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February 28, 2009 My School District

via a kind reader's email, who wonders if a student posting on this site violates the Madison School District's "Code of Conduct":

The Obama administration has pledged to reform the country's school system and we want to know: Are there problems in the school district where you live? Education Secretary Arne Duncan will appear on Campbell Brown's "No Bias, No Bull" Friday, and your stories may be part of the interview.

Whether you're a dedicated teacher or concerned parent, we want to hear about the issues facing your school district. Express your concerns, questions and suggested solutions on video.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:17 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Waunakee School District may break off Spanish as a separate class

Gena Kittner:

Heather Lawnicki -- Señora Lawnickci to her students -- sweeps into her fourth-grade classroom at Heritage Elementary and immediately leads students in singing "Buenas tardes," a popular Spanish tune that gets the children primed to think and speak in Spanish.

The clock is ticking and there's no time to waste: Lawnicki has just 30 minutes to cover lessons in both Spanish and social studies -- on this day "los indios" of Wisconsin, the Indians.

While Lawnicki, who is fluent in both Spanish and Portuguese, delivers most of the instruction in Spanish, she often needs to repeat her questions in English. The children, who appear to have a general grasp of the language, sometimes answer in kind until Lawnicki prompts them to respond in Spanish.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:12 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

An Update on the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Superintendent Election

John Nichols:

It was not a very big surprise that Gov. Jim Doyle endorsed Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers for the top job at DPI, although the governor's endorsement is valuable and important for the teachers-union-backed contender.

Most Democrats will back Evers.

Most Republicans who make endorsements will back virtual schools advocate Rose Fernandez, the conservative with whom Evers is contending in the April 7 election.

But Fernandez has one Democratic -- or at least sort of Democratic -- backer.

Here's the release from her campaign:

"Veteran Democratic lawmaker Ziegelbauer backs Fernandez

Bipartisan campaign for school superintendent keeps gaining momentum.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:58 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Texting: Good for kids after all?

Bill Ray:

study of 88 British kids, aged between 10 and 12, has discovered that those who regularly text have better reading skills despite the use of txt abbreviations.

The increasing use of abbreviations, phonetic spellings and the dropping of vowels is a constant source of irritation to the Daily Mail-reading crowd, who happily quote anecdotal evidence of declining standards. This promoted researchers at Coventry University to take a more scientific approach, and their findings seem to suggest that texting aids literacy rather than damaging it.

The study, published by the British Psychological Society, got 88 children to compose text messages in response to a range of scenarios, then compared the frequency with each child used textisms with tests of their "reading, vocabulary, and phonological awareness". The results indicated that the increased exposure to print, in any form, led to greater literacy with those using most text'isms being more literate.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:11 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

College Acceptance Letters Are Glitzier, but Rejections Are Harsher

Kim Clark:

College admissions officers are jazzing up their acceptance notifications--sending out fancy certificates, T-shirts, tubes of confetti, or Internet links to videos of fireworks--in an effort to inspire loyalty and lock in commitments from today's fickle and worried high school seniors.

While many students enjoy the new twists on what used to be just fat and thin envelopes, others are criticizing some of the changes to admissions notifications. Some students are less wowed by glitz than by old-fashioned personal letters that show an admissions officer actually read the essays. Some high school officials complain about school disruptions caused by midday fateful E-mails or text messages. And some students say the new electronic rejections--some of which are little more than "Admissions decision: Deny"--feel much harsher than the traditional letters enclosed in ominously thin envelopes.

The controversy over the best way to inform students of their fates is likely to heighten in 2009 as a growing number of colleges experiment with:

Text messages. Baylor University is one of a growing number of schools that blast out congratulatory text messages (though it sends rejections via snail mail).

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:11 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Will Depth Replace Breadth in Schools?

Jay Matthews:

If our nation's high school teachers had $20 for every time they had to endure the Depth vs. Breadth debate, they all would have retired to mansions in West Palm Beach.

The debate goes like this: Should they focus on a few topics so students have time to absorb and comprehend the inner workings of the subject? Or should they cover every topic so students get a sense of the whole and can later pursue those parts that interest them most?

The truth, of course, is that students need both. Teachers try to mix the two in ways that make sense to them and their students. But a surprising study -- certain to be a hot topic in teacher lounges and education schools -- is providing new data that suggest educators should spend much more time on a few issues and let some topics slide. Based on a sample of 8,310 undergraduates, the national study says that students who spend at least a month on just one topic in a high school science course get better grades in a freshman college course in that subject than students whose high school courses were more balanced.

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

Yale's Shiller Says Education, Risk Management Overhaul Needed

Patrick Rial:

-- Financial education for individuals and stricter risk controls at banks are needed to counter the psychological biases that led to the mortgage crisis, said Yale University's Robert Shiller, a professor of behavioral economics.

"This crisis was the result of psychological contagion and speculative bubbles and also the result of poor risk management," Shiller, who is also chief economist at MacroMarkets LLC, told reporters in Tokyo. "The real problem is that we weren't managing risk."

A variety of biases in human psychology leads people to make decisions that are against their own self interest, behavioral experts including Shiller say. Behavioral economics combines the findings of psychology with economics and evolved as a challenge to the theory that markets are always efficient.

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

Driver's Ed: When Kids Start Asking for the Keys

Neal Templin:

Driving is the ultimate mixed blessing.

Cars permit us to zip around most American cities in a way no public transit system ever could. We rely on them to go to work. To do our shopping. To see friends.

But owning a car is also expensive. For most of us, a decent chunk of the money we earn goes to pay for our wheels. Once we start driving, we begin to lock ourselves into a more expensive lifestyle that requires us to earn more money.

These same forces are at play when our kids start driving. It's a big step toward making them into full-fledged adults early -- for better and for worse.

Two of my three children have hit the driving age with very different outcomes. Now, my youngest child is 17, and he's eager to grab the wheel.

My views on driving were shaped growing up in the 1960s and early 1970s in Southern California. Only a handful of kids at my high school had their own cars. The rest of us walked or rode our bikes to school, or maybe we got a lift with someone when we were seniors.

Still, most of my friends got their license when they were 16 years old. Many of them already knew how to drive years before they got a license. Not me.

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

February 27, 2009

Madison School District's Outbound Open Enrollment for 2009/2010

648 (2.68% of the District's enrollment) students open enrolled out for the 2009/2010 school year. 217 high school, 127 middle school and 304 elementary students. [704K PDF: pages 14, 15 and 16]

More on the history of Wisconsin open enrollment, here. Enrollment numbers drive a school district's tax and spending authority. Wisconsin Open Enrollment website.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:41 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

What's Memorial Done Lately?

Madison Memorial has had a pretty good couple of weeks. Last night the boys basketball team won its sixth straight Big Eight conference championship in a rollicking and highly-entertaining showdown with conference runner-up Madison East. Last week, Memorial's boys swimming team won the state championship. Today's State Journal reports that Memorial senior Suvai Gunasekaran will be heading off to Washington as one of the 40 finalists in the Intel Science Talent Search. And last week Memorial senior violinist Ben Seeger was the winner of the Steenbock Youth Music Award in the Bolz Young Artist Competition.

It's also worth pointing out that Suvai will be joined by Gabriela Farfan of West at the Intel Science Talent Search (and so MMSD is supplying 5% of the nation's finalists), and that Ben was joined in the Bolz Young Artists Competition finals by Alice Huang of West (the overall winner) and Ansel Norris of East (and so MMSD supplied 75% of the finalists in this statewide competition).

Madison schools - a diversity of excellence.

Posted by Ed Hughes at 2:30 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Teachers Are All That, And A Bag Of Chips


Some teachers in Oregon want to do as they do, not as they say. The state has banned the sale of junk food in schools in an effort to protect the health of kids. But under prodding from teachers, the Oregon state House approved an exception. If the measure becomes law, unhealthy snacks would be allowed in teachers' lounges. The teachers say they're adults and can decide for themselves whether they should eat chips.

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In Md. and Va., Signs Of the Tough Times: A 2.8% Reduction in Spending

Nelson Hernandez & Theresa Vargas:

The Prince George's County Board of Education last night approved a $1.6 billion budget that eliminates almost 800 jobs, while Arlington County's schools chief unveiled the first budget of his 12-year tenure with a reduction in total spending.

The actions showed anew how the economic recession is hitting home for Washington area school systems.

The Prince George's board unanimously endorsed a spending plan for the 128,000-student system that omits cost-of-living raises and some seniority-based salary increases for employees. The budget also rolls back several programs begun during the 2 1/2 year tenure of superintendent John E. Deasy, who left in December for another job.

Among other cuts, the budget developed by Interim Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. eliminates 144 positions for parent liaisons, who act as a bridge between parents and school staff. Two programs to bolster academic performance will be reduced. An initiative to split school administration into nine zones will be modified to five zones, and a program to train 10 resident principals will be eliminated.

Arlington does a nice job of keeping their current and historical budgets on one easy to use page. Madison's budget information page.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:36 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

A Summary of the Madison School District's Strategic Planning Process

This PDF document [1MB] summarizes some of the work to date from the Madison School District's strategic planning process. TJ Mertz posted some additional links here.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:05 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Charter Schools a Vice?

Mary Wiltenburg:

Obama may love charter schools, Georgia may be on the fence, but St. Louis school leaders see charter schools as a vice. While researching our upcoming story about the International Community School and charter school facilities, I learned that last year, as the leaders of St. Louis public schools prepared to sell a bunch of empty school buildings, the district barred certain unwanted buyers: "liquor stores, landfills, distilleries, as well as shops that sell "so-called 'sexual toys,' " writes St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter David Hunn. "They also blackballed charter schools."

This despite the city's 17 public charter schools and 9,500 charter students - and eight new charters expected to open by fall 2010 - writes Bill Schulz of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. "Porn shops and liquor stores and charter schools, oh my!" he quipped.

Huhn reports: " 'We tried to buy three,' said Susan Uchitelle, board member at Confluence Academy, a charter school with three campuses and 2,700 students in St. Louis. 'We finally just gave up.... It was made very clear they weren't going to sell to us. They'd show them to us. They'd let us walk through them. But then they'd take them off the market.' "

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

One Thing You Don't Need To Be An Entrepreneur: A College Degree

Fred Wilson:

We were in a board meeting today and the founder/CEO made a comment about a deal he's working on and I said "well you learned that well in school." He smiled and said, "we didn't go to school" (meaning college). I didn't actually know that, but it did not surprise me. I have learned that where someone went to college (or even if they didn't go to college) has absolutely no correlation to whether they will be a good entrepreneur or not. I don't pay attention to that part of a resume. I focus on what they've done in the work world, what they've shown they can do, and most importantly what they've done to date on that specific startup.

We chuckled about that exchange and the other VC on the board said "I think twenty percent or more of our portfolio companies are led by entrepreneurs who didn't graduate from college.

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

A handwaving approach to arithmetic

The Economist:

HUMAN language is the subject of endless scientific investigation, but the gestures that accompany speech are a surprisingly neglected area. It is sometimes jokingly said that the way to render an Italian speechless is to tie his wrists together, but almost everyone moves their hands in meaningful ways when they talk. Susan Goldin-Meadow of the University of Chicago, however, studies gestures carefully--and not out of idle curiosity. Introspection suggests that gesturing not only helps people communicate but also helps them to think. She set out to test this, and specifically to find out whether gestures might be used as an aid to children's learning. It turns out, as she told the AAAS, that they can.

The experiment she conducted involved balancing equations. Presented with an equation of the form 2 + 3 + 4 = x + 4, written on a blackboard, a child is asked to calculate the value of x. In the equations Dr Goldin-Meadow always made the last number on the left the same as the last on the right; so x was the sum of the first two numbers. Commonly, however, children who are learning arithmetic will add all three of the numbers on the left to arrive at the value of x.

In her previous work Dr Goldin-Meadow had noted that children often use spontaneous gestures when explaining how they solve mathematical puzzles so, to see if these hand-movements actually help a child to think, or are merely descriptive, she divided a group of children into two and asked them to balance equations. One group was asked to gesture while doing so. A second was asked not to. Both groups were then given a lesson in how to solve problems of this sort.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:12 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Laptop for each pupil West Bend among growing number of school districts testing technology-enhanced learning

Amy Hetzner:

If the effectiveness of giving every student a laptop were measured in enthusiasm, the results so far in the West Bend School District would show success.

Just ask some of the students at Silverbrook Middle School who learned late last year they would participate in a 150-student pilot program of one-to-one computing in the district.

"We were all really excited," said eighth-grader Jaclyn Utrie, 14. "We would ask like every day, 'When are we going to get them?' "

The enthusiasm hasn't died four weeks after the computers arrived, but now it's accompanied by responsibility. They have to prove that giving every student a laptop can improve education, not just in West Bend but also to other schools in the area considering a similar step.

Although several schools in the Milwaukee area, mostly small and private, have given laptops to students or required them to bring their own, West Bend could be the first to experiment with a large, multi-school program.

"What I'm hoping is, if this works, then everyone will have the chance to have one," said Tom Balestrieri, 14, another Silverbrook eighth-grader.

The weight's not entirely on the shoulders of the West Bend students. Some other school districts in the state also are starting to experiment with universal laptop programs.

The Pewaukee School District plans to start distributing some sort of portable technology - be it laptop, tablet or hand-held device - to its eighth-graders in fall.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:22 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Mystery & Birds: 5 Ways to Practice Poetry

Ada Limon:

Joshua Marie Wilkinson is putting together a group of micro-essay for teaching poetry to beginning writers. Though I'm not really a teacher, he asked me nonetheless. And since I have so many dear dear friends beginning their semesters this week, this goes out to them. Thanks JMW for inviting me to participate.

Mystery & Birds: 5 Ways to Practice Poetry

Because I work outside of the academic field, I don't get the opportunity to teach very often, but when I do, I'm surprised by how many people read poems as if they can have only one meaning. In my own experience, I find it nearly impossible to hear the beauty and
meditative joy of a poem's lines, or the sensual sounds of a syllable, when I'm reading solely for narrative sense. So, I've come to think that one of the first things to learn about poetry is to simply relax in its mystery. We need to learn that a poem can have many meanings and that it can be enjoyed without a complete understanding of the
poet's intent. On a good day a poem might bring you great joy, on a tough day, the same poem might reveal great agony, but the poem hasn't changed--it's what you have brought to the poem that has changed. The more you read a poem, the more time you spend with it, read it out loud to yourself or to others, the more it will open to you--start to wink and flirt and let you in. A poem is a complex living thing, its multiple edges and many colors are what makes this singular art form so difficult to define. There is an ancient Chinese Proverb that says, "A bird sings not because he has an answer, but because he has a
song." That is how I have come to think about poetry--that a poem isn't a problem to solve, but rather it's a singular animal call that contains multiple layers of both mystery and joy.

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Killing DC Vouchers

Wall Street Journal:

President Obama made education a big part of his speech Tuesday night, complete with a stirring call for reform. So we'll be curious to see how he handles the dismaying attempt by Democrats in Congress to crush education choice for 1,700 poor kids in the District of Columbia.

The omnibus spending bill now moving through the House includes language designed to kill the Opportunity Scholarship Program offering vouchers for poor students to opt out of rotten public schools. The legislation says no federal funds can be used on the program beyond 2010 unless Congress and the D.C. City Council reauthorize it. Given that Democrats control both bodies -- and that their union backers hate school choice -- this amounts to a death sentence.

Republicans passed the program in 2004, with help from Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, and it has been extremely popular. Families receive up to $7,500 a year to attend the school of their choice. That's a real bargain, given that D.C. public schools spend $14,400 per pupil on average, among the most in the country.

To qualify, a student's household income must be at or below 185% of the poverty level. Some 99% of the participants are minority, and the average annual income is $23,000 for a family of four. A 2008 Department of Education evaluation found that participants had higher reading scores than their peers who didn't receive a scholarship, and there are four applicants for each voucher.

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

Two Madison students in finals of prestigious Intel Science Talent Search

Doug Erickson:

Two Madison teenagers have landed among the 40 finalists in the country's top science competition for high school students, a rare twofer for a public school district.

West senior Gabriela Farfan and Memorial senior Suvai Gunasekaran will compete next month in Washington, D.C., for hundreds of thousands of dollars in prizes in the Intel Science Talent Search.

"It's impressive," said John Kalvin, an Intel manager in Chicago, referring to the double finalists from one district. "It's a testament to the kind of teaching taking place here -- and the talent here."

Farfan, 18, a mineral and gemstone collector, broke new ground in trying to determine why a type of feldspar known as Oregon sunstone appears red when viewed from one angle and green when viewed from another. Gunasekaran, 18, focused on developing new methods to inhibit bacterial biofilm growth on the surface of implanted medical devices.

Each student already has won $5,000 and a laptop computer as a finalist.

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

Students Stand When Called Upon, and When Not

Susan Saulny:

From the hallway, Abby Brown's sixth-grade classroom in a little school here about an hour northeast of Minneapolis has the look of the usual one, with an American flag up front and children's colorful artwork decorating the walls.

But inside, an experiment is going on that makes it among the more unorthodox public school classrooms in the country, and pupils are being studied as much as they are studying. Unlike children almost everywhere, those in Ms. Brown's class do not have to sit and be still. Quite the contrary, they may stand and fidget all class long if they want.

And they do.

On one recent morning, while 11-year-old Nick Raboin had his eye on his math problems, Ms. Brown was noticing that he preferred to shift his weight from one foot to the other as he figured out his fractions. She also knew that his classmate Roxy Cotter liked to stand more than sit. And Brett Leick is inclined to lean on a high stool and swing his right foot under a desk that is near chest level. Helps with concentration, he and Ms. Brown say.

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Teacher Training, Tailor-Made

Katherine Newman:

One May afternoon in Boston, 85 teachers in training arrived at the bayside campus of the University of Massachusetts for a three-hour class called Family Partnerships for Achievement. The instructors had invited several public school parents to come in and offer the future teachers advice. Take advantage of technology, said one parent. Among mobile families in poverty, home addresses and telephone numbers may be incorrect. Cell phones are a better bet. Text messaging really works. Take a walk around the neighborhood. Another suggestion: find out where your students shop and hang out.

Look parents in the eye, added an instructor. Say, "Hi, It's great to see you." It's difficult to discuss academics or ask parents to do anything for you before you get to know them.

Family Partnerships for Achievement is not a course typical of most master's programs in education. The course was designed with one overriding goal: to prepare teachers to be effective in the Boston Public Schools (BPS). This goal drives every aspect of the Boston Teacher Residency (BTR), a district-based program for teacher training and certification that recruits highly qualified individuals to take on the unique challenges of teaching in a high-need Boston school and then guides them through a specialized course of preparation.

BTR is one of a new breed of teacher training initiatives that resemble neither traditional nor most alternative certification programs. By rethinking the relationship between training and hiring, these programs have found promising new ways to prepare educators.

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The classroom menagerie

Nigel Andrews:

How could anyone not love Laurent Cantet's The Class ( Entre les murs )? Last year's Golden Palm winner is the best film about schoolteaching I have seen: a wise, funny cry of helplessness before the tsunami of anarchy that can be school-age adolescence. Adapted from a novel based on his own teaching experiences by François Bégaudeau, it was co-written by Bégaudeau and Cantet. Bégaudeau himself stars as the hapless teacher in a mixed-race school of low attention and high combustibility.

This isn't the high-school hokum messianic with hope that we get from Hollywood. Don't expect To Monsieur With Love . These are real people - both the grown-ups and the kids - who spar like dedicated enemies. And they are played by real teachers and schoolchildren, who workshopped the script with the star and director.

At the outset a defensive cynicism arms both sides. A new teacher is introduced by an older to the pupils' names, on a roster sheet: "Nice. Not nice. Not at all nice." ("Nice" doesn't quite get the measure of gentil , with its connotations of decency). The students, in turn, use a class on the subjunctive to try to break down Sir's resistance. "It's medieval" . . . "Only snobs use the imperfect subjunctive" . . . "It's bourgeois". The free-form fracas finally releases the fatally intended non-sequitur: "People say you like men."

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February 26, 2009

Experts Wonder How Education Goals Will Be Met

Robert Tomsho, John Hechinger & Laura Meckler:

President Barack Obama laid out new national goals Tuesday aimed at boosting high school and college graduation rates, but left education experts wondering on how he intends to reach his targets, and how much he is prepared to spend on them.

In his address to Congress, the president signaled a shift in federal education policy toward improving the skills of adults and work-force entrants, following an intense focus on boosting younger students' reading and mathematics attainment under the No Child Left Behind law, the centerpiece of the Bush administration's schools agenda.

Some observers had believed that education would stay on the back burner early in the Obama administration while the president grappled with the economic crisis. But the subject made it to the top tier of the address to Congress partly because Mr. Obama believes he must send Americans a message about the importance of education.

"Of the many issues, this is one where he feels the bully pulpit needs to be used," a White House official said Wednesday.

In his speech Tuesday night, Mr. Obama said "dropping out of high school is no longer an option" and set a goal of the U.S. having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.

According to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which tracks college-going among its 30 member countries, the U.S., at 30%, is tied for sixth place in college graduation among those 25 to 34 years of age, 2006 data show, behind such countries as Norway, South Korea and the Netherlands. OECD data suggest that the U.S. was No. 1 until around 2000, but has lost its edge as other countries have stepped up their efforts to promote higher education.

Kevin Carey, policy director of the Education Sector, a nonprofit Washington, D.C., think tank, said the U.S. hasn't been slipping but other countries have been improving. Regaining our former top position represents "a pretty reasonable goal," he says. "It's not moon-shot level."

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Student achievement rising in urban Texas schools

Linda Stewart Ball:

Achievement test scores at big-city school districts in Texas still lag far behind their suburban and rural counterparts but they're making great strides and narrowing the gap, according to a report by an education think tank released Wednesday.

