give details of his budget plans.

If the state keeps its revenue cap system for schools, a level that increases each year to reflect inflation, the effect of flat state funding could mean massive property tax increases by local school boards, which may turn to that source of money instead.


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Chicago Public League to ban cheering at basketball games

Ethel Fenig:

ell that didn't take long; the glow from the inauguration of the first African-American president is rapidly dimming. In President Barack Hussein Obama's (D) Chicago, the school system, recently under the superintendency of new Education Secretary Arne Duncan,
issued the following directives for high school sports competitions.

The Public League is taking drastic measures to curb a rash of violence that has erupted at its basketball games in the last week.

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Marquette sorority sisters pledge to log off Facebook

Erica Perez:

Marquette sorority members have to deactivate their Facebook pages until Bid Day this Sunday, part of a growing number of sororities hoping to avoid decisions - about where to pledge and who to allow in - being made based on preconceptions and stereotypes.

Instead, they're reverting to old-fashioned, face-to-face contact.

"It's not about the purse you carry, the shoes you wear or what your parents do . . . it's about being yourself," Profita said. "We want to know you for you."

These days, for most college students, getting-to-know-you is incomplete without requisite Facebook research. Who are your friends? How many do you have? What do your photos say about you?

But despite their reliance on the social networking site, sorority members say they still think real contact is the best way to decide who your true friends are.

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January 24, 2009

Update on the Harlem Children's Zone

Bear Market for Charities

Mike Spector
Wall Street Journal

NEW YORK -- Geoffrey Canada has spent decades building a strategy for saving poor children from crime-ridden streets and crumbling public schools.

His "Harlem Children's Zone" now serves thousands of kids, some of whom are showing impressive test scores. He has attracted the attention of the new White House because of his charity's model: Instead of tackling problems here and there, the program envelops an entire neighborhood, with services ranging from parenting classes to health clinics to charter schools.

But Wall Street's meltdown and money manager Bernard Madoff's alleged financial fraud threaten the donor base that bankrolls Mr. Canada's work. Facing declining revenues, he's had to lay off staff and cancel plans to expand. He says he doesn't yet "have a Plan B" for replacing his Wall Street support, which had reached upwards of $15 million annually.

Mr. Canada's difficulties show how dependent nonprofits can become on certain steady donors, and how their plans can be derailed when those revenues dry up. It underscores the challenges facing nonprofits, which grew and proliferated amid the bull-market earlier this decade.

Today, the U.S. boasts more than one million nonprofits, up from about 774,000 ten years ago. Their biggest donations come from corporations, foundations and the ultra-wealthy. Many have been hit hard by the deepening recession. A drop in charitable contributions could shutter as many as 100,000 nonprofits over the next year, says Paul Light, a professor at New York University's Wagner School of Public Service.

Mr. Canada, a 57-year-old social worker, calls his strategy the "conveyor belt," because it aims to give children an intensive experience in a succession of programs until they graduate from college. Children in pre-kindergarten are taught foreign languages, for instance. From there, children enter Mr. Canada's charter schools with longer school days and a calendar lasting until the first week of August.

The approach is starting to deliver results. Last year, nearly all the third-graders in Mr. Canada's charter schools scored at or above grade-level in math, better than recent citywide averages. Eighth-graders outperformed the average New York student in math, according to New York state data.

"The math thing is just so far above anything I've ever seen," says Roland Fryer, a Harvard economist who heads a new education lab. "The real hard work is to figure out why it's working and whether that kind of thing can be exported so we can help more kids."

President Barack Obama's advisers met with Mr. Canada recently to learn more about his approach. Mr. Obama said during the campaign that he wants to create "promise neighborhoods" modeled on Mr. Canada's charity in 20 cities across the U.S. Today, that initiative remains part of the White House's publicized agenda.
Read more ...

Breaks my heart to post this.

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Is educational success, key to global competition, a matter of time, money or choice?

Investors Business Daily:

The argument over what to do about America's struggling schools is still raging. Programs such as No Child Left Behind have achieved some success by introducing a measure of accountability into the process. But American students continue to get clobbered on international tests by other countries whose school systems spend less money per student and have larger average class sizes.

Facing budget realities in a down economy, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently proposed shortening the school year by five days to contribute $1.1 billion in savings toward the state's $42 billion budget shortfall.

State school superintendent Jack O'Donnell vehemently disagreed, saying a longer school year was needed to prepare students for "the competitive global economy."

The operative word here is "competitive." Success in the marketplace depends on being able to produce the best product at the lowest cost. Competition in the business world produces a better product at less cost. Why shouldn't it be so in education? Well, it is.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 70% of the countries that outperformed the U.S. in combined math and science literacy among 15-year-olds had more schools competing for students. Countries ranging from Japan to Latvia all had more education options than American students.

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Fascinating: The Hidden Flaws in China and India Schools

Jay Matthews:

Memphis high-tech entrepreneur Bob Compton, producer of the stirring documentary "Two Million Minutes," has been suggesting, in his genial way, that I am a head-in-the-sand ignoramus. This is because I panned his film as alarmist nonsense for suggesting, based on profiles of a grand total of six teenagers, that the Indian and Chinese education systems were superior to what we have here in the much-beleaguered United States. When we debated the issue on CNBC, Bob told me I should get on a plane and see for myself instead of relying on my memories of living in Asia in the 1970s and 1980s and my reading of recent work by other reporters.

Sadly, even in the days when The Washington Post was flush with cash, there was no money to send the education columnist abroad. But I am happy to report I don't have to go because an upcoming book from education scholar James Tooley goes much deeper into the Chinese and Indian school systems than Bob or I ever have, and takes my side. Tooley shows that India and China, despite their economic successes, have public education systems that are, in many ways, a sham.

Tooley's book, "The Beautiful Tree," reveals him to be the kind of traveler who often strays off the main roads, driving official escorts crazy. He covers not only China and India, but also Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya. He wants to discover how the world's poorest people are educating themselves, and surprises himself repeatedly.

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State urged to fund Covenant

Erica Perez:

A new report from a higher education research center says Gov. Jim Doyle's Wisconsin Covenant program needs to fund the initiative with state money for financial aid if it truly wants to boost enrollment of low-income students.

The program currently guarantees a spot in college for students who maintain good grades and take the right classes in high school, but it doesn't promise automatic funding.

The privately funded Wisconsin Covenant endowment and Fund for Wisconsin Scholars will use their combined $215 million to offer scholarships that complement the covenant pledge, but that's not likely enough to cover all the Covenant Scholars' full need.

"First and foremost, we'd like to see some money, some public money, put toward this goal because up to this point there hasn't been any sort of state-managed funds," said Beth Stransky, who co-authored the report by the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education.

The policy brief, issued this week, does not suggest a specific amount for the state to invest. The push comes at a time when Wisconsin faces a two-year, $5.4 billion deficit that is certain to mean cuts for the UW System.

Doyle said he was committed to funding higher education and providing scholarships and financial aid to students who are eligible and do the work, but he wouldn't give a firm commitment to a dollar figure, or to an increase in Covenant funding for scholarships.

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A Look at the New US Secretary of Education

Teachers College @ Columbia University:

TC faculty member Jeffrey Henig was a guest on The Brian Lehrer Sho (WNYC) on January 15, where he discussed what we can expect from Arne Duncan as U.S. Secretary of Education.

Henig noted that as superintendent of the Chicago Public Schools, Duncan has kept the pressure on for reform inside the classroom, but has managed to do it without antagonizing teachers unions.

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Oregon Supreme Court rejects school funding case

Portland Business Journal:

he Oregon Supreme Court has largely rejected a suit demanding the Legislature substantially increase K-12 school funding.

In a ruling today, the state Supreme Court largely affirmed a lower court ruling in Pendleton School District v. State of Oregon, a much-watched suit brought on behalf of 18 school districts and seven students. The suit alleged the state is in violation of a 2000 voter-approved ballot measure that requires the Legislature to fund schools at "a level sufficient to meet certain quality educational goals established by law."

The suit sought an injunction to direct the Legislature to appropriate the "necessary" funds.

Writing for the court, Chief Justice Paul DeMuniz agreed the Legislature has failed to fully fund public schools. However, he said the court concluded that Oregon voters did not intend for the courts to enforce funding requirements when they passed Ballot Measure 1 in 2000, a constitutional amendment that became Article VIII, section 8, of the state Constitution.

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January 23, 2009

Studies Examine Major Influences on Freshmen's Academic Success


Three new studies of college freshmen suggest that even the most promising among them can run into academic difficulties as a long-term consequence of experiences like attending a violence-plagued high school or being raised by parents who never went to college.

And two of the studies call into question a large body of research on the educational benefits of racial and ethnic diversity on campuses, concluding that most first-year students do not reap any gains that can be measured objectively.

Taken together, the reports not only challenge many of the assumptions colleges make in admitting and educating freshmen, but could also influence discussions of how to improve the nation's high schools to promote college preparation.

In one of the studies, Mark E. Engberg, an assistant professor of higher education at Loyola University Chicago, and Gregory C. Wolniak, a research scientist at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, looked at how high-school experiences influenced the academic success of students at several highly selective colleges.

Using data on 2,500 students from the National Longitudinal Survey of Freshmen, the two researchers found that freshmen who entered college with comparable academic records and family backgrounds had levels of success that depended on their high-school environments. Those from schools with high levels of violence tended to have lower grades. Having attended a well-maintained and well-equipped school seemed to offer many freshmen advantages over their peers.

A study published in the University of Arkansas's Education Working Paper Archive also considered high-school quality in analyzing the records of 2,800 students at an unnamed midsize, moderately selective public university.

Serge Herzog, the study's author and director of institutional analysis at the University of Nevada at Reno, found that, even after controlling for differences in background and academic preparation, low-income freshmen tended to post lower grades if their high schools had high levels of violence or disorder. The same was true if the schools had enrollments that were heavily black or Hispanic, or had a high percentage of students with limited proficiency in English.

Mr. Herzog found little evidence of a link between the number of courses students took from part-time instructors and the likelihood of their dropping out. That finding runs counter to other recent research on adjuncts.

And, in a finding that contradicts much available research on racial and ethnic diversity in higher education, Mr. Herzog found no evidence that being exposed to diversity in their classrooms, or taking classes intended to promote appreciation of diversity, fostered students' cognitive growth. He did, however, find that black, Hispanic, and American Indian students appeared to benefit, in terms of college completion, from frequent exposure to members of their own racial or ethnic group.

In the third study, two doctoral students in higher education at the University of Iowa, Ryan D. Padgett and Megan P. Johnson, examined data on about 3,100 students from 19 colleges, collected in the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education. The Iowa researchers found that the educational benefits of taking part in various programs promoting diversity were "minimal and inconsistent."

The researchers also concluded that students who were the first in their families to attend college did not necessarily benefit from educational practices shown to help students whose parents did attend college. For example, while students on the whole appeared to benefit from interactions with faculty members, first-generation students who experienced the most contact with faculty members generally had the worst educational outcomes. The findings, the researchers concluded, suggest that those students "have not been conditioned to the positive benefits of interacting with instructors."
Section: Students
Volume 55, Issue 14, Page A21
Copyright © 2008 by The Chronicle of Higher Education

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Fixing our schools in a weak economy


KAI RYSSDAL: Like so many presidents before him, President Obama has talked a lot about the importance of education. He's talked about the need for arts in schools. The need for teacher training. Good ideas, but ones that cost money -- money that we're in short supply of these days.

Harvard researcher Susan Eaton's most recent book is called "The Children in Room E4: American Education on Trial." We got her on the line to talk about education, the Obama administration, and the economy. Welcome to the program.

SUSAN EATON: Hi, great to be here.

RYSSDAL: You, in the course of writing your book, spent a lot of time in and out of public school classrooms in the United States. What's your take on the biggest problems that are out there?

EATON: Well, I think that the biggest problem is the fact that huge shares of our children in the United States -- disproportionately, children of color; Latino and African American children -- are simply not connected to mainstream opportunities. And our schools are really . . . have not, at least in the last eight years or so -- and probably even more than that -- been trying to connect them to those opportunities.

RYSSDAL: But it does, in a lot of measure, come down to money. Doesn't it?

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What's It All About, Alfie?

In many books, more articles, and perhaps 200 appearances a year, Alfie Kohn does what he can to spare United States students the evils of competition. While he can't do much about athletic competition, or economic competition or the unfairness of love and war, he tries hard and successfully to persuade educators that making academic distinctions among students hurts them.

A story is told of an unpopular officer at the U.S Naval Academy who knew he was disliked (his nickname was "The Wedge" as "the simplest tool known to man") and he was always on the lookout for ways to assert his dominance. Once he berated a formation of midshipman for being unsatisfactory by pointing out that while their toes were all lined up, their heels were as much as two or three inches out of line! The officer candidate in charge of the formation replied that he recognized the problem, and would try to see that all midshipmen in future could be issued the same size shoes!

Of course, Mr. Kohn would not, I believe, argue that having different size feet should be corrected to prevent some students from feeling inferior, but he does object to anything in school which might reveal that some are brighter and some more diligent than others. It is not clear how he thinks students can be prevented from noticing this for themselves, but he is insistent that testing and other forms of academic competition should not be allowed to reveal such differences.

Some people feel that in law, for instance, competition among arguments makes arriving at the facts of a case more likely. Competition among the producers of goods and services are thought by some to make improvements in quality and reduction in price more likely. It is even claimed that some works of art and literature are better than others, although serious efforts have of course been made to make such judgments less common.

In the past in the U.S., and in present in the rest of the world, academic competition has been seen as beneficial in inspiring many students to try harder, to learn more, and to become more competent. For much the same reason that every athlete does not receive a gold medal for showing up at the Olympic Games, it is believed that recognizing academic achievement will encourage effort and emulation, and benefit all the students who are willing to try.

Perhaps Mr. Kohn is just hoping to mitigate, in his own small way, the workings of Natural Selection...He may shudder at the characterization of "Nature, Red in Tooth and Claw," and be determined to protect students from all bad feelings and experiences.

One problem is that students are not so easily fooled into believing that they are all equally capable and equally proficient. And for thousands of years, human beings have been able to survive the discovery of such differences. That is not to say there have been no feelings of envy, and no murders and wars, but in general people have found a way to accept, even to celebrate, the achievements of some of their number.

Mr. Kohn, however, continues to make The Case Against Competition, as one of his books is titled, and he evidently continues to think that if all students could be mediocre, all could be spared any invidious and soul-crushing academic distinctions which might otherwise be made.

It might be noted, in a world in which India and China are making great strides in promoting academic achievement and in which the United States students often place near the bottom academically in international assessments, that ideas such as Mr. Kohn's, while very widely admired among some of our educators, only serve to promote even lower academic standards for our schools. Removing challenges, standards and assessments from our education is probably the very best way of ensuring an increase in mediocrity and scholastic incompetence.

Nevertheless, if the goal is keeping students, to the greatest extent possible, from having any disappointments or bad feelings, Mr. Kohn seems to believe that the assault on academic standards and distinctions of all kinds must be carried on, and he is surely our undisputed National Champion in that effort.

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

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When the Label Is 'Gifted,' The Debate Is Heated

Daniel de Vise:

A Dec. 16 article in The Washington Post reported that the Montgomery County school system might end the longtime practice of labeling students as gifted or not in the second grade.

The article ignited a fire within the local gifted-and-talented community. More than 300 people posted comments on, and 9,957 voted in an informal online poll on the merits of scrapping the gifted label. The latest tally was 54 percent in favor of keeping it, 41 percent saying dumping it would be a good idea.

The school system went to the unusual length of responding publicly to the article, clarifying that although the idea was under study, no decision had been made. Gifted policy is ultimately decided by the school board, whose members expect to take up the future of the label sometime this year.

The reaction illustrated the level of community interest in accelerated instruction and underscored the friction between advocates for the gifted and school system officials on a more basic question: Are the needs of advanced students being met?

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ACLU to sue Minneapolis charter school that caters to Muslims

Randy Furst & Sarah Lemagie:

The Minnesota ACLU has filed suit against TIZA, a charter school in Inver Grove Heights and Blaine, claiming it is promoting the Muslim religion.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota filed suit Wednesday against a publicly funded charter school alleging that it is promoting the Muslim religion and is leasing school space from a religious organization without following state law.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis against Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy, known as TIZA, and the Minnesota Department of Education, which the ACLU says is at fault for failing to uncover and stop the alleged transgressions. The suit names the department and Alice Seagren, the state education commissioner, as co-defendants.

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$3.77 million grant from Gates Foundation to help fund Dallas ISD academic database

Tawnell Hobbs:

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will announce a nearly $3.8 million grant today to help fund a mega-database that provides Dallas school educators instant access to student information - from preschool to graduation.

The Dallas Independent School District began testing the database last year. It allows educators to access "real time" student academic information and helps them watch for learning patterns. The system also holds other district-related data, such as student and teacher absences.

The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation got the data system off the ground last year with a $5 million donation to the Dallas Education Foundation, a nonprofit group created in 2006 to raise money to benefit DISD.

Today's grant of $3.77 million will be distributed over three years to DISD to help build onto the current system. The donation is among more than $22 million in grants that the Gates Foundation is announcing today for research and data systems for schools and a number of education organizations.

The Gates Foundation has invested $4 billion in improving schools and providing scholarships to students since 2000, according to foundation officials.

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More on the "Last Professor"

Mark Liberman on "The Last Professor":

Determined inutility is one thing -- Prof. Fish is free to choose that path if he wants to -- but determined ignorance of history is something else again.

It's odd for a scholar to throw around phrases like "today's educational landscape" as if contemporary economic and cultural forces were laying siege to institutions that were founded and managed as ivory towers committed to impractical scholarship. But the truth is that American higher education has always explicitly aimed to mix practical training with pure intellectual and moral formation, and to pursue research with practical consequences as well as understanding abstracted from applications.

Stanley Fish himself was an undergraduate at my own institution, the University of Pennsylvania, which was founded by Benjamin Franklin on this educational premise ("Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pensilvania", 1749):

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January 22, 2009

November, 2008 Madison School Board Priorities

63 page 444K PDF:

This year marks the ninth year of public reporting on the Board of Education Priorities for reading and mathematics achievement and school attendance. The data present a clear picture of District progress on each of the priorities. The document also reflects the deep commitment of the Madison Metropolitan School District to assuring that all students have the knowledge and skills needed for academic achievement and a successful life.