A study [PDF report] of 37 of the nation's largest urban school systems by The Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., found that city schools are improving more than other school districts in their respective states.

In Texas, six urban school districts were included in the study: Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.

Three of those -- Dallas, Austin and San Antonio -- are among the top 10 gainers nationally.
The study examined state test scores and demographic information, including race/ethnicity and the percentage of disadvantaged students (those receiving free or reduced lunch), from 2000 to 2007.

It was designed to determine how big-city school districts fared when compared to their suburban and rural peers. The study was able to standardize scores between states, even those using different tests.

Dallas showed the biggest improvement among the large Texas cities, and was 2nd overall nationally. New Orleans topped the list, while Detroit, one of eight districts whose performance declined during the years studied, was last.

In 2000, Dallas was outscored by 100 percent of the state's school districts. By 2007, just 90 percent of suburban and rural districts did better than Dallas -- a significant improvement given its demographics, the study's author said.

Dallas school superintendent Michael Hinojosa embraced the latest findings.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:22 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Straddling the Democratic Divide

Richard Colvin:

Rift in Democratic Party over the nation's education reform agenda is growing. One side backs strong accountability through reforms, the other looks to augment the current system with social support programs.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's Senate confirmation hearing in January was thick with encomiums. He was praised by Democrat Tom Harkin of Iowa for the "fresh thinking" he brought to his post as Chicago schools chief for seven years. Republican Lamar Alexander, education secretary under George H. W. Bush, told Duncan he was the best of President Barack Obama's cabinet appointments. Ailing Massachusetts senator Ted Kennedy, in written comments entered into the record, praised Duncan for having "championed pragmatic solutions to persistent problems" and for lasting longer in Chicago than most urban superintendents.

The warm greetings given by both Republicans and Democrats on the committee reflect Duncan's reputation as a centrist in the ideologically fraught battles over education reform. He has received national attention for moves favored by reformers, such as opening 75 new schools operated by outside groups and staffed by non-union teachers; introducing a pay-for-performance plan that will eventually be in 40 Chicago schools; and working with organizations, including The New Teacher Project, Teach For America, and New Leaders for New Schools, that recruit talented educators through alternatives to the traditional education-school route.

At the same time, Duncan maintained at least a cordial working relationship with the Chicago Teachers Union, and both the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) backed his nomination. He supported the No Child Left Behind law (NCLB), but also called for dramatic increases in spending to help schools meet the law's targets, and additional flexibility for districts like his own. In nominating Duncan, Obama said, "We share a deep pragmatism about how to go about this. If pay-for-performance works and we can work with teachers so it doesn't feel like it's being imposed upon them...then that's something that we should explore. If charter schools work, try that. You know, let's not be clouded by ideology when it comes to figuring out what helps our kids."

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Charter school opponents, watch out

Mary Wiltenburg:

In his address to Congress last night President Obama promised: "We will expand our commitment to charter schools." Today, as the blogosphere buzzes over the speech, education watchers and International Community School teachers alike are taking that commitment seriously.

Calling it "one of the most important lines in President Obama's speech," Kevin Carey, writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education's blog Brainstorm, discussed the power presidents have to refocus public education debates. Just as President Bush's focus on testing and accountability all but killed a debate about vouchers that had raged since the Reagan administration, so, Carey argued, "Obama's forceful position on charter schools is likely to have the same effect." Charter school opponents, he wrote: "You're in for a long eight years."

At Politico's blog The Arena, education heavy-hitters weighed in for and against.

"President Obama's enthusiasm for charter schools is baffling. Doesn't he realize that they are a deregulation strategy much beloved by Republicans?" wrote NYU education historian Diane Ravitch, "If he thinks that deregulation is the cure for American education, I have some AIG stock I'd like to sell him."

Steven G. Calabresi, a law professor at Northwestern University, was ready to get down to brass tacks. "[The] key," he wrote, "is to switch to funding public schools out of statewide collected taxes instead of funding them out of local property taxes and creating many, many more charter school and private schools where students can cash in the education credit or voucher that their stateought to give them."

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'iTunes university' better than the real thing

Ewen Callaway:

Students have been handed another excuse to skip class from an unusual quarter. New psychological research suggests that university students who download a podcast lecture achieve substantially higher exam results than those who attend the lecture in person.

Podcasted lectures offer students the chance to replay difficult parts of a lecture and therefore take better notes, says Dani McKinney, a psychologist at the State University of New York in Fredonia, who led the study.

"It isn't so much that you have a podcast, it's what you do with it," she says.

Skipping class

Launched less than two years ago, Apple's iTunes university offers college lectures on everything from Proust to particle physics to students and the public. Some universities make their lectures available to all, while others restrict access to enrolled students. Some professors even limit downloads to encourage class attendance, McKinney says.

To find out how much students really can learn from podcast lectures alone - mimicking a missed class - McKinney's team presented 64 students with a single lecture on visual perception, from an introductory psychology course.

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A Lesson in Finance After school: debt and default. Who is to blame? What is to be done?

Jacob Sullum:

My wife and I recently made the last payment on her federally backed Stafford loan from graduate school. She had borrowed $21,500, which is slightly more than the average for the two-thirds of four-year college students who take out loans and about half the average for graduate students who borrow. We made modest payments every month for about nine years, and now we're done. Given the extent to which my wife's degrees enhanced her earning ability, the loan was a sound investment.

My wife did not feel that her education had done her "far more harm than good," that it had condemned her to "a lifetime of indentured servitude" or that she was living in "student loan hell." Neither of us was driven to despair, divorce, suicide or expatriation by the constant pressure of crushing indebtedness and relentless collection agencies. In other words, our experience was very different from the horror stories that Alan Michael Collinge tells in "The Student Loan Scam" to reinforce his argument that student loans are "the most oppressive" type of debt "in our nation's history."

Student-loan data suggest that my wife's case is far more typical than the examples cited by Mr. Collinge, all of which involve people who defaulted on their loans and saw their debt mushroom as a result of penalties, collection fees and compound interest. According to the Education Department, the two-year default rate for federal student loans (both direct government loans and private loans backed by government guarantees and subsidies) is less than 5%. A separate Education Department analysis found that the 10-year default rate for college students who graduated in 1993 was less than 10%.

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February 25, 2009

Moscow Math Festival for 6th and 7th Graders

Click on the photo to view a larger version.

Here are the problems from this past Sunday's Moscow Math Festival for Grade 6 [PDF] (1,275 participants) and Grade 7 [PDF] (888 participants), along with a few photos (the competition was held at Moscow State University, using three buildings).
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Letters: 'A' Is for Achievement, 'E' Is for Effort

Letters to the Editor: NY Times:

"Student Expectations Seen as Causing Grade Disputes" (news article, Feb. 18) indicates a rather recent phenomenon among college students.

Students from the earliest grades are encouraged to work hard and told that the rewards will follow. Students must realize that a grade is earned for achievement and not for the effort expended.

Yes, some students can achieve at higher levels with far less effort than others.

This mirrors the world beyond college as well.

In my experience as dean, when students complain about a professor's grading, they seem to focus more on their "creative" justifications (excuses) rather than on remedies. Most faculty members stress the remedy that leads to achievement of instructional goals.

The time-honored mastery of the material should remain paramount. After all, this is what our society expects!

Alfred S. Posamentier
Dean, School of Education
City College of New York, CUNY
New York, Feb. 18, 2009

To the Editor:

As someone who recently went through the ordeal of contesting a grade, I was quite impassioned on reading your article. I have done this only once in four years, so not all of us take the matter lightly.

I resent the suggestion that students feel "entitled" to "get/receive" good grades.

What is so irrational about believing that hard work should warrant a high grade? I would argue that the very core of the American dream is the sentiment that one can achieve any greatness that he or she aspires to if he or she works hard enough.

When one puts one's all into a class, it's not shameful to hope that grades reflect that. The same applies to professionals and their salaries. Instead of psychoanalyzing their students, perhaps these professors should ask themselves this question: If your students are all really this despicable, why are you teaching?

Aimee La Fountain
New York, Feb. 18, 2009

The writer is a senior at Marymount Manhattan College.

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Yale Freezes Pay of Faculty Earning > $75k

President Richard C. Levin:

  1. We will reduce 2009‐2010 budgets by an amount equal to 7.5% of the salaries and benefits of all nonfaculty staff, rather than the 5% announced in December. We expect to achieve this reduction largely through attrition in managerial, professional, clerical, technical, service, and maintenance staff, as well as through reduction of casual and temporary employees. To the extent that layoffs are necessary, we will make sure that affected individuals are provided support and guidance.
  2. We will also seek larger reductions in non‐salary expenditures. Instead of a 5% reduction for each of the next two years, we will ask units to budget a 7.5% reduction for 2009‐2010, and continue to plan for an additional 5% reduction the following year.
  3. Faculty, managerial, and professional employees with salaries below $75,000 will continue to be eligible for merit increases of up to 2%. But there will be no increases for those with salaries above $75,000, including all deans, directors, and University officers. Foregoing the increases announced previously will allow us to preserve more staff positions.

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Teaching Techno-Writing

A new report calls on English instructors to design a new curriculum and develop new pedagogies -- from kindergarten through graduate school -- responding to the reality that students mostly "write to the net."

"Pencils are good; we won't be abandoning them," said Kathleen Blake Yancey, author of "Writing in the 21st Century," a report from the National Council of Teachers of English."They're necessary, as a philosopher would put it, but not sufficient to the purpose."

Yancey, a professor of English at Florida State University and immediate past president of NCTE, described by way of example the case of Tiffany Monk, a Florida teen who, during a flood caused by Tropical Storm Fay, observed that her neighbors were trapped in their homes. She took photos and sent an e-mail to a radio station; help soon arrived.

"This was composing in the 21st century. She chose the right technology, she wrote to the right audience," Yancey said, during a panel presentation at the National Press Club Monday.

Where did Monk learn to do this? Not in school, said Yancey, where "we write on a topic we haven't necessarily chosen. We write to a teacher; we write for a grade."

Also on Monday, NCTE announced a National Day of Writing (October 20) and plans to develop a National Gallery of Writing intended to expand conventional notions of composition. Starting this spring, NCTE is inviting anyone and everyone to submit a composition of importance to them, in audio, text or video form; acceptable submissions for the gallery include letters, e-mail or text messages, journal entries, reports, electronic presentations, blog posts, documentary clips, poetry readings, how-to directions, short stories and memos.

Amid all the focus on new platforms for writing, a panelist who made his name as a nonfiction writer in pre-digital days, Gay Talese, made a case for old-fashioned research methods. Research, he said, "means leaving the desk; it means going out and spending lots of time with people [or books? Will F.]...The art of hanging out, I call it."

"Googling your way through life, acquiring information without getting up, I think that's dangerous," Talese said.

"The modality isn't what's crucial," said Kent Williamson, executive director of NCTE. What is, he continued, is "a commitment to the process" and deep engagement with a subject.

-- Elizabeth Redden

Complete report [436K PDF]

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Lessons in laughter and how to bend the rules at school

Jenny Quinton:

My schooldays were totally great. I went to an all-girls convent and I just remember us all being extremely silly and laughing a lot at the completely stupid things we did.

There were lots of rules so we became extremely creative and were masters at creating totally believable excuses to manoeuvre our way through the system.

Actually, thinking about it I've never laughed like we did at school. But it was nice laughter and we never hurt anyone.

My happiest memory was winning a dancing competition.

I'd never won anything in my life before.

My worst memory was sewing the same apron for two years. I had to keep unpicking it and doing it again because it was always so bad. Even today just trying to thread a needle can reduce me to tears.

I went to Lacey Green Primary School in Wilmslow, near Manchester in England.

Well-off children and very poor children were mixed together and I felt very sad for some of them but sometimes made up nasty songs about them with the others.

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Home from Home

Yojana Sharma:

It was my son's decision to board at Eton, even though he already had a scholarship to a prestigious day school," said Mr Bali, an engineer with his own consultancy firm.

"Our misgivings were emotional rather than academic. We are a close family. We see him every weekend. Pastoral care is an important issue when choosing a boarding school.

"In some schools pastoral care amounts to pampering, which might appeal to mothers but I think it should be balanced. Boys must learn to stand on their own two feet."

Mr Bali's son eventually managed to convince him that he should go to Eton but the caring father said parents had to be very careful about which boarding school they picked.

Academic standards had to be on a par with top day schools for boarding to be good value.

He was speaking in the wake of a report that found parents considered boarding schools in Britain to be good value for money despite steep fee rises in recent years.

The first-ever National Parent Survey carried out by Britain's Boarding Schools Association (BSA) found that almost three quarters of parents who chose boarding education for their children said it was worth it.

But the Good Schools Guide warned that although parents were broadly in favour of boarding, fee levels were now approaching the psychological £10,000 (HK$111,000) a term mark and schools would have to work harder to justify the cost.

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Environmentally focused boarding school faces new challenge

Dramatic changes to a 7-year-old environmentally focused North Woods boarding school have alumni up in arms and parents frantic about finding new schools for their children.

Administrators for Conserve School in Land O'Lakes announced in January they were laying off about half the school's 60-member staff as they begin transitioning to a "semester school" model, where students from other high schools attend for half their junior year.

The blame for the drastic alteration was placed on market conditions that have challenged the future of the young school's $180 million endowment.

But parents, pointing out that the amount of the endowment puts the 145-student school on a per-pupil par with the likes of prestigious Northeast boarding schools Phillips Exeter Academy and Groton School, question the motives of the Chicago steel executives charged with running Conserve.

"My gut tells me, along with a number of other people, is what they are trying to do is they don't want to run a school," said Bill Meier, who has a sophomore son enrolled at Conserve. "It's a pain in the rear to them."

Meier and other parents have requested Conserve School trustees and administrators meet with them and a mediator to find a way to continue running it as one of only three boarding schools in the state.

Their efforts might be too late.

Conserve Headmaster Stefan Anderson said the school was not likely to stick with the four-year college preparatory academy model. The school already has contacted 80 other schools about the possibility of taking freshmen and sophomores who cannot stay during Conserve's transition year, he said.

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February 24, 2009

State by State Summary of Additional Federal Tax Dollar Education Spending

US Department of Education:

These tables (last updated 02/19/2009), in PDF [40KB] and MS Excel [77KB] show preliminary State allocations for Department of Education programs under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Funds under most of these programs can be used over 2 or more fiscal years. Amounts shown on these tables do not include the funds that will be allocated under the annual FY 2009 appropriation.

There are three additional State formula-allocated programs that received funds in the ARRA and will be added to the tables in the near future.

A table estimating State amounts for Federal Pell Grants follows the "Grand Total" table for State allocations from other programs.

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Six Reasons You Should Consider Reading Poetry

Ali Hale:

Unless you're currently in high school or taking an English class in college, chances are that you don't read much poetry. Maybe you think poetry isn't for you - it seems boring, unfathomable, too erudite, or pointless.

However, there are loads of great reasons to read poetry. Before you dislike something without trying it, consider some of these:

Poetry is finer and more philosophical than history; for poetry expresses the universal, and history only the particular.
- Aristotle

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Beautiful Minds

Joyce Kam:

There is a disconnect between high school and university that often catches out those unprepared for academic rigour. Not any more. Not if you are smart. Hong Kong University of Science and Technology is inviting top high-school students worldwide to spend three weeks on its campus for a crash course interspersed with liberal doses of fun.
Its Talented Youth Summer Program aims to give students a foretaste of university life, cultivating essential university habits such as academic absorption and reflection, as well as insight into what makes the city tick.

"Programs for gifted children are rare in Hong Kong (administrative region, China), so we wanted to launch a pilot scheme since we have the right resources," said Helen Wong Hom- fong, the program's associate director. "We welcome students from all disciplines as long as they are willing to be challenged academically."

The university will, of course, be going all out to make a suitable impression on the bright young minds by relying on its traditional strengths, with Wong saying the program's main focus will be on the roles of science and technology throughout the history of civilization as they have always been the driving force.

"The curriculum consists of one core course on the main theme and one elective course, in addition to city tours and a talent show," she said.

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The Spiral of Ignorance

The Economist:

Lack of understanding of the credit crunch is magnifying its damage

THE BBC's "Today" programme is the main current-affairs show on British radio. Last year it recruited a new presenter, Evan Davis, who is also an economist. An amusing pattern has since developed. Quizzed about the credit crunch, a politician delivers some carefully memorised remark about, say, quantitative easing. Then the guest experiences an audible moment of existential horror, as Mr Davis ungallantly presses him for details.

The tide has gone out and, with a very few exceptions, Britain is swimming naked: almost nobody appears to know what he is talking about. The havoc of the financial crisis has stretched and outstripped even most economists. The British political class is befogged. Ordinary people are overwhelmed. And just as the interaction between banking and economic woes is proving poisonous, so the interplay of public and political ignorance is damaging the country's prospects.

Start with the government, whose ministers are still oscillating between prophesying economic Armageddon and gamely predicting the best of all possible recoveries. Gordon Brown is learned in economic history--indeed, he is at his most animated and endearing when discussing it. But the prime minister's grip on the history he is living through is less masterful. The government's implicit strategy is to try something and, when that does not work, try something else: the approach modestly outlined by Barack Obama, but rather less honest.

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Class Size in New York City Schools Rises, but the Impact Is Debated

Jennifer Medina:

In many circles, class size is considered as fundamental to education as the three R's, with numbers watched so carefully that even a tiny increase can provoke outrage among parents, teachers and political leaders. Alarms went off in New York and California last week, as officials on both coasts warned that yawning budget gaps could soon mean more children in each classroom.

But while state legislatures for decades have passed laws -- and provided millions of dollars -- to cap the size of classes, some academic researchers and education leaders say that small reductions in the number of students in a room often have little effect on their performance.

At recent legislative hearings on whether to renew mayoral control of the New York City schools, lawmakers and parents alike have asked, again and again, why Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel I. Klein have not done more to reduce class size. On Tuesday, the Education Department issued a report that found the average number of children per class increased in nearly every grade this school year.

"If you're going to spend an extra dollar, personally, I would always rather spend it on the people that deliver the service," Mr. Bloomberg said when asked about the report on Thursday, calling class size "an interesting number."

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The Big Test Before College? The Financial Aid Form

Tamar Lewin:

Most everyone agrees that something is very wrong with the six-page federal form for families seeking help with college costs.

Created in 1992 to simplify applying for financial aid, it has become so intimidating -- with more than 100 questions -- that critics say it scares off the very families most in need, preventing some teenagers from going to college.

Then, too, some families have begun paying for professional help with the form, known as the Fafsa,a situation that experts say indicates just how far awry the whole process has gone.

"We're getting thousands of calls a day," said Craig V. Carroll, chief executive of Student Financial Aid Services Inc., whose charges $80 to $100 to fill out the form. "Our calls for the month of January are up about 35 percent from last year. There's been a huge increase in the desperation of families."

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Kung fu school hopes to boom in tough times

Celine Sun:

A local kung fu school hopes to cash in on the financial crisis, with more people expected to attend courses to tone up their bodies and get rid of negative emotions.
The Hong Kong Shaolin Wushu Culture Centre in Tai O, Lantau Island, has seen a rise in visitor numbers over the past few months, its low season, and has already received bookings for the summer holidays.

Lee Kok-keung, director of the Hong Kong Culture Association, which established the centre in 2006, said the increased interest could have something to do with the economic downturn.

"When the economy is good, people are so busy trading stocks and making money," he said. "But when the economy is going down, people tend to pay more attention to their health.

"Practising kung fu is not only good for the body, but also an ideal way to cheer you up."

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Former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk says Texas should assess school district governance

Gromer Jeffers, Jr.:

Former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk said today that Texas should take an "honest assessment" on how public schools are governed, even if it means dismantling elected school boards that he says lack financial and technical skills needed to oversee problematic urban districts.

The Dallas Morning News reported Sunday that Leppert has talked to a state senator and business leader about giving the mayor some control -- or total control -- of the school district.

"Good for the mayor," Kirk said. "I understand his frustration. A mayor spends half his time talking about the state of public schools. ... Whether there's a legal nexus or not, people look toward the mayor for help."

In 1999, when Kirk was mayor, he asked the entire DISD Board of Trustees to resign.

That didn't happen, but the Citizens Council began recruiting young leaders like Rafael Anchia, now a state representative, to serve on the board.

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University of Maryland System Tries to Cut Textbook Costs

Susan Kinzie:

As part of an effort to make college more affordable, higher-education leaders in Maryland are trying to keep textbook prices down.

The Board of Regents of the University System of Maryland unanimously approved guidelines Friday to make it easier for students to search for cheaper books.

"This is a real victory for students," said Josh Michael, a junior at the University of Maryland Baltimore County and a student regent.

When Michael started college, he said, he spent almost $500 on books for his first four courses. He bought everything his professors suggested, then discovered as the semester went on that he didn't really need extra Spanish workbooks and study guides.

Textbook prices have risen far more quickly than inflation. One reason, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office study conducted several years ago, is that they often come with lots of extras, such as CDs. Publishers say such features help students learn, but they often go unused.

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Madison School District Middle School Parent Survey

via a kind reader's email:

You are invited to participate in the Madison Metropolitan School District's climate survey for middle school parents. Your feedback is important. Please click the link below to begin the survey.

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Madison Kindergarten Registration Begins Monday

The Capital Times:

Parents, it's time for your pre-schoolers to begin becoming schoolers.

Kindergarten registration is set for Monday, March 2, from 1-6 p.m. at all Madison Metropolitan School District elementary schools.

Parents or guardians should register their child at the school he or she will attend. To be eligible for kindergarten, a child must be five years old by Sept. 1, 2009.

When registering, show proof of age for the child (birth certificate, baptismal record, medical assistance card), proof of residency (utility bill, lease, mortgage) and an immunization record.

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February 23, 2009

Madison School District Elementary Parent Survey

via a kind reader's email:

You are invited to participate in the MMSD climate survey for elementary parents. Your feedback is important. Please click the link below to begin the survey.

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Bethel Lutheran Church looks at opening a downtown school

Samara Kalk Derby:

Developer Randy Alexander has been a member of Bethel Lutheran Church [Map] downtown for eight years. He grew up with a strong faith-based culture and says having a moral compass is critical for raising children.

"And where better to do that than in a Christian school?" he asked.

That's a big part of why Alexander is part of a church committee to study the market feasibility of a kindergarten through fifth-grade school at the downtown church, 312 Wisconsin Ave. [Map] It's familiar territory for Alexander, whose Alexander Co. specializes in urban infill projects. It recently developed the Capitol West condominiums downtown and is building the Novation Campus business park in Fitchburg.

If Bethel decides to go ahead and start a school, it would become one of about 30 private elementary schools in the Madison area, most of them religiously affiliated.

Matthew Kussow, executive director of the Wisconsin Council of Religious and Independent Schools, said the dismal economy is an obstacle for anyone looking to start a school now. Overall, state private school enrollment for the 2008-09 school year saw a slight decline, he said.

"We are sort of bracing ourselves for a steeper decline for 2009-2010 as the full effects of this economy are being felt," Kussow said, adding that he won't know specifically until the spring how many kids are re-enrolling in non-public schools. There are about 900 of them in the state, and they historically enroll about 10 percent of the total student body.

But Kussow also said that in general, private religious schools have a built-in following. So if Bethel identifies a need and believes it can get enough kids to start the school, in the long run, a church school is usually very successful, he said.

More choices are a good thing.

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Reforming Primary Education in the UK

The Economist:

IKE buses, not just one but two reviews of primary education in Britain are arriving at the same time. Their titles may be similar but they could hardly differ more.

The Cambridge Primary Review was independently conceived and financed, has been years in the planning and execution, and draws on international evidence and scores of experts. Its final conclusions, due later this year, will synthesise 30 research surveys on all aspects of primary education. The Primary Curriculum Review, by contrast, was commissioned and paid for by the government and is the sole work of a serial government-report writer, Sir Jim Rose. He was asked to look at only the curriculum--not standards, testing or funding--and within that limited remit he was constrained by a tight brief and heavy hints as to the desired conclusions.

On February 20th the Cambridge-led team abandoned their publishing schedule and released the part of their final report that looks at the curriculum. It hopes, somewhat forlornly, to influence government policy. That seems unlikely. The official curriculum agency is already far advanced in creating teaching material along the lines Sir Jim recommends--even though only his interim report has appeared, and that is supposed to be open for consultation until February 28th.

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Parents can fight 'sexting' stupidity

Laurel Walker:

Is there a difference between a stupid teen trick - passing around a girl's naked picture she'd earlier provided her now-ex-boyfriend - and child molestation?

Without a doubt.

Is there a difference even between that stupid teen behavior and being a teenager who threatens to use naked pictures obtained under a ruse as ammo for extorting sex?

Of course.

But under state law, all of them could become convicted felons who land on the state's registry of sex offenders, leaving little distance between them. They would, most likely, be vilified and haunted by the label for decades, if not life, and increasingly told by communities where they can and cannot live.

Dangerous, devious sex offenders who are a risk to public safety deserve it.

Teens with unbelievably cavalier attitudes about sexual limits, to the point of stupidity, do not.

Parents, educators, communities and - we can only hope - kids have had their eyes opened by recent, revolting revelations.

The earlier case, as described in criminal charges, involved since-expelled New Berlin Eisenhower student Anthony Stancl, 18, who, pretending to be a girl on Facebook, got at least 31 boys to send him pictures of themselves naked. Threatening to circulate the pictures to schoolmates, he coerced at least seven of them into sex acts.

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Banging on the PK-16 Pipeline

Jay Matthews:

Why am I so ill-tempered when I read a sensible report like "Bridging the Gap: How to Strengthen the Pk-16 Pipeline to Improve College Readiness"?

The authors, Ulrich Boser and Stephen Burd, know their stuff. The sponsoring organization, New America Foundation, has a great reputation. (Bias alert: It also employs one of my sons as a senior fellow, but he does California politics and direct democracy, not national education policy.)

My problem is that smart and industrious experts like Boser and Burd often unearth startling facts but don't follow through. "Bridging the Gap," available at, details the large percentage of first-year college students in remedial courses and the duplication in federal college preparation programs. This is interesting information of which few people are aware.

But their recommendations follow the standard line: Let's have more meetings and spend more money. Example: "We recommend that the federal government provide states with incentives to come together and adopt national college and work-readiness standards in math, science and the language arts."

Or: "The federal government should work directly with states to foster partnerships between high schools and postsecondary institutions to smooth the transition between high school and college."

You might think that sounds reasonable. I think it misses an opportunity. Why not harness the energy and ambition of a new president to shake things up?

The Obama administration doesn't have much money to spend getting more students ready for college. The Education Department's $100 billion in stimulus funds will mostly go to less sophisticated projects that create jobs fast.

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On Changes in the Washington DC School District's Governance

Bill Turque:

Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee says the District is no longer exploring the idea of seeking federal legislation declaring the school system in a "state of emergency," a move that would have freed it from the obligation to bargain with the Washington Teachers' Union.

In a recent radio interview, Rhee said that the initiative, patterned after a state takeover of schools in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, was never seriously considered.

The proposal appeared in a statement drafted for a Sept. 22 news conference at which Rhee and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty were scheduled to present a series of steps to rid the District of teachers deemed ineffective. The steps, dubbed "Plan B," were based on existing powers the chancellor possessed and fell outside the legal scope of contract negotiations.

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Life After Algebra II

Michael Alison Chandler:

As the school year speeds by, rising seniors at Fairfax High are already meeting with their teachers and guidance counselors to decide which classes they should take next year. Up until this point, the math sequence is spelled out -- Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II. After this point, there are plenty of options.

Here are the math classes students in a non-honors Algebra II class can choose from:

Trigonometry (Semester Course)
Probability and Statistics (Semester Course)
Discrete Math (Semester Course)
Pre Calculus with Trigonometry
AP Statistics
AP Computer Science

If they are not pursuing an advanced diploma, they can also choose to take no math class their senior year. That's an option a few students I talked to this week planned to take. Others were aiming for pre-calculus, which will put them on track to take Calculus in college. Others were talking about a combination of the semester-long courses.

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Less money, but more student demand, for technical colleges

Deborah Ziff:

State technical college officials say it will be difficult to respond to the heightened needs of laid-off workers given a cut in funding in Gov. Jim Doyle's proposed budget.

Doyle's budget would eliminate $4 million from state technical colleges over the next two years and would bump up student financial aid only slightly.

The colleges, a main resource for people seeking new job skills, also likely will need to return at least $1.8 million to the state's main account this spring under a budget repair bill.

"This is not a pretty picture at a time when the state really needs its technical colleges and we have so much demand," said Paul Gabriel, executive director of the Wisconsin Technical College District Boards Association.

While University of Wisconsin students would get at least $36 million more in financial aid under Doyle's budget, the increase in aid to state technical college students would be about $1 million, or less than one percent.

"It's fair to say we were extremely disappointed that there are significant new financial aid resources in the state budget, but not for the most part targeted at technical college students," Gabriel said.

Some laid-off workers can get free tuition under federal benefits, and Doyle's budget includes at least $1 million in grants to help retrain workers.

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February 22, 2009

On the Splurge: Clinton: China Must Continue to Invest in U.S. Bonds

Glenn Kessler:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Sunday urged China to keep investing its substantial foreign-exchange reserves in U.S. Treasury securities, arguing "we are truly going to rise or fall together."

China is the biggest foreign holder of U.S. debt, which helped finance the spending binge the United States went on before the current economic crisis. Some experts have expressed concern that China's substantial holding of U.S. debt gives it increased leverage in dealings with Washington because any halt in Chinese purchases would make it more difficult to finance the government bailout and stimulus packages.

Clinton, in unusually direct comments on an interview with China's Dragon TV before returning to Washington, said that reality made it an imperative for China to keep purchasing U.S. Treasury bonds, because otherwise the U.S. economy will not recover and China will suffer as well.

"Our economies are so intertwined," she said. "The Chinese know that in order to start exporting again to its biggest market . . . the United States has to take some drastic measures with the stimulus package. We have to incur more debt."

It will be interesting to see how splurge/stimulus money is spent by local school districts. Perhaps we should spend more time on Mandarin?

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Judy Kujoth: Dual-language middle school needs flexibility of a charter

Judy Kujoth, via a kind reader's email:

In the spring of 2010, nearly 50 children will comprise the first graduating class of the Nuestro Mundo Community School on Madison's East Side.

I am the proud parent of a daughter who will be among them.

My husband and I have spent the past five years marveling as she has acquired a second language, conquered challenging curricula and embraced friends from a variety of races and ethnicities. We eagerly anticipate the years to come as her love for languages and diversity continue to blossom.

But like many other parents, we are very worried about what the next stage of her academic journey will look like.

Nuestro Mundo is a charter school that has applied innovative teaching practices within a dual-language immersion framework. It is in its fifth year of offering elementary school students a dual-immersion curriculum in Spanish and English.

Kindergartners enter Nuestro Mundo as either native Spanish or native English speakers. By fifth grade, the goal is for all students to be proficient in both languages and at least on par, academically, with their peers at other schools. The skills they have cultivated need to continue being nurtured.

Unfortunately, charter schools and the Madison School District have mostly been "oil & water". A few years ago, a group of parents & citizens tried to start an arts oriented charter - The Studio School. Read more here.

Every organization has its challenges and charters are certainly not perfect. However, it is more likely that Madison will see K-12 innovation with a diffused governance model, than if we continue the current very top down approach and move toward one size fits all curriculum. It will be interesting to see what the recent open enrollment numbers look like for Madison. Finally, a Chicago teacher on "magnet schools".

The problem is that there is no dual-language middle school for Nuestro Mundo students to transition into.

Madison School District recently stated it is amenable to creating a dual-language immersion program for middle school students. But it is unclear if the district will allow it to be a charter school.

Nuestro Mundo, Inc., the nonprofit group that holds the charter agreement with the Madison School District for Nuestro Mundo Community School, has been hard at work for three years developing plans for a charter middle school, which would focus on integrating dual-language immersion with project-based learning.

Creating a charter school will have many benefits. The law affords charters greater flexibility to create curricula and measure progress. Students in these schools often have higher rates of achievement because educators have flexibility to design teaching methods that appeal to the needs of each student and to change modalities when they aren't working without being constrained by traditional district practices.

Charters are also eligible for federal funds that are not available to the school district unless it authorizes the charter. The funding is administered through the state Department of Public Instruction and supports planning and implementation of new charters.

If Nuestro Mundo Inc. is allowed to create a secondary charter school, it will be eligible for a series of grants that would bring an estimated $1.1 million into the district over six years. Awarding these grants to a charter reduces the possibility that taxpayers will be asked to support a program.

Since 2004, Nuestro Mundo, Inc. has established itself as the dual-language immersion expert in Madison. We intend to remain viable partners with the Madison School District, sharing a common goal of providing top-notch education to our children, while celebrating our diverse community.

Nuestro Mundo, Inc. hopes to present our proposal to the School Board in March, allowing them time to honor our request prior to the grant submission deadline of April 15.

We need your help. Please contact the School Board and let them know that charter schools in Madison
work. Ask them to support a new charter at the middle school level. Tell them how important it is for our community to continue promoting biliteracy and bilingualism through innovative teaching methods.

Implore them to seek alternatives with the potential for significant amounts of federal funding -- without which, we will be forced to create less effective programs.

Our children deserve this chance for continued success.

Kujoth, of Madison, is vice chair of Nuestro Mundo, Inc.

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6,473 Texts a Month, But at What Cost? Constant Cellphone Messaging Keeps Kids Connected, Parents Concerned

Donna St. George:

Julie Zingeser texts at home, at school, in the car while her mother is driving. She texts during homework, after pompon practice and as she walks the family dog. She takes her cellphone with her to bed.

Every so often, the hum of a new message rouses the Rockville teen from sleep. "I would die without it," Julie, 15, says of her text life.

This does not surprise her mother, Pam, who on one recent afternoon scans the phone bill for the eye-popping number that puts an exclamation point on how growing up has changed in the digital age. In one busy month, Pam finds, her youngest daughter sent and received 6,473 text messages.

For Pam Zingeser, the big issue is not cost -- it's $30 a month for the family's unlimited texting plan -- but the effects of so much messaging. Pam wonders: What will this generation learn and what will they lose in the relentless stream of sentence fragments, abbreviations and emoticons? "Life's issues are not always settled in sound bites," Pam says.

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Does state ask less of schools? Report says Wisconsin has laxer education standards than other states

Alan Borsuk:

Attention, school officials around the country: If your school is having trouble meeting standards for adequate progress, consider moving the whole operation to Wisconsin.

That was the implication of a study released this week comparing the way 28 states treat the same performance results from schools. More of the 36 schools in the study would be rated as making "adequate yearly progress" in Wisconsin than in any other state. Two schools in the study would be regarded as making adequate progress only in Wisconsin, the report says.

"Although schools are being told that they need to improve student achievement in order to make AYP under the law, the truth is that many would fare better if they just moved across state lines," the report says.

And Wisconsin would be the place to go.

The report, titled "The Accountability Illusion," was issued by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank generally regarded as right of center. The foundation supports having national standards for accountability that are consistent from state to state and said the results of the study show the wide variation in how demanding states are when it comes to school quality.

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A New Day for School Reform

New York Times Editorial:

Congress took a potentially transformative step when it devoted $100 billion in the stimulus package to education. Carefully targeted, this money could revive the reform efforts that began promisingly with President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 -- but later languished when his administration buckled under to political pressures from state officials.

Arne Duncan, the new education secretary, will need to resist those pressures. The Bush administration allowed states to phony-up statistics on everything from graduation rates to student achievement to teacher training and state education standards. As a result, the country has yet to reach not only the goals that were clearly laid out in the law but also farsighted education reforms dating to the mid-1990s.

The stimulus package, including a $54 billion "stabilization" fund to protect schools against layoffs and budget cuts, is rightly framed to encourage compliance. States will need to create data collection systems that should ideally show how children perform year to year as well as how teachers affect student performance over time. States will also be required to improve academic standards as well as the notoriously weak tests now used to measure achievement -- replacing, for instance, the pervasive fill-in-the-bubble tests with advanced assessments that better measure writing and thinking.

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Protecting kids from harassment in cyberspace

The Economist:

THE wireless network at Mayhem Manor spreads from the router in the workroom to the living area of the one-storey hillside dwelling, but not as far as the bedrooms. And that's important.

Your correspondent has often been tempted to upgrade his WiFi router with the latest 802.11n technology--as much for the increased range as for the four-fold boost in speed. Being eight time-zones behind many of his colleagues, he often checks e-mail in the middle of the night. His trusty little Hewlett-Packard palmtop computer, with its Cisco wireless card, would slip easily under the pillow.

But he's resisted boosting Mayhem Manor's wireless signal for several reasons. First, while it would quicken transfers between computers in the house, the internet connection would be no faster. Its speed is governed by the pathetic dribble of a broadband connection that's 15,000 feet from the nearest telephone exchange in the village below.

The other reason for not upgrading is that he would prefer his tweenage daughter to do all her web surfing, e-mailing, online gaming and social networking not from the privacy of a bedroom, but from a common area of the house where an adult is invariably present.

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Two Teachers, 16,000 Students, One Simple Rule

Richard Kahlenberg:

Jay Mathews is a bit of a journalistic oddball. Most reporters see the education beat as a stepping stone to bigger things, but much to his credit Mathews, who writes for The Washington Post, returned to covering schools after an international reporting career. He is best known for his book on Jaime Escalante, who taught low-income children in East Los Angeles to excel in AP calculus and was featured in the film "Stand and Deliver." Now Mathews is back to profile two young teachers -- Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin -- who founded the wildly successful Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), a chain of 66 charter schools now educating 16,000 low-income students in 19 states and the District of Columbia.

While I have some quarrels with the book's implicit and explicit public-policy conclusions, "Work Hard. Be Nice" provides a fast-paced, engrossing and heartening story of two phenomenally dedicated teachers who demonstrate that low-income students, if given the right environment, can thrive academically. In 52 short and easily digestible chapters, Mathews traces the story of two Ivy League graduates who began teaching in Houston in 1992 as part of the Teach for America program. Both struggle at first but come under the tutelage of an experienced educator, Harriett Ball, who employs chants and songs and tough love to reach students whom lesser teachers might give up on. Levin and Feinberg care deeply: They encourage students to call them in the evening for help with homework, visit student homes to get parents on their side and dig into their own pockets to buy alarm clocks to help students get to school on time. In Mathews's telling, it's hard not to love these guys.

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Properly Erase Your Physical Media

Jason Fitzpatrick:

A whopping 40% of the used hard drives on eBay contain easily recoverable personal data. Use the following guide to ensure your personal data never makes it out into the wild. Photo by AMagill.

Kessler International, a computer forensics company from New York, conducted a study of used hard drives available on eBay. Almost half of the hundred drives they sampled, purchased in random bulk lots, contained data that was easily recovered. A shocking amount of them required no more recovery effort than plugging them in and powering up. They found personal photos, financial records, emails, personal and corporate correspondence, corporate secrets, and more:

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Madison Crime Maps

The Madison Police Department is posting police call data on Check out these links:

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February 21, 2009

NYU Students Protest, Seek University Financial Transparency

Sean Hennessey:

Dozens of students who barricaded themselves inside a New York University cafeteria have rejected the possibility of leaving the building as negotiations with school officials continue into Friday morning.

Members of the coalition Take Back NYU! have been occupying the cafeteria of the Helen & Martin Kimmel Center for University Life for more than 24 hours.

A spokeswoman for the students said that NYU told them that they could face expulsion or arrest if they didn't leave the building by 1 a.m. Friday.

A crowd outside the building scuffled with police officers about a half hour after the deadline.

The students are calling for a series of changes, including increased transparency of the school's finances. They want full budget and endowment disclosure, affordable education, and increased student participation in the university's operation.

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Frist launches K-12 education initiative

Lucas Johnson II:

Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist today launched a grassroots initiative aimed at reforming K-12 education in Tennessee, saying he hopes to ensure that "every child graduates from high school prepared for college or a career."

Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, was among those who joined the Tennessee Republican in announcing the Tennessee State Collaborative on Reforming Education at Fall Hamilton Elementary School in Nashville.

Frist said the "citizen-led" initiative will have three main components, including a steering committee that will hold 10 public meetings and ultimately produce a strategic plan for state education reform.

Frist, who announced last month that he won't be running for governor in 2010, said the committee will be composed of education, community, political and business leaders from across the state. He said the idea is to find what education practices are effective and build upon them.

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What's the problem at the Milwaukee Public Schools?

Daniel Slapczynski:

I am not a liberal, but I'm starting to think that decades of tinkering with MPS just may be a smokescreen to ignore the real problems with the system: that in the end, our schools do nothing more than reflect the nature of the city itself.

We've spent generations pretending that isn't the case. I graduated from Pulaski High School just in time to have Howard Fuller present me my diploma. You remember Fuller, right? He was the man who was going to reinvigorate the "troubled" school system and bring hope to Milwaukee.

I walked across that stage in 1992. Exactly what has changed since then? Sure, it's not all bad. Some schools have high attendance, great parental participation and students who perform well.

But that just bolsters my point. If MPS as an entity was the problem, wouldn't all schools fail? Wouldn't all students have to exert an incredible amount of self-determination and willpower just to succeed academically?

Some people, such as School Board member Terry Falk, continue to believe that fiddling is best. Falk's latest theoretical fix? Potentially scrapping K-8 schools - themselves a recent idea - in favor of grades 6-12 facilities.

Enough already. The fault lines seem clear. MPS is operating in a city with dire problems, where some geographic areas continue to prosper while others operate in a climate of poverty and crime. School performance appears often to follow those socioeconomic trends.

For the record, I'm not excusing the poor performance of students who should realize that education is a path to greater prosperity. And I don't have any bright solutions either. Except one: If we're going to keep the questionable practice of throwing money at the problem, quit wasting it on the wrong problem.

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Get Lit Players bring poetry's emotions to other L.A. teenagers

Scott Gold:

For as long as he can remember, Dario Serrano's life was all screeching tires and echoing gunshots, babies' cries and barking dogs, a symphony, as he puts it, of "hood rats and gangsters," of "vatos and payasos" -- dudes and numskulls, loosely translated.

By high school, he'd pretty much given up on himself. He bounced around between three schools. He started selling pot, though he always seemed to smoke more than he sold. His GPA fell to 0.67, which is about as bad as you can get and still be showing up.

Literature, it is fair to say, was not resonating. "I mean, 'The Great Gatsby'?" he says incredulously, and when he puts it like that, Lincoln Heights does feel pretty far from Long Island.

When a friend suggested that poetry might be his thing, Serrano scoffed. Grudgingly, he started tagging along to a poetry club, and one day last year he took his lunch break in a classroom where a teen troupe called Get Lit was holding auditions.

Get Lit's artistic director, an African American artist named Azure Antoinette, performed an original composition called "Box," a denunciation of anyone who would define her by the color of her skin, who would lump together, thoughtlessly, faces of color:

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Omega School offers a chance to earn GED

Pamela Cotant:

When her daughter started talking about not going to college, Maria Victoria Natera knew what she needed to do.

Natera, 40, said she realized not only did she need to earn her general education development credential, or GED, but also go on to college.

"That really bothered me," Natera said. "I want more for my kids than I had ... I need to set an example."
• School Scrapbook

Natera took the first step when she received the credential -- an accomplishment that was acknowledged at the recent winter commencement ceremony held by Omega School. The event recognized the 32 students who earned either a GED or a high school equivalency diploma.