1. All students complete 3rd grade able to read at grade level or beyond.
  • Beginning in the fall of 2005-06, the federal No Child Left Behind Act required all states to test all students in reading from grades 3-8 and once in high school. This test replaced the former Wisconsin Reading Comprehension Test. MMSD now reports on three years of data for students in grade 4.
  • District wide 74% of students scored proficient or advanced in reading on the 2007-08 WKCE, which is a 2% decline.
  • Hispanic and Other Asian students posted increases in percent of proficient or higher reading levels between 2007 and 2008.
2. All students complete Algebra by the end of 9th grade and Geometry by the end of 10th grade.
  • The largest relative gain in Algebra between the previous year measure, 2007-08, and this school year was among African American students.
  • Students living in low income households who successfully completed Algebra by grade 10 at the beginning of 2008-09 increased since the previous year.
  • The rate for Geometry completions for females continues to be slighter higher than their male counterparts.
3. All students, regardless of racial, ethnic, socioeconomic or linguistic subgroup, attend school at a 94 percent attendance rate at each grade level. The attendance rate of elementary students as a group continues to be above the 94% goal. All ethnic subgroups, except for African American (92.5% rate for 2007-08, 93.0% rate for 2006-07 and 93.1% for the previous two years) continue to meet the 94% attendance goal.

This report includes information about district initiatives that support students' goal attainment. In the context of the MMSD Educational Framework, the initiatives described for the literacy and the mathematics priorities focus primarily within the LEARNING component and those described for the attendance priority focus primarily within the ENGAGEMENT component. It is important to note that underlying the success of any efforts that focus on LEARNING or ENGAGEMENT is the significance of RELATIONSHIPS.

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Using the recession to clobber charter schools

Chester Finn:

Around the country, school districts are urging officials to crack down on charter school growth--and on existing charter schools--because, they assert, there isn't enough money in strapped state budgets to pay for this sector--and of course the districts must come first.

I'm seeing this in Ohio, in Utah and in Massachusetts and do not doubt that it's happening all over the place.

But of course it's completely cockeyed. If every public-school pupil in America attended a charter school, the total taxpayer cost would be 20-30% LESS than it is today. That's because charters are underfunded (compared with district schools) and thus represent an extraordinary bargain--even if their overall academic performance isn't much different from that of district schools. Think of it as the same amount of learning at three-quarters of the price.

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Milwaukee Schools Chief plans to leave in June 2010

Alan Borsuk:

Milwaukee School Superintendent William Andrekopoulos and the School Board agreed Tuesday night to extend his contract to June 30, 2010 - at which point he expects to end his lengthy run in the job.

After a closed session that took less than 90 minutes, the board voted 8-0 to give Andrekopoulos the additional 15 months he asked for. His current contract expires March 23.

Andrekopoulos will be 62 at the end of the 2009-'10 school year and will be finishing eight years as superintendent, one of the longest runs currently among urban school chiefs in the country. He succeeded Spence Korté as superintendent in August 2002.

The board and Andrekopoulos agreed that the contract extension will include provisions that would pave the way for him to help with the transition to a new superintendent. That could include having him stay on in some capacity for a limited time beyond July 1, 2010.

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January 21, 2009

Brave New Dorms

George Leef:

Political indoctrination in the guise of "Residence Life" programs took a pounding during a National Association of Scholars debate.

In last week's Clarion Call, I wrote about the debate over academic freedom at the recent National Association of Scholars conference in Washington, D.C. But equally important was the contentious final session, devoted to the agenda of the "Residence Life" movement.

That movement is a nationwide initiative that has managers of student dorms teaching a leftist political catechism to students under their control in an effort to radicalize them.

The discussion focused on the infamous ResLife program at the University of Delaware. It took some interesting turns, including opposition to the programs from AAUP president Cary Nelson. He is a man of the left, but nevertheless doesn't want to see curriculum and instruction handed over to people who aren't even remotely scholars.

First to speak was Adam Kissel of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). He explained the objectives of the Residence Life movement generally and concentrated on the University of Delaware, where the program was first seen in all its authoritarian splendor: prying questions, indoctrination sessions, and special "treatment" for students who were either uncooperative or, worse, had the temerity to disagree. Kissel made it clear that the ResLife agenda consists of clumsy, authoritarian indoctrination of students meant to color their thinking toward leftist bromides about the environment, capitalism, institutional racism and so forth.

Kissel told some disgusting stories about the enforcement of ResLife policies. For example, a female student was reprimanded with an official complaint when she refused to cooperate with the questionnaire that asked about intimate details of her life. Even though Delaware paid lip service to student privacy rights, the supposed need to gather information to identify those who have "incorrect" beliefs trumped that. People who are intent on remaking society seldom let little things like privacy, civility or due process get in their way.

The second speaker was University of Delaware education professor Jan Blits. He was instrumental in bringing the school's Orwellian program to light. After a student told him about the program, he went to see the administrator responsible for running it. She gave him a thick folder full of documents, apparently believing that once he read the details, he would be won over. That was a tremendous miscalculation. Not only was Professor Blits not won over, he was appalled at the program.

Its intent, Blits said, was to "shape the whole human being." That "shaping," however had nothing in common with the traditional college liberal arts education; instead, the objective was to "turn" students by getting them to accept an array of politically-charged conclusions. It was telling that the Delaware administrators wanted to avoid any faculty involvement or oversight, fearing that at least some professors would be outraged at this coercive effort at dictating to students what they should think.

Blits revealed a detail about the ResLife program that was astounding, even for listeners already aware of its domineering nature. Dorm RAs, the "front-line troops" of the program, were trained to intervene whenever a political discussion broke out. Students weren't to be trusted to discuss issues on their own. Instead, the RA was supposed to intrude and properly organize the discussion, allowing one student to state his or her view, then the other student, and then to break it up. Just as communists could never trust people to engage in any sort of commercial transaction without the control of the state, at Delaware the ResLife thought police could not trust students to have political discussions without their control.

The crowning irony of the program for Blits was the fact that a university was entrusting an educational mission to people who had little or no knowledge about the subject. The socio-economic subjects that comprise the core of the ResLife belief system are emphatically not matters that lend themselves to simplistic treatment--environmental issues, for example--but it had RAs and other administrators "teaching" about them. It was as if a doctor had his receptionist doing medical diagnoses for him.

Finally, Blits said that the ResLife movement has obviously learned from the shellacking it took at Delaware, but not by shedding its arrogant assumptions and coercive tactics. Instead, the lesson it learned was to be more circumspect so that opponents of its efforts at turning college dorms into re-education camps would find little traction.

The final speaker was Illinois State University English professor John K. Wilson. Wilson, author of The Myth of Political Correctness is a resolute defender of leftist orthodoxy. After the strong arguments of Kissel and Blits, Wilson knew he was in a difficult position, namely wanting to defend the indefensible. He admitted that there were troubling aspects of the Delaware program, but argued that the general goal of the program, to increase political awareness and discussion, was good. For Wilson, the program's compulsion was bad, but its effort at trying to "enhance intellectual activity" in college was good.

There's a gaping hole in Wilson's argument. The sort of orchestrated "learning" under academically untrained people that comprises the ResLife program necessarily crowds out other kinds of learning that students would choose to engage in. The vapid programming of ResLife has, in other words, opportunity costs, including time students might devote to actual coursework, spontaneous discussions of the issues that most matter to students, and independent reading about politics or whatever else students are interested in. Wilson's defense rests on a false dichotomy between the "intellectual activity" of the ResLife program and nothing. But students aren't usually doing nothing. The activities they choose are probably more beneficial (even sleeping!) than the hectoring they get in ResLife.

In the Q and A following the three presentations, Nelson spoke up in opposition to the ResLife program, saying that the college curriculum should be under the control of the faculty, not administrators and students. I'm in agreement with him on that. Again, it's like doctors and receptionists. Doctors aren't always right, but as a rule it's far better to keep the decision-making in the hands of people who have some expertise.

At most schools, the academic curriculum is weak enough as is. Instead of allowing ResLife zealots to engraft another branch, one that is the antithesis of open inquiry and debate, college administrators should firmly veto the idea that students need another curriculum shoved down their throats. Instead they should work to restore integrity to the real curriculum.

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Public High Schools & The Concord Review

Thomas Oberst:

It was a great pleasure to speak with you at the National Association of Scholars meeting in Washington. Thank you for sending me information about The Concord Review.

The Concord Review represents an opportunity for high school students to challenge themselves in both History and Expository Writing Skills. It would appear that many of the leading private and selective public schools take advantage of the opportunity to publish in The Concord Review. I am surprised more schools are not taking advantage of the opportunity that The Concord Review is providing, particularly given the state of writing and history in high schools.

I have noticed over the past 10 years that a number of the better public schools in the more financially advantaged suburban towns around Boston have been extending their reach of academic experiences and academic engagements outside of the standard High School Curriculum. I attribute this, in part, to the number of suburban parents that have some children in elite private schools and others in local elite public schools and have brought to the public schools many of the tactics and practices of the private schools.

The Concord Review is an opportunity for high school students to publish and should be more aggressively pursued by the public schools whose students lack writing skills. I am certainly going to make my local high school and its headmaster aware of The Concord Review.

Best Regards,
Tom Oberst
Thomas P. Oberst
Strategic Technology
27 Snow Street
Sherborn, Massachusetts 01770

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Obama's blueprint for education


Anyone viewing President Obama's education plans from a UK perspective will be reminded of Labour's ambitions in 1997.

The incoming US president wants to offer more support for early years children, promote innovation in schools and shut down those that are failing.

There will be a drive to widen access to higher education - with more student funding and awareness-raising.

Obama's education secretary is Chicago school chief, Arne Duncan.

Under the banner of "Zero to five", the new administration is promising extra support for early years - arguing that for every dollar invested, there will be a return to society worth $7 to $10.

After-school clubs

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Schmiedicke: State could get $2.5 billion in Federal Tax Dollars for education, MA programs

Andy Szal:

State budget director Dave Schmiedicke estimated that Wisconsin could be in line to receive $2.5 billion in federal stimulus money for education and medical assistance programs.

Schmiedicke also said that estimates show the state could receive $575 million for transportation and infrastructure projects.

Schmiedicke made the remarks at a Wisconsin Credit Union League meeting at the Monona Terrace this morning. He was joined at the forum by Rep. Mark Pocan, the co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee, and Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.

The estimates given by Schmiedicke were based on the $87 billion allocated for the Medicaid program and $79 billion for education in the proposal from the House of Representatives last week. Schmiedicke's estimate is based on population and income figures, and he said the state will likely receive about 1.7 percent of the funding for those programs.

Much more on the stimulus/splurge here.

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Word Cloud Analysis of Obama's Inaugural Speech Compared to Bush, Clinton, Reagan, Lincoln's

Marshall Kirkpatrick:

Barack Obama was just sworn in as President of the US and though he stumbled in repeating his oath, the speech that followed was delivered flawlessly and was widely praised around the web. (Several readers have told us that it wasn't Obama that stumbled, it was Justice Roberts.) There were quite a few concepts discussed that we suspect haven't been a part of past inaugural speeches. What words were used most often? We ran the full text of the speech through tag cloud generator for one view of the event, and just for the sake of historical context we ran George W. Bush's second inaugural speech through as well. Update: After one reader suggested it, we've also added word clouds from Bill Clinton's second inaugural speech and Reagan's first below. Second update: By reader request, we've added Lincoln's first and second inaugural speeches as well.

The most common words in the Obama and Bush speeches were dramatically different.

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January 20, 2009

Home educators angry at review


"Home education", where children study at home rather than at school, is to face a review in England.

"There are concerns that some children are not receiving the education they need," said Children's Minister Baroness Delyth Morgan.

The government says there are no plans to remove the right to educate children at home.
But home educators' charity, Education Otherwise, said it was "infuriated" by the proposed investigation.

There is no legal obligation for children to be sent to school - but parents have to provide a suitable education.

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The Last Professor

Stanley Fish:

In previous columns and in a recent book I have argued that higher education, properly understood, is distinguished by the absence of a direct and designed relationship between its activities and measurable effects in the world.

This is a very old idea that has received periodic re-formulations. Here is a statement by the philosopher Michael Oakeshott that may stand as a representative example: "There is an important difference between learning which is concerned with the degree of understanding necessary to practice a skill, and learning which is expressly focused upon an enterprise of understanding and explaining."

Understanding and explaining what? The answer is understanding and explaining anything as long as the exercise is not performed with the purpose of intervening in the social and political crises of the moment, as long, that is, as the activity is not regarded as instrumental - valued for its contribution to something more important than itself.

This view of higher education as an enterprise characterized by a determined inutility has often been challenged, and the debates between its proponents and those who argue for a more engaged university experience are lively and apparently perennial. The question such debates avoid is whether the Oakeshottian ideal (celebrated before him by Aristotle, Kant and Max Weber (German sociologist), among others) can really flourish in today's educational landscape. It may be fun to argue its merits (as I have done), but that argument may be merely academic - in the pejorative sense of the word - if it has no support in the real world from which it rhetorically distances itself. In today's climate, does it have a chance?

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Sorting Children Into 'Cannots' and 'Cans' Is Just Racism in Disguise

Jay Matthews:

Tomorrow marks a turning point in the history of our schools as well as our country. Note how the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., whom we honor today, had to confront the cold, hard, in-your-face prejudice of a legally segregated system, while the next president, Barack Obama, speaks of a softer negligence, illuminated by the frequently heard phrase, "These kids can't learn."

These days, those of us interested in schools -- parents, students, educators, researchers, journalists -- are not sure if we believe in teaching or sorting. Is it best to strain ourselves and our children trying to raise everyone to a higher academic level, or does it make more sense to prepare each child for a life in which he or she will be comfortable? The people I admire in our schools want to be teachers. Sorting, they say, is a new form of the old racism but subtler and in some ways harder to resist.

It took me a long time to understand this. My parents were socially conservative but politically and religiously liberal, and they raised me in the United Church of Christ, the same denomination that Obama and his family joined in Chicago. There were few black people in our pews in San Mateo, Calif., however. My public high school had only two black students, my private college not many more. The first African Americans I got to know well were in my Army basic training company. They teased me, the only college graduate in the barracks, about my utter lack of street smarts. They had not done well in school, but they were shrewd, energetic and learned quickly, once subjected to the Army's refusal to tolerate inattention. Many went to college when they finished their service.

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DC Area School Budget Changes

Washington Post:

In the Washington area, with some of the best public schools in the country, finding money has rarely seemed a problem for superintendents eager to improve education. Until now. As one school system after another prepares spending plans for the next academic year, officials are facing tough choices as the recession chokes off tax revenue. Scenarios range from difficult to grim to worse. In many places, school improvement is on ice. The goal, instead, is preservation. What follows is a snapshot of the budget cycle for major local school systems, ranked in size by fall 2008 enrollment.


(169,000 students)

Superintendent Jack D. Dale proposed a $2.2 billion budget Jan. 8 that would raise average class size and omit cost-of-living raises. Public hearing planned Wednesday and school board action Feb. 5. Current spending: $2.2 billion.



Superintendent Jerry D. Weast proposed a $2.1 billion budget Dec. 11 that would eliminate cost-of-living raises for employees. Public hearing planned Wednesday and school board action Feb. 9. Current spending: $2.1 billion.

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Superintendent warns against 'inappropriate comments'

Eric Schwartzberg and Marie Rossiter:

Mason school officials said they are taking a proactive educational approach in advance of next week's planned Inauguration Day activities.

"Inappropriate comments that may make other students, staff or families feel unwelcome or uncomfortable in school or on the bus will not be tolerated," Superintendent Kevin Bright said in an e-mail sent to parents Monday, Jan. 12.

The district, he said, expects students and staff to show respect for President-elect Obama and the incoming administration, as well as President Bush and the outgoing administration, and recognize that "while the election is a competitive process, our nation's greatness is displayed when all sides come together for a united country."

Jeff Schlaeger, Mason High School's psychologist, said "inappropriate comments" occurred around election week when doctored pictures of Obama appeared at the school, including "derogatory caricatures" of him dressed like a terrorist and signs that read "Obama '08/Biden '09."

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Students soar in poor Atlanta neighborhood

Dorie Turner:

The seventh-grade students are playing a round-robin trivia game, excitedly naming the countries on a blank map showing on their classroom's overhead projector. Burkina Faso. Cote d'Ivoire.

Faster and faster, the teacher goes around the room until it's just Justyn and another boy.

The tallest mountain in Africa? Mount Kilimanjaro. The tallest mountain range in South America? The Andes.

And then it's over. Justyn doesn't win the game but he's still smiling, showing off the deep dimples in his cheeks. His 25 classmates erupt into cheers, applauding both students.

This is how it works at the extraordinary Ron Clark Academy, a private middle school tucked among boarded-up houses and graffiti-peppered walls in Lakewood, one of Atlanta's poorest neighborhoods.

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January 19, 2009

The Obama Education Splurge/Stimulus: More Testing

Greg Toppo:

The USA's public schools stand to be the biggest winners in Congress' $825 billion economic stimulus plan unveiled last week. Schools are scheduled to receive nearly $142 billion over the next two years -- more than health care, energy or infrastructure projects -- and the stimulus could bring school advocates closer than ever to a long-sought dream: full funding of the No Child Left Behind law and other huge federal programs.

But tucked into the text of the proposal's 328 pages are a few surprises: If they want the money -- and they certainly do -- schools must spend at least a portion of it on a few of education advocates' long-sought dreams. In particular, they must develop:

  • High-quality educational tests.
  • Ways to recruit and retain top teachers in hard-to-staff schools.
  • Longitudinal data systems that let schools track long-term progress.
The Wisconsin test: WKCE has been criticized for its low standards. More on the WKCE here.

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Pakistan vows to keep schools open despite threats: minister


Pakistan will keep schools open in the troubled northwestern Swat valley despite a ban on girls issued by the local Taliban, a minister pledged Sunday.

It follows a threat last month by a local Taliban commander to kill any girls attending classes after January 15, and to blow up schools where they are enrolled.

Officials said last week that, as a result of the threat, about 400 private schools were unlikely to open their doors after the winter holidays, depriving tens of thousands of students of an education.

But Pakistan's information minister Sherry Rehman vowed to keep open all girls schools in Swat and North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

"From March 1, all closed schools in Swat and NWFP will be reopened after the winter break," Rehman told reporters in the southern city of Karachi.

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Michigan school enrollment nosedives, They get creative to draw kids, cash

Lori Higgins:

ust days into his tenure as superintendent in the River Rouge School District, Carlos Lopez started going door to door in a bid to boost enrollment.

He had to get a handle on an enrollment nosedive that today leaves the district with fewer than half as many students as it had 10 years ago. It even exceeded the oft-reported hemorrhaging of Detroit Public Schools, which is down 42%.

An analysis of a decade's worth of enrollment data found it's becoming an increasingly common tale in metro Detroit schools.

In Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties, the growth that spurred multimillion-dollar construction projects a few years ago is quickly fading, with those districts losing a total of 66,030 students in the last five years. This school year alone, almost 50 districts in metro Detroit lost students.

That 5-year, 10% enrollment drop in metro Detroit comes at an enormous financial cost -- as much as $129 million in lost state aid in the last school year, based on unaudited enrollment data. The downward trend has forced districts to close buildings, increase class sizes, eliminate programs and lay off staff.

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"The power of education to transform lives"

The Baltimore Sun:

Many Americans of my generation and older, of all races, who grew up in the 1950s and '60s or before, never could have imagined someone looking like Barack Obama, or me, becoming president of the United States.

During the campaign, I was struck by the optimism and hope of my UMBC students about our country's future. Many of them, like America's younger generation in general, have had different experiences - and therefore different perspectives - from those of us who are older.

On Election Night, students shared with me their sense of enthusiasm about voting for the first time, and I thought about America in 1960, when John Kennedy became president. At that time, he challenged us in his inaugural address to commit to public service and the "struggle against ... poverty, disease, and war."

Almost a half-century later, as President-elect Obama takes office, a new period dawns, and no doubt he, too, will emphasize our common values and purpose as we continue addressing these same challenges.

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An Education Bailout? It Won't Improve Schools

Greg Forster:

It looks like the trillion-dollar "stimulus" (read: pork) bill is going to include a hefty dose of spending on schools. Of course, we don't know yet what the proposed bill will contain, and the proposal will undergo a lot of revision when it goes through the congressional sausage grinder. But from the leaks and preliminary reports, respectable observers are estimating that as much as $70 billion or even $100 billion may ultimately end up going to K-12 schools. For comparison, after the radical expansion of federal education spending that came with No Child Left Behind, the feds now spend about $40 billion per year on K-12 education.

Politically, it's a shrewd move. They don't really care what they're building, as long as they're building something, so as long as they're building a bunch of roads and bridges and community centers they may as well build some schools, too. The teachers' unions have successfully spread the myth that schools desperately need more facilities spending, even though facilities spending per student almost doubled from 1990 to 2005 (after inflation). So "New School to Be Built" is always a crowd-pleasing headline.

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SAT Prep: Isaac Says No to Outside Help

Stephen Kreider Yoder & Isaac Yoder:

A couple days after I signed up for the SAT last year, I began to panic. Getting a good score was key to getting into a good college, I thought, yet I hadn't even begun studying. Many of my schoolmates who had gotten good scores had regularly used pricey tutors, and my older brother used a tutor a couple of times to prepare for the ACT. So it seemed natural for me to do the same. And mandatory for me to get the score I needed.

I walked upstairs to where my dad was working and asked him how much he'd be willing to pay for an SAT class or tutor.

"I'll pay as much as you think it's worth," he told me.

I went downstairs and looked over the information I had on the tutor I had picked out. I thought about it for a while and decided it just wasn't worth it. The next day I checked out a book of SAT practice tests from my school at no cost and got to work.

I ended up doing great on it. I'm convinced that the SAT book I borrowed did just as much for me as any tutor would have. Sure, I had to motivate myself to practice -- which wouldn't be necessary with a regular tutor -- but I don't think I lost anything else by not paying for help.

Don't get me wrong, I understand the benefits of a tutor. There have been plenty of times when I've fallen behind in class and getting a tutor would have helped me catch up. And having a regular tutor would have kept me more organized with things like searching for a college. A friend hired a counselor to help her narrow her list of potential colleges and to pick the perfect essay for her applications.

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Waukesha schools expand online academy to grades 6-8

Erin Richards:

To keep up with competition among virtual schools in the state, the Waukesha School District's virtual charter high school has received the green light to expand its computer-based learning environment to middle school students next year.

The Waukesha School Board approved a proposal last week to add grades six, seven and eight in the 2009-'10 academic year to ">iQ Academy Wisconsin, perpetuating a trend in virtual-school growth that's happening elsewhere around the country.

The 5-year-old iQ Academy is one of 18 virtual schools in Wisconsin that residents can attend for free through open enrollment.

Susan Patrick, president of the International Association of K-12 Online Learning, said virtual high schools around the country are expanding rapidly to include middle-school opportunities.

"We're seeing a lot of growth on both sides: Elementary programs that started as K-5 or K-6 are expanding to middle-school programs, and at the high-school level, we're seeing them reaching back to the middle-school grades," Patrick said.

Virtual high schools that expand to middle schools often do so because they want to make sure students are competent in the academic content for core courses at the high school level, Patrick said.

Typically, virtual schools exist in one of two forms. Thirty-four states, including Wisconsin, have part-time virtual schools that serve as supplemental programs for students behind on credits or to offer students a class they can't get in their public school. Students may spend a portion of their normal, supervised school day logging into an online course.

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Equal Time: Parents want more choices in education

Eric Johnson:

Poor test scores. High dropout rates. Enormous schools. Large class sizes. These are the words that come to Milena Skollar's mind when you ask the transplant about sending her children to school in Georgia.

"It's not fun to be 50th in the nation in SAT scores -- plus the size of the schools is very disturbing," the mother of three said. "I believe in public education. I just wish the schools were better for my children."

Eric Johnson is a Republican state senator from Savannah. Skollar, a New Jersey native, is also a school social worker employed by a metro Atlanta school system. She is among the 68 percent of Georgia voters in a recent poll who support offering parents the option to transfer their children to a private school with a voucher.

As we commence another session of the General Assembly, it's time to start thinking about parents such as Skollar and stop offering a one-size-fits-all education model to Georgia students. It's time to offer a school voucher program for parents who want it for their children who need it.

Because both of her daughters excel in the classroom, Skollar believes her Fulton County public schools cannot challenge them enough as they get older and that a private school with smaller classes may be more appropriate. She would like more options.

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Indiana Education Report Card

The Indianapolis Star:

Stan Jones, who announced this week that he'll step down in April after 14 years as Indiana's commissioner of higher education, is right when he says that the state has made major improvements in recent years in its educational system.

But he's also correct in noting that "we still have a long way to go."

One area of vital growth, and a major part of Jones' legacy, has been the creation of a community college system, a key step toward building a work force ready to handle the challenges of the 21st century economy.

Jones on Friday said the state's community college network, launched a decade ago, is starting to show deeper maturity and higher quality. The rapid growth in enrollment at Ivy Tech Community College also indicates that students who in the past would have missed out on an education beyond high school are now pursuing degrees.

One measure of success: Two decades ago, Indiana ranked 34th in the nation in the percentage of high school seniors who went on to college. It's now 10th.
Yet, as Jones points out, college graduation rates are abysmal.

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Manna from Heaven (Washington "Splurge")

Doug Lederman:

As colleges and students around the country struggle with the effects of the worldwide economic downturn, help appears to be on the way from the nation's capital. And plenty of it, to judge from a draft of a massive, $825 billion stimulus package released by Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives Thursday.

Calculating exactly how much of the proposed money -- $550 billion in new spending and $275 billion in tax breaks over two years -- could (if enacted) flow to postsecondary institutions, and to students and potential students, is difficult because many of the proposals in the package lack detail. It would also be premature for anyone in higher education (or any other potential recipients of stimulus funds) to start spending it, since (1) budget hawks in Congress and elsewhere blanched at the size and scope of the package, (2) this is just the House's version, with the Senate reportedly drafting its own, and (3) multiple steps remain in the process.

Still, none of those factors are likely to dampen interest in what's in the legislation, and a rough estimate by Inside Higher Ed suggests that tens of billions of dollars could flow to colleges and their students, in the following broad categories:

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January 18, 2009

States Weigh Cuts to Merit Scholarships

Robert Tomsho:

As they grapple with crippling budget shortfalls, states are weighing whether to cut back on merit-aid scholarship programs that benefit hundreds of thousands of college students every year.

Since the early 1990s, more than 15 states have launched broad-based programs that offer students scholarships and tuition breaks based solely on grades, class rank and test scores. Supporters say such programs boost college-enrollment rates and help persuade high achievers to remain in their home states. Critics maintain that the programs siphon aid money away from students with financial need in favor of some who probably could have afforded college without the help.

The National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs, an organization of agencies responsible for state financial-aid programs, says merit grants accounted for $2.08 billion, or 28%, of all state-sponsored grants awarded in its latest tally, covering the 2006-2007 academic year. That's up from $458.9 million in 1996-1997, when merit-aid accounted for about 15% of all state grants.

But the economic crisis has raised fears that such growth may be unsustainable, as tax revenue plunges and legislatures make drastic cuts to other state programs. And the pinch comes just as layoffs and investment losses affecting millions of families are likely to boost demand for financial aid based on need.

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For Catholic Schools, Crisis and Catharsis

Paul Vitello & Winnie Hu:

It is a familiar drill in nearly all of the nation's Roman Catholic school systems: a new alarm every few years over falling enrollment; church leaders huddling over what to do; parents rallying to save their schools. And then the bad news.

When the Diocese of Brooklyn last week proposed closing 14 more elementary schools, it was not the deepest but only the latest of a thousand cuts suffered, one tearful closing announcement at a time, as enrollment in the nation's Catholic schools has steadily dropped by more than half from its peak of five million 40 years ago.

But recently, after years of what frustrated parents describe as inertia in the church hierarchy, a sense of urgency seems to be gripping many Catholics who suddenly see in the shrinking enrollment a once unimaginable prospect: a country without Catholic schools.

From the ranks of national church leaders to the faithful in the pews, there are dozens of local efforts to forge a new future for parochial education by rescuing the remaining schools or, if need be, reinventing them. The efforts are all being driven, in one way or another, by a question in a University of Notre Dame task force report in 2006: "Will it be said of our generation that we presided over the demise" of Catholic schools?

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Student Loans: College on Credit

The Economist:

WITH unemployment rising, house sales falling and retirement accounts shrivelling, college students are not at the top of most people's worry lists. But they face a miserable set of financial circumstances. Tuition costs and other fees are soaring: up 439% since the early 1980s, says a recent report from the National Centre for Public Policy and Higher Education. Family incomes have not begun to keep pace. This year's average bill from a private college is about $25,000, according to the College Board, a body that, as well as managing standardised tests such as the SAT, also studies financial aid for students. Public universities are far more affordable, with an average price tag of $6,500 for in-state tuition. But that is still a big chunk of the budget for a poor or middle-class family. And living expenses quickly run up the tab, even if a student makes do with a grotty apartment and lives on noodles.

The unsurprising result is that more students are borrowing to finance their education. According to the College Board, student debt has ballooned from $41 billion ten years ago (in 2007 dollars) to $87 billion today. Nearly two-thirds of those who graduate from a four-year programme, public or private, are in debt. Last year a borrower's average burden, according to the Project on Student Debt, was slightly more than $20,000.

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How to Become a More Effective Learner

Kendra Van Wagner:

I'm always interested in finding new ways to learn better and faster. As a graduate student who is also a full-time science writer, the amount of time I have to spend learning new things is limited. It's important to get the most educational value out of my time as possible. However, retention, recall and transfer are also critical. I need to be able to accurately remember the information I learn, recall it at a later time and utilize it effectively in a wide variety of situations.

1. Memory Improvement Basics
I've written before about some of the best ways to improve memory. Basic tips such as improving focus, avoiding cram sessions and structuring your study time are a good place to start, but there are even more lessons from psychology that can dramatically improve your learning efficiency.

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January 17, 2009

Making Room for Miss Manners Is a Parenting Basic

Perri Klass:

For years, I took care of a very rude child. When he was 3, I called him rambunctious -- and I talked to his mother about "setting limits." At 4, I called him "demanding." At 5, he was still screaming at his mother if she didn't do what he wanted, he still swatted me whenever I tried to examine him, and his mother asked me worriedly if I thought he was ready for kindergarten.

I could go on (he didn't have an easy time in school), but it would sound like a Victorian tale: The Rude Boy. I never used the word "rude" or even "manners" when I spoke to his mother. I don't describe my patients as rude or polite in the medical record. But I do pass judgment, and so does every pediatrician I know.

It's always popular -- and easy -- to bewail the deterioration of manners; there is an often quoted (and often disputed) story about Socrates' complaining that the young Athenians have "bad manners, contempt for authority." Sure, certain social rubrics have broken down or blurred, and sure, electronic communication seems to have given adults as well as children new ways to be rude. But the age-old parental job remains.

And that job is to start with a being who has no thought for the feelings of others, no code of behavior beyond its own needs and comforts -- and, guided by love and duty, to do your best to transform that being into what your grandmother (or Socrates) might call a mensch. To use a term that has fallen out of favor, your assignment is to "civilize" the object of your affections.

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Misguided Colleges Skewer Score Choice

Jaty Matthews:

I'm so old I took the SAT only once.

That was the way we did it back in the middle of the last century. My score had room for improvement. So did my friends' scores. But we would have been stunned if any of us tried again. We were regarded as nerds already. Taking the SAT twice would have ended any chance of a girl ever talking to us.

Times, as you know, have changed. The hot topic this year is not whether to try the exam twice, but whether you should be able to hide the worst of the two or three tests it is assumed nearly everyone will take.

The right to obliterate the results of a bad testing day is called Score Choice by the College Board, owner of the SAT test. Some say it is a marketing device to respond to the SAT's rival, the ACT, which has had such a policy for years. The first group eligible under the new rules will be members of the high school class of 2010 participating in this March's test administration. If they don't like their scores on that or any subsequent testing day, they may tell the College Board not to send them to any colleges.

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Fairfax County School Board Leans Toward New Grading Scale

Michael Alison Chandler:

A groundswell of parents have urged the school system, which requires a 94 for an A and a 64 to pass, to adopt the more broadly used practice of giving an A for 90 or better and setting 60 as the passing score. They also have argued that Fairfax should add extra points to the grade-point averages of those who take honors courses or college-level classes. They maintain that the current policy puts students at a disadvantage when they apply to colleges and for scholarships.

On Jan. 2, Dale recommended changing how the school system calculates GPAs but not the grading scale.

In a work session yesterday, board members listed advantages of changing the scale and advantages of keeping it. The list of reasons offered for change was twice as long. For example, members said a change would align Fairfax with other school systems and lessen parents' confusion. But an advantage to keeping the scale, some said, would be that students would work harder for better grades.

Some parents applauded yesterday's development.

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Union Seeks List of Targeted Teachers

Bill Turque:

The Washington Teachers' Union says the District is improperly withholding the names of instructors who have been given 90 school days to improve their performance or face dismissal.

Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee said the disclosure would be counterproductive, but the union said she is obligated by contract to share the information. The issue is likely to be discussed at today's D.C. Council hearing on school personnel practices.

The 90-day plans are part of Rhee's attempt to remove "a significant share" of the 4,000-member teacher corps, which she regards as "not up to the demanding task of educating our youth effectively," according to the long-range action document she presented in October.

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Enhancing Child Safety and Online Technologies

nternet Safety Technical Task Force to the Multi-State Working Group on Social Networking of State Attorneys General of the United States:

The Internet Safety Technical Task Force was created in February 2008 in accordance with the Joint Statement on Key Principles of Social Networking Safety announced in January 2008 by the Attorneys General Multi-State Working Group on Social Networking and MySpace. The scope of the Task Force's inquiry was to consider those technologies that industry and end users - including parents - can use to help keep minors safer on the Internet.

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January 16, 2009

A few words for Obama on closing the 'achievement gap'

Greg Toppo:

As a candidate, President-elect Barack Obama promised to reduce the "pervasive achievement gap" that for decades has separated many white, middle-class students from their poor, often minority, peers. As president, he'll have an opportunity to keep his promise. But what should he do first? Four big education thinkers offer their advice:

YOUR VOICE: How do you think Obama should close the minority 'gap'?
Amy Wilkins, vice president of The Education Trust, a non-profit advocacy group for low-income and minority students:

The American education system consistently shortchanges the students with the greatest need on almost everything that matters when it comes to academic success. You need to discard the policies that cheat these students.

This is especially important when it comes to quality teaching. Nothing is more important to high achievement than strong teachers. But the very children who most need our best teachers are least likely to get them. Through personal leadership, the use of federal authority and strategic funding, the president can help change thi

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Evidence that dumbing down is not inevitable

The Economist:

FOR a quarter of a century, surveys of reading habits by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), a federally-funded body, have been favourite material for anyone who thinks America is dumbing down. Susan Jacoby, author of "The Age of American Unreason", for example, cites the 2007 NEA report that "the proportion of 17-year-olds who read nothing (unless required to do so for school) more than doubled between 1984 and 2004."

So it is a surprise that this bellwether seems to have taken a turn for the better. This week the NEA reported that, for the first time since 1982 when its survey began, the number of adults who said they had read a novel, short story, poem or play in the past 12 months had gone up, rising from 47% of the population in 2002 to over 50% in 2008.*

The increase, modest as it is, has thrown educationalists into a tizzy. "It's just a blip," one professor told the New York Times. It is certainly a snapshot. But it is not statistically insignificant. As the NEA's research director, Sunil Iyengar, points out, almost every demographic and ethnic group seems to be reading more.