Omega School, 835 W. Badger Road, prepares students for taking the required tests for the two programs. Many students who come to Omega have tried a number of other ways to get a high school diploma. The age of the students at Omega varies and some are high school age but have not earned enough credits to graduate on time.

"Sometimes they have to try things and have them not work for them to have success here," said Oscar Mireles, Omega executive director. "They have to believe we are in a position to help them."

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February 20, 2009

Dane County Transition School Pay it Forward Campaign 2/23/2009

via a Judy Reed email:

On behalf of all of us at Dane County Transition School (DCTS), I would like to take this opportunity to personally invite you to attend the launch of the DCTS Pay It Forward campaign on February 23, 2009 at 10am at the Villager Mall, 2234C South Park Street. Steve Goldberg from CUNA Mutual Group, students from DCTS, VISTA's Dustin Young and Dean Veneman from the Alexander Foundation will each speak at the Pay If Forward launch.

The Pay It Forward Initiative is a national movement with a very simple concept: do one kind deed for three people and ask each of those people to Pay It Forward by doing another kind deed for three other individuals. Simple. DCTS believes we can make the world a better place one kind deed at a time and the more people who believe, the larger difference we can make.

DCTS would like to celebrate with all of the Partners who believe in the concept of Pay It Forward and in promoting this altruistic effort. (See attached banner for detail listing of over 80 Partners) Imagine all those kind acts and smiles that will begin right here in the Villager Mall.

DCTS has always been a school that believes in the promise of each individual and in the power of good deeds, which is why DCTS is formally launching this Pay It Forward campaign. We truly hope that you can join us for this unique event!

Judy Reed, Principal

Dane County Transition School - 2326 South Park Street - Madison, WI
(608) 698-6321 -

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Translating eduspeak

The Economist:

IF YOU know what deep learning and functional skills are, then you are already on the way to understanding eduspeak. But there are other terms that must be grasped to attain an A* in the subject.

Satisfactory. One of the four possible judgments of the schools inspectorate (the other three are inadequate, good and outstanding). It means "unsatisfactory". ("Inadequate" for its part means "dire".) This explains the chief schools inspector's pronouncement that satisfactory schools are "not good enough".

Excellence and enjoyment are mutually exclusive. The first is used for what matters (literacy and numeracy), the second for what does not (everything else). "Enjoying reading" and "excelling in music" are howlers in eduspeak.

Non-statutory depends on context. It can mean "optional", but in the National Primary Strategy, a set of "guidelines" on teaching literacy and numeracy, it means "obligatory"--unless a school wants to risk being deemed "satisfactory".

Gifted and talented refer to the top 5-10% in academic and non-academic pursuits respectively, who are to be encouraged in their gifts and talents. The terms are necessary as a sop to middle-class parents concerned that their children are not being stretched enough. To deflect the charge of elitism, levelled by many teachers, the categories have proliferated to include the capacity to "make sound judgments", to show "great sensitivity or empathy" or to be "fascinated by a particular subject".

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Education commissioner orders Providence schools to end Teacher seniority bumping

Linda Borg:

Education Commissioner Peter McWalters has ordered the city schools to begin filling teacher vacancies based on qualifications rather than seniority, an order that could fly in the face of the teachers' contract.

McWalters, in a no-nonsense letter yesterday to Supt. Tom Brady, said the district hasn't been moving fast enough to improve student achievement and that it was time to intervene in a much more aggressive fashion.

The order should come as no surprise to the district. Over the last two years the commissioner has issued a series of "corrective action" orders that spelled out what the district needed to do to improve student performance.

"This is intervention," McWalters said yesterday. "Every state gets to the point when it's time to stop suggesting. The district can't come back and tell me they can't get it done."

McWalters said that seniority can no longer be the way that teachers are assigned and vacancies are filled. Starting this fall, teachers at six Providence schools, including the new career and technical high school and the new East Side middle school, will be assigned based on whether they have the skills needed to serve students at those particular schools.

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Chamber: Teacher quality key in improving schools

Nashville Business Journal:

The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce released its 16th annual education report card Thursday, saying teacher quality is one of the most important factors in raising student achievement.

The chamber brings together business people and citizens each year to assess the school system.

Metro schools has missed the required No Child Left Behind benchmarks five times in the past six years. That moved the school system into "restructuring" from "corrective action" under the federal act, one year away from a possible state takeover.

The Education Report Card Committee said it was encouraged to see Metro offering a modest incentive pay plan to help recruit teachers in hard-to-staff subjects, as well as Mayor Karl Dean's recruitment of two national nonprofits, The New Teacher Project and Teach for America, to bring new talent into the classrooms.

While there were some improvements in 2008, the committee said the city cannot have another year of waiting for a common vision for the standards the schools want to reach.

The chambers recommendations include:

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A handwaving approach to arithmetic

The Economist:

HUMAN language is the subject of endless scientific investigation, but the gestures that accompany speech are a surprisingly neglected area. It is sometimes jokingly said that the way to render an Italian speechless is to tie his wrists together, but almost everyone moves their hands in meaningful ways when they talk. Susan Goldin-Meadow of the University of Chicago, however, studies gestures carefully--and not out of idle curiosity. Introspection suggests that gesturing not only helps people communicate but also helps them to think. She set out to test this, and specifically to find out whether gestures might be used as an aid to children's learning. It turns out, as she told the AAAS, that they can.

The experiment she conducted involved balancing equations. Presented with an equation of the form 2 + 3 + 4 = x + 4, written on a blackboard, a child is asked to calculate the value of x. In the equations Dr Goldin-Meadow always made the last number on the left the same as the last on the right; so x was the sum of the first two numbers. Commonly, however, children who are learning arithmetic will add all three of the numbers on the left to arrive at the value of x.

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A Fitness Gap in Austin Schools?

Molly Bloom:

Austin students from poor families tend to be less physically fit than students from wealthier families, an American-Statesman analysis of school district data shows. And Hispanic students tend to be less physically fit than students of other races.

A 2007 state law required all school districts to give students standardized fitness evaluations measuring height-weight proportionality, cardiovascular capacity, strength and flexibility. The first evaluations were given to students in the 2007-08 school year.

Austin's trend mirrors statewide results and national studies that show higher rates of physical inactivity and obesity among Hispanic and poor adults and children put them at higher risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, joint and bone disease, and other health problems.

Regardless of fitness trends among various demographic groups in Austin, "what's really striking is the absolute level of poor fitness across the board in general," said Dr. Aliya Hussaini , a health program grant officer at the Dell Family Foundation, which has invested $85 million in childhood health issues in Texas, including support for health and fitness programs at 97 Travis County public elementary schools.

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February 19, 2009

The Accountability Illusion: No Child Standards Vary Widely From State To State

The Thomas Fordham Institute:

This study examines the No Child Left Behind Act system and Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) rules for 28 states. We selected 36 real schools (half elementary, half middle) that vary by size, achievement, diversity, etc. and determined which of them would or would not make AYP when evaluated under each state's accountability rules. If a school that made AYP in Washington were relocated to Wisconsin or Ohio, would that same school make AYP there? Based on this analysis, we can see how AYP varies across the country and evaluate the effectiveness of NCLB.
Wisconsin report [259K PDF]:
More schools make AYP in 2008 under Wisconsin's accountability system than in any other state in our sample. This is likely due to the fact that Wisconsin's proficiency standards (or cut scores) are relatively easy compared to other states (all of them are below the 30th percentile). Second, Wisconsin's minimum subgroup size for students with disabilities is 50, which is a bit larger than most other states (the size for their other subgroups is comparable to other states'). This means that Wisconsin schools must have more students with disabilities in order for that group to be held separately accountable. Third, Wisconsin's 99 percent confidence interval provides schools with greater leniency than the more commonly used 95 percent confidence interval. Last, unlike most states, Wisconsin measures its student performance with a proficiency index, which gives partial credit for students achieving "partial proficiency." All of these factors work together so that 17 out of 18 elementary schools make AYP in Wisconsin, more than any other state in the study.
Some schools deemed to be failing in one state would get passing grades in another under the No Child Left Behind law, a national study found.

The study underscores wide variation in academic standards from state to state. It was to be issued today by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which conducted the study with the Kingsbury Center at the Northwest Evaluation Association.

The study comes as the Obama administration indicates it will encourage states to adopt common standards, an often controversial issue on which previous presidents have trod lightly.

"I know that talking about standards can make people nervous," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said recently.

"But the notion that we have 50 different goal posts doesn't make sense," Duncan said. "A high school diploma needs to mean something, no matter where it's from."

Every state, he said, needs standards that make kids college- and career-ready and are benchmarked against international standards.
The Fordham study measured test scores of 36 elementary and middle schools against accountability rules in 28 states.

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You've Raised the Children; Time for a Job?

Neal Templin:

I had a working mom, so I assumed my wife would be one, too. Clarissa Acuña, the woman I married, also planned on having a career of her own.

But we were both wrong. Clarissa hasn't worked since the summer of 1991, shortly before she had delivered our third child.

At the time, it no longer made sense financially for her to work. After paying taxes on her wages and child care for three children, we wouldn't have come out ahead.
[Cheapskate] Getty Images

But over the years, that fateful decision has locked us into two different roles. I work and earn. She takes care of the kids.

Having a stay-at-home wife has given me enormous career flexibility. Unlike some of my colleagues, I've never missed days because of a sick child. I've been able to work late when needed, travel whenever I wanted for stories, and move around the country for better jobs.

That's the upside. There are also big downsides. There's good reason to believe that Clarissa, who is bilingual and has a marketing degree, would have been successful in a multitude of careers. She never got the chance.

And as the kids grew older, living on one salary was a squeeze financially. I come from a long line of cheapskates. But I've been made cheaper because it was tough supporting three kids -- particularly putting the eldest two through college -- on one salary.

Periodically, I bring up the subject of Clarissa rejoining the work force. It's not so much the extra money, though I do worry about our household being completely dependent on one wage earner in a contracting economy. Mostly, I just think she's ready for something new, and she's very talented.

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Notes on the Evers / Fernandez Wisconsin DPI Superintendent Race

John Nichols:

Fernandez cleaned up in traditionally Republican (but trending Democratic) Waukesha County, where she won 52 percent of the vote, to just 23 percent for Evers. It was roughly the same split in Washington County. Fernandez even beat Mobley in the other conservative's home county of Ozaukee. Even in more Democratic Racine County, Fernandez won 40 percent to just 26 percent for Evers.

Where did Evers do well? Dane County, where the deputy superintendent won more than 50 percent to a mere 20 percent for Fernandez. Of Evers' 9,905 vote lead statewide, 7,351 votes came from Madison and surrounding communities. Evers won very big in the city of Madison, where Progressive Dane-backed candidate Price actually beat Fernandez (and came close to the frontrunner) in some isthmus wards.

What's the bottom line: Fernandez has proven herself. She is going to be a serious contender, and if she gets some national conservative money -- perhaps shifting from the Supreme Court race -- she could beat Evers.

Of course, in a higher-turnout, bigger-spending race, a lot can change. And Evers will have plenty of union backing. But this is going to be a hot contest right up until April 7. And that could have consequences for the court race; if Fernandez turns out conservatives in big numbers, that could help Koschnick.

Readers may find the 2005 DPI race worth revisiting. Audio & video here.

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Student Expectations Seen as Causing Grade Disputes

Max Roosevelt:

Prof. Marshall Grossman has come to expect complaints whenever he returns graded papers in his English classes at the University of Maryland.

Prof. Ellen Greenberger studied what she found to be an increased sense of entitlement among college students.

"Many students come in with the conviction that they've worked hard and deserve a higher mark," Professor Grossman said. "Some assert that they have never gotten a grade as low as this before."

He attributes those complaints to his students' sense of entitlement.

"I tell my classes that if they just do what they are supposed to do and meet the standard requirements, that they will earn a C," he said. "That is the default grade. They see the default grade as an A."

A recent study by researchers at the University of California, Irvine, found that a third of students surveyed said that they expected B's just for attending lectures, and 40 percent said they deserved a B for completing the required reading.

"I noticed an increased sense of entitlement in my students and wanted to discover what was causing it," said Ellen Greenberger, the lead author of the study, called "Self-Entitled College Students: Contributions of Personality, Parenting, and Motivational Factors," which appeared last year in The Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

Professor Greenberger said that the sense of entitlement could be related to increased parental pressure, competition among peers and family members and a heightened sense of achievement anxiety.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:49 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas Gives Everyone a Say About College Picks

Walter Mossberg:

Research on choosing colleges takes many forms, including visiting campuses and studying the schools' Web sites. But for a lot of high-school students and their parents, finding a centralized resource containing information about numerous schools still means buying one of the thick, costly printed guides to college that have been around for years. The Web versions of these books are surprisingly dry.

But there's a new, free Web site that, while overseen by paid editors, is built on lively content submitted by current students at the colleges. The information isn't just words and numbers, but includes numerous photos and videos for most schools. You also can create a small social network of people interested in the same schools or who share other common traits.

In other words, this is a college-information resource built for the age of YouTube and Facebook.

The site,, costs nothing to use and supports itself with ads. Although it's only a few months old, it already covers about 250 colleges and universities, and claims to average dozens of student-created reviews, photos and videos for each college. Its sophisticated search engine lets applicants comb all this material to find just what applies to them. For example, Unigo would let you see all content relevant to an Asian-American female applicant with conservative political views.

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Don't Show & Don't Tell

It is an actual true fact that many if not most educators in our high schools do not allow students in general to see the exemplary academic work of their peers in their own school. (Academic work in this case does not include dance, drama, newspaper, music, band, yearbook, etc.).

The feeling seems to be that if students are exposed to this good work they will be surprised, envious, discouraged, intimidated, and more likely just to give up and stop trying to do good academic work themselves.

For these reasons, it is another actual true fact that many history and social studies teachers at the high school level have taken care not to let their students see the exemplary history research papers published in The Concord Review over the last twenty years, for many of the same reasons, including a general desire to protect their students from the dangerous and damaging effects of academic competition, which are believed to have the same risk of producing those feelings of envy, depression, anxiety, and intimidation mentioned above.

Putting aside for the moment those risks seen to be attendant on having students shown and/or told about the exemplary academic work of their high school peers, isn't it about time that we turned our attention to another potential source of those same harmful feelings we have described?

In fact, many, if not most, high school basketball players are known not only to be exposed to and to watch games played by other students at their own school, but also they may be found, in season, watching college basketball games, and even professional NBA games, with no educator or counselor even monitoring them while they do.

Surely, the chances of the majority of high school basketball players getting a four-year college athletic scholarship are slim, and their chances are vanishingly small of ever playing for an NBA team. And yet, we carelessly allow them to watch these players, whose skill and performance may far exceed their own, even though the chance of their experiencing envy, anxiety, intimidation, and so on, must be as great as they would feel in being exposed to exemplary academic work, which we carefully guard them from!

While there may be nothing we can practically do at present to prevent them from watching school concerts, plays, dance recitals, and band performances, or reading the school newspaper, we must take a firmer line when it comes to allowing them, especially in their own homes, or visiting with their friends, to watch college and professional sports presentations.

We should try to be consistent. If we truly believe that showing students and/or telling them about fine academic work by people their own age is harmful, we must take a firmer stand in blocking their access to games and matches, particularly on national television, which expose them to superior athletic performances.

If, on the other hand, we become convinced that HS student athletes of average ability and skill are not really damaged by watching games and matches at a higher level, and if it appears that doing that not only does not evoke unmanageable envy and anxiety in those observers, but also may, in many cases, be a source of feelings of admiration and pleasure, and even a basis for the inspiration to try harder to improve their own athletic performances, then we may be forced to take another look at what may prove to be some slight advantages in showing HS students exemplary academic work by their peers, or at least telling them where to find it.

Of course there are more four-year scholarships for athletes than for the unusually good work of high school students of history, for example, but if we could persist in this effort to be more consistent about what is presented to our students for emulation, perhaps the day may even come when the value seen in academic achievement may more nearly approximate that seen in athletic achievement when the awarding of four-year college scholarships is considered.

These changes will take time, and what is more, they will take a new perspective on the relative value of our high school students' efforts in school. Anti-academic and anti-intellectual attitudes in our education system are almost as widespread as support from booster clubs is for high school sports. But, as we consider the need for 21st Century Skills, perhaps we can gradually learn to place more value on good student academic work than we do now, at least to the extent of showing some of it to our students or perhaps telling them about it.

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

University of California wants the truth on student applications

Larry Gordon:

he gray-and-green warehouse in suburban Concord seems an unlikely headquarters for a statewide detective operation, and the fact checkers at work there insist they are not mercilessly probing the lives of California's teenagers.

Still, there is an element of hard-boiled sleuthing in the University of California's unusual attempt to ensure that its 98,000 freshman applicants tell the truth about themselves and their extracurricular activities. The stakes are high; UC enrollments may be canceled if students are found to be evasive or lying.

Each year, a small number of UC applicants -- fewer than 1% -- are caught fibbing about such claims as performing a lead role in a school play, volunteering as a tutor for poor children or starring on the soccer field.

But UC officials say there is a broader purpose beyond the relatively few "gotchas": to scare everyone else straight.

"We take the admissions process very seriously and we want to uphold the integrity of the whole process," explained Han Mi Yoon-Wu, a coordinator in UC's central admissions operations.

In an era when tough competition for college entrance may lead some insecure or conniving applicants to hype, or invent, parts of their records, experts say many colleges and universities do some informal checking on students' extracurricular claims, especially if something seems fishy. But the UC effort appears to be the only formal, systematic program in the nation, they say.

For many years, UC has checked the final high school grade transcript of each admitted student in the summer before enrollment. Failing grades in the last semester of high school can get a student's admission revoked, as can lies about self-reported grades in previous terms.

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February 18, 2009

A More Joyous Approach: "The War of the Roses"

The Economist:

Queenly Cate Blanchet turns her attention to Richard II

Cate Blanchett is known for the pale beauty of her face and her vivid film performances. Her latest work marks a significant change of pace. As the curtain rises at the Sydney Theatre, she sits centre-stage, a still figure in a white blouse and trousers, blond hair, high cheekbones. A storm of golden petals drifts down from the ceiling, and she wears a crown.

It has become fairly commonplace for film actors to star in London's West End and on Broadway, but this transposition is different. Miss Blanchett is playing the king in Shakespeare's Richard II, the first part of a rigorously condensed version of the eight history plays. Miss Blanchett and her husband, Andrew Upton, have become artistic directors of the Sydney Theatre Company, an organisation which already has a fine opinion of itself. "In so far as there is a National Theatre in Australia, the Sydney Theatre Company is it," says Bob Brookman, the general manager.

Sydney's "The War of the Roses" ruthlessly cuts the histories down to two evening performances, each lasting a little under four hours, focusing on the death of kings and the hollowness of their crown. If this production, performed as part of the Sydney Festival and now on tour, is a clue to the nature of Miss Blanchetts' regime, it will be energetic, controversial, ambitious, and, to use one of Miss Blanchett's favorite adjectives, "noisy." Casting her as Richard II was the bold idea of the director, the fearless 36-year-old Benedict Andrews. Having an actress play Richard II is not original: Fiona Shaw did it in London in 1995. But casting a woman as Richard III most certainly is. He is played by Pamela Rabe, one of Australia's most accomplished actors, without a hump and with a heavy sense of irony, which provokes tense laughter in unlikely places.

Miss Rabe is not as self-consciously feminine as Miss Blanchett, who deploys laughter--her own--to dramatise the alienation of the king from his court, and fondly adopts girlish poses during the deposition scene in which Richard passes the crown to Bolingbroke. Shakespearean actors need to drill their vocal cords and Miss Blanchett seemed a little short of training, but she made a likeable, vulnerable, androgynous monarch. Given the extent of the cuts and transpositions, there could be no lingering over the development of character. The playful relationship between Prince Hal (Ewen Leslie) and Falstaff (John Gaden), for example, was speedily established by Hal fellating Falstaff. Sydney was not fazed.

Many of Australia's best actors have emigrated in search of larger audiences and new writers. Miss Blanchett want to bring in a younger audience to the Sydney Theatre Company's performances. "We're hoping to take a more joyous approach," Mr. Upton said recently. Miss Blanchett and Mr. Upton also want to develop the company's reputation abroad as well as at home. Later this year their production of A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by Liv Ullman with Miss Blanchett as Blanche Dubois, travels to the Kennedy Centre in Washington, DC, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. In this case of celebrity culture, the emphasis will be on the culture.

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Waukesha parents warned about illicit photos on students' cell phones

Jacqui Seibe & Erin Richards:

Police and school officials are urging parents to check for naked photos on their children's cell phones after a 14-year-old girl learned that her nude photo ended up in the hands of hundreds of area high school students.

The Waukesha West High School [Map] student sent the photo to her boyfriend, but when the couple broke up, he forwarded it to other students using his cell phone, Waukesha police Capt. Mark Stigler said Tuesday. Police have talked to the core group responsible and may recommend felony possession of child pornography charges, he said. Police have recovered computers belonging to the teens to investigate whether they also sent the photos over the Internet.

"We know it's a hard stance, but how else do we deal with this?" Stigler said. "Kids are being immature and doing foolish things."

An automated phone message from the Waukesha School District went to parents Monday and Tuesday asking them to talk to their children and check the phones for illicit photos.

Police want parents to delete any inappropriate photos because the magnitude of the potential proliferation of photos is too large to investigate, Stigler said.

Related: Textual Misconduct What to do about teens and their dumb naked photos of themselves.

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Equity Issues in Science & Mathematics Education

Via a kind reader's email:

This colloquium series is designed to start a broader conversation about equity in STEM (science, technology, engineering, & mathematics) disciplines. The four brown-bags will feature a keynote speaker whose expertise in a particular area of equity will be used as a lens to look at issues in science and mathematics education. There will be an informal presentation followed by a facilitated discussion.