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Persistence: TIMSS Questionnaire

Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers
New York: Little, Brown, 2008, pp. 247-249:

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 (the same test you read about earlier, in the discussion of fourth graders born near the beginning of a school cutoff date and those born near the end of the date), 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 things, 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's 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 ranking on the TIMSS? They are exactly the same. In other words, countries whose students are willing to concentrate and sit still long enough and 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. 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 kinds 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 man who can rise before dawn three hundred sixty days a year fails to make his family rich." *

* note: There is actually a significant scientific literature measuring Asian "persistence." In a typical study, Priscilla Blinco gave large groups of Japanese and American first graders a very difficult puzzle and measured how long they worked at it before they gave up. The American children lasted, on average, 9.47 minutes The Japanese children lasted 13.93 minutes, roughly 40 percent longer.

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On 4K in Madison

Tamira Madsen:

Abplanalp, who has been working on the 4-K project for the seven years since joining the district as lead elementary principal, said there isn't a timetable in place as to when the program would start.

But she wouldn't count out the 2009-10 school year if three main issues can be ironed out.

"Could we get things in place by the fall? We think we could if we got the go-ahead," Abplanalp said Thursday afternoon. "If not, it's because we have issues to work out contractually with MTI (the teacher's union). ... We also have to work out community site issues, negotiating (contract) issues and financial issues."

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Madison's Leopold Elementary could add dual-language program in fall

Tamira Madsen:

Madison Metropolitan School District officials will unveil plans to offer a dual-language program at Leopold Elementary beginning next fall.

The new curriculum for the south side school would include education in English and Spanish, and discussion of the plan is anticipated at a Madison School Board meeting on Feb. 2.

Three sections of kindergarten classes with approximately 48 children will become part of the program, which will progress one grade level each school year until the program's initial students finish fifth grade. The school will join east side's Nuestro Mundo as the second public school in the Madison Metropolitan School District to offer a dual-language program. Nuestro Mundo, a charter school, has been in operation for five years.

Eight of Leopold's 44 classrooms are bilingual, and the school is a perfect fit for the immersion program, according to Assistant Superintendent Sue Abplanalp.

"We know the benefits of dual-immersion programming," Abplanalp said. "This is a perfect place to begin such a program because we know could get the enrollment that we need to make it a viable program for the future.

"We want native speaking Spanish children as well as non-native Spanish children, and that's the population that is at that building," she said.

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Trends in College Spending: Where Does the Money Come From? Where Does It Go?

The Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity, and Accountability [3MB PDF Report]

Our country's system of higher education -- long extolled as the best in the world -- is showing serious fault lines that threaten capacity to meet future needs for an educated citizenry. There are many causes for concern, but chief among them is a system of finance that will be hard to sustain in the current economic environment.

To be sure, higher education has gone through hard times before. But looking at the economic and political horizon in January of 2009, only the rosiest of optimists can believe that what lies ahead is going to be similar to what we have seen before. The shock waves from the international upheaval in credit markets are just now beginning to be felt -- in greater demand for student aid, tightening loan availability, dips in endowment assets and earnings, rising costs of debt payments, and deep state budget cuts. Families are going to find it harder to find the resources to pay for the almost-automatic increases in student tuitions that have been the fuel for higher education in the past decade. Even with increases in tuition, most institutions will still face deficits that require deep spending cuts.

Individual state data (Wisconsin).

Jack Stripling:

Most college students are carrying a greater share of the cost of their education, even as institutions spend less on teaching them, according to a report released today.

The report, published by the Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity, and Accountability, gives a potentially troubling picture of spending and revenue trends in higher education. Spanning from 2002 to 2006, the report indicates that tuition hikes have resulted in little if any new spending on classroom instruction at public research universities.

"The public's got it exactly right," said Jane Wellman, head of the Delta Project. "They are jacking up tuition, and they're not re-investing it in quality."

There's plenty of blame to go around, however, for this predicament. With state support waning for public colleges, rising tuition dollars are merely being used to make up for lost revenue -- not for hiring more faculty or taking other steps that would arguably improve classroom instruction, the report asserts. On the other hand, the Delta Project suggests that colleges haven't made the hard choices required for adapting to lower subsidies, as evidenced by relatively small changes in spending levels.

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Boston grads falter in public colleges, Are more likely to get degrees at private university

James Vaznis:

The local public colleges that enroll the most Boston high school graduates have had a dismal record seeing them through to a degree, with many posting graduation rates of less than 25 percent, according to a study that reviewed the collegiate careers of the city's class of 2000.

Only 20.7 percent of the 150 students from the class who attended the University of Massachusetts at Boston - the most popular four-year public college for Boston high school students - graduated by the spring of 2007. By contrast, the most popular private school, Northeastern University, has handed degrees to 82.5 percent of the 80 Boston students from that class who enrolled there by the fall of 2001.

The rates at other popular public colleges were even worse. Bunker Hill Community College graduated 14.2 percent of its 155 Boston students, while Roxbury Community College had a graduation rate of 5.9 percent for its 101 Boston enrollees, according to new data released by the Boston Private Industry Council at the Globe's request. The council is a group of city business leaders who work on education policy issues.

More here.

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January 15, 2009

US House Stimulus, Splurge or Recovery Bill Text

458K PDF. The 258 page document references "education" 157 times. House Report.


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Democrats Push for Stimulus Package to Include Education Spending

Amanda Ruggeri:

As Barack Obama's roughly $800 billion stimulus package comes together on Capitol Hill, Democratic lawmakers are pushing to include provisions for education, from college tuition tax credits to block grants for state and local education budgets.

More News
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As Congress firms up the package's outlines, spurred on by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's deadline of Presidents Day, the bill seems likely to include a "handful" of measures for education, says New York Sen. Charles Schumer. Meanwhile, recent plans to provide more than $160 billion to state and local governments seem certain to use education as a primary venue for the funding.

Specific components will include infrastructural spending on building and renovating schools, Schumer says. Another likely provision in the bill will be expanding college tuition tax credits, a cause Schumer has been promoting.

"Every time the economy prevents one young man or young woman from going to college because they can't afford it even though they deserve to get in, it hurts them, it hurts their families, and it hurts America," he says. "We all know that while college is priced like a luxury, it has become a necessity."

Much more, here.

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Teacher Union Contracts and High School Reform

Mitch Price:

Are teachers unions and collective bargaining agreements barriers to high school reform and redesign efforts in Washington, California, and Ohio? The short answer: sometimes, but not as often as many educators seem to think.

On one hand, collective bargaining agreements (CBAs)--long, complex, and unwieldy documents which can be difficult for an overworked principal to navigate--are often perceived as obstacles by many principals and other educators, and to a certain extent this perception becomes reality. And, while these perceptions can limit school-level flexibility and autonomy, there are also restrictive provisions within CBAs that do so as well.

On the other hand, CBAs tend to have waiver provisions. In many cases, districts and teachers unions can also negotiate side agreements on individual issues (e.g., memoranda of understanding, or MOUs) to provide desired flexibility. And, in perhaps our most significant finding, many of the CBA provisions that we analyzed were more flexible than educators and reform advocates often suggest.

Finally, many CBA provisions that we studied were simply ambiguous. This ambiguity could potentially allow for greater latitude for an aggressive principal who is looking for greater flexibility and willing to push the envelope, while serving to limit a more cautious or timid principal who looks to the CBA for explicit authority or permission first before acting.

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Arts & the Economy Report

Mariel Wozniak, via email: The National Governor's Association 4.5MB PDF Report:

Today, the National Governors Association (NGA) has released Arts & the Economy: Using Arts and Culture to Stimulate State Economic Development. This comprehensive report is a product of the long-standing partnership between the NEA and NGA, with extensive research support from the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA). At this moment, the report is enjoying front page status on the NGA website at . It's not often that governors receive information from the NGA that gives such high priority to the arts as a policy solution to the issues they are facing. Arts & the Economy arrives on the desks of governors at what is obviously a critical decision-making period for all states. We're confident you will find it is a valuable resource to share with your governor, legislators, constituents and advocates as you move through the budget process for FY 10.
This page discusses the importance of the arts and culture to states, and lists all the arts reports and issue briefs the NGA has produced with the NEA, with NASAA's assistance.

Here is a quotation I placed in one of the meeting rooms in the Ruth Bachhuber-Doyle Adm. Building during my tenure at MMSD. It ought to be in every school:

"Our greatest scientists are generally skilled in non-verbal thinking yet we usually discourage science students from studying artistic subjects. Unless we reverse this trend, they will continue to be cut off from thought processes that lead to creative breakthroughs."
Dr. Robert Root-Bernstein, Professor of Physiology at Michigan State University, formerly scientist with the Salk Institute.

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Daniel Willingham on "Learning Styles"

Clusty Search: Daniel Willingham.

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Should Students Be Paid for Good Grades?

Laura Fitzpatrick:

According to a study released today by the social-policy research group MDRC, a nonpartisan organization perhaps best known for evaluating state welfare-to-work programs, cash incentives combined with counseling offered "real hope" to low-income and nontraditional students at two Louisiana community colleges. The program for low-income parents, funded by the Louisiana Department of Social Services and the Louisiana Workforce Commission, was simple: enroll in college at least half-time, maintain at least a C average and earn $1,000 a semester for up to two terms. Participants, who were randomly selected, were 30% more likely to register for a second semester than were students who were not offered the supplemental financial aid. And the participants who were first offered cash incentives in spring 2004 -- and thus whose progress was tracked for longer than that of subsequent groups before Hurricane Katrina abruptly forced researchers to suspend the survey for several months in August 2005 -- were also more likely than their peers to be enrolled in college a year after they had finished the two-term program. (Read "Putting College Tuition on Plastic.")

Students offered cash incentives in the Louisiana program didn't just enroll in more classes; they earned more credits and were more likely to attain a C average than were nonparticipants. And they showed psychological benefits too, reporting more positive feelings about themselves and their abilities to accomplish their goals for the future. "It's not very often that you see effects of this magnitude for anything that we test," notes Thomas Brock, MDRC's director for young adults and postsecondary-education policy.

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Melinda Gates' Mission to Improve Education


But Melinda Gates is especially passionate about improving education here in the United States. The foundation has invested nearly $4 billion in education, with $2 billion going to high schools. It has helped 2,602 struggling schools create new models of teaching and learning to improve performance and graduation rates.

One of those schools is the Bronx Engineering and Technology Academy. The school is filled with academic superstars, but it wasn't always that way.

BETA was once part of the failing John F. Kennedy School, which in 2002 had 5,000 students. That big school was divided into five smaller schools with more intense curriculums.

The kids at BETA have made a big turnaround since then. Principal Rashid Davis said 78 percent of the students came into the school performing below grade level, but the school's graduation rate for the class of 2008 is 90 percent. Ninety percent of the students are also going on to college.

"The great thing is that as you see in a school like BETA, these kids can do the work, and it doesn't matter what Zip code they're from," Gates said. "You put kids in a school with a great curriculum, they'll rise up and they'll do it. They like to be challenged. And I see it over and over again in schools across the U.S."

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Putting More School in Bremerton Preschools

Marietta Nelson:

Kneeling on a furry white rug at Friends Childcare and Preschool in Bremerton, 3-year-old Damari Bowers leans forward as teacher Wanda Selg-Gonzales reads from a book of rhymes.

"Diddle diddle dumpling, my son John," she reads, pausing to look at her students. "What rhymes with John?"

"Lawn! Fawn!" Damari shouts, throwing his hands up in the air.

"That's right," answers Selg-Gonzales, who since 1999 has operated the child care from her home on Cogean Avenue.

Selg-Gonzales runs an independent child care, but her tight connection to the Bremerton School District for the past four years means she receives training and classroom materials from the district.

As a result, her child-care kids are already familiar with the district reading curriculum, called Open Court, and other important academic skills before they hit kindergarten classrooms.

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January 14, 2009

Advanced Math Courses at UW-Madison for High School Students

Tonghai Yang, via email:

Math 234 (Calculus III, after Calculus BC) this Fall on MWF 7:45-8:35am to accomodate advanced High School Students in Madison area so that they can take this course without missing too many their regular school work.

We did it last semester for the first time and had excellent reception from high school students attended (about 20). Another 20 were regular college students. I am teaching this course next Fall.

We will also offer

Math 340 (Linear Algebra) during Spring 2010 onMWF 7:45-8:35am for the same reason. Dr. Meyer will teach this course.

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Madison's Cherokee PTO/Math Meeting Cancelled Tonight

Weather conditions have caused this evening's Cherokee Middle School PTO/Math Meeting to be cancelled. The event will be rescheduled soon, hopefully in February.

Much more on the Madison School District's Math Task Force Report here.

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Afghan Schoolgirls Undeterred by Attack

Dexter Filkins:

One morning two months ago, Shamsia Husseini and her sister were walking through the muddy streets to the local girls school when a man pulled alongside Shamsia on a motorcycle and posed what seemed like an ordinary question.

"Are you going to school?"

Then the man pulled Shamsia's burqa from her head and sprayed her face with burning acid. Scars, jagged and discolored, now spread across Shamsia's eyelids and most of her left cheek. These days, her vision goes blurry, making it hard for her to read.

But if the acid attack against Shamsia and 14 others -- students and teachers -- was meant to terrorize the girls into staying home, it appears to have completely failed.

Today, nearly all of the wounded girls are back at the Mirwais School for Girls, including even Shamsia, whose face was so badly burned that she had to be sent abroad for treatment. Perhaps even more remarkable, nearly every other female student in this deeply conservative community has returned as well -- about 1,300 in all.

"My parents told me to keep coming to school even if I am killed," said Shamsia, 17, in a moment after class. Shamsia's mother, like nearly all of the adult women in the area, is unable to read or write. "The people who did this to me don't want women to be educated. They want us to be stupid things."

Michael Yon has more.

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Governor Doyle's Federal Stimulus List for the State of Wisconsin

The list [1.8MB PDF] includes $1,056,500,000 in Education items.

More here.

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Sun Prairie School Board Approves 4-Year-Old Kindergarten Plan


The Sun Prairie School Board on Monday night approved moving forward with plans to offer 4-year-old kindergarten in the school district.

Sun Prairie Assistant Superintendent Alice Murphy said the board approved the plan with a 6-1 vote.

More than 200 schools across the state offer a 4K program. Sun Prairie school district officials said that the classes could be taught in day care centers.

"That would be the ideal setting that 4-year-old comes to the day care in the morning, is dropped off, and then at 8:30 a.m. or 9 in the morning the certified teacher moves in and presents the 4K instructional program for two and a half hours," Murphy said.

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Records show Waunakee School District didn't slow drinking party investigation

Matthew DeFour:

In the weeks following an underage drinking party near Waunakee in September 2007, rumors swirled about why the School District didn't move more quickly to discipline football players who were involved.

Though the insinuation in some circles was school officials were dragging their feet to keep Waunakee at full strength in the playoffs, recently released documents show the district investigation was delayed at the insistence of a Dane County sheriff's detective investigating criminal activity at the party.

State law allows law enforcement agencies to release reports that could help school officials discipline students, but individual police departments set their own policies and not everyone agrees on the best policy.

If a police agency is stingy with how it chooses to share information, it can delay the school's ability to mete out swift punishment intended to deter underage drinking in the first place.

In the case of the Waunakee football players, the district got mixed messages from the Dane County Sheriff's Office.

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Middleton-Cross Plains students embrace creative problem soloving

Pamela Cotant:

Each year, students from the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District head over to the Memorial Union on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus to spend a day stretching their mind.

The activity emphasizes creativity, teamwork and problem solving skills.

Fourth- and seventh-grade students from the district participate on two different days. The event is run by staff members who work with gifted and talented programs in the district-- Ruth Frawley, Kelle Anderson, Jacki Greene, Cheryl Saltzman and Amy Weber.

The creative problem solving day is designed to "give them an opportunity to get away from their normal environment and work with a small team," said Anderson, gifted and talented research teacher in Cross Plains.

"It tests your mind skills," said Derek Rogeberg, a seventh-grader from Glacier Creek Middle School.

For the recent event, 120 fourth-graders and 120 seventh-graders came from Elm Lawn, Northside, Park, Sauk Trail, Sunset Ridge and West Middleton elementary schools and Glacier Creek and Kromrey middle schools.

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January 13, 2009

California must preserve its higher-ed mission

SF Chronicle:

Thanks to California's chronic budget shortages, there isn't any room for Californians in state prisons, on state highways or within the state's medical insurance programs. So why shouldn't there be less room for Californians within the state's most prestigious university system?

Recently, some UC officials suggested that increasing the number of out-of-state and international students could help close deficits within the university system. (In a meeting with The Chronicle editorial board on Friday, UC President Mark Yudof said there are 11,000 undergraduates for whom the UC system gets no state money, putting it $125 million in the hole.)

There is a sound economic reasoning behind this strategy: Students from other states and countries annually pay many thousands of dollars more than in-state students.

They are also often better students because they are generally held to higher admissions standards. And there's plenty of room, and precedent, for the UC system to adopt this strategy. Only about 6 percent of UC undergraduates are non-Californians. Prestigious state universities in Michigan and Virginia, meanwhile, regularly enroll more than 30 percent of their freshman classes from out-of-state students. To quote Yudof, the UC system is "leaving money on the table." (Yudof also said that while he is "leaving all options on the table" as far as increasing revenues, "there is no plan" to increase out-of-state enrollment, and that he "couldn't imagine a worse time to do it.")