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Commencement Speech Archive

The commencement ceremony affirms each student's search for knowledge. It often includes a graduation speech which seeks to put their recent hard (or not so hard) work into the context of their future. Many of us hear one or two commencement addresses as graduates or listen to a handful as spectators. Yet -- as we graduate from one year to another, one relationship to another, one experience to another -- we always are learning.

Though these myriad departures and arrivals of everyday existence are seldom met with ceremony, words traditionally reserved for momentous occasions may ring true and inspirational at any hour. That's why we created this unique archive of commencement addresses, selecting an eclectic menu of twenty nine extraordinary speeches from the thousands that we have reviewed since beginning work on this initiative in 1989.

Though some of these wonderful remarks were given decades ago, we believe they are as relevant and important, perhaps increasingly so, as the more current speeches. Thus we encourage you to read them all, recognizing and celebrating your own constant commencement into tomorrow, finding ways to place it firmly within the context of progress for all humankind.

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Wisconsin DPI Superintendent: It looks like an interesting race

Despite being outspent $96,129 to $10,500 (WisPolitics) by Tony Evers, Rose Fernandez obtained 31% of yesterday's vote. Tony Evers received 35%. Here's a roundup of the election and candidates:

  • WisPolitics
  • Amy Hetzner:
    On Tuesday, he finished just ahead of Rose Fernandez, a former pediatric trauma nurse and parent advocate, in a five-person field.

    Although she finished the night in second place, Fernandez, 51, characterized her performance as "a victory for real people over the special interests."

    In addition to being first to declare his candidacy, Evers also captured endorsements - and contributions - from the Wisconsin Education Association Council as well as other labor and education-based groups. WEAC PAC, the political arm of the state's largest teachers union, contributed $8,625 to Evers' campaign, in addition to spending nearly $180,000 on media buys for the candidate, according to campaign filings earlier this month.

    By contrast, the Fernandez campaign spent $20,000. She said that her message of calling for merit pay for teachers and choices for parents had resonated with voters.

    "Tonight, we have all the momentum," she said. "This is going to be a real choice. It's going to be a choice between special interests and the status quo, the bureaucracy that is entrenched at the Department of Public Instruction, vs. a focus on the results we are looking for in our investment in education, a push for higher standards instead of higher taxes."

    Evers, 57, has distanced himself somewhat from the current schools superintendent, Elizabeth Burmaster, saying it's time to be more aggressive about reforming Milwaukee Public Schools and calling for an increase in the state's graduation rate.

    On Tuesday, he denied Fernandez's charge of favoring special interests

  • Google News
  • John Nichols on the history of the DPI Superintendent.

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Free book on Free Range kids

Cory Doctorow:

John Mark sez, "Some past Boing Boing posts have talked about how children's lives in the UK and North America have become more and more stifled by overprotective adults in the last few decades. This 2007 book by Tim Gill, now free in its entirety online, show how many of these efforts are largely misdirected, and even counterproductive. Focusing on the UK, but also touching on other countries, the book includes accounts and data to show how resources are wasted on dubious and costly playground modifications and 'stranger danger' paranoia, when we could instead foster safer and more mature kids by focusing more on independence, social support, and traffic safety."

No Fear joins the increasingly vigorous debate about the role and nature of childhood in the UK. Over the past 30 years activities that previous generations of children enjoyed without a second thought have been relabelled as troubling or dangerous, and the adults who permit them branded as irresponsible. No Fear argues that childhood is being undermined by the growth of risk aversion and its intrusion into every aspect of children's lives. This restricts children's play, limits their freedom of movement, corrodes their relationships with adults and constrains their exploration of physical, social and virtual worlds.

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Kids' Cholesterol Study Is Reassuring, Doctors Say


Fewer than 1% of American teens are likely to need cholesterol drugs, says a new study that offers some reassuring news on the childhood obesity front.

Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued eyebrow-raising new guidelines: Doctors were urged to consider cholesterol drugs for more kids, even as young as 8, if they had high levels of "bad cholesterol," or LDL, along with other health problems like obesity and high blood pressure.

The academy didn't address how many children might fall into that category. Now, a new study published online Monday in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation helps allay concerns that "many, many" children might need to be on cholesterol drugs, said Stephen Daniels, lead author of the pediatric guidelines.

"The concern was I think, because there's an increasing level in obesity, that it would lead to higher and higher cholesterol levels. They don't seem to be going up," he said.

The new pediatrics guidance was based on growing evidence that damage leading to heart disease begins early in life. At the same time, recent research has shown that cholesterol-fighting drugs are generally safe for children.

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Broad environment for teacher training is best

South China Morning Post Editorial:

For those outside the region, whether a degree-granting institution has to be called a university would seem of little consequence. There are institutions of learning the world over that have high standing and do not feel the need to change their name. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Dartmouth College in the United States, Imperial College in London and Australia's Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology are among them. In the teacher-training sphere, the Hong Kong Institute of Education's (HKIEd's) British and Singaporean counterparts, although affiliated to universities, have retained their separate identities.

In East Asia, particularly in countries steeped in the Confucian tradition, however, institutions are well aware of the added cachet that designation as a university brings. If the name of the Institute of Education in Tai Po was firmly entrenched in the minds of Hongkongers, there might have been less of a problem. But its creation in 1994 from the amalgamation of five colleges of education offering subdegree courses post-dated reforms that put in place the present university system. It has offered full degree courses only since 1998. Although about 77 per cent of its students are studying for degrees, HKIEd is perceived as being inferior to those institutions designated as universities. Because it is not called a university, it has also faced difficulties collaborating with universities overseas.

HKIEd's demand is to be allowed to "rectify" its name as a university. In rejecting its request, the University Grants Committee is not saying that HKIEd has not lived up to the high standards it has set for itself. Rather, the committee has taken the broader view, formed after a review of international trends, that teacher education should take place in a multidisciplinary environment for the benefit of students, staff and the community. The view deserves support; it is intellectually sound and eminently sensible. Single-discipline institutions are the product of a bygone era. All over the world, the trend has been to merge them into bigger entities or allow them to grow by developing new programmes. The aim is to facilitate the cross-fertilisation of ideas and multidisciplinary collaboration.

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End the pretense and let schools have real English

Kent Ewing:

The taxi driver spoke mangled English; I responded in mangled Cantonese. In the end, I got where I wanted to go, and he received his fare.

For both parties, then, the journey was a success. Moreover, in an elementary sort of way, it was an educational, even a cultural, experience.

But is this the future of English- language education in Hong Kong?

Happy as I was to arrive at my destination that day, I hope we can do better in Hong Kong's schools.

Indeed, in a classroom environment, I would rather lose my linguistic way entirely than find it through the development of a mixed-code patois that, in the end, will get me no farther in the real world than the confines of a Hong Kong taxi or wet market.

There is no question that Hong Kong beyond its small, elite class of political, business and educational leaders is a city that communicates with outsiders in a mixed code that ultimately amounts to really bad English with Cantonese thrown in when that bad English inevitably ends in total collapse.

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Suburban districts top Milwaukee-area school salaries

Amy Hetzner:

Professional staff in the Nicolet, Muskego-Norway and Port Washington-Saukville school districts earned more on average than their public school counterparts in the metro Milwaukee area for 2007-'08, according to state data.

The pay figures for the three districts were boosted by large percentages of teachers, counselors, librarians and other school specialists perched at the top of the pay scales for their school systems. They were among six school districts in the region - including the Maple Dale-Indian Hill, Mequon-Thiensville and Waukesha districts - that had more than 30% of their professional staff making at least $70,000 in 2007-'08.

Nicolet had more than 40% of its teachers and other professional staff making above that amount.

In contrast, in the school system with the lowest average salaries paid to professional staff - Dover #1 in Racine County - the highest pay was $51,956.

The 2007-'08 compensation data was reported by the individual districts to the state Department of Public Instruction, which made the information public last month.

Jack Bothwell, executive director of human resources for the Waukesha School District, said retirement postponements are likely the reason for the lopsided payouts in some of the districts.

"Right now, the pension's such a mess and the economy," he said. "That is inhibiting a lot of people from retiring."

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Hurdles for a Plan to Turn Catholic Classrooms Into Charter Schools

Javier Hernandez:

To the Roman Catholic bishop of Brooklyn, it seemed like an act of salvation on par with Noah and the ark. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg heralded it as a "win-win situation."

They had unveiled a plan to convert four Catholic schools scheduled for closing into public charter schools, giving their students and teachers a soft landing and avoiding a crippling infusion of children into crowded neighborhood schools. But despite the celebratory air this month as Mr. Bloomberg and the bishop, Nicholas A. DiMarzio, announced the idea, the plan faces significant legal, political and educational hurdles.

Lawsuits over church-state questions seem inevitable. And with the mayor already locked in a battle to keep control of the city's public schools, it may be an inopportune time to ask Albany to scrap a law that bars the conversion of private schools into charter schools.

If the proposal is approved, it would allow four charter schools to be created without the perennial problem of finding classroom space. It could also result in a new type of charter school, one led largely by traditional institutions like the Roman Catholic Church, in a movement that has been dominated by out-of-the-box organizations branded as agents of change.

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Panelists Skeptical about Milwaukee School District Governance Change

Alan Borsuk:

A group of community leaders who disagree on a lot of other things about education were in general agreement Monday night on one important issue:

They don't think much of the idea of turning control of Milwaukee Public Schools over to somebody other than the School Board.

From teachers union president Dennis Oulahan to school voucher advocate Howard Fuller, from liberal School Board member Jennifer Morales to business leader Tim Sheehy, it was hard to keep the people involved in a panel at the Marquette University Law School on the topic of whether there should be mayoral control of schools, or something in that vein, as they kept turning to other issues.

None expressed hope that a step of that kind, at least in itself, would change the rate of success in MPS.

"No matter who takes it over . . .  if you don't change anything that's going on within the body itself that prevents good practice," it will be an illusion to think things will get better, Fuller said.

"Any kind of governance can work if it has the right support."

Oulahan said there was a long history of reforms in MPS, such as the Neighborhood Schools Initiative launched in 2000 and the small high school reform in recent years, that really were about buildings or programs and not about kids. Unless the focus is on teaching children using practices that actually work, nothing will change, he said.

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Industry Makes Pitch That Smartphones Belong in Classroom

Matt Richtel & Brad Stone:

he cellphone industry has a suggestion for improving the math skills of American students: spend more time on cellphones in the classroom.

Students at Southwest High School in Jacksonville, N.C., were given cellphones with programs to help with algebra studies.

At a conference this week in Washington called Mobile Learning 09, CTIA, a wireless industry trade group, plans to start making its case for the educational value of cellphones. It will present research -- paid for by Qualcomm, a maker of chips for cellphones -- that shows so-called smartphones can make students smarter.

Some critics already are denouncing the effort as a blatantly self-serving maneuver to break into the big educational market. But proponents of selling cellphones to schools counter that they are simply making the same kind of pitch that the computer industry has been profitably making to educators since the 1980s.

The only difference now between smartphones and laptops, they say, is that cellphones are smaller, cheaper and more coveted by students.

"This is a device kids have, it's a device they are familiar with and want to take advantage of," said Shawn Gross, director of Digital Millennial Consulting, which received a $1 million grant from Qualcomm to conduct the research.

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February 17, 2009

Wisconsin Governor Doyle Proposes 7.4% Spending Increase & $426M More for K-12

Jason Stein:

Boosted by federal stimulus dollars, Doyle's budget calls for a 7.4 percent increase in total state and federal spending. But the proposed spending from the state's main account actually drops by 1.7 percent to $27.9 billion over 2010 and 2011. It would leave the state with $270 million in reserves.

The budget includes a host of major proposed changes:

• Cutting $900 million from existing agency budgets, including a 1 percent across-the-board cut, and rejecting $1.8 billion from the amount those agencies sought in new spending. The cuts include closing three dozen Division of Motor Vehicle offices, two state trooper stations and 25 Department of Natural Resources offices and cutting state staff at welcome centers for tourists.

State employees would avoid large layoffs and furloughs but the amount of state jobs would shrink by 209 to 69,038 by June 2011.

• Levying $1.4 billion in new taxes and fees, including a tax on oil companies of $544 million. That includes increasing the income tax rate on spring 2010 returns by 1 percentage point to 7.75 percent for single filers earning more than $225,000 a year and married filers earning more than $300,000. The proposal would also lower the state's exemption for capital gains taxes from 60 percent to 40 percent, raising up to $95 million.

• Providing $426 million more in mostly federal money for K-12 schools over two years, a move Doyle said was essential to holding down property taxes. The budget would hold funding for the University of Wisconsin System essentially flat, leaving universities to manage rising costs through tuition increases, new efficiencies or service cuts.

Steven Walters, Patrick Marley & Stacy Forster:
For what may be the first time in state government history, general-fund spending will actually drop for the fiscal year that begins July 1, by about 5%. Total state spending - including tuition, fees, licenses and federal aid - will rise, however.

But, Doyle said, he had no choice but to ask the Legislature to approve $1.4 billion in tax increases - the largest reworking of the tax codes in decades.

The tax increases include: $540 million paid from oil company profits; $318 million by creating a new 7.75% tax rate for the richest 1% of taxpayers; $290 million in higher taxes on cigarette smokers; $215 million in higher corporate income taxes; and $85 million paid on capital gains investments.

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Fernandez & Evers Advance in the Wisconsin DPI Superintendent Race


Evers won the endorsement of the 98,000-member state teachers union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, which paid for TV ads on his behalf. Evers was the only one of the five to pay for his own ads.

"I believe that my message of experience has played well so far," Evers said. "I won the primary and I anticipate that we'll just work hard to get the message out. I believe that people do believe experience matters."

Fernandez, who has often been at odds with the state education department over virtual schools, reveled in the fact that she didn't get the WEAC endorsement, touting it as another sign of her being outside the state education bureaucracy.

Fernandez was the only one of the five candidates without any professional education experience. A former nurse, she recently stepped down as president of the Wisconsin Coalition of Virtual School Families.

"Some people have dismissed me as just a mom on a mission, but that's a label I'll be wearing as a badge of honor," Fernandez said. She pledged to overcome WEAC's financial backing of Evers with a broad base of support that taps into teachers, parents and students across the state.

"We're hearing that there's a great hunger out there for our message that higher standards without higher taxes is what they want," she said.

Her campaign called for reforming the state education department, enacting changes to allow for teacher merit pay and protecting alternative education options such as virtual schools, home schooling and Milwaukee's school choice voucher program.

Evers, the deputy under retiring Superintendent Libby Burmaster for the past eight years, emphasized his 34 years of education experience during the campaign. Opponents criticized him as a status-quo insider candidate, while Evers countered he was the best-grounded to initiate reforms, particularly in the Milwaukee schools.

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McFarland High School Recognized by the National Council of Teachers of English

McFarland High School [Map] Principle Jim Hickey, via email:

You might note that McFarland High School's (a public high school) student anthology, Driftwood received the Superior rating from the National Council of Teachers of English. Congratulations to Edgewood HS on the top of award. We too are proud of being one of three schools receiving this award in the State.

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Wisconsin Open Enrollment for '09/10 Closes 2/20/2009

Details available in this .xls file from the Wisconsin DPI.
A few links as the open enrollment period draws to a close:

Via a kind reader's email.

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A Chicago Teacher on Magnet Schools

Victor Harbison:

Given the recent economic news, it seems everyone wants to talk about the long-term impact of short-term thinking. Why not do the same with education and magnet schools? Think of the issues educators faced 30 or 40 years ago: Smart kids not being challenged? Academically under-prepared kids, most of them ethnic minorities, moving in and test scores going down? It's completely logical that they chose a path to create magnet schools. But it was a short-term solution that has had long-term negative consequences.

I take my students to lots of outside events where they are required to interact with students who come from magnet or high-performing suburban schools. What I see time after time is how my kids rise to the occasion, performing as well (or at least trying to) as those students whose test scores or geographic location landed them in much more demanding academic environments.

On a daily basis, I see the same kids who do amazing things when surrounded by their brightest counterparts from other schools slip into every negative stereotype you can imagine, and worse, when surrounded by their under-performing peers at our "neighborhood" school.

When educational leaders decided to create magnet schools, they didn't just get it wrong, they got it backwards. They pulled out the best and brightest from our communities and sent them away. The students who are part of the "great middle" now find themselves in an environment where the peers who have the greatest influence in their school are the least positive role models.

Schools adapted, and quickly. We tightened security, installed metal detectors, and adopted ideas like zero-tolerance. And neighborhood schools, without restrictive admission policies based on test scores, quickly spiraled downward -- somewhat like an economy. Except in education, we can't lay off students who have a negative impact on the school culture. That is why adopting such a business model for the educational system has been and always will be a recipe for failure.

What should have been done was to pull out the bottom ten percent. Educational leaders could have greatly expanded the alternative school model and sent struggling students to a place that had been designed to meet their educational needs.

Clusty search: Victor Harbison.

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Boosting Schools' Value Without Spending a Dime

Jay Matthews:

As happens in every recession, Washington area school systems are cutting back. It's depressing. Here's an antidote: Harness the creativity of educators, parents and students to improve our schools without more spending. Some teachers I trust helped me come up with these seven ideas.

1. Replace elementary school homework with free reading. Throw away the expensive take-home textbooks, the boring worksheets and the fiendish make-a-log-cabin-out-of-Tootsie-Rolls projects. One of the clearest (and most ignored) findings of educational research is that elementary students who do lots of homework don't learn more than students who do none. Eliminating traditional homework for this age group will save paper, reduce textbook losses and sweeten home life. Students should be asked instead to read something, maybe with their parents -- at least 10 minutes a night for first-graders, 20 minutes for second-graders and so on. Teachers can ask a few kids each day what they learned from their reading to discourage shirkers.

2. Unleash charter schools. I know, I know. Many good people find this suggestion as welcome as a call from a collection agency. They think charter schools, public schools that make their own rules, are draining money from school systems, but the opposite seems to be true. In most states, charters receive fewer tax dollars per child than regular public schools. Yet they often attract creative principals and teachers who do more with less. School finance experts don't all agree, but I am convinced that charters are a bargain. So let's have more. That won't save money in the District, one of the few places that pay as much for charters as regular schools, but Maryland and Virginia would find more charters a boon if they dropped their suburban, aren't-we-great notions and listened to what imaginative educators in a few little charter schools could teach them.

3. Have teachers call or e-mail parents -- once a day would be fine -- with praise for their children. Some great classroom teachers make a habit of contacting parents when kids do something well. Jason Kamras, 2005 national teacher of the year and now a leading D.C. schools executive, used to punch up the parent's number on his cellphone while standing next to a student's desk. It doesn't take long. It doesn't cost much. But it nurtures bonds among teachers, students and parents that can lead to wonderful things.

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Early Launch for Language

Valerie Strauss:

Can kids learn anything if they are exposed to a subject for only half an hour a week, with no homework?

When it comes to learning another language, educators say yes.

"The kids getting it for 30 minutes won't become fluent, but that's not the point of those programs," said Julie Sugarman, research associate at the nonprofit Center for Applied Linguistics in the District. "It's to give them exposure to the language. Just because kids aren't able to do calculus in sixth grade doesn't mean we shouldn't teach math in elementary school."

Foreign language instruction is considered more important than ever as the nation's demographics and national security issues change and the world's economies become intertwined.

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Education philanthropist missing


Sir Peter Lampl, the multimillionaire chairman of the Sutton Trust charitable foundation, went missing from his Wimbledon home on Sunday morning.

Sir Peter's disappearance is described by police as being "entirely out of character" for the 61-year-old.

Police in Merton said Sir Peter was last seen wearing a blue sweater and blue casual trousers.

Anyone with information of his whereabouts is asked to contact police.

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In France, Culinary Education Starts In Day Care

Eleanor Beardsley:

In the land of high cuisine, even lunch in preschool is a culinary delight. French culinary traditions and knowledge are cultivated at a very young age. Even toddlers in day care centers are taught how to sit at a table and are encouraged to eat all kinds of foods.

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Math teacher awaits verdict in fraud trial

Alica Lozano:

Sipping a cup of coffee in the Los Angeles courthouse where he is on trial for fraud, math teacher Matthias Vheru said all he wanted to do was write the best algebra book possible to help his students and those of his colleagues.

"I spent my life trying to help underachieving kids," said Vheru, wearing a tie with a mathematical equation that read: 2 teach is 2 touch life 4 ever. "I'm just trying to make the language of math easy to understand."

Prosecutors, however, say Vheru is a crafty entrepreneur who illegally reaped nearly $1 million by conning the Los Angeles Unified School District into ordering 45,000 copies of his textbook without revealing his financial interest in the transaction.

A federal court jury is deliberating whether Vheru, a 20-year L.A. Unified veteran, is guilty of crimes that could send him to prison for up to 10 years.

According to prosecutors, Vheru, 53, saw a chance to make some extra cash by defrauding L.A. Unified in 2004 while he served as interim director of mathematics.

"He's not charged with being a bad teacher," Assistant U.S. Atty. Paul Rochmes told jurors in his closing arguments last week. "This is a case about deception."

Prosecutors allege that Vheru misappropriated $3.7 million of the district's money to purchase his books. He did so, they allege, by circumventing L.A. Unified's guidelines and using federal funds earmarked to assist non-English-speaking students. Prosecution experts testified that although Vheru's book is appropriate for English speakers, it could be difficult to understand for those without a strong command of the language.

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In Web Age, Library Job Gets Update

Motoko Rich:

A group of fifth graders huddled around laptop computers in the school library overseen by Ms. Rosalia and scanned, a Web site that, unbeknownst to the children, was intentionally peppered with false facts.

Ms. Rosalia, the school librarian at Public School 225, a combined elementary and middle school in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, urged caution. "Don't answer your questions with the first piece of information that you find," she warned.