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The Madison School District's 2009 Strategic Planning Team

Members include:

Abplanalp, Sue, Assistant Superintendent, Elementary Schools
Alexander, Jennifer, President, Chamber of Commerce
Atkinson, Deedra, Senior Vice-President, Community Impact, United Way of Dane County
Banuelos, Maria,Associate Vice President for Learner Success, Diversity, and Community Relations, Madison Area Technical College
Bidar-Sielaff, Shiva, Manager of Cross-Cultural Care, UW Hospital
Brooke, Jessica, Student
Burke, Darcy, Elvehjem PTO President
Burkholder, John, Principal, Leopold Elementary
Calvert, Matt, UW Extension, 4-H Youth Development
Campbell, Caleb, Student
Carranza, Sal, Academic and Student Services, University of Wisconsin
Chandler, Rick, Chandler Consulting
Chin, Cynthia, Teacher, East
Ciesliewicz, Dave, Mayor, City of Madison
Clear, Mark, Alderperson
Cooper, Wendy, First Unitarian Society
Crim, Dawn, Special Assistant, Academic Staff, Chancellor's Office, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Dahmen, Bruce, Principal, Memorial High School
Davis, Andreal, Cultural Relevance Instructional Resource Teacher, Teaching & Learning
Deloya, Jeannette, Social Work Program Support Teacher
Frost, Laurie, Parent
Gamoran, Adam Interim Dean; University of Wisconsin School of Education
Gevelber, Susan, Teacher, LaFollette
Goldberg, Steve, Cuna Mutual
Harper, John, Coordinator for Technical Assistance/Professional Development, Educational Services
Her, Peng,
Hobart, Susie, Teacher, Lake View Elementary
Howard, James, Parent
Hughes, Ed, Member, Board of Education
Jokela, Jill, Parent
Jones, Richard, Pastor, Mt. Zion Baptist Church
Juchems, Brian, Program Director, Gay Straight Alliance for Safe Schools
Katz, Ann, Arts Wisconsin
Katz, Barb, Madison Partners
Kester, Virginia, Teacher, West High School
Koencke, Julie, Information Coordinator MMSD
Laguna, Graciela, Parent
Miller, Annette, Community Representative, Madison Gas & Electric
Morrison, Steve, Madison Jewish Community Council
Nadler, Bob, Executive Director, Human Resources
Nash, Pam, Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Schools
Natera, Emilio, Student
Nerad, Dan, Superintendent of Schools
Passman, Marj, Member, Board of Education
Schultz, Sally, Principal, Shabazz City High School
Seno, Karen,Principal, Cherokee Middle School
Sentmanat, Jose, Executive Assistant to the County Executive
Severson, Don, Active Citizens for Education (ACE)
Steinhoff, Becky, Executive Director, Goodman Community Center
Strong, Wayne, Madison Police Department
Swedeen, Beth, Outreach Specialist, Waisman Center
Tennant, Brian, Parent
Terra Nova, Paul, Lussier Community Education Center
Theo, Mike, Parent
Tompkins, Justin, Student
Trevino, Andres, Parent
Trone, Carole, President, WCATY
Vang, Doua, Clinical Team Manager, Southeast Asian Program / Kajsiab House, Mental Health Center of Dane County
Vieth, Karen, Teacher, Sennett
Vukelich-Austin, Martha, Executive Director, Foundation for Madison Public Schools
Wachtel, Lisa, Executive Director of Teaching and Learning
Zellmer, Jim, Parent

Much more here.

The Strategic Planning Process Schedule [PDF]

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A "Stimulus" for Schools

Rick Karlin:

n the past few months, the federal government has engineered massive bailouts of distressed economic institutions from Wall Street to the Big Three automakers.

But for the upcoming stimulus package, politicians want to shore up local governments -- from counties beset by Medicaid costs to local school districts forced to deal with cuts to state funding.

"There's a very strong likelihood that (school aid) will be included in the package," U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Monday as he unveiled a plan -- being pushed by several governors as well as members of Congress -- to allocate stimulus money to local school systems.

If approved as part of President-elect Barack Obama's $750 billion package, New York could get an extra $6.4 billion in local school aid over the next two years.

"It's going to put less stress on the local school districts," said Gov. David Paterson, who joined Schumer for a news conference at the state Capitol.

It marked the second time in two weeks that Schumer said he wants stimulus funds to pay for ongoing local government functions.

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"Fewer Teachers, More Automation"

John Robb:

We constantly think that we need more teachers. That may not be the case. In fact we may need fewer, better teachers in combination with better automation (particularly in college). Some points:
  • The delta of experience between attending a lecture and watching a video of a lecture? Nada. If anything, the video is better since you can rewind it, view it at the best vantage point (vs. at the back of a big lecture hall), and view it in a quiet relaxed space.
  • Video lectures (as most colleges are doing now) make it possible to get the best. A dozen of the best lecture series could serve to replace 99% of lectures now being given by less gifted teachers.
  • Interactive education, like what MIT is providing now, is highly computerized. Almost all of it could be done online.
  • The interactive process of learning/application via collaboration is something that is perfectly suited for virtual worlds. JIT information in combination with simulated real world application within a collaborative environment is something that is going on with WoW right now (on a massive scale).
Sara Rimer:
The physics department has replaced the traditional large introductory lecture with smaller classes that emphasize hands-on, interactive, collaborative learning. Last fall, after years of experimentation and debate and resistance from students, who initially petitioned against it, the department made the change permanent. Already, attendance is up and the failure rate has dropped by more than 50 percent.

M.I.T. is not alone. Other universities are changing their ways, among them Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, North Carolina State University, the University of Maryland, the University of Colorado at Boulder and Harvard. In these institutions, physicists have been pioneering teaching methods drawn from research showing that most students learn fundamental concepts more successfully, and are better able to apply them, through interactive, collaborative, student-centered learning.

The traditional 50-minute lecture was geared more toward physics majors, said Eric Mazur, a physicist at Harvard who is a pioneer of the new approach, and whose work has influenced the change at M.I.T.

"The people who wanted to understand," Professor Mazur said, "had the discipline, the urge, to sit down afterwards and say, 'Let me figure this out.' " But for the majority, he said, a different approach is needed.

Certainly worth exploring as part of Madison's strategic plan. School Board member Ed Hughes has mentioned virtual learning and collaboration a number of times.

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Coming to Attention: Basketball at St. Johns Military Academy

Art Kabelowsky:

They are young, but they're not children.

They're from all over North America, but right now they'd just like to challenge for basketball championships at a boarding school in Delafield.

They've found a place that has given them a chance to make something out of their dreams.

That's why kids like Carlos Toussaint and Kevin Mays and Devin Johnson and Isaiah Gray are attending St. John's Northwestern Military Academy.

And their approach to school and basketball is why the Lancers are off to a 6-0 start this season, with nothing but bright skies in the forecast.

"The scary thing is that we start three sophomores and a freshman," St. John's Northwestern coach Brian Richert said. "The sky is the limit as to what these guys might be able to achieve down the road."

But to one, Toussaint, it's all about this year. He's the Lancers' only senior starter, and his statistics match his impressive basketball pedigree.

Toussaint's father, Jorge, is the president of Federacion Mexicana de Basquetbol, the Mexican Basketball Federation. That's the organization that organizes national teams at various age levels, up to and including the Olympics, and hires coaches who then select the various squads.

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School Leaving Age: Extending compulsory education is no panacea for idle youth

The Economist:

WORKLESS children were "idling in the streets" and "tumbling about in the gutters", wrote one observer in 1861 of the supposedly baleful effects of a reduction in the use of child labour. Such concerns eventually led to schooling being made mandatory for under-tens in 1880. The minimum school-leaving age has been raised five times since then and now stands at 16; but panic about feral youths menacing upright citizens and misspending the best years of their lives has not gone away.

Today's equivalent of the Victorian street urchin is the "NEET"--a youth "not in education, employment or training". And the same remedy is being prescribed: by 2013 all teenagers will have to continue in education or training until age 17, and by 2015 until 18. Now there are political rumours that the education-leaving age could be raised sooner, perhaps as early as this autumn. Bringing the measure forward is said to be among the proposals being prepared for the "jobs summit" Gordon Brown has grandly announced.

During downturns young people tend to have more difficulty finding, and staying in, work than older ones. So a policy that would keep them off the jobless register has obvious appeal for the government. Youngsters who have studied for longer may, moreover, be better placed for an eventual upturn, whenever that might be. And, unlike other measures on Mr Brown's wish-list, this one is achievable by ministerial edict.

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January 12, 2009

Florida's Governor Explains His Charter School Choice

Charlie Crist:

Your editorial "A Charter Setback in Florida" (Jan. 7) might lead some people to infer that my administration is not a champion of school choice. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, as a state senator I co-sponsored the original 1996 legislation that created charter schools in Florida. Florida now ranks third nationally in the number of charter schools and fourth in the number of charter-school students, and I am committed to championing school choice in Florida.

Charter schools are not only critical to a successful public education system, but they also represent the ingenuity of communities throughout the Sunshine State.

Florida has made great strides when it comes to education, as evidenced by the "2009 Quality Counts: Portrait of a Population" report released this week. Issued annually by "Education Week," the report tracks state policies and performance across key areas of education. Florida's education ranking jumped from 14th to 10th in the nation, and its overall grade improved from a C+ to a B-. Among our many achievements, we are also closing the achievement gap between minority students and white students -- and have even eliminated it when you consider the number of Florida's Hispanic students passing Advanced Placement exams in 2007. Students in the Sunshine State excel in AP course participation and performance, with more than one-fifth of 2007 graduates passing an AP exam.

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Charter Schools Can Close the Education Gap
It is not acceptable for minority students to be four grade levels behind.

Joel Klein & Al Sharpton:

Dear President-elect Barack Obama,

In the afterglow of your election, Americans today run the risk of forgetting that the nation still faces one last great civil-rights battle: closing the insidious achievement gap between minority and white students. Public education is supposed to be the great equalizer in America. Yet today the average 12th-grade black or Hispanic student has the reading, writing and math skills of an eighth-grade white student.

That appalling four-year gap is even worse in high-poverty high schools, which often are dropout factories. In Detroit, just 34% of black males manage to graduate. In the nation's capital -- home to one of the worst public-school systems in America -- only 9% of ninth-grade students go on to graduate and finish college within five years. Can this really be the shameful civil-rights legacy that we bequeath to poor black and Hispanic children in today's global economy?

This achievement gap cannot be narrowed by a series of half-steps from the usual suspects. As you observed when naming Chicago superintendent Arne Duncan to be the next secretary of education, "We have talked our education problems to death in Washington." Genuine school reform, you stated during the campaign, "will require leaders in Washington who are willing to learn from students and teachers . . . about what actually works."

We, too, believe that true education reform can only be brought about by a bipartisan coalition that challenges the entrenched education establishment. And we second your belief that school reformers must demonstrate an unflagging commitment to "what works" to dramatically boost academic achievement -- rather than clinging to reforms that we "wish would work."

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Educators Resist Even Good Ideas From Outsiders

Jay Matthews:

With two massive parental revolts nearing victory in Fairfax County, and mothers and fathers elsewhere in the area plotting similar insurgencies, it is time to disclose a great truth about even the best educators I know: As much as they deny it, they really don't like outsiders messing with the way they do their jobs.

I don't like that either. Do you? We know what we are doing. Most other folks don't. We are polite to outsiders, but only to mollify them so we can hang up and get back to work.

The problem is that schools, unlike most institutions, are handling parents' most precious possessions, their children. That aggravates the emotional side of the discussion. It makes it more likely that smart educators are going to write off parents as interfering idiots, even if they actually have a good idea and data to prove it.

I was a school parent for 30 years. The last kid graduated from college in 2007, but a grandchild has just appeared. That sound you hear is California teachers muttering at the thought of me at their door, brimming with helpful suggestions. I know how this works. The school people smile and nod, but nothing happens. Sure, some parent ideas are daft. But important queries are also shrugged off.

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A Look at California Teacher Salaries

Sacramento Bee:

The average teacher salary last year was $65,808, an increase of 3.4 percent from 2007, according to new state figures. Teacher pay varies widely by district. And some districts have seen average salaries drop as they replace a large number of experienced teachers with new recruits.

Notes: Average salaries are often a reflection of three things: An area's cost of living; how much the district is willing to pay and the number of experienced teachers the district employs. So if your district is low on this list but you see it has a high maximum salary, it probably means that it's got a lot of teachers fresh out of college.

About 5 percent of the state's districts didn't submit data in 2008; for most of these, The Bee used 2007 salary data. Please note the year of the data as listed in your results. Districts with no data for 2007 or 2008 were excluded from this database. Salary changes were calculated using inflation-adjusted 2004 average annual salary figures.

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On a Milwaukee School Board Member's Trip

Daniel Bice:

To anyone who would dismiss School Board member Charlene Hardin's junket to Philadelphia as an insignificant amount of money, Karen Ruehl would suggest a visit to her school.

Ruehl, a 33-year veteran of Milwaukee Public Schools, is the librarian at the Milwaukee High School of the Arts.

Her library is in desperate need of help. She has repeatedly asked her boss at the city arts school to drop a few dollars to allow her to make improvements to it for the benefit of the students.

But nearly all of her proposals have been rejected, she has been told, because there was no money.

Ruehl is now having trouble squaring her experience with the news that her school blew thousands of dollars to send Hardin and a secretary to a national conference in Philadelphia last summer - a series of meetings that the pair ultimately skipped. Hardin, who was bumped off the spring ballot last week, is now under investigation by her colleagues on the board.

"I saw that money, and I thought, 'That should have been for me,' " Ruehl said Friday from the school library.

A portion of the funds used to pay for Hardin's excursion could have gone to buy, for instance, arts-related magazines. Earlier this school year, Ruehl asked for but didn't get $600 worth of such periodicals.

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A Charter Setback in Florida

Wall Street Journal:

As Chicago schools chief, Arne Duncan has found innovative ways to skirt the restrictive cap on the number of charter schools that can operate in Illinois, thus expanding opportunities for low-income kids. So it's instructive to contrast Mr. Duncan's can-do attitude with that of Florida Governor Charlie Crist, whose inaction last week handed a victory to opponents of school choice.

On December 2 a Florida District Court struck down a law that created the Florida Schools of Excellence Commission, an alternative authorizer of charter schools formed in 2006 under Governor Crist's predecessor, Jeb Bush. The state had 30 days to appeal to the Florida Supreme Court but let the deadline pass last week.

Download Opinion Journal's widget and link to the most important editorials and op-eds of the day from your blog or Web page.

The upshot is that only local school boards will be able to authorize charter schools, creating a fox-in-the-hen-house situation in which the same institutions that most oppose school choice will be in a position to block its expansion. Charter schools compete with district schools for students and teachers. And the teachers unions that control the traditional public school system fear that more charters mean smaller school districts and fewer dues-paying union jobs.

Locally, the Studio School charter initiative was killed by a slight Madison School Board majority.

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Marketing Milwaukee High Schools

Lori Price:

Anything can happen in high school in Milwaukee.

It could be a day of boat building at the Inland Seas High School of Expeditionary Learning.

Or establishing connections to some of the nation's historically black colleges at schools in the Outlook University Independent School Network.

Or writing tunes at the Milwaukee High School of the Arts.

In Milwaukee, students have a choice - and many of them, along with their parents, spent Saturday checking out options at the Great Schools Milwaukee High School Fair at the Shops of Grand Avenue.

More than 1,000 students and their families were expected to attend the event that showcased 53 schools.

The goal of the fair that resembles an exhibition of colleges or potential employers is to give Milwaukee families one place to gather information about local public and private schools, said Jodi Goldberg, director of Great Schools Milwaukee, a local affiliate of the San Francisco-based organization that focuses on parental involvement in school choice.

"We still want them to visit the schools, because it's not enough to just have a packet of information to make a decision," Goldberg said. "But here, parents can see what's available for their child."

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January 11, 2009

Madison Math Task Force Public Session Wednesday Evening 1/14/2009

The public is invited to attend the Cherokee Middle School PTO's meeting this Wednesday, January 14, 2009. The Madison School District will present it's recent Math Task Force findings at 7:00p.m. in the Library.

Cherokee Middle School
4301 Cherokee Dr
Madison, WI 53711
(608) 204-1240

Notes, audio and links from a recent meeting can be found here.

A few notes from Wednesday evening's meeting:

  • A participant asked why the report focused on Middle Schools. The impetus behind the effort was the ongoing controversy over the Madison School District's use of Connected Math.
  • Madison's math coordinator, Brian Sniff, mentioned that the District sought a "neutral group, people not very vocal one end or the other". Terry Millar, while not officially part of the task force, has been very involved in the District's use of reform math programs (Connected Math) for a number of years and was present at the meeting. The 2003, $200,000 SCALE (System-Wide Change for All Learners and Educators" (Award # EHR-0227016 (Clusty Search), CFDA # 47.076 (Clusty Search)), from the National Science Foundation) agreement between the UW School of Education (Wisconsin Center for Education Research) names Terry as the principal investigator [340K PDF]. The SCALE project has continued each year, since 2003. Interestingly, the 2008 SCALE agreement ([315K PDF] page 6) references the controversial "standards based report cards" as a deliverable by June, 2008, small learning communities (page 3) and "Science Standards Based Differentiated Assessments for Connected Math" (page 6). The document also references a budget increase to $812,336. (additional SCALE agreements, subsequent to 2003: two, three, four)
  • Task force member Dr. Mitchell Nathan is Director of AWAKEN [1.1MB PDF]:
    Agreement for Releasing Data and Conducting Research for
    AWAKEN Project in Madison Metropolitan School District

    The Aligning Educational Experiences with Ways of Knowing Engineering (AWAKEN) Project (NSF giant #EEC-0648267 (Clusty search)) aims to contribute to the long-term goal of fostering a larger, more diverse and more able pool of engineers in the United States. We propose to do so by looking at engineering education as a system or continuous developmental experience from secondary education through professional practice....

    In collaboration with the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD), AWAKEN researchers from the Wisconsin Center for Educational Research (WCER) will study and report on science, mathematics, and Career and Technical Education (specifically Project Lead The Way) curricula in the district.

  • Task force member David Griffeath, a UW-Madison math professor provided $6,000 worth of consulting services to the District.
  • Former Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater is now working in the UW-Madison School of Education. He appointed (and the board approved) the members of the Math Task Force.
Madison School Board Vice President Lucy Mathiak recently said that the "conversation about math is far from over". It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

I am particularly interested in what the ties between the UW-Madison School of Education and the Madison School District mean for the upcoming "Strategic Planning Process" [49K PDF]. The presence of the term "standards based report cards" and "small learning communities" within one of the SCALE agreements makes me wonder who is actually driving the District. In other words, are the grants driving decision making?

Finally, it is worth reviewing the audio, notes and links from the 2005 Math Forum, including UW-Madison math professor emeritus Dick Askey's look at the School District's data.

Related: The Politics of K-12 Math and Academic Rigor.

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Madison School Board Discusses its Open Enrollment Policy

One of the items on Monday evening's (12 January, 2009) agenda includes the District's Open Enrollment Policy [344K PDF]. Pages 5 to 7 discuss policies covering those transfering out of the Madison school district. The proposed policy change (page 6) appears to eliminate the rejection of requests based on race, an issue that was addressed in recent legal actions. Virtual schools have been another controversial aspect of open enrollment.

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Like a Virgin: The Press Take On Teenage Sex

William McGurn:

The chain reaction was something out of central casting. A medical journal starts it off by announcing a study comparing teens who take a pledge of virginity until marriage with those who don't. Lo and behold, when they crunch the numbers, they find not much difference between pledgers and nonpledgers: most do not make it to the marriage bed as virgins.

Like a pack of randy 15-year-old boys, the press dives right in.

"Virginity Pledges Don't Stop Teen Sex," screams CBS News. "Virginity pledges don't mean much," adds CNN. "Study questions virginity pledges," says the Chicago Tribune. "Premarital Abstinence Pledges Ineffective, Study Finds," heralds the Washington Post. "Virginity Pledges Fail to Trump Teen Lust in Look at Older Data," reports Bloomberg. And on it goes.

In other words, teens will be teens, and moms or dads who believe that concepts such as restraint or morality have any application today are living in a dream world. Typical was the lead for the CBS News story: "Teenagers who take virginity pledges are no less sexually active than other teens, according to a new study."

Here's the rub: It just isn't true.

In fact, the only way the study's author, Janet Elise Rosenbaum of Johns Hopkins University, could reach such results was by comparing teens who take a virginity pledge with a very small subset of other teens: those who are just as religious and conservative as the pledge-takers. The study is called "Patient Teenagers? A Comparison of the Sexual Behavior of Virginity Pledgers and Matched Nonpledgers," and it was published in the Jan. 1 edition of Pediatrics.

The first to notice something lost in the translation was Dr. Bernadine Healy, the former head of both the Red Cross and the National Institutes of Health. Today she serves as health editor for U.S. News & World Report. And in her dispatch on this study, Dr. Healy pointed out that "virginity pledging teens were considerably more conservative in their overall sexual behaviors than teens in general -- a fact that many media reports have missed cold."

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School Tries to Beat Drop Out Odds

Julia McEvoy:

High schools are supposed to produce graduates. But some schools are dubbed drop out factories. At Chicago's Robeson High, on the city's South Side, the graduation rate is just 39 percent. It is a place where more students quit than graduate. Almost all of the 1,300 kids here fail to meet state standards. But everyday, there are administrators, teachers and students who come to school hoping to make a difference. We're spending time at Robeson High because we want to understand the complex issues that go into a student's decision to quit. And we want to know why other students in the same place hang in there and graduate against the odds.

"This school is not for the faint of heart."--Principal Morrow.

Related: Meet the students and teachers from 50/50: The Odds of Graduating.

A week before school starts, Robeson staff gathers in the media center to go over what to expect.

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Dane County schools tighten security measures

Andy Hall:

The Verona School District is planning to become the first in Dane County to lock all doors at some schools and require visitors to appear on camera to receive permission to enter, and the first to require that high school students display identification badges at all times. Many students support the moves, even as others question whether they're really needed in the community that calls itself "Hometown, USA."

In Middleton, educators are deep into discussions that could lead to asking taxpayers for $3.5 million for cameras, other equipment and remodeling projects to tighten security at their 10 schools. Madison school officials have begun a major review of security measures that by spring could lead to proposals to control the public's access to that district's 48 schools.

These are signs that despite tight budgets, Wisconsin educators are pushing ahead in their efforts to keep schools safe -- efforts that took on added urgency with the 2006 slaying of Weston High School principal John Klang by a student, and other tragedies across the nation.

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

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January 10, 2009

New Data on AP's Impact

Jay Matthews:

On one wall of my cubicle is a large chart extracted from Tom Luce and Lee Thompson's 2005 book "Do What Works: How Proven Practices Can Improve America's Public Schools." It shows that a study of 78,000 Texas students found college graduation rates much higher for those who, while in high school, took Advanced Placement exams -- but failed them -- than those who took no AP exams at all.

At this point, you may be saying, "Huh?" We AP wonks are an odd breed. We often cite statistics that make no sense to normal people. But I will try to explain this one, and why it was greeted with such excitement by AP teachers four years ago.

AP courses are given in nearly 40 subjects. They allow high school students to earn college credit, or at least skip college introductory courses, if they do well on the final exams. Many AP teachers argue that students' grades on the three-hour exams, given in most U.S. high schools every May, are not as important as taking the college-level course and exam and getting a taste of college trauma. Many of their students who flunk the AP exam still report, when they come back to visit after their freshman year of college, that the AP experience made it easier for them to adjust to fat college reading lists and long, analytical college exams. They may have failed the AP exam, but by taking it, and the course, they were better prepared for the load of stuff dumped on them in college. When they took the college introductory course in the subject that had been so difficult for them in high school AP, they did much better.

The Texas study showing that failed AP students were more likely to graduate from college than non-AP students was thus greeted as proof that the AP teachers' view on this issue was correct. But the researchers who had done the work cautioned against putting too much weight on it. There were too many variables to reach hard conclusions.

Linda Hargrove, Donn Godin & Barbara Dodd 660K PDF Report.

More from Matthews:

On pages 35 and 36 of their report, the Texas researchers revealed what was for me the most interesting of their many new disclosures. They show that even students who only get a 2 on their AP exams after taking the AP course have significantly better college outcomes than non-AP students. Students who get 1s on the exam do not do better than non-AP students, but as I have often heard AP teachers say, they have no chance to build those students up to a 2 or a 3 unless they are allowed in their courses.

These are complicated issues. This study is not the last word. Critics of AP may say that these researchers' work is tainted by the fact that the College Board, which owns the AP program, paid them for their study. But there is no question they are reputable, independent scholars, and their data is there for all to see.

Related: Dane County High School AP Course Offerings: 2008/2009.

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In Minnesota, Charter Schools for Immigrants

Sara Rimer:

Fartun Warsame, a Somali immigrant, thought she was being a good mother when she transferred her five boys to a top elementary school in an affluent Minneapolis suburb. Besides its academic advantages, the school was close to her job as an ultrasound technician, so if the teachers called, she could get there right away.

"Immediately they changed," Ms. Warsame said of her sons. "They wanted to wear shorts. They'd say, 'Buy me this.' I said, 'Where did you guys get this idea you can control me?' "

Her sons informed her that this was the way things were in America. But not in this Somali mother's house. She soon moved them back to the city, to the International Elementary School, a charter school of about 560 pupils in downtown Minneapolis founded by leaders of the city's large East African community. The extra commuting time was worth the return to the old order: five well-behaved sons, and one all-powerful mother.

Charter schools, which are publicly financed but independently run, were conceived as a way to improve academic performance. But for immigrant families, they have also become havens where their children are shielded from the American youth culture that pervades large district schools.

The curriculum at the Twin Cities International Elementary School, and at its partner middle school and high school, is similar to that of other public schools with high academic goals. But at Twin Cities International the girls say they can freely wear head scarves without being teased, the lunchroom serves food that meets the dietary requirements of Muslims, and in every classroom there are East African teaching assistants who understand the needs of students who may have spent years in refugee camps. Twin Cities International students are from Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Sudan, with a small population from the Middle East.

The diversity of Minneapolis charter schools is one reason my niece and her family remain in the city, rather than retreating to the burbs.

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Concert will have personal meaning for Memorial junior

Gayle Worland:

When the Memorial High School A Cappella Choir sings Josh Groban's "You Raise Me Up" Saturday night, it will have special meaning for Samantha Harper, her family and a relative who can only be there in spirit.

"You Raise Me Up" was the favorite song of Samantha's aunt Joanne Papanek, who died in May of a brain tumor at age 52. The piece is just one part of a variety concert designed to honor Papanek and to raise money for brain cancer research.

The concert was inspired and coordinated by her 16-year-old niece.

After her aunt died, and with her father's help, Samantha created the nonprofit Project A.J. Inc. (for "Auntie Joanne").

"Our whole family was grieving," says Samantha, a junior at Memorial who will sing tonight with the choir. "Midway through summer, I realized that I needed to do something with all my sadness. I was thinking about how we could help other people and stop other families from going through this."

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Wisconsin Task Force on Arts & Creativity

In March of 2008, Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton and State Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster formed the Wisconsin Task Force on Arts and Creativity in Education and they began their work to assert the central role of the arts and creativity in education in this 21st century global economy. (You can watch a short video on the Task Force's launch here.) The Co-Chairs and Task Force members alike understand creativity to be the bedrock of the arts, the renewable resource that will be the sustainable energy of this economy. As international expert Charles Landry says, "Creativity is one of the last remaining legal ways to gain an unfair advantage over the competition.

Through this web site you will learn about the Task Force and its workgroups. You can listen to the testimony from the Public Forums and experience the resources that influenced the Task Force's work.

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Bush Praises Results of No Child Left Behind Law

Dan Eggen & Maria Glod:

Before he was a war president, George W. Bush fashioned himself as an education president. He campaigned as a school reformer and held his first policy speech at a Washington elementary school, where he began laying the groundwork for the controversial No Child Left Behind education law.

Nearly eight years later, Bush devoted his final public policy address to the same topic, traveling to an elementary school in Philadelphia yesterday to claim success in education reform and to warn President-elect Barack Obama against major changes to the landmark federal testing program.

Bush argued that No Child Left Behind has "forever changed America's school systems" for the better, forcing accountability on failing public schools and leading to measurable improvements among poor and minority students.

"I firmly believe that, thanks to this law, students are learning, an achievement gap is closing," Bush told the audience at General Philip Kearny School.

He also suggested that Obama, who has vowed to overhaul the program, should tread carefully before following through on promises of reform. "There is a growing consensus across the country that now is not the time to water down standards or to roll back accountability," Bush said.

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Why Obama's Stimulus May Retard Education Reform and What to Do About It

Michael J. Petrilli, Chester E. Finn Jr., & Frederick M. Hess

As President-Elect Barack Obama and his Congressional allies shape -- and debate -- their big economic-stimulus package any day now, governors are pleading with them to include hundreds of billions for state governments that face whopping deficits. Most analysts of the stimulus measure will ask whether such spending will truly goose the economy, whether Obama kept his campaign promises, or how much of the bill is just pork. But those who worry about k-12 education should be asking: will it be good for education reform? And to date there's ample reason to suspect that the answer will be "no".

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January 9, 2009

Best and worst Public schools rating

The most interesting part of this evaluation is the continued poor rating our standards receive. Those lovely standards we are basing our new middle school report cards upon. Otherwise Wisconsin stacks up pretty well.

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Livescribe SmartPen

Records and links audio to what you write. Interesting.

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Wisconsin's Pet Goat: School Finance Reform

Annette Talis:

Most of us have seen the 2001 footage showing the commander in chief crouched on a small elementary school chair to while the nation was under attack. That day many soccer moms who cast their top-of-the-ticket ballots for better schools were transformed into security moms.

Matt Miller's article advocating a nationalized education system, "A Modest Proposal to Fix the Schools: First, Kill All the School Boards," published in The Atlantic early last year, gave fits to a few people at the National School Boards Association but largely went unnoticed among its target audience in Washington, D.C. Public education was no longer at the top of the national agenda.

Public policy discussion about student achievement, performance accountability and class size now seem sepia-tone images of a more innocent era when Americans had the luxury of thinking about public education.

"Why educate your kid in math and science if he's going to be up to his rear end in seawater?" University of Wisconsin-Madison professor John Sharpless ironically asked last year, astutely predicting a bipartisan election-year decampment to newer, fresher national crises.

The economy, job losses, national security, energy and health care have shifted public priorities, all but drubbing public education off the national editorial page.

I felt melancholy recently listening to the quavering voice of a U.S. Department of Education official trying to tap passion, anger or any emotion about the federal Reading First program, the darling of phonics advocates and the demon of the whole-language crowd. The vitriolic Reading Wars now seem a bucolic luxury given the present state of world affairs.

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Advocating Open Enrollment and Wisconsin Virtual Schools, Via Direct Mail

Click for larger versions.

Appleton based Wisconsin Connections Academy is running a direct mail campaign seeking students to open enroll into the virtual school. Learn more about Wisconsin Open Enrollment here.

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Utah Prepares for School Budget Reductions

Lisa Schencker:

Utah education leaders are preparing for the worst when it comes to budget cuts.
State Superintendent Patti Harrington said Thursday her office is eliminating a tuition reimbursement program for employees, will offer early retirement incentives for staff and might have to lose 15 to 45 people depending on how much lawmakers cut. State Board of Education members on Thursday also approved guidelines for school districts to follow, possibly this year and in the future, when it comes to making major unexpected cuts.

Lawmakers voted during a special session in the fall to hold education harmless for this fiscal year. But in the face of widening budgetary gaps, legislative leaders have urged a 7 1/2 percent cut to education by June 30. The education appropriations subcommittee will meet Monday to begin discussing strategies.

Rep. Merlynn Newbold, R-South Jordan, who co-chairs that committee, said it is unlikely lawmakers will continue to spare education this fiscal year.

"It just becomes increasingly difficult without annihilating every other department in the state," Newbold said.

But the committee's other co-chair, Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, said cuts to education in general likely still won't be as deep as to other programs. However, the State Office of Education will likely endure the same depth of cuts as other agencies, he said.
Greg Haws, a State Board of Education member, noted that cuts to education this fiscal year would be especially hard on schools because the fiscal year is already nearly half over.

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January 8, 2009

Madison Math Program Public Input Session

The Madison School District Administration held a public input session on the recent Math Task Force report [3.9MB PDF] last evening at Memorial High School. Superintendent Dan Nerad opened and closed the meeting, which featured about 56 attendees, at least half of whom appeared to be district teachers and staff. Math Coordinator Brian Sniff ran the meeting.

Task force member and UW-Madison Professor Mitchell Nathan [Clusty Search] was in attendance along with Terry Millar, a UW-Madison Professor who has been very involved in the Madison School District's math programs for many years. (Former Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater recently joined the UW-Madison Center for Education Research, among other appointments). UW-Madison Math professor Steffen Lempp attended as did school board President Arlene Silveira and board members Ed Hughes and Beth Moss. Jill Jokela, the parent representative on the Math Task Force, was also present.

Listen via this 30MB mp3 audio file. 5.5MB PDF Handout.


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Thinning on Top

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People come into the world ready to count its wonders

The Economist:

THE baby is just one day old and has not yet left hospital. She is quiet but alert. Twenty centimetres from her face researchers have placed a white card with two black spots on it. She stares at it intently. A researcher removes the card and replaces it by another, this time with the spots differently spaced. As the cards alternate, her gaze starts to wander--until a third, with three black spots, is presented. Her gaze returns: she looks at it for twice as long as she did at the previous card. Can she tell that the number two is different from three, just 24 hours after coming into the world?

Or do newborns simply prefer more to fewer? The same experiment, but with three spots preceding two, shows the same revival of interest when the number of spots changes. Perhaps it is just the newness? When slightly older babies were shown cards with pictures of household objects instead of dots (a comb, a key, an orange and so on), changing the number of items had an effect separate from changing the items themselves. Could it be the pattern that two things make, as opposed to three? No again. Babies paid more attention to rectangles moving randomly on a screen when their number changed from two to three, or vice versa. The effect even crosses between senses. Babies who were repeatedly shown two spots perked up more when they then heard three drumbeats than when they heard just two; likewise when the researchers started with drumbeats and moved to spots.

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Immigration to the US, 1820-2007

Ian Stevenson:

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Good Teaching: Art or Science?

Michael Alison Chandler:

had my first day back in class today. We started with a lesson on graphing quadratic equations. Tricia Colclaser, the teacher, gave a mini-introduction and walked around the room while we practiced.

As she checked in with everyone, Colclaser got some props from a student, who was getting it. He said: "I like math when I have a good teacher."

Of course, teacher quality is the laser focus of education reform lately. Pretty much any study shows it's the most important factor for student learning. But few experts can tell you what it means or how to evaluate it.

Malcolm Gladwell, author of "The Tipping Point" and "Outlier" and a former Washington Post reporter, had an interesting piece in The New Yorker recently about this very issue. He likened teacher recruiting to recruiting quarterbacks in the NFL. You never know how they will do until they get onto the field, under pressure, with split-second decisions to make and everything at stake.

He dropped in on a group of education researchers at U-Va. who have determined that teacher feedback, or the ability to respond meaningfully to each student, is linked most strongly to academic success. This kind of talent, as well as the ability to have eyes in the back of your head, or defuse problems before they erupt...all have nothing to do with the academic credentials of the teacher or the scores on their Praxis test, or the things that the federal government and states are focusing on.

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January 7, 2009

LA's Tioga High students push to recall school board

Richard Paddock:

Reporting from Groveland, Calif. -- When the school board in this rural community voted to get rid of popular math teacher Ryan Dutton in September, the students at Tioga High School were so upset, the entire school boycotted class the next day. Then they decided to save his job.

What started as a civics class project soon became much more: a campaign to remove all five board members of Big Oak Flat-Groveland Unified School District.

Believing in their teacher, the students organized a petition drive to hold a recall election in this sparsely populated district near Yosemite National Park. With the help of parents, teachers and even their principal, the campaign turned in about 1,200 signatures last week for each board member -- 910 were needed to call a special election. The students expect to learn this week whether the recall qualifies. If so, an election will be held in May.

Dutton, 31, a former professional football player, lost his job over allegations that he cheated in a course he took last spring at Cal State Fresno. The university cleared him and apologized for "any misunderstanding," but the board has refused to reinstate him.

"We didn't like what was happening in our district," said Elise Vallotton, Tioga student body president and president of the newly formed Students for a Better School District. "Many of us stood up at board meetings and explained our point of view. Obviously, they weren't listening. They didn't do anything to try and help us, and that's why we started the recall."

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A New Indoor Pool/Parking Complex at Madison West High School?

A proposed $17,624,450 eight lane indoor pool, diving well, fitness center, community activity/wellness pool and a two-level parking deck for Madison West High School was on Monday evening's Madison School Board agenda [441K PDF].

I found this interesting and wondered if funding might come from an earmark (McCain / Feingold on earmarks), or possibly the Obama stimulus (the "splurge", or borrowing on our grandkids credit cards).

Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz's wishlist (it includes $14,000,000 for "public pools at Warner Park and Reindahl", but no funds for this, as far as I can see).