Most of the students ignored her, as she knew they would. But Nozimakon Omonullaeva, 11, noticed something odd on a page about Christopher Columbus.

"It says the Indians enjoyed the cellphones and computers brought by Columbus!" Nozimakon exclaimed, pointing at the screen. "That's wrong."

It was an essential discovery in a lesson about the reliability -- or lack thereof -- of information on the Internet, one of many Ms. Rosalia teaches in her role as a new kind of school librarian.

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Facebook's Users Ask Who Owns Information

Brian Stelter:

Reacting to an online swell of suspicion about changes to Facebook's terms of service, the company's chief executive moved to reassure users on Monday that the users, not the Web site, "own and control their information."

The online exchanges reflected the uneasy and evolving balance between sharing information and retaining control over that information on the Internet. The subject arose when a consumer advocate's blog shined an unflattering light onto the pages of legal language that many users accept without reading when they use a Web site.

The pages, called terms of service, generally outline appropriate conduct and grant a license to companies to store users' data. Unknown to many users, the terms frequently give broad power to Web site operators.

This month, when Facebook updated its terms, it deleted a provision that said users could remove their content at any time, at which time the license would expire. Further, it added new language that said Facebook would retain users' content and licenses after an account was terminated.

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For Education, Stimulus Means Dollars and Risk

Sam Dillon:

The $100 billion in emergency aid for public schools and colleges in the economic stimulus bill could transform Arne Duncan into an exceptional figure in the history of federal education policy: a secretary of education loaded with money and the power to spend large chunks of it as he sees fit.

Upon meeting department employees last month, Arne Duncan, the new education secretary, asked them to call him by his first name. "My name is Arne," he said. "It's not Mr. Secretary."

But the money also poses challenges and risks for Mr. Duncan, the 44-year-old former Chicago schools chief who now heads the Department of Education.

Mr. Duncan must develop procedures on the fly for disbursing a budget that has, overnight, more than doubled, and communicate the rules quickly to all 50 states and the nation's 14,000 school districts. And he faces thousands of tricky decisions about how much money to give to whom and for what.

"It'll be wonderful fun for a time for his team -- it'll be like Christmas," said Chester Finn, a former Department of Education official who has watched education secretaries or commissioners come and go here since the mid-1960s. "But the thing about discretionary spending is that it makes more people angry than it makes happy."

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February 16, 2009

Doing the retro thing: writing on paper

Tobias Buckell:

Wednesday, while having a car starter installed, I realized I'd left my laptop at home and would be without that particular tool for several hours.

Taking my own advice about using the tools I had around me, I swung by the local Waldenbooks looking for pen and some blank pages (having failed at a card store to find either, or at least, pens that weren't purple ink and writing pads that weren't scented and had frilling on the edges). The determination was not to miss my day's writing just because of a lack of a laptop.

It worked out well, as the store manager there got excited when I signed the Halo novels in stock and asked why I hadn't done a signing. Well, I'd asked twice over the last couple years and been told 'no.' But now they're ordering a bunch of my stock and would like to do a signing, so I gave them my contact info and then purchased a nice pen and a medium sized moleskine.

I sat near a local Panera with some soup and a mango smoothie and wrote the opening pages of the ocean steampunk proposal, and without any distractions it came along fairly nicely. Last night I added some more, and I think the chapter will get wrapped up tonight.

My main fear with paper is the losing of it, of course, so I need to get these moved over to digital soon. But it was nice to get the words out and frame the first chapter for this piece. It's been something I was struggling with how to start.

Tobias Buckell Clusty search.

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Textual Misconduct What to do about teens and their dumb naked photos of themselves.

Dahlia Lithwick:

Say you're a middle school principal who has just confiscated a cell phone from a 14-year-old boy, only to discover it contains a nude photo of his 13-year-old girlfriend. Do you: a) call the boy's parents in despair, b) call the girl's parents in despair, or c) call the police? More and more, the answer is d) all of the above. Which could result in criminal charges for both of your students and their eventual designation as sex offenders.

Sexting is the clever new name for the act of sending, receiving, or forwarding naked photos via your cell phone. I wasn't fully persuaded that America was facing a sexting epidemic, as opposed to a journalists-writing-about-sexting epidemic, until I saw a new survey done by the National Campaign To Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. The survey has one teen in five reporting he has have sent or posted naked photos of himself. Whether all this reflects a new child porn epidemic or just a new iteration of the old shortsighted teen narcissism epidemic remains unclear.

Last month, three girls (ages 14 or 15) in Greensburg, Pa., were charged with disseminating child pornography for sexting their boyfriends. The boys who received the images were charged with possession. A teenager in Indiana faces felony obscenity charges for sending a picture of his genitals to female classmates. A 15-year-old girl in Ohio and a 14-year-old girl in Michigan were charged with felonies for sending along nude images of themselves to classmates. Some of these teens have pleaded guilty to lesser charges; others have not. If convicted, these young people may have to register as sex offenders, in some cases for a decade or two. Similar charges have been filed in cases in Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, New York, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin.

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How Harvard Gets its Best and Brightest

William Symonds:

Sure, students work hard to get into this elite college. But so does the admissions committee, assures Dean Bill Fitzsimmons

In the U.S., few competitions are more cutthroat than the college admissions game. And every year it grows more intense as an ever-larger pool of high school seniors apply for one of the coveted spots at the nation's top colleges, thus ensuring that even more will have their hopes dashed. Meanwhile, the elite colleges have been stepping up their efforts to woo the best and brightest students--the prized pupils who will help increase the prestige of their campuses.

You might assume that Harvard College--blessed with higher ed's greatest brand name, and an endowment second to none--could afford to remain relatively aloof from this battle. But in reality, "There is no place that works harder than we do," says William R. "Bill" Fitzsimmons, Harvard's veteran dean of admissions.

THREE-PART PLAN. Certainly Harvard's results are the envy of higher education. For the class of 2010, which will start in September, Harvard received a near-record 23,000 applications. Of these, it accepted a mere 2,100--or just 9%--ranking it as the nation's most selective college. Even more impressive, some 80% of the chosen ultimately decided to attend Harvard--a yield rate that is easily the highest among colleges and universities. By contrast, a handful of other elites--including Yale and Stanford--have yield rates around 70%. But even such well-known schools as Williams, Duke, and Dartmouth have yields of 50% or less.

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Jeb Bush on School Choice

Fred Barnes:

What comes through when Mr. Bush is asked about education is how radical his views are. He would toss out the traditional K-to-12 scheme in favor of a credit system, like colleges have.

"It's not based on seat time," he says. "It's whether you accomplished the task. Now we're like GM in its heyday of mass production. We don't have a flourishing education system that's customized. There's a whole world out there that didn't exist 10 years ago, which is online learning. We have the ability today to customize learning so we don't cast young people aside."

This is where Sweden comes in. "The idea that somehow Sweden would be the land of innovation, where private involvement in what was considered a government activity, is quite shocking to us Americans," Mr. Bush says. "But they're way ahead of us. They have a totally voucherized system. The kids come from Baghdad, Somalia -- this is in the tougher part of Stockholm -- and they're learning three languages by the time they finish. . . . there's no reason we can't have that except we're stuck in the old way."

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Johns Hopkins University announces cost-cutting actions

Stephen Kiehl:

The Johns Hopkins University, the state's largest private employer, said yesterday that it will freeze hiring and salaries, eliminate overtime and lay off some workers in response to a revenue shortfall estimated at $100 million by the summer of 2011.

Top Hopkins administrators will also take a 5 percent salary cut, with the savings going into financial aid as the university tries to protect its students from the recession that is taking a steep toll in higher education. The carnage in the financial markets has reduced Hopkins' endowment by 20 percent. It now stands at $2.4 billion.

The cost-cutting measures will have a ripple effect on the region's economy, affecting not just Hopkins employees but vendors and others who rely on the university to make a living. In total, the Johns Hopkins Institutions employ 38,200. The cuts affect only the university, which employs about 20,000.

"This is unambiguously bad news," said Richard Clinch, an economist at the University of Baltimore who studies local economies. "It will impact everybody from low-wage workers in support jobs to high-wage workers who spend their money in the city going out to dinner."

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Wisconsin Boy's Essay Lands Dad With Child-Abuse Charge


A 9-year-old Dane County boy wrote about being shot with a BB gun, and now his father is charged with child abuse.

The boy had written an essay about the "painful afternoon my Dad shot me with a BB gun."

The elementary-school teacher turned the essay over to authorities.

Prosecutors charged 36-year-old David J. Peschl on Friday with one felony count of child abuse.

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Our Greatest National Shame

Nicholas Kristof

So maybe I was wrong. I used to consider health care our greatest national shame, considering that we spend twice as much on medical care as many European nations, yet American children are twice as likely to die before the age of 5 as Czech children -- and American women are 11 times as likely to die in childbirth as Irish women. Yet I'm coming to think that our No. 1 priority actually must be education. That makes the new fiscal stimulus package a landmark, for it takes a few wobbly steps toward reform and allocates more than $100 billion toward education.

That's a hefty sum -- by comparison, the Education Department's entire discretionary budget for the year was $59 billion -- and it will save America's schools from the catastrophe that they were facing. A University of Washington study had calculated that the recession would lead to cuts of 574,000 school jobs without a stimulus.

"We dodged a bullet the size of a freight train," notes Amy Wilkins of the Education Trust, an advocacy group in Washington.

So for those who oppose education spending in the stimulus, a question: Do you really believe that slashing half a million teaching jobs would be fine for the economy, for our children and for our future?

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February 15, 2009

2009 Wisconsin Department of Instruction (DPI) Superintendent Candidates: Primary Election Tuesday 2/17/2009

Five candidates are on the statewide primary ballot this Tuesday, February 17, 2009. One of them will replace outgoing Superintendent Libby Burmaster. The candidates are

Wisconsin voter information, including polling locations can be found here. Much more on the Wisconsin DPI here. Wisconsin's curricular standards have been criticized for their lack of rigor.

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Mayoral control of schools not a cure-all, report says

Alan Borsuk:

Turning over control of a school system to a mayor is no cure-all for problems, and it is "messy, difficult work" to make such changes, according to an analysis of other cities being released today by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation.

The report and a forum set for Monday night to discuss it amount to firing the starting gun on a crucial debate over whether the mayor or some new body should take over Milwaukee Public Schools, or whether the MPS School Board should be revamped.

Mayor Tom Barrett is signaling that he is more serious than at any point since he was elected in 2004 about the possibility of putting the school system under his control.

"It's time we do have a conversation about what's best for the children of this community," he said.

Barrett did not give a direct answer on whether he wants control of MPS but said, "We have to have significant change in the fiscal management of the district if it's going to survive."

He said he did not want to take over MPS in the absence of other steps to deal with problems that threaten the school system. They include an estimated $2.4 billion in commitments to pay benefits to current and future retirees. Progress on such issues almost surely would take broad, innovative agreements between city, state and union leadership.

Complete Report (PDF):
To what extent has governance reform in large, urban public school districts resulted in better student performance, greater accountability, and more educational innovation? When a school district is governed by a mayor, do the district's fortunes improve?

The answers to these questions, unfortunately, are not clear cut. Large urban districts that have experienced governance reform have often seen several iterations of reform over the course of several years and mixed results. Still, despite the complexity of their reform efforts over the past decade, comparable school districts have much to teach policymakers and educators in Milwaukee. The Public Policy Forum researched several comparable districts and came up with these key findings:

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College is Too Hard

For the last twenty years of so, I and others have argued, without much success, that our high schools should assign students complete nonfiction books and serious academic research papers at least once in their high school careers, so that if they decide to go on to college, they will be partly prepared for the reading lists of nonfiction books and the term paper assignments they would find there.

I now realize that I have been going about this all the wrong way. Instead of publishing 846 exemplary history research papers by high school students from 36 countries since 1987, in an effort to inspire high school students and their teachers to give more attention to real history books and research papers, I should have lobbied for a change in the academic requirements at the college level instead!

If colleges could simply extend many of their current efforts to eliminate books by dead white males, and to have students write more about themselves in expository writing courses, and could gradually guide students away from the requirements for reading nonfiction books and writing term papers, then the pressure to raise academic standards for reading and writing in our high schools could be further relaxed, relieving our students of all that pressure to become well educated.

Many colleges are leading the way in this endeavor, abandoning courses in United States history, and reducing the number of assigned books, many of which are even older than the students themselves. It is felt that movies by Oliver Stone and creative fiction about vampires may be more relevant to today's 21st Century students than musty old plays by Shakespeare, which were not even written in today's English, and long difficult history books written about events that probably happened before our students were even born!

Courses about the oppression of women, which inform students that all American presidents so far have been men, and courses which analyze the various Dracula movies, are much easier for many students to relate to, if they have never read a single nonfiction book or written one history research paper in their high school years.

Liberal arts courses in history, literature, philosophy, and the like have now been shown to be of little benefit in preparing students for jobs as technical support people in the computer industry or as insurance adjusters.

Of course there are those conservatives who will maintain that even computer techs, nurses, and schoolteachers need to be able to read, and even to write a little, but why can't they see that it would be so much easier and, at least initially, so much more popular, simply to reduce the academic content and standards at the college level than to keep complaining about the one million U.S. high school graduates each year who have to enroll in remedial math, reading and writing courses when they get to college?

Nowadays, if the graduates of these new, easier, and more practical colleges find they need to know something more than they studied as undergraduates, they can look it up on Wikipedia. If they don't have the academic background, or perhaps the reading skills, to understand what they find on the Web, then perhaps it wasn't that important anyway.

If colleges would just further reduce their clinging to outdated views about the importance of a liberal arts education, and would continue to expand their definition of a general education to include anything that a professor wants to call a course and anything a student wants to get a grade for, all of this crazy pressure to raise academic standards at the high school level could be reduced significantly.

Again, there will be those diehards who think that high schools should continue to offer Calculus, European History, English Literature, Physics, Chemistry, Russian, Arabic, Chinese, and so on, and schools could continue to offer such courses to those students who think they might be worthwhile. But at least if colleges could cut back on or eliminate the expectation that undergraduates should be able to read nonfiction books and write term papers, then our high schools could continue to graduate the majority of their students who have not been asked to do that sort of thing.

It seems so obvious and so simple that, instead of working so hard to raise academic standards for reading and writing in the secondary schools, we could just lower them even more in our colleges. Why did it take me so long to understand that? But I still don't recommend it.

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

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Top 10 Sites Parents Don't Want Kids To See

Dan Frommer:

What Web sites do parents, schools, and small businesses censor the most on their networks? Porn? Time wasters? Shopping? Social networks? All of the above!

These are currently the ten most-blocked Web sites on home, school, and small business networks, via OpenDNS's domain filtering tool.


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10 Privacy Settings Every Facebook User Should Know

Nick O'Neill:

Everyday I receive an email from somebody about how their account was hacked, how a friend tagged them in the photo and they want a way to avoid it, as well as a number of other complications related to their privacy on Facebook. Over the weekend one individual contacted me to let me know that he would be removing me as a friend from Facebook because he was "going to make a shift with my Facebook use - going to just mostly family stuff."

Perhaps he was tired of receiving my status updates or perhaps he didn't want me to view photos from his personal life. Whatever the reason for ending our Facebook friendship, I figured that many people would benefit from a thorough overview on how to protect your privacy on Facebook. Below is a step by step process for protecting your privacy.

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Purgolders help Madison area schoolgirls improve dribbling and performance skills

Cassie Holman:

These are members of the recently formed MAISL Ball Handling Squad, called the Purgolders: first- through sixth-grade players from 15 schools and 13 basketball teams. The squad helps the girls improve their dribbling skills while experiencing the thrill of performing in front of a crowd.

MAISL stands for Madison Area Independent Sports League and has girls from 13 Madison-area Christian schools. Galuska, David Hackworthy and Luann Tribus coach the girls.

When Tribus' daughter, Kendall, 11, asked to join her brothers, Avery and Clayton, on the Little Badgers boys ball-handling team, Tribus gently broke the news.

"You can't honey, I'm sorry," she told her daughter. "You're a girl."

Kendall was denied a tryout for the boys team.

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February 14, 2009

Stimulus Includes $5 Billion Flexible Fund for Education Innovation

Maria Glod:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan would have $5 billion under the stimulus bill to back new approaches to improve schools, a fund that could prod states to raise standards and reward top teachers as the Obama administration presides over a massive infusion of federal education aid.

The Race to the Top Fund, as Duncan calls it, is part of about $100 billion the bill would channel to public schools, universities and early childhood education programs nationwide, helping stave off teacher layoffs, keep class sizes in check and jump-start efforts to revamp aging schools.

But the windfall also could mark the beginning of a deeper transformation of schools seven years after the No Child Left Behind law mandated an expansion of testing and new systems for school accountability.

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Court Rules Autism Not Caused by Childhood Vaccines

Shankar Vedantam:

Thousands of parents who claimed that childhood vaccines had caused their children to develop autism are wrong and not entitled to federal compensation, a special court ruled today in three decisions with far-reaching implications for a bitterly fought medical controversy.

The long-awaited decision on three test cases is a severe blow to a grass-roots movement that has argued -- predominantly through books, magazines and the Internet -- that children's shots have been responsible for the surge in autism diagnoses in the United States in recent decades. The vast majority of the scientific establishment, backed by federal health agencies, has strenuously argued there is no link between vaccines and autism, and warned that scaring parents away from vaccinating their youngsters places children at risk for a host of serious childhood diseases.

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More Loudoun Schools Using 'Flex Periods'

Ian Shapira:

They sound like workout sessions at a gym, but "flex periods" are fast becoming a scheduling strategy among Northern Virginia high schools that want to offer students remediation or enrichment during the school day rather than before or after classes.

High schools in Loudoun, Fairfax and Prince William counties have been inserting these chunks of time -- from 40 to 90 minutes, depending on the school -- for several years, often to reduce after-school tutoring costs but also to raise achievement in the era of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The program varies among schools, but the premise is similar: Between regular courses, students are assigned to a flex classroom to review material or work independently. Flex time can also be used for attending schoolwide events. And if a student needs help from a teacher in another part of the building, he or she can get a pass and visit the teacher during flex time.

Students at Stonewall Jackson High School near Manassas are in the second year of a flex program. Reactions have been mixed: Some students interviewed said the periods help them catch up on homework or review tough lessons with teachers, but others said the time is often exploited by students prone to goofing off or leaving school property. Schools are trying to crack down on the latter.

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Charter School's Deadline to Recognize Union Passes

Jennifer Medina:

A move to create a union at one of the city's leading charter schools may turn into a protracted battle, as the deadline passed on Thursday for the school, KIPP AMP in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, to voluntarily recognize the union.

The United Federation of Teachers, which is seeking to represent the teachers, must now file for recognition with the state's Public Employment Relations Board, which will most likely give the school's administration several days to respond.

David Levin -- a founder of the national network that operates the schools, the Knowledge Is Power Program, and the superintendent of its four New York City schools (another will open this summer) -- said that the administration would "respect and follow the state process," but did not specify what, if any, challenges it would raise with the labor board.

"For the past 15 years, it has been the ability of everyone to work together, and to do that with flexibility has been the key to our success," Mr. Levin said in an interview on Thursday. "We were created as an alternative to the public schools, and we need to be committed to and maintain our work and focus on results."

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More Math: "Why Wall Street Can't Count"

Click on the chart for a larger version.


Take a look at this chart that someone sent to me a couple days ago. I'm making it big so you can see as much detail as possible. Have a look and then come back, okay?

Pretty scary, eh? It's a chart showing the deterioration of major bank market caps since 2007. Prepared by someone at JP Morgan based on data from Bloomberg, this chart flashed across Wall Street and the financial world a few days ago, filling thousands of e-mail in boxes. Putting a face on the current banking crisis it really brought home to many people on Wall Street the critical position the financial industry finds itself in.
Too bad the chart is wrong.
It's a simple error, really. The bubbles are two-dimensional so they imply that the way to see change is by comparing AREAS of the bubbles. But if you look at the numbers themselves you can see that's not the case.

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February 13, 2009

Battle of Boston: Charter vs. Pilot Schools

Jay Matthews:

In the national charter school debate, Boston has special significance. The city has unleashed imaginative teachers to run both independent charter schools and semi-independent "pilot" schools, with much of the rest of the country waiting to see which does best.

Teachers unions and charter opponents have put unusual emphasis on this contest. Boston pilot schools were designed to show that schools with collectively bargained pay scales and seniority protections could do just as well as charters, whose teachers are usually non-union.

Charters, independently operated schools with public funding, were not designed to be anti-union. American Federation of Teachers founding president Al Shanker originated the charter idea. But many conservatives who think unions stand in the way of raising student achievement have embraced the charter school cause, thus politicizing the debate. Their side just won the first round in Boston, and they are not likely to let charter opponents forget it.

A study by scholars from Harvard, MIT, Michigan and Duke, sponsored by the Boston Foundation, shows the Boston charters are doing significantly better than pilots in raising student achievement. This includes results from randomized studies designed to reduce the possibility that charters might benefit from having more motivated students and parents. The study is called "Informing the Debate: Comparing Boston's Charter, Pilot and Traditional Schools."

People who see charters as a ruinous drain on regular public schools, and a threat to job security and salary protections for teachers, are not going to accept this verdict. The data come from just one city, with many qualifications. For instance, the randomized results apply only to charters so popular they have more applicants than they can accept. Less popular charters were not included in that part of the study; they could have reduced the charters' measured gains if their data had counted.

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Milwaukee Public School District's "Spending High, But Results Low"

Alan Borsuk:

Milwaukee Public Schools spends significantly more per student than comparable systems around the United States, but, by one measure, has some of the weakest academic results, according to a new analysis by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.

In line with other research in recent years, the private, nonprofit research organization based in Madison found that the cost of benefits in MPS was especially high - higher than any of the other 15 districts analyzed.

The practices in MPS of paying large amounts for health care for retirees and for supplemental pensions to encourage early retirement, as well as the high price MPS pays for health coverage for everyone in its system, were listed as factors in the high costs of running the system.

The analysis by the Madison-based private, nonprofit organization, which is also known as WISTAX, found:

• MPS spent $8,702 per student in 2005-'06 in compensation for employees, third highest among the 16 districts examined. Only Columbus, Ohio, and Indianapolis were higher.

• Total spending in MPS was $11,277 per student in 2005-'06, also the third highest in the study. The amount spent on instructional costs, $6,825, was the highest among the 16 districts, while the amount spent on central administration costs was the third highest.

• Spending on benefits was $3,195 per student, more than $500 above the second highest school system. Only four of the other districts spent more than $2,000 per student for benefits, including retirement costs and health costs. The MPS benefit costs were 90% above the median of the other 15 districts.

"According to figures from the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, MPS health insurance premiums were more than 50% above the average private sector rate in Wisconsin and about 15% higher than the average Wisconsin school district," the report said.

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Schools See Flex Time As Valuable Exercise

Ian Shapira:

They sound like workout sessions at a gym, but "flex periods" are fast becoming a scheduling strategy among Northern Virginia high schools that want to offer students remediation or enrichment during the school day rather than before or after classes.

High schools in Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun counties have been inserting these chunks of time -- from 40 to 90 minutes, depending on the school -- for several years, often to reduce after-school tutoring costs but also to raise achievement in the era of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The program varies among schools, but the premise is similar: Between regular courses, students are assigned to a flex classroom to review material or work independently. Flex time can also be used for attending schoolwide events. And if a student needs help from a teacher in another part of the building, he or she can get a pass and visit the teacher during flex time.

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L.A. Unified healthcare contract to preserve free lifetime benefits

Jason Song & Howard Blume:

A new three-year agreement on healthcare announced Wednesday by the Los Angeles Unified School District will preserve a generous benefits package for about 250,000 employees and their families while also limiting district costs.

But the tentative deal also increases the district's ongoing budget deficit and could lead to higher medical expenses for employees if healthcare costs continue to rise sharply.

The agreement maintains free lifetime benefits for district employees (there is no monthly payment to the district). But the pact sets benchmarks for when new workers become eligible.

Settling the healthcare issue -- the teachers union's top priority in negotiations -- could diminish the immediate possibility of a strike. Just one day earlier, United Teachers Los Angeles leaders had scheduled a strike authorization vote over protracted contract talks.

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On Waunakee's World Language Program


Parents in Waunakee say they're concerned about a newer teaching technique that's combining Spanish and Social Studies into one class.

The elementary school children are learning Social Studies entirely in Spanish -- and parents said their children are struggling to learn the lessons.

Parents like Jean Magnes said children are missing out on important Social Studies topics because they simply don't understand it in Spanish.

"I noticed something was wrong," Magnes said. "All I knew was that she kept coming home and saying she didn't like Spanish."

Other parents said their children feel like they're failing. Parents are gathering support and forming a grassroots effort to change the teaching style.

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February 12, 2009

Students Then and Now

J. Edward Ketz:

Compared with the students in the 1970s, today's accounting students are uneducated and unfit for a college education.

I have been teaching full time for over thirty years. If you toss in my apprenticeship teaching as a graduate student, I have taught for almost thirty-five years. During that span of time, one sees many, many students, and it amazes me how different they have been over time, and the inequality continues to grow. Compared with the students in the 1970s, today's students are uneducated and unfit for a college education.

Before proceeding, let me enunciate two premises. First, I do not think there is any significant difference between the two groups in terms of native, raw intelligence. Instead, the distinction between yesterday's and today's students when they first set foot on college campuses rests in their educational backgrounds, analytical thinking, quantitative skills, reading abilities, willingness to work, and their attitudes concerning the educational process. In short, they differ in terms of their readiness for college. Second, I am focusing on the average student who majors in accounting. Both groups arise from a distribution of students. The lower tail of yesteryear's population had some weak students, and the upper tail of the present-day population has some very strong students; however, when one focuses on the means of these two distributions, he or she finds a huge gap.

To begin, today's average accounting major cannot perform what used to be Algebra I and II in high school. Students cannot solve simultaneous equations. Students have difficulty with present value computations, not to mention formula derivations. Students even have difficulty employing the high-low method to derive a cost function, something that merely requires one to estimate a straight line from two points.

I would like to discuss in class the partial derivative of a present value formula to ascertain the impact of changes in interest rates, but that has become a fruitless enterprise. Even if students had a course in calculus, the exams probably had multiple choice questions so students guessed their way through the course, they don't remember what they learned, and whatever they learned was mechanical and superficial.


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In Defence of Penmanship

Kitty Burns Florey:

Of course you know that today is National Handwriting Day, in honour of John Hancock's birthday. But our days of mastering penmanship seem long behind us. Kitty Burns Florey ruminates on this lost art

Did you get one? Nor did I. I stayed home and watched the inauguration on a screen. But a million inauguration invitations were sent out. There was a time when each of these would have been addressed, floridly, by hand, but needless to say these hordes of envelopes were done by machine.

And so is everything. With the exception of the odd thank-you note or letter from Aunt Gertrude in Florida, we seldom see anything handwritten in our mailboxes. I suspect there are actually people alive today who have never received a letter written with a pen on paper and mailed in an envelope with a stamp.

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We continue to fail our Chicago Public School kids

Lou Ransom:

There is a school of thought-one that Mayor Richard Daley subscribes to-that says that if you are a good manager, you can manage anything.
That is the announced basis for Daley choosing Ron Huberman to head up the Chicago Public Schools, replacing Arne Duncan, who is now serving President Barack Obama as the Secretary of Education.

I have no doubt that Huberman, 37, who formerly was in charge of the Chicago Transit Authority, is intelligent. I have no doubt that Daley is a huge booster.

I have serious doubts, however, about Huberman's fitness to lead the Chicago Public Schools.

The mayor pats himself on the back for choosing Arne Duncan, and before him, Paul Vallas. He says that the schools were in horrible shape in 1995 when the law was changed to allow him to take control of the school district. He said that "educators" were in charge of the district then, and it was an abysmal failure.

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Super-secret superintendent contracts

Ericka Mellon:

I had a couple of interesting run-ins Tuesday when I was trying to get copies of some superintendents' contracts in light of HISD Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra's sweet deal. When I called Dallas ISD's press office and identified myself as a reporter, two different people asked why I wanted a copy of Superintendent Michael Hinojosa's contract. I told them -- because I wanted to see how Saavedra's deal compared -- but, for the record, under the Texas Public Information Act, a superintendent's contract (or any public document) is public, no matter why the requester is asking.

It's also illegal for a governmental entity to ask a person why they want a particular document (see Section 552.222). Props, though, to Dallas for sending me a link to the contract with an hour or two. And speaking of links, why don't all districts post copies of their superintendents' contracts in an easy-to-find spot on their Web sites? Anyone?

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Rhee Says Economy Forces D.C. to Cut Wage Proposal

Bill Turque:

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee said yesterday that the deteriorating economy will force the District to cut the wage proposal in its contract offer to the Washington Teachers' Union. At the same time, Rhee spoke in upbeat and conciliatory terms about negotiations with the union, now in their 15th month.

The financial package Rhee offered in July called for a minimum increase of 28 percent over five years, depending on which salary "tier" teachers selected. But with the District expected to collect at least $456 million less in tax revenue during the 2010 fiscal year, she said the situation has changed. Rhee said she would soon submit a revised final offer.

"Obviously, we're in a much different situation financially," Rhee said at a mid-morning news conference, called to highlight improved rates of graduation, attendance and service to special education students.

The chancellor said the financial downturn has not weakened what she has described as commitments from private foundations to fund an unprecedented five-year program of "reform stipends" and performance bonuses for teachers. An information packet given to the union this summer said senior teachers could make as much as $135,000 annually in salary and bonuses. Rhee has declined to name the organizations but has mentioned four to private audiences: Gates, Broad, Dell and Robertson.

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College student information is in public domain

Erica Perez:

Unless University of Wisconsin students specifically restrict access to their directory information, businesses such as credit card companies and lenders can get a list of every student's name, address, phone number and more from the university for a nominal fee.

Some parents of Wisconsin college students questioned how student information was released after they received official-looking letters in recent weeks urging them to pay $49 to apply for financial aid.

The letters included student names and where they attended school, leading some parents to believe the fee was required by the university, but the mailings were from College Financial Advisory, a business that charges money for information available free online.

Faye A. Ara, executive vice president of operations for the San Diego-based company, said the names were purchased from private vendors, none of which Ara would name.

UW-Madison did not provide the names to the company, said Registrar Joanne Berg. After some UW-Madison parents called the university to ask about the letters, the school made clear it does not endorse the business and posted a warning online.

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Oconomowoc students to take act overseas to Fringe Fest

Laurel Walker:

As plots go, this theater production has some twists that are still turning.

Tom Klubertanz had been a hotshot drama teacher at Wauwatosa West - even named Wisconsin Teacher of the Year in 2000 - when he was invited to seek a place in the prestigious Fringe festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, this summer.

By the time the invitation arrived, he'd moved on to Oconomowoc High School, succeeding Vic Passante, who retired in 2007 after 33 years leading the program. Klubertanz applied anyway and learned last spring that he'd been accepted.

It was some honor, with only 42 American schools accepted among the 1,600 applicants invited to apply. Now he's taking 30 Oconomowoc High School drama students with him in August, but they've got work ahead.

They're madly working to raise funds to help pay the hefty $5,500 per student cost. They're also furiously working to write and perfect an original work that they will perform five times in Edinburgh.

The Fringe, for the uninitiated, is billed as the largest performing arts festival in the world, where hundreds of groups from around the world perform theater, dance, music and similar arts. It coincides with other events featuring classical dance and music, films, gallery art, books and piper and drummer performances, all under the umbrella The Edinburgh Festival.

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Education Still the Pathway to Freedom

Courtland Milloy:

In recognition of Black History Month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has presented a flattering economic sketch of black people in the United States. In this drawing by the numbers, we are seen as a relatively young and hearty workforce -- 17 million black people strong -- poised to weather the difficult economic times ahead.

Nearly two-thirds of us are 45 and younger, according to the bureau. And more than one in four are employed in education and health service fields -- where some of the fastest growing occupations are expected to be found through 2016.

The portrait, based on 2008 data, is relentlessly upbeat, without even a hint that 2.2 million black people were unemployed last year. It is as though they had been airbrushed from the picture altogether.

Yet, if you really want to cut black unemployment, who better to look at than those of us who have jobs? What you'll see is a strong correlation between work and education. Hard to tell that when the numbers crunchers start whittling away at school programs in a recession.

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Anti-truancy drive removed French

Sean Coughlan:

The scrapping of compulsory modern languages in England's secondary schools was a consequence of truancy crackdowns, the BBC has learnt.

Former education secretary Estelle Morris, who took the decision in 2002, says the aim was a flexible curriculum for teenagers brought back into school.

Compulsory languages for these returned truants did not seem "appropriate".

The number of pupils taking French GCSE has dropped 30% since it ceased to be compulsory for the over-14s in 2004.

The weakness of language learning in England has been a recurrent concern - with repeated warnings that the country lags behind international competitors.

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KIPP's Union

Andrew Rotherham:

There has been a lot of commentary about this NYT story about the unionization drive at the KIPP school in New York. Two quick points, which are both obviously open to debate.

First, I don't know exactly what is or is not happening at the school. But, isn't this one possible counter-hypothesis to the assertions in the story: This school is populated with a lot of people -- on all sides of the issue of whether or not to unionize -- who care deeply about kids, care deeply about the school and its mission, and are going through this process for the first time? In other words, there is an assumption that this is Wal-Mart or some other entity with a track record of and skill set for fighting union drives when in fact it may just be a case of people fumbling through a new and complicated situation.

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February 11, 2009

Loudoun County School Budget Freezes Salaries

Michael Birnbaum:

The proposal would fully fund the Loudoun County School Board's $747 million budget, which also freezes salaries, increases staff health-care costs and imposes new fees on students and cuts $12 million from this year's level of local funding costs. Overall education funding is approved by the supervisors, but line-item spending power is in the hands of the School Board.

Bowers's presentation also included proposals for local funding cuts of up to 15 percent, something supervisors asked to see so that they could better understand the consequences of the budget crunch. If they opt for the most extensive cuts, 404 jobs would be slashed and many public programs would be cut back or eliminated.

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In Favor of (Much Needed) Education Funds

Lynne Varner:

The House version of the stimulus plan also includes a one-time allotment for building maintenance. This state pays little more than half the costs of maintaining schools. No surprise then that most school districts have maintenance backlogs that are frightening and potentially dangerous. The $200 million in one-time money our state would receive would help whittle the backlog. The Senate's version? Nada.

Fortunately, lawmakers in both houses grasp the need to spend more in special education. Washington state is in line for $120 million in new annual spending courtesy of the economic stimulus. For Seattle and many other school districts, the money would put more special-education services in all schools and end the segregating of kids with special needs in just a few schools. The money would also pay for training teachers to work with children with learning disabilities.

There will be new federal money for technology and to pay for educating homeless children. Pell grants will be increased and the underfunded No Child Left Behind federal law will get a much-needed infusion.

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Microsoft's Steve Ballmer Advocates Math & Science Teacher Accreditation

Steve Ballmer's speech to a recent Democrat party retreat at Kings Mill Resort in Williamsburg, VA.:

This means investment in education is critical, and I'm really encouraged by the very heavy emphasis on education that's in the stimulus package.

We really need to transform math and science education in America. We need to improve teacher training, teacher quality.

I was talking earlier in the day with some folks about just how many of our math and science teachers don't have the correct training and accreditation, and that stands in the way of us really breaking through.

For those who are already in the workforce, we need programs that provide ongoing education and training, so they can be successful in this knowledge-based economy. For those who are unemployed, we need new technical skills training to give those people a start back up the economic ladder. And we are going to need lifelong learning programs to keep people fresh, as innovation and technology continues to power the economy.

The second thing we need-and I'll tell the Speaker this was written even before our meeting this morning-we need greater government investment in our nation's science and technology infrastructure.

I came in, flew in red eye, was a little groggy this morning when I got here. I sat down with the speaker at 8:00 AM, and she woke me right up. She said there are four things I want you to make sure you understand are a priority: science, science, science, and science. I was awake by the end of the fourth science for sure, and I couldn't agree more wholeheartedly.

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Survey for Secondary Teachers of Government & Social Studies

Cindy Koeppel @ The Dirksen Center, via email:

The Dirksen Congressional Center of Pekin, Il -- -- has partnered with Federal Network, Inc. of Washington, DC -- -- to develop a website geared to secondary teachers of Government and Social Studies. Our initial idea is this: the teacher in the classroom, when teaching concepts and terms relevant to the legislative branch, will be able to show sample footage from the House and Senate organized in a glossary format. If, for example, you are teaching about a filibuster, you will be able to click on "filibuster" and see digitized video of senators filibustering.

We are very excited by the prospects for this cutting-edge offering. In order to make this conceptual product a success, we seek your feedback and commentary. The product is for teachers, so we appreciate your thoughtful input. The survey will take less than five minutes to complete.

Thank you for participating. Your feedback is important.


Cindy Koeppel

The Dirksen Congressional Center
2815 Broadway
Pekin, IL 61554

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Some schools are finding rehabilitation for playground bullies can save otherwise decent students from lives of despair

Lau Kit-wai:

Ah Ho's story is more common than many realise. Lee Tak-wai, an outreach worker with the Hong Kong Playground Association, says bullying has become a pervasive problem in schools.

"In the past, things were black and white: we had the bad youngsters and the good ones. But the line has become blurred and problematic behaviour is more common among teenagers," Lee says. "Bullying has spread like an epidemic."

A survey of 1,552 lower secondary students last year found that aggressive physical action - including shoving and kicking - had increased by 31 per cent compared with a similar study in 2001. Conducted jointly by the Playground Association and City University, the survey found that threatening behaviour such as taking others' belongings and forcing victims to pay for snacks had risen by 42 per cent.

Educators and social workers view most bullies as products of circumstance. "School bullies are usually low achievers," Lee says. "They often don't receive sufficient attention from their parents and their relationships with teachers are strained. Since they can't get a sense of achievement in school, they resort to improper behaviour to draw people's attention and build their self-image. It's a vicious cycle."

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US Education Secretary Duncan's Speech to the American Council on Education

Arne Duncan:

I grew up on the South Side of Chicago working and living with young children of color.

These kids were threatened every day. They lacked role models to protect them and guide them to a safe place where learning was valued and rewarded.

Barack and Michelle Obama can be those role models on a national scale--and that's just one reason I am hopeful.

I am also hopeful because the leadership in Congress is so committed to education. They are very passionate about the issue--and they recognize its importance to our future.

I am hopeful because of the incredible progress in school districts, colleges and universities all across the country--developing new learning models--new educational approaches--and bringing new energy and ideas to the field of education.

From Teach for America to the KIPP charter schools to instructional innovations at colleges and universities, we have proven strategies ready to go to scale.

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Projections of State Budget Deficits on K-12 Public Education Spending and Job Loss

Marguerite Roza:

Nearly all state budgets are in the red, suggesting looming cuts and possible job loss in K-12 education. New estimates of shortfalls in state revenues and K-12 staffing data enable early projections of the magnitude of both the impact on K-12 public education spending and corresponding job loss. These projections can help policymakers at all levels understand the size and scope of the problem as they work to craft next steps.

Assuming the absence of intervention via increased taxes or federal stimulus spending, this analysis projects an 18.5 percent drop in state funds for K-12 education from 2009 budgeted figures to FY 2011, creating an 8.7 percent drop in total public education spending over the same period. The implication is that states will spend a total of $54 billion less on public K-12 education during the 2009 and 2010 calendar years than if spending had been held at budgeted FY 2009 levels. That number jumps to $80 billion for state spending on K-16 education, if higher education spending projections are included.

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Certification Map is a simple, yet effective way to determine the requirements needed to become a teacher in your state. We realize that finding information and navigating through the certification process can be confusing and rather difficult. Our goal is to simplify that process by providing you with all of the teacher certification information you need in one easy place.

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February 10, 2009

Federal Tax Dollar Bailout Funds Sought for Five Wisconsin School Districts

Amy Hetzner:

First came the banks, then came the car manufacturers, now federal assistance is being sought for five Wisconsin school districts that made bad investments.

At the urging of the Kenosha Education Association, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Russ Feingold have forwarded to the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve Bank a request that the government buy $200 million worth of "troubled assets" purchased by the districts in 2006.

KEA Executive Director Joseph Kiriaki said he hoped that the same Troubled Asset Relief Program that has spent billions of dollars buying the toxic debt and stock of financial institutions can help local schools, as well.

"It's one public entity to another," Kiriaki said.

In his letter to Wisconsin lawmakers, Kiriaki notes that the school districts purchased the same type of investment, known as collateralized debt obligations, that the Federal Reserve Bank of New York took off the books of American International Group last year.

Fascinating that they are referencing the AIG bailout. Much more on the stimulus/splurge here and the Treasury Department's latest plan here.

The Washington Post posted a useful graphic on the stimulus package.

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Student Fights Record of 'Cyberbullying'

Carmen Gentile:

Katherine Evans said she was frustrated with her English teacher for ignoring her pleas for help with assignments and a brusque reproach when she missed class to attend a school blood drive.

So Ms. Evans, who was then a high school senior and honor student, logged onto the networking site Facebook and wrote a rant against the teacher, Sarah Phelps.

"To those select students who have had the displeasure of having Ms. Sarah Phelps, or simply knowing her and her insane antics: Here is the place to express your feelings of hatred," she wrote.

Her posting drew a handful of responses, some of which were in support of the teacher and critical of Ms. Evans. "Whatever your reasons for hating her are, they're probably very immature," a former student of Ms. Phelps wrote in her defense.

A few days later, Ms. Evans removed the post from her Facebook page and went about the business of preparing for graduation and studying journalism in the fall.

But two months after her online venting, Ms. Evans was called into the principal's office and was told she was being suspended for "cyberbullying," a blemish on her record that she said she feared could keep her from getting into graduate schools or landing her dream job.

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Santa Ana seeks to ease high school graduation requirements

Tony Barboza:

While high schools across the state are toughening their graduation requirements to prepare students for college, one of the state's largest school districts is planning to make it easier for students to graduate.

In a proposal that would cut out health, college and career planning, world geography and earth science as required courses, the Santa Ana Unified School District is seeking to reduce the number of credits necessary to graduate.

Santa Ana's graduation requirement -- 240 credits -- is among the state's highest benchmarks. And like several other school districts, Santa Ana's move to lower the credit requirement to 220 may be an admission that it had pushed too hard, especially in a district where administrators struggle with keeping students in school.

"It will have a positive effect on dropout rates," Deputy Supt. Cathie Olsky said of the proposal. "It puts graduation in reach."

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A Useful Comparison of the House / Senate Splurge/Stimulus Bills

Josh Tauberer @

One of the concrete benefits of open government data is that third parties can use the data to do something useful that no one in government has the mandate, resources, or insight to do. If you think what I am about to tell you below is cool, and helpful, then you are a supporter of open government data.

On my site GovTrack, you can now find comparisons of the text of H.R. 1, the stimulus bill, at different stages in its legislative life --- including the House version (as passed) and the current Senate version (amendment 570).

The main page on GovTrack for HR 1 is:

Here's a direct link to the comparison:

Comparisons are possible between any two versions of the bill posted by GPO. Comparisons are available for any bill.

If you find this useful, please take a moment to consider that something like this is possible only when Congress takes data openness seriously. When GPO went online and THOMAS was created in the early 90s, they chose good data formats and access policies (mostly). But the work on open government data didn't end 15 years ago. As "what's hot" shifts to video and Twitter, the choices made today are going to impact whether or not these sources of data empower us in the future, whether or not we miss exciting opportunities such as having tools like the one above.