I have not seen the details of Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle's "stimulus" list.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out, in light of the District's strategic plan, academic priorities, other high school facilities and how the operating costs are covered.

Listen to the discussion: 23MB mp3 audio file

Update from Doug Erickson.

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Are we testing kids too much?

Julie Mack

Ten-year-old Cole Curtiss is no stranger to assessment tests.

As a third-grader last year at Portage's Amberly Elementary School, here's what Cole took:

• The Michigan Educational Assessment Program tests, which involves more than eight hours of testing during two weeks in October.
• The Standardized Test for Assessment of Reading, a computer exam given four times annually to determine his grade-equivalent reading level.
• The Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills test, administered three times during the school year to check reading progress.
• The Otis-Lennon School Ability Test, which is essentially an IQ-type exam.

This year, Cole won't take the Otis-Lennon test, but otherwise he is taking the fourth-grade versions of all the other exams.

"It's a lot," said Cole's mother, Shari Curtiss, who has mixed feelings about assessment testing.

While "it's reassuring" to see hard data on her children's academic abilities, Curtiss said, "It seems that schools live or die by the MEAP."

Portage Public Schools is not unique in its increased reliance on assessment tests, a trend that some find unsettling but others see as one of the most positive recent developments in education through high school.

Advocates say assessment tests help school districts measure the quality of their curricula and instruction. They also help pinpoint children's strengths and weaknesses and have encouraged schools to develop broader supports and strategies to deal with educational issues.

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Madison School Board Election: April 7, 2009

Via the Madison City Clerk's Office, Seat 1 will have a competitive race with Donald Gors, Jr. facing incumbent Arlene Silveira. Arlene has served as President for the past two years. The current occupant of seat 2, Lucy Mathiak is running unopposed.

A bit of history: Arlene was first elected in April, 2006. Her victory over Maya Cole (subsequently elected a year later) occurred in one of the narrowest local election wins in recent history. Seat 1 was previously held by former Madison Teacher Bill Keys. Lucy Mathiak defeated incumbent Juan Jose Lopez in that same election.

There's no shortage of local history contained within the links above.

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Better Grades for 2009?

Michael Alison Chandler:

School starts again today after the winter break. I hope everyone found some time to relax. I did! I will find out tomorrow how much math I forgot when my class meets again.

One big change we're likely to see in the new year in Fairfax schools is a new grading policy. Superintendent Jack D. Dale recommended Friday that the school system add extra points to the grade-point average for students who take Honors or AP/IB classes.

This would not effect my own GPA, as my class is just regular old Algebra II! But it would effect the thousands of students who are enrolled in college-level and honors classes.

The change is a response to a huge parent-led movement to level the playing field for Fairfax students who are competing for colleges and scholarships with kids who are racking up astronomical GPAs elsewhere thanks to the extra weights. (It's not uncommon in some districts to earn a 5.4 GPA on a 4.0 scale).

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Pumping Up High School Grades Not a Panacea for Va. Parents' Anxiety

Raw Fisher:

W hy are some parents in Fairfax and Loudoun counties up in arms about whether an A in a high school course means the student averaged a 90 or a 94?

The controversy coming to the Fairfax School Board this month is about one thing: anxiety over college admission. That emotionally fraught issue has blurred the vision of many parents, who have come to believe that if only schools would artificially pump up their little sweeties' grades, their just-slightly-less-than-perfect children just might get into colleges that otherwise would give them the big dis.

Fairfax uses a six-point grading system in which you need a 94 to get an A. Loudoun's scoring grid is similar. But in many parts of the country, an A represents a numerical grade of 90 or more.

Parent groups in the two Virginia counties contend that college admissions officers cannot comprehend these distinctions and therefore put applicants from these two strong school systems at a competitive disadvantage.

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Study: Risky behavior prominent on teen MySpace profiles

UW-Madison News:

More than half of adolescent MySpace users mention risky behaviors such as sex, violence or substance use on their personal Web profiles.

That's according to the findings of Megan Moreno, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, and other researchers who analyzed 500 MySpace profiles in 46 states to determine how young people use the Internet as a means of presenting themselves to their peers.

The study, along with a companion study on how to reduce such postings, is published in the January issue of Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine. Moreno was co-leader of the study while a research fellow at Seattle Children's Hospital.

According to Moreno, 37 percent of profiles mentioned alcohol use, 24 percent mentioned sex, 14 percent mentioned or implied they were involved in acts of violence, and 13 percent mentioned tobacco use. In a number of cases, the profilers claimed to have engaged in several of these activities.

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On Eliminating Wisconsin Teacher Salary Growth Caps (QEO)

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

Spend more with less money.

That's the impossible demand Democrats who run the state Capitol seem anxious to make on local school boards across Wisconsin.

Democrats who control the governor's office and the Legislature suggest they're going to repeal a long-standing law that effectively caps annual pay raises for public school teachers. Democrats have been promising to remove the cap for more than a decade and now have the political power to do so.

But allowing higher annual raises for teachers will require more money from somewhere. And state leaders don't have any dollars to spare. They're staring at a record state budget shortfall.

So where will the money come from?

Not from property taxes. Gov. Jim Doyle and other Democrats suggest they'll keep in place a state cap on local school district revenue. Revenue caps limit how much local property tax levies can increase.

That will leave school boards with higher salary expenses but no easy way to pay for them.

Dave Blaska noted that WEAC spent $2,100,000 on five Wisconsin Assembly races in 2008.

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January 6, 2009

Mathmetician The Best Job in the US; Madison Math Task Force Community Meetings Tonight & Tomorrow

Sarah Needleman:

Nineteen years ago, Jennifer Courter set out on a career path that has since provided her with a steady stream of lucrative, low-stress jobs. Now, her occupation -- mathematician -- has landed at the top spot on a new study ranking the best and worst jobs in the U.S.

"It's a lot more than just some boring subject that everybody has to take in school," says Ms. Courter, a research mathematician at mental images Inc., a maker of 3D-visualization software in San Francisco. "It's the science of problem-solving."

The study, to be released Tuesday from, a new job site, evaluates 200 professions to determine the best and worst according to five criteria inherent to every job: environment, income, employment outlook, physical demands and stress. ( is published by Adicio Inc., in which Wall Street Journal owner News Corp. holds a minority stake.)

The findings were compiled by Les Krantz, author of "Jobs Rated Almanac," and are based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau, as well as studies from trade associations and Mr. Krantz's own expertise.

According to the study, mathematicians fared best in part because they typically work in favorable conditions -- indoors and in places free of toxic fumes or noise -- unlike those toward the bottom of the list like sewage-plant operator, painter and bricklayer. They also aren't expected to do any heavy lifting, crawling or crouching -- attributes associated with occupations such as firefighter, auto mechanic and plumber.

The study also considers pay, which was determined by measuring each job's median income and growth potential. Mathematicians' annual income was pegged at $94,160, but Ms. Courter, 38, says her salary exceeds that amount.

Related:Parents and citizens have another opportunity to provide input on this matter when Brian Sniff, Madison's Math Coordinator and Lisa Wachtel, Director of Madison's Teaching & Learning discuss the Math Report at a Cherokee Middle School PTO meeting on January 14, 2009 at 7:00p.m.

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Wisconsin State Tax Redistribution to K-12 Districts: Inverse Robin Hood, or Accounting Trick?

Amy Hetzner:

A change in how the state finances schools is having an effect that is the reverse of what Robin Hood would do, an advocacy group contends.

It is aiding the rich at the expense of the poor.

Increases in the state's school levy tax credit in recent years mean that taxpayers statewide saw $822.4 million taken off of their property tax bills in December. But the Association for Equity in Funding argues that credit amount, which is distributed based on property tax burden, results in more help for school districts where residents generally have higher incomes and already spend more on education than for low-income districts.

How much so? In an analysis released in December, the group found that all but one of 46 school districts that received more than $1,500 per pupil from the levy credit spent above the state average. In contrast, 35 of the 57 school districts that received less than $500 per pupil from the credit had below-average spending.

That result is contrary to the general aim of the state's school funding system to distribute aid in a way to help reduce the gap between rich and poor communities, the association said.

"The governor and the Legislature should stop increasing the school levy credit now!" wrote Doug Haselow, executive director of the association, which unsuccessfully sued to overturn the state's school funding system earlier in the decade.

That might be difficult to do.

One main reason that the levy credit has increased in every budget since Gov. Jim Doyle took office is that "it's an accounting trick," said Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.

Although the levy credit can be counted toward funding the state government's two-thirds portion of school costs in one year, it actually isn't paid to municipalities until the following fiscal year, Berry said. That has helped the state balance its budgets while claiming to cover its obligations, he said.

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Soft Skills--Call Them What They Are

Kathleen Paris, via email:

It grates on me when I hear people talk about "soft skills." Although definitions vary, soft skills generally refer to the ability to communicate effectively, knit a group of people together toward achieving a goal, and create a sense of shared community and purpose.'s Kate Lorenz describes these as "interpersonal skills and leadership qualities to guide teams of diverse professionals."[i]

"Firms today are having a very difficult time finding managers who have superior 'soft skills' says John P. Kreiss, president of SullivanKreiss, a recruitment and placement firm for design and construction professionals.[ii] Based on my own consulting practice, I would have to agree that most workplaces could do with more soft skills.

Our language is part of the problem. By calling them "soft," we are demoting this constellation of abilities and skills to something frilly, mushy and largely unimportant. Let's find a more fitting term for them.

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ACLU Report Reveals Arrests At Hartford-Area Schools On Rise


Police arrests of students at Hartford-area schools are on the rise, according to a new American Civil Liberties Union report released today, a trend that disproportionately impacts children of color.

The ACLU report, entitled "Hard Lessons: School Resource Officer Programs and School-Based Arrests in Three Connecticut Towns," also shows how the use by school districts in Hartford, East Hartford and West Hartford of school resource officers who are not adequately trained and whose objectives are not clearly defined leads to the criminalization of students at the expense of their education.

The report's findings are just the latest examples of a disturbing national trend known as the "school to prison pipeline" wherein children are over-aggressively funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.

"Our goal is to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to receive a quality education," said Jamie Dycus, staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program and the primary author of the report. "Relying too heavily on arrests as a disciplinary measure impedes that goal and only serves to ensure that some of our most vulnerable populations are criminalized at very young ages before alternatives are exhausted that could lead to academic success."

According to the report, students in West Hartford and East Hartford are arrested at school at a rate far out of proportion to their numbers. During the 2006-07 school year, for example, black and Hispanic students together accounted for 69 percent of East Hartford's student population, but experienced 85 percent of its school-based arrests. In West Hartford during the same year, black and Hispanic students accounted for 24 percent of the population, but experienced 63 percent of the arrests.


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Wisconsin's 2007-2008 Final Budget Deficit: $2,500,000,000


It usually goes unnoticed, but each year at this time, the state issues its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) prepared by the state controller using generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). This year's CAFR puts the state's 2008 GAAP deficit at $2.5 billion. Relative to population or state income, Wisconsin has the largest GAAP deficit of all 50 states.

N o newspaper, pundit, major Web site, or broadcast outlet covered it. No politician or pressure group commented on it. Yet release of the state's official financial statements for the most recent fiscal year contained a major news item: Wisconsin closed its books on 2007-08 with a $2.5 billion (b) deficit.

CAFR reports official deficit

The deficit figure is buried in the state's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). The report was prepared by the state controller, audited by the Legislative Audit Bureau, and recently posted on a state government Web site (

Much more on the proposed deficit spending trillion dollar Obama "splurge" here.

George Lightbourn: The Dodgy Thinking Behind the State Budget Bailout:

Did government avoid this tsunami of overspending? Of course not, it bellied up to the trough and blithely went about spending money it simply did not have. We all know about the skyrocketing federal debt, but state governments have found ways around their balanced budget requirements. For example, Wisconsin state accountants recently closed the books on the last fiscal year showing a deficit of $2.5 billion. That was the deficit as of July 31, before the current recession hit full stride.

When we see state government carrying a deficit of that size from year to year, it should set off warning lights. State government spending is unsustainable even in good times. It is logical then to use this time of fiscal stress to confront the unsustainable level of state spending, to reassess, to change, to shrink. It would be good for everyone to have government spending reduced to a sustainable level. But that is probably not in the cards.
Paul Krugman, the columnist for the New York Times who was recently awarded the Nobel Prize for economics, articulates the philosophy that will drive the thinking as to how Wisconsin will address its budget crisis. "It's true that the economy is shrinking. But that's the result of a slump in private spending. It makes no sense to add to the problem by cutting public spending too," wrote Krugman. Krugman's line of thought is not only wrong; it stands to make Wisconsin's long-term prospects much worse.

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Call Grows to Cap Property Taxes

Jennifer Levitz:

Support for property-tax rollbacks is building from Arizona to New York, fueled by angry homeowners in some locales who are seeing rising tax bills despite plunging home prices.

Legislatures in New York, Georgia, Oklahoma and Wyoming are considering taking up proposals to curb property taxes in their 2009 sessions. In Indiana, a cap on property taxes enacted last year became effective Jan. 1, and lawmakers are planning to vote this year on whether to put before voters a constitutional amendment that would cap taxes permanently at 1% of a property's value.

In recent months, citizen groups in Montana, Nevada and Arizona have organized to get property-tax-relief measures on state ballots. Florida voters last year amended the state's constitution to increase a number of property-tax exemptions, lowering their assessments.

"We just can't afford these increases in property taxes," said Lynne Weaver, a 59-year-old retired swimsuit saleswoman in Phoenix, who said her investment nest egg "has pretty well been cut in half" by market declines. She is a leading volunteer for Prop. 13 Arizona, an organization collecting signatures seeking a 2010 ballot measure that would roll back home valuations to 2003, before the boom that preceded the bust in home prices, and which would also cap annual property-tax increases at 2% of home value.

Related: Wistax:
Total taxes collected from Wisconsin averaged $12,281 per person in 2007-08. The $69.4 billion in annual collections was up 3.4%. Relative to personal income, however, taxes were down slightly, from 34.9% in 2007 to 34.2% in 2008.

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HomeSchooling Grows in the United States

Janice Lloyd:

The ranks of America's home-schooled children have continued a steady climb over the past five years, and new research suggests broader reasons for the appeal.
The number of home-schooled kids hit 1.5 million in 2007, up 74% from when the Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics started keeping track in 1999, and up 36% since 2003. The percentage of the school-age population that was home-schooled increased from 2.2% in 2003 to 2.9% in 2007. "There's no reason to believe it would not keep going up," says Gail Mulligan, a statistician at the center.

Traditionally, the biggest motivations for parents to teach their children at home have been moral or religious reasons, and that remains a top pick when parents are asked to explain their choice.

The 2003 survey gave parents six reasons to pick as their motivation. (They could choose more than one.) The 2007 survey added a seventh: an interest in a "non-traditional approach," a reference to parents dubbed "unschoolers," who regard standard curriculum methods and standardized testing as counterproductive to a quality education.

"We wanted to identify the parents who are part of the 'unschooling' movement," Mulligan says. The "unschooling" group is viewed by educators as a subset of home-schoolers, who generally follow standard curriculum and grading systems. "Unschoolers" create their own systems.

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January 5, 2009

Taliban Bans Education For Girls in Swat Valley

Nasir Khan:

Taliban militants in a former tourist region of Pakistan have banned girls from school beginning this month, claiming female education is contrary to Islam.

"From January 15, girls will not be allowed to attend schools," Mullah Shah Doran, the Taliban second in command in the scenic Swat Valley, announced in a recent radio address. Mullah Doran said educating girls is "un-Islamic."

The announcement is a further blow to a system in which female enrollment already has plunged because of ongoing violence. Three years ago, more than 120,000 girls attended schools and colleges in the region, which has a population of 1.8 million. Now only about 40,000 are enrolled.

"More than 30 percent [of the] girls dropped out of educational institutions in 2006 and 2007 due to speeches of [militant leader] Mullah Fazlullah on his FM radio against girls' education," said an official in the Swat education department, who asked not to be named to avoid becoming a target for militants.

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Homework on an iPod.....

Miki Perkins:

A PILOT program in which teenagers used iPods for school work has increased attendance and increased enthusiasm for homework.

A class of year 8 students at Shepparton High School in central Victoria are the first in Australia and among the first in the world to use iPod touches in the classroom for a global "mobile learning" project.

The students use the hand-held media players to search the internet, download music, do quizzes, research and submit assignments and collaborate with a school in Singapore.

Preliminary research on the program found students were more willing to come to school, did more homework and used their iPods more than laptops or desktop computers.

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Five running for state schools chief

Scott Bauer:

Five people are vying to become the next superintendent of education in Wisconsin, a position that will help shape education policy in the state for the next four years.

The five come from a variety of backgrounds -- one is a school superintendent, two are college professors, one is a virtual schools leader, and another is the deputy superintendent.

Tuesday is the deadline for those who want to run for the position to file signatures with the state. It's also the deadline for all other spring elections, including judicial openings and the state Supreme Court.

The field for the education secretary race and any other with more than two candidates will be narrowed to two in a Feb. 17 primary. The election is April 7. The new education secretary takes over July 1 for Libby Burmaster, who decided against seeking a third term.

The state superintendent is largely an administrative post, with little actual power over setting policy, but able to use the position to advocate for their priorities across the state.

The superintendent is responsible for governing Wisconsin's public schools, administering state and federal aid, and offering guidance to teachers and administrators. The superintendent also crafts a spending request every two years to run the agency and provide state aid to public schools, which is subject to approval by the Legislature.

Despite the diverse field seeking the post this year, all five candidates agree on many issues such as the need for reform statewide, changes to the No Child Left Behind Law, and improving Milwaukee schools. But they also disagree on major areas, such as the need to repeal a law affecting teacher salaries, that could play a major factor in who wins.

The candidates:

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American Students Set International Benchmark in Academic Expository Writing!

The Concord Review is the only journal in the world for the academic expository writing
of secondary students, and provides a benchmark for students in other countries to
try to reach. In this case, it is the performance mostly of United States secondary students that sets the world benchmark/standard which other countries can aspire to emulate...:

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Baltimore Symphony Trains Disadvantaged Kids

Weekend Edition:

On a block with boarded-up row houses and broken windows sits Baltimore's Harriet Tubman Elementary School. Practically all of the students at the school get free or reduced-price lunches. Some of the kids live in homeless shelters.

But a remarkable new music program lives inside the school's unremarkable walls. OrchKids is a collaboration between the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the school. The idea is to introduce disadvantaged students to classical music, and maybe change their lives in the process.

The Baltimore Symphony's Dan Trahey runs the OrchKids program. This is the first year of the project, which has started with the younger students -- mostly first-graders. Each year, it'll grow to eventually encompass the whole school.

Trahey has an advanced music degree and is a trained orchestra musician. Before taking over OrchKids, he says he felt like he was performing for the wrong audience -- symphony subscribers who really didn't need the music.

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Obama's Education Wish List May Have To Wait

Claudio Sanchez:

Early on in his campaign, Barack Obama's education agenda included a long wish list of proposals for early childhood education, dropout prevention and after-school and college outreach programs among others. Obama called it his "Children First" agenda.

With the economy on life support and just about every state now slashing education funding, President-elect Obama is likely to focus less on his wish list and more on the political consensus he says he wants to build around education.

"For years, we've talked our education problems to death," he said last month. "Stuck in the same tired debates, Democrat versus Republican, more money versus more reform, all along failing to acknowledge that both sides have good ideas and good intentions. We can't continue like this."


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On Milwaukee's Graduation Rate

Alan Borsuk:

If you're looking for good news about Milwaukee Public Schools, consider this: The graduation rate has risen steadily in recent years and is more than 18 percentage points higher than it was in 1996-'97.

Those who say only half of MPS students graduate are right - if they're using figures from a few years ago. But they're wrong now. The official graduation rate is pushing 70%, and even independent analysts, using different ways of calculating the rate, put the figure at closer to 60%.

It appears clear that MPS is doing a better job of keeping teens in school and getting them to the point where they cross a stage and receive a diploma.

Maybe the cause is the creation of a couple of dozen small high schools or changes in the programs inside some of the remaining big schools. Or maybe it's simply success in spreading the message that a diploma is important. But dropout rates are down and kids who used to drift away from school are staying connected.

Before you get too cheery about the improving picture, however, you might want to consider a few more aspects of the crucial question of whether MPS is graduating a sufficiently large number of students who are ready for life after graduation.

To sum up: There just isn't much evidence that MPS high school students are actually doing much better academically. In short, graduation is up, but actual readiness to take on the world might not have changed much.

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Nature Makes a Comeback on Wisconsin School Classes

Andy Hall:

Geeta Dawar takes her seventh grade science students outside their Madison school to examine cracks in the sidewalk.

David Spitzer gets his Madison elementary students to notice flocks of migrating geese overhead as the kids walk to school.

And David Ropa has his seventh graders, even on an arctic morning, use their bare hands to dip testing vials into Lake Mendota.

Nature is on the rise in many schools across Wisconsin, as educators strive to reverse a major societal shift toward technology and indoor activities. Today's students are the first generation in human history raised without a strong relationship with the natural world, said Jeremy Solin, who heads a state forest education program at UW-Stevens Point for students in kindergarten through high school.

The phenomenon of "nature deficit disorder" -- a term coined by author Richard Louv in his 2005 book "Last Child in the Woods" -- is contributing to childhood obesity, learning disabilities, and developmental delays, experts say.

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January 4, 2009

On Adoption: My Secret Life

Ellen Ullman:

I AM not adopted; I have mysterious origins.

I have said that sentence many times in the course of my life as an adopted person. I like it so much I put it into the mouth of a character in the novel I'm writing. The character and I are both fond of the idea. We can think of ourselves as living in the dense pages of 19th-century fiction, where one's origins -- the exact mother and father -- are not nearly as important as one's "circumstances."

Some might say I came to this rationalization because, until recently, everything surrounding my adoption was kept secret from me. Even the date it was finalized was a secret. (The woman on the phone said, "Those records are sealed." I said, "I know I can't see what's in them, but can I find out the date from which I couldn't see what's in them?" She replied, "Even the outsides of the records are sealed" -- a confounding statement, as I envisioned envelopes surrounding envelopes, all sealed into infinity.)

Of course, mysterious origins are a confusing business these days. One might be gestated in an unknown womb while having genes from some combination of one's mother and father and a stranger; from a mother's womb with some combination of known and unknown genes -- not to mention the complication of untold numbers of half-siblings who might be out there from the sperm donations of one man. There are adoptive parents and biological parents, surrogates and donors -- adults of all sorts claiming parenthood by right of blood, genes, birth, law and affection.

Ullman is author of The Bug.

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2009 Wisconsin Superintendent of the Year

Gena Kittner:

If there was any doubt that Jon Bales would be a good fit for the DeForest School District, it was quickly erased when he arrived here nearly a decade ago.

The School Board had set up a program to solicit input from residents about the future direction of the district. Another superintendent might have been more eager to put his own stamp on the district. But Bales embraced the project, which led to a renewed commitment to technology, quality facilities and individualized learning programs.

"When we did that, it just really made a connection between the district and the community," said Bales, 56. "For me that was one of the most gratifying things we've done. All that community input is like gold."

In February, the district plans to hold a similar program, this time looking to the year 2025.

Bales' role in implementing those goals is among the reasons he has been named Wisconsin's 2009 Superintendent of the Year by the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators.

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The Big Cram for Hunter High School

Javier Hernandez:

While their friends played video games in pajamas or vacationed in the tropics, a dozen sixth graders spent winter break at Elite Academy in Flushing, Queens, memorizing word roots. Time was ticking as they prepared to face the thing they had talked about, dreamed about and lost sleep over for much of the past year: the Hunter College High School admissions exam, a strenuous three-hour test that weeds out about 90 percent of those who take it.

On Wednesday, the final day of test-prep boot camp before the Jan. 9 exam, there seemed to be nothing more terrifying to these 11-year-olds than the risk of failure.

Some had taken up coffee; others, crossword puzzles and cable news shows to glean vocabulary words. A few of their parents had hired private tutors and imposed strict study hours, and several had paid up to $3,000 for a few months of English and math classes at Elite, a regimen modeled on the cram schools of South Korea, China and Japan.

The five girls and seven boys at Elite on Wednesday seemed to delight in their onerous routine, unwilling or unable to imagine life any other way.

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Seat belts to be in more Dallas-area school buses

Matthew Haag:

Some buses serving Dallas County schools will soon have seat belts installed despite an ongoing debate about their effectiveness on school buses.

Dallas County Schools, which provides buses for Dallas ISD and eight other school districts, will have dozens more large buses with lap-shoulder belts. And district officials said they hope belts will be in more buses in the future.

"Common sense says we need to protect our kids every way possible, and that includes seat belts," said Larry Duncan, Dallas County Schools board president. "I would like to see them all with seat belts overnight, but we can't get that done."

Dallas County Schools already has installed shoulder-lap seat belts on two buses that serve DISD elementary schools in North Dallas. This month, the district expects to receive 70 new large buses equipped with lap-shoulder belts similar to those in passenger cars, officials said.

Despite the district's decision to have the seat belts, the debate remains about the benefits of seat belts on buses.

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January 3, 2009

High school football stars on display

Diane Pucin:

On Sunday, ESPN will televise the Under Armour High School All-America High School football game from the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando at 5 p.m. PT.

USC and UCLA fans will be able to see several players who have committed to their teams.

For the Trojans, playing on the White team: Santa Ana Mater Dei quarterback Matt Barkley; Calhoun (S.C.) County wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey; and Agoura High offensive lineman Kevin Graf.

For the Bruins, also playing on the White team: Rancho Cucamonga Los Osos quarterback Richard Brehaut; Carson High receiver Morrell Presley; and Kapolei, Hawaii, offensive lineman Stan Hasiak.

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Blue Man Group Creates High-Tech NYC Preschool

Margot Adler:

You may have come across Blue Man Group over the years -- the humanoid trio with blue heads who play weird instruments on stage and do crazy things. But Blue Man Group is no longer three quirky performance artists; they are a multimillion dollar operation with seven companies in North America, Europe and Japan.

The original founders of the group have started a preschool in New York's East Village that is called -- appropriately -- Blue School.

At first glance, Blue School seems very normal in comparison to the blue-headed performance artists. There are cheery classrooms, books, clay, blocks -- all the things expected in a good preschool. There are a few Blue Man things, like the speaking tubes that snake along the ceiling and allow kids to speak to each other from a distance.

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Unspoken Link Between Credit Cards and Colleges

Jonathan Glater:

When Ryan T. Muneio was tailgating with his parents at a Michigan State football game this fall, he noticed a big tent emblazoned with a Bank of America logo. Inside, bank representatives were offering free T-shirts and other merchandise to those who applied for credit cards and other banking products.

"They did a good job," Mr. Muneio, 21 and a junior at Michigan State, said of the tactic. "It was good advertising."

Bank of America's relationship with the university extends well beyond marketing at sports events. The bank has an $8.4 million, seven-year contract with Michigan State giving it access to students' names and addresses and use of the university's logo. The more students who take the banks' credit cards, the more money the university gets. Under certain circumstances, Michigan State even stands to receive more money if students carry a balance on these cards.

Hundreds of colleges have contracts with lenders. But at a time of rising concern about student debt -- and overall consumer debt -- the arrangements have sounded alarm bells, and some student groups are starting to push back.

The relationships are reminiscent of those uncovered two years ago between student loan companies and universities. In those, some lenders offered universities an incentive to steer potential borrowers their way.

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Claiborne Pell 1918-2008, champion of accessible higher education

Lauren Starkey:

Over six million low-income college students this year received Pell Grants, and its likely that most of them aren't familiar with their originator, Claiborne Pell. This morning, the Rhode Island senator (who retired in 1997 after his sixth term) passed away at his home in Newport. He was 90, and died after a long battle with Parkinson's disease. His work will live on, however, in the lives and deeds of the students who attend college due in large part to his insistence that access to higher education be available to as many students as possible.

In 1972, Pell drafted legislation that created the Basic Educational Opportunity Grants, which were renamed Pell Grants in 1980. At the time of his retirement in 1994, the Grants provided aid to over 54 million low- and middle-income students (90% of recipients have family incomes of $40,000 or less). In 2008, the US Department of Education reports that the program awarded almost 5.6 million grants totaling $16.4 billion.

The New York Times in September called Pell Grants "the most important form of aid to needy students, and for millions, whether recent high school graduates or those who have been working for years, higher education would be impossible without such aid." The grants have been threatened with funding cuts throughout their 36-year existence. Pell told Times in 1996 that although the Grant program "exceeded [his] wildest hopes," he believed it should have become an entitlement, protected from Senate budget conflicts.

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Online Education Today

A. Frank Mayadas, John Bourne and Paul Bacsich:

Online education is established, growing, and here to stay. It is creating new opportunities for students and also for faculty, regulators of education, and the educational institutions themselves. Much of what is being learned by the practitioners will flow into the large numbers of blended courses that will be developed and delivered on most campuses. Some of what is being learned will certainly improve pedagogical approaches and possibly affect other important problems, such as the lengthening time to completion of a degree. Online education is already providing better access to education for many, and many more will benefit from this increased access in the coming years.

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The Art of Bookmark:

Outstanding bookmarks vintage and modern
Bookmark design in manifold shapes and make-up.

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January 2, 2009

Report outlines cost-savings, no new revenues for Massachusetts education

James Vaznis:

The governor's ambitious overhaul of public education -- from universal preschool to free community college -- appears likely to be placed on hold, as the state grapples with a massive budget deficit that could lead to funding cuts for local school districts.

An education finance committee that was appointed by the governor last summer said today that the economic downturn is preventing it from recommending any immediate measures to raise revenue to pay for the governor's plan. Instead, the committee recommended modest cost-saving measures that could yield $550 million.

"The commission recognized that the state is facing completely different fiscal realities than were contemplated this past summer," according to a report released today by the commission. "The most recent estimates for the fiscal year 2010 budget predict a deficit of between $2 and $3 billion dollars. ... The commission's deliberations, therefore, concentrated on the urgent need to find opportunities for cost savings and to maintain support for our education system in a time of inadequate resources."

The cost-saving measures focus heavily on encouraging local school districts to pool together resources to increase their ability to negotiate better purchase prices for things such as health insurance, energy contracts, and classroom supplies as well as share some administrative jobs.

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Is the Minnesota Depart of Education Too political to think big on education policy?

Emily Johns:

With the start of Minnesota's legislative session nearing, several education groups have been pushing the Legislature to establish an independent commission to research state education policy and look at efficient, innovative ways to educate Minnesota students.

Groups such as Parents United for Public Schools and the Association of Metropolitan School Districts say it will help the state's education system if legislators are armed with good, independent peer-reviewed research. And they say it will help the state's taxpayers when education policies that are ineffective or inefficient are proven to be so, and are ended.

"We as legislators are constantly asked to make some very hard decisions that impact many, many lives, and we don't always have good research at our disposal," said Sen. Sandy Rummel, DFL-White Bear Lake, who is working on drafting the legislation.

An independent research group would likely be funded by start-up money from the state -- maybe $200,000, according to Scott Croonquist, executive director of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts. Then, it would seek independent foundation and grant money, and try to get some help from higher education research institutions, he said.

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Advocating Increased Minnesota K-12 Funding

Tom Weber:

As lawmakers head to the Capitol next week to face a massive budget deficit, two new reports are making the case that lawmakers need to put more money into education.

One report, from the Minnesota Budget Project, concludes what many school leaders have said for years: That state funding hasn't kept up with inflation this decade.

Analyst Katherine Blauvelt says the state dropoff has resulted in higher property taxes. And Blauvelt says that might leave homeowners thinking schools are flush with cash.

"But what we actually found was the increased property taxes didn't plug the budget hole that the drop in state dollars left," she said.

The report also analyzes data on college tuition increases over the past decade.

Another report, from the Bush Foundation, found unprepared kindergartners are more likely to drop out of high school, which costs Minnesota schools $42 million a year in lost state aid.

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Social Networking Meets College Reviews


Unigo is a new platform for college students to share reviews, photos, videos, documents, and more with students on their campus and across the country.

It's also the best place for high school students to find out what life is really like at North America's colleges, and to make friends who can help them find the school that's right for them.

Unigo is the result of a community of students across the country dedicated to getting the truth out about college life, and it's growing bigger every day.

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January 1, 2009

Madison School District seeks input on proposed math changes

Andy Hall:

A series of potentially controversial proposals will be outlined next week as residents are invited to help shape how math is taught in the Madison School District.

Among the recommendations from a task force that recently completed a one-year study:

• Switch to full-time math teachers for all students in grades five through eight.

• The math task force's executive summary and full report

• Substantially boost the training of math teachers.

• Seriously consider selecting a single textbook for each grade level or course in the district, rather than having a variety of textbooks used in schools across the district.

The task force was created in 2006 by the Madison School Board to independently review the district's math programs and seek ways to improve students' performance.

Related links:

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Vermont Attempts to Slow School Spending Growth as Enrollments Decline

Wilson Ring:

Pelham said Vermont schools are among the best-funded in the nation and have been getting more money and more staff while the number of students continues to decline.

"Vermont's best-in-the-nation spending on K-12 education provides a very reasonable basis to ask the education lobby to temper their exuberant self-interest and to work with others to find a more balanced response to Vermont's current economic and fiscal concerns," Pelham said in a Dec. 29 letter to legislative leaders.

John Nelson of the Vermont School Boards' Association said he took exception to Pelham's letter.

"What I know from talking with board members around the state is that there are truly agonizing discussions going on about this year's budget," Nelson said. "We're aware of the economic climate, but we're also aware of the continuing demand on schools."

State Sen. Peter Shumlin, a Putney Democrat, the senate president pro tem and one of the lawmakers to whom Pelham's letter was addressed, said it was "disrespectful and destructive" to blame school boards for rising costs.

"Clearly, the tone of the letter suggests there is real animosity between the governor, the tax commissioner and hard working school board members. When that spills over into the public dialogue it is a disservice to all Vermonters," Shumlin said.


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The Worst Jobs in History


The history we are taught usually features the lives and times of the great and the good, of the haves but not the have-nots. However, the monarchs, aristocrats and magnates could not have existed without the battalions of minions who performed the tasks that were beneath their masters and mistresses.

In this website, we take you on a journey through 2,000 years of British history and the worst jobs of each era, as seen in both Channel 4 Worst Jobs series. Tony Robinson has devised a quiz to see how suited you would be to certain jobs, and we have an extract from his book on the worst children's jobs. The skills agency learndirect has provided information on offbeat careers, and we show you how to take your interest further.

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2008 NCAA Division 1 Sports Graduation Success Rates


The NCAA Graduation Success Rate (GSR) and the Academic Success Rate (ASR) were developed in response to college and university presidents who wanted graduation data that more accurately reflect the mobility among college students today. Both rates improve on the federally mandated graduation rate by including students who were omitted from the federal calculation.

The GSR measures graduation rates at Division I institutions and includes students transferring into the institutions. The GSR also allows institutions to subtract student-athletes who leave their institutions prior to graduation as long as they would have been academically eligible to compete had they remained.

The ASR measures graduation rates at Division II institutions and is very similar to the GSR. The difference is that the ASR also includes those freshmen who were recruited to the institution but did not receive athletics financial aid.

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Obama Pledges Schools Upgrade in Stimulus ("Splurge") Plan

Libby Quaid:

Barack Obama probably cannot fix every leaky roof and busted boiler in the nation's schools. But educators say his sweeping school modernization program - if he spends enough - could jump-start student achievement.

More kids than ever are crammed into aging, run-down schools that need an estimated $255 billion in repairs, renovations or construction. While the president-elect is likely to ask Congress for only a fraction of that, education experts say it still could make a big difference.

"The need is definitely out there," said Robert Canavan, chairman of the Rebuild America's Schools coalition, which includes both teachers' unions and large education groups. "A federal investment of that magnitude would really have a significant impact."

Educators argue that spiffy classrooms help children learn and also remove health risks. But they warn that Obama's school spending plan won't stimulate the economy if it requires matching funds from state and local governments whose tax revenues have been slashed by the recession.

And they caution that throwing huge sums of money at programs that haven't proven effective, such as the federal "E-Rate" program that gives technology discounts to schools, won't help student achievement or the economy.

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