(Thanks to John Wonderlich and Peggy Garvin for some side discussion about this before my post. GovTrack wasn't initially picking up the latest Senate versions because GPO seems to have gone out of its way to accommodate posting the latest versions before they were passed by the Senate, which is great, but caught GovTrack by surprise.)

Josh Tauberer

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:04 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Busing or Extra Money for High Poverty Schools?

T. Keung Hui via a kind reader's email:

North Carolina's two largest school systems have taken vastly different approaches to two thorny issues -- student reassignment and educating low-income students with hefty academic deficiencies.

Wake County, the state's largest district, has used buses instead of greenbacks to address the academic needs of low-income students.

To meet the demands of growth and support a diversity policy aimed at reducing the number of high-poverty schools, Wake's system moves thousands of students each year to different schools, sometimes sending kids on bus rides of more than 20 miles.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the second-largest district in North Carolina, has shifted to a system of largely neighborhood schools, resulting in a stratified mix of affluent schools in the suburbs and high-poverty schools near downtown Charlotte.

Instead of busing kids to balance out the level of low-income students at each school, the district pours millions of dollars into these high-poverty schools each year to boost the performance of academically disadvantaged students.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 11:28 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

February 1994: Now They Call it 21st Century Skills

Charles J. Sykes:

"Dumbing Down Our Kids--What's Really Wrong With Outcome Based Education"

Charles J. Sykes, Wisconsin Interest, reprinted in Network News & Views 2/94, pp. 9-18

Joan Wittig is not an expert, nor is she an activist. She just didn't understand why her children weren't learning to write, spell, or read very well. She didn't understand why they kept coming home with sloppy papers filled with spelling mistakes and bad grammar and why teachers never corrected them or demanded better work. Nor could she fathom why her child's fourth-grade teacher would write, "I love your story, especially the spelling," on a story jammed with misspelled words. (It began: "Once a pona time I visited a tropical rian forist.")

While Wittig did not have a degree in education, she did have some college-level credits in education and a "background of training others to perform accurately and competently in my numerous job positions, beginning in my high school years." That experience was enough for her to sense something was wrong. She was not easily brushed off by assurances that her children were being taught "whole language skills." For two years, she agonized before transferring her children from New Berlin's public schools to private schools.

After only a semester at the private schools, her children were writing and reading at a markedly higher level. Their papers were neatly written, grammatical, and their spelling was systematically corrected.

Earlier this year, she decided to take her story to her local school board.

Armed with copies of her children's work (before and after their transfer to private schools), she questioned the district's allegiance to "whole language"--a teaching philosophy, Wittig said, where children are "encouraged to write and spell any way they want and the teacher does not correct the spelling so that the child's creativity is not stifled."

"Is this to be considered teaching?" she asked. "Is effective learning taking place?"

She also wondered about the schools' emphasis on "cooperative learning," in which children learn in groups. "I sent my child to school to be taught by a teacher," she said, "not by another student."

A local newspaper story recounted the reaction to Wittig's presentation: "Superintendent James Benfield said such criticism could make school employees feel they are doing something wrong. 'We should not have employees criticized until we change the guidelines,' he said, adding that he would be willing to consider a change."

Change is unlikely. If Wittig left the skirmish puzzled, she is not alone.

A growing number of school districts seem eager to embrace the very techniques Joan Wittig was challenging. And what she saw as the dumbing down of her children's schools is being hailed by state commissions, educational experts, and a growing number of school boards as the latest in educational "reforms."

Many of those "reforms" are being instituted under the rubric of outcome based education (OBE), a term fraught with controversy, ambiguity, and misunderstanding.

The source of the confusion is readily understandable. Different people mean different things when they talk about outcome based education. Adding to the confusion, some districts apparently have adopted OBE techniques, but deny having done so when parents and/or reporters make inquiries.

Lost in the fog of jargon that surrounds OBE are radical differences over the role of schools in society. School administrators who are understandably reluctant to venture into such treacherous waters often downplay, deny, or evade the philosophical underpinnings of the reforms they advocate.

One thing, however, is clear. Outcome based education programs are spreading rapidly at both the state and local level, driven in large measure by efforts to establish national and state "goals" for improving education. That process is likely to accelerate with the Clinton administration's decision to require states to adopt federally approved "goals" as a condition of receiving school aid. Those federal guidelines could very well look a good deal like the "outcomes" advocated by architects of OBE.

This will intensify the level of political controversy over OBE.

But the politics of OBE are anything but simple. OBE programs are bitterly opposed by some conservative parent groups, but have been widely embraced by moderate and conservative business leaders, including those who served on Governor Tommy G. Thompson's Commission on Schools for the 21st Century (known as the Fish Commission after its chairman, Ody Fish). On the other hand, OBE is championed by the education establishment (and is de rigueur at schools of education), but it is opposed by one of the nation's largest teachers' unions, the American Federation of Teachers.

Much of the confusion over OBE centers on the notion of "outcomes."

Ironically, "outcomes" were first raised to prominence by leaders of the conservative educational reform movement of the 1980s. Championed by Chester E. Finn, Jr., among others, such reformers argued that the obsession with inputs (dollars spent, books bought, staff hired) focused on the wrong end of the educational pipeline. They insisted that schools could be made more effective and accountable by shifting emphasis to outcomes (what children actually learned). Finn's emphasis on outcomes was designed explicitly to make schools more accountable by creating specific and verifiable educational objectives in subjects like math, science, history, geography, and English. In retrospect, the intellectual debate over accountability was won by conservatives. Indeed, conservatives were so successful in advancing their case that the term "outcomes" has become a virtually irresistible sales tool for educational reform.

The irony is that, in practice, the educational philosophies collectively known as outcome based education have little, if anything, in common with these original goals. To the contrary, OBE, with its hostility to competition, traditional measures of progress, and academic disciplines in general, can more accurately be described as part of a counter-reformation, a reaction to those attempts to make schools more accountable and effective. The OBE being sold to schools across Wisconsin represents, in effect, a semantic hijacking.

"The conservative education reform of the 1980s wanted to focus on outcomes (i.e. knowledge gained) instead of inputs (i.e. dollars spent)," notes former Education Secretary William Bennett. "The aim was to ensure greater accountability. What the education establishment has done is to appropriate the term but change the intent."

In other words, educationists have adopted the language of accountability to help them avoid being accountable.

Central to this semantic hijacking is OBE's shift of outcomes from cognitive knowledge to goals centering on values, beliefs, attitudes, and feelings. As an example of a rigorous cognitive outcome (the sort the original reformers had in mind), Bennett cites the Advanced Placement Examinations, which give students credit for courses based on their knowledge and proficiency in a subject area, rather than on their accumulated "seat-time" in a classroom.

In contrast, OBE programs are less interested in whether students know the origins of the Civil War or the author of the Tempest than whether students have met such outcomes as "establishing priorities to balance multiple life roles" (a goal in Pennsylvania) or "positive self-concept" (a goal in Kentucky). Nothing that Joan Wittig found in her children's classrooms was inconsistent with OBE philosophies or practices.

Consider the differences in approaches to educational reforms:

  • Where the reformers like Finn cited "outcomes," they insisted on higher academic standards; OBE lowers them.
  • Where the original reformers aimed at accountability, OBE makes it difficult, if not impossible, to objectively measure and compare educational progress.
  • Instead of clearly stated, verifiable outcomes, OBE goals are often diffuse, fuzzy, and ill-defined, loaded with educationist jargon like "holistic learning," "whole-child development," and "interpersonal competencies."
  • Where the original reformers saw their goal as excellence, OBE is characterized by a radical egalitarianism that tends to penalize high-achieving students.
  • Where original reformers emphasized schools that worked, OBE is experimental. Its advocates are unable to point to a single district where it has been successful.
  • And finally, where the original reformers saw an emphasis on outcomes as a way to return to educational basics, OBE has become, in Bennett's words, "a Trojan Horse for social engineering, an elementary and secondary version of the kind of 'politically correct' thinking that has infected our colleges and universities."

But while much of Outcome Based Education is genuinely radical, in general, it does not represent anything really very new. Rather, it is a continuation of the decades-old drift in educational circles away from subject content towards technique; from teaching knowledge to emphasizing nebulous "mental skills."

It represents a continuation of the flight from academic rigor and accountability. Ultimately, OBE is less sinister than it is the embodiment of mediocrity as an educational goal.

The architects of OBE envision a world in which no one fails, or at least one in which no one fails in school. "For the most part," declares Albert Mammary, "we believe competition in the classroom is destructive." Mammary has been superintendent of New York's Johnson City Central School District, K-12, where he developed an "Outcomes-Driven Developmental Model" (ODDM), which he describes as the "nation's first comprehensive school improvement model."

The model is built on slogans along the line of "Success for all students" and "Excellence for All."

For Mammary, the first step to success begins with doing away with failure.

Outcome based schools "believe there should be no failure and that failure ought to be removed from our vocabulary and thoughts," he wrote in 1991. "Failure, or fear of failure, will cause students to give up."

Former students may recall that, to the contrary, the fear of failure was an inducement to try harder, a spur that caused papers to be written and formulas memorized. But Mammary sees the threat of failure only as a barrier to enthusiastic learning.

"When students don't have to worry about failure," he insists, "they will be more apt to want to learn."

Mammary apparently feels the same way about differentiation of any sort. He opposes curved grading, ability grouping, and tracking. Tests are also transformed. They are no longer trials of knowledge, but celebrations of success.

"Testing should be creative," he insists, "aligned to learning outcomes, and only given when the students will do well."

This is only the beginning of his redefinition of "success" and "excellence."

Outcome based schools, he declares, "believe excellence is for every child and not just a few." They achieve this not by dragging the top kids down, he writes, but by bringing expectations up for everyone. He does this, however, by insisting that everyone be a winner.

Mammary is explicit on this: "A no-cut philosophy is recommended. Everyone trying out for the football team should make it; every girl or boy that (sic) wants to be a cheerleader should make it; everyone who comes to the program for the gifted and talented should make it."

There is a dreamy, utopian quality about all of this. Wouldn't it be nice if everyone were a prom queen; if everybody who dreamed of being a quarterback could be one; if every aspiring pianist could star in a concert. The world, unfortunately, doesn't work that way.

But that is precisely the point. Dreams have such power to fix our imaginations precisely because everyone cannot achieve them. Boys aspire to be quarterbacks because of the level of accomplishment it represents. Not everyone can do it. If anyone could be quarterback, what is left to aspire to?

There is also a practical concern here. A football team that must play anyone who wishes to be quarterback will quickly become a team on which no one will want to play any position.

By abolishing failure (or at least the recognition and consequences of failure) and redefining excellence to mean whatever anyone wants it to mean, we deprive success of meaning. In the ideal OBE world, everyone would feel like a success, without necessarily having to do much of anything to justify their self-esteem.

If Mammary appears to be a dreamer, there are practical applications of his philosophy. The most obvious is the hostility of OBE to traditional grades as measurements of achievement.

The emphasis on abolishing grades and traditional tests is central to the philosophy of OBE advocates. "Grading lies at the core of how our current system operates," declares OBE guru William Spady, director of the High Success Program on Outcome-Based Education.

Spady, who has been influential in the establishment of OBE programs in Wisconsin, quotes conservative reformers such as Chester Finn in his writings, but he follows Mammary in calling for the leveling of distinctions based on ability, industry or achievement.

Grades are gatekeepers, separating good students from others. "This, in turn, reinforces the system of inter-student comparison and competition created by class ranks. Such a system, of course, gives a natural advantage to those with stronger academic backgrounds, higher aptitudes for given areas of learning, and more resources at home to support their learning."

His objection appears to be based less on educational grounds than on his suspicion of inequality of any sort. Grades favor the smart and the studious. Spady wants to make up for the unfairness of it all.

Grades are oppressive, Spady writes. "Grades label students, control their opportunities, limit their choices, shape their identities, and define their rewards for learning and behaving in given ways."

Grades pit students against one another, he complains, "implying that achievement and success are inherently comparative, competitive and relevant" (which, in fact, they are, both in school and life). Indeed, Spady sees the issue of grades in terms of class struggle. "The usual result: the rich get richer, the poor give up."

Not necessarily. Occasionally, the student who gets Ds will work to become a student who gets Cs, and the C student will strive to become an A student. The A student may work harder so that he does not become a C student.

But Spady sees no link between grades and motivation to succeed or improve oneself. Instead, he focuses on the potential damage that poor grades might inflict on "young people struggling to define their identity and self-worth." He assumes here that identity and self-worth are independent of achievement.

Like Mammary, Spady envisions a grading system with no failure, but also no bad grades at all. OBE, he explains, eliminates labeling and competitive grading and stresses "VALIDATING that a high level of performance is ultimately reached on those things that will directly impact on the student's success in the future. In other words, all we're really interested in is A-level performance, thank you, so we EXPECT it of all students, systematically teach for it, and validate it when it occurs."

The OBE buzzword for its approved evaluation system is "authentic assessment." Assessment is authentic, apparently, only when it becomes impossible to rank one student's performance ahead of another's.

In this new system, Spady suggests that teachers will be able to "throw away their pens at evaluation and reporting time and replace them with pencils that have large erasers." Although he does not expand on the point, the abolition of "permanent records" has obvious advantages for educationists as well as students. The eraser takes both off the hook at the same time.

One form of accountability especially detested by the educational establishment creates measurements by which academic achievement can be readily compared among schools and among districts. Evaluations that are constantly in flux obviously cannot be compared this way. At most, schools could report progress toward their educational "goals," which may be notoriously difficult to quantify. Those goals, however, will be a benchmark of sorts, and educationists can be expected to point to them as authentic measures of their success.

Indeed, success of some sort or another seems inevitable, since the goals often appear to be set to accommodate the lowest common denominator.

In its goal statement, Milwaukee's suburban Whitnall district declared, "By 1996-97, all students will demonstrate 100% proficiency in the District's performance outcomes."

Whitnall school board member Ted Mueller quotes one astute resident remarking, "If we require all students to be able to stuff a basketball to be able to graduate from high school, the only way you're going to be able to accomplish that is to lower the basketball hoop."

Because material must be taught and re-taught until every student has mastered it, teachers in the OBE classroom necessarily have to narrow their ambitions. OBE advocates describe this as teaching less, but better. Fewer areas of math are covered, but they are covered more intensely. Even so, it is hard to avoid the "Robin Hood effect," in which time and attention are shifted from high achieving students (who quickly master the material) to slower achieving students. This is, of course, exacerbated by OBE's insistence on eliminating tracking or ability grouping.

Robert Slavin, director of the elementary school program at Johns Hopkins University's Center for Research on Elementary and Middle Schools, notes that OBE (or "mastery learning") "poses a dilemma, a choice between content coverage and mastery."

"Because rapid coverage is likely to be of greatest benefit to high achievers, whereas high mastery is of greatest benefit to low achievers," he concludes, programs such as OBE may be taught at the expense of the quicker students.

"If some students take much longer than others to learn a particular objective, then one of two things must happen," Slavin writes. "Either corrective instruction must be given outside of regular classroom time, or students who achieve mastery early on will have to spend considerable amounts of time waiting for their classmates to catch up..." It is not even clear that such a system benefits slower learners. Slavin's research found that "it may often be the case that even for low achievers, spending the time to master each objective may be less productive than covering more objectives."

One of the most popular features of OBE is also one of the overt examples of the Robin Hood effect. In cooperative learning, students allegedly teach one another. In reality, it serves as a mechanism to keep students working at a uniform pace.

In her presentation to the New Berlin school board, Joan Wittig remarked on the bizarre consequences of such mandatory "cooperation."

"Lazy, poor students rely on the good students to do all the work," she told the board. "Good students are reinforced that they must do everything if it is to be done right."

Another critic is high school senior Marisa Meisters, who wrote to a local newspaper:
As a senior at Arrowhead [High School], I have seen the results of OBE firsthand. The bottom line is that it does not work. The main goal of OBE is to teach students how to work in groups. The students in each group who understand the concept are supposed to teach the others in the group. Instead of moving on to more challenging concepts, the faster students have to wait for the entire group to understand the concept before they move on. Another OBE goal is to allow students to master subjects by retaking any test until the student can pass. The result is that the students do not study. Why should they when they can keep retaking the test? Eventually the student is bound to guess right.

But the genuinely radical vision of OBE's architects is nothing so banal as "less taught but taught well." Theorists like William Spady envision an educational system "grounded on future-driven outcomes that will directly impact the lives of students in the future, not on lesson and unit and course objectives. This means that content details will have to give way to the larger cognitive, technical, and interpersonal competencies needed in our complex, changing world."

Exactly how "exit outcomes" will be divorced from "content details" is unclear. But it seems to mean that details of history (such as who won World War II) might be sacrificed in favor of material that will "directly impact" the lives of young people. Teaching "things," or specific knowledge, is thus downgraded in the service of what Spady vaguely describes as "larger...competencies." This appears to be educationese for saying that one does not need to know where England is as long as one has mastered "spatial" competencies; one need not know history as long as one has attained an interpersonally competent outcome.

Of course, Spady doesn't expect this to come all at once. He acknowledges that schools will have to muddle through for the time being with the existing curriculum content, or what is left of it. Spady envisions a three-part process of transformation.

In the first stage, existing subject areas (science, math, history, English) "are taken as givens and are used to frame and define outcomes." In its infancy, OBE will be content to define outcomes in terms of math abilities, knowledge of history, etc. These are the terms on which OBE is usually sold to parents and school boards. This is, however, only the beginning as far as Spady is concerned.

In the second stage, which Spady calls "Transitional OBE," educrats create "a vehicle for separating curriculum content from intended outcomes and for placing primacy on the latter."

In this stage, traditional curricular content is replaced by outcomes emphasizing Spady's "higher order competencies and orientations."

As if to emphasize how separate these competencies are from the traditional content of the curriculum, Spady stresses that "these broad competencies are almost always content neutral." Indeed, he goes so far as to declare that the "content simply becomes a vehicle through which [higher order competencies] are developed and demonstrated."

By Spady's third and final stage--called "Transformational OBE"--the divorce between course content and the "exit outcomes" is complete and irreversible. Traditional curricular content has faded away altogether. In Transformational OBE, Spady writes, "curriculum content is no longer the grounding and defining element of outcomes."

With content excluded, Spady turns up the flow of educationese to full-bore.

Now he writes, "outcomes are seen as culminating Exit role performances which include sometimes complex arrays of knowledge, competencies, and orientations and which require learning demonstrations in varying role contexts."

Naturally this "dramatically redefines the role of subject content in determining and constraining what outcomes can be." Actual knowledge--the ability to write a coherent letter, add a column of numbers, know the century in which the [U.S.] Civil War took place--should not be allowed to crimp the style of the higher order competencies.

Predictably (and also conveniently), these competencies cannot be measured by tests or other verifiable, comparative measures. Indeed, Spady describes the student of the future as a sort of performance art--a work in progress.

"The bottom line of Transformational OBE is that student learning is manifested through their ability to carry out performance roles in contexts that at least simulate life situations and challenges."

Unfortunately, graduates will not be called on merely to perform in simulations of life. They will face the real thing, a reality unlikely to conform itself to Spady's model.

Perhaps because of the transitional nature of OBE, fuzzy goals clogged with impenetrable jargon seem endemic to OBE.

Kentucky's state educational goals include such "valued outcomes" as: "Listening," which officials defined by saying "Students construct meaning from messages communicated in a variety of ways for a variety of purposes through listening."

This was distinguished from "Observing," which they defined by saying "Students construct meaning from messages communicated in a variety of ways for a variety of purposes through observing."

Other goals included: "Interpersonal Relationships," in which "Students observe, analyze, and interpret human behaviors to acquire a better understanding of self, others, and human relationships;" "Consumerism...Students demonstrate effective decision-making and evaluate consumer skills;" "Mental and Emotional Wellness...Students demonstrate positive strategies for achieving and maintaining mental and emotional wellness;" "Positive self-concept...Students demonstrate the ability to be adaptable and flexible through appropriate tasks or projects;" "Multicultural and World View...Students demonstrate an understanding of, appreciation of, and sensitivity to a multicultural and world view;" and "Ethical values...Students demonstrate the ability to make decisions based on ethical values."

Obvious questions remain unanswered here: Whose ethical values will be used to establish the acceptable outcomes? Will any size fit? How will they be measured? How will schools determine whether a student has met its goals for "Interpersonal Skills" or "Consistent, Responsive and Caring Behavior," or "Open Mind to Alternative Perspectives?"

And haven't the schools gotten themselves into a lot of areas that are, frankly, none of their business?

Academic areas are not neglected, but they often bear only a passing resemblance to traditional fields of study.

Geography is transformed into "Relationship of Geography to Human Activity," in which "Students recognize the geographic interaction between people and their surroundings in order to make decisions and take actions that reflect responsibility for the environment." (Note that this does not actually include knowing something so mundane as what countries border the United States.)

Similarly, the "aesthetic" goal in which "Students appreciate creativity and the value of the arts and humanities" could conceivably by achieved without students having read a classic work of literature or seen a masterpiece of art.

The emphasis on "skills" tends to conceal the basic flaw of such curriculums that are devoid of "facts." As E.D. Hirsch notes, "Yes, problem-solving skills are necessary, But they depend on a wealth of relevant knowledge." Such knowledge plays little, if any, role in what passes for outcome based education these days.

Criticism of OBE's abstract academic goals is not limited to conservatives. Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, has joined the chorus of OBE critics who question its academic priorities.

"OBE standards include academic outcomes," he notes, "but they are very few and so vague that they would be satisfied by almost any level of achievement, from top-notch to minimal; in other words, they are no improvement over what we have now."

Pennsylvania's writing outcome, for example, called for "All students [to] write for a variety of purposes including to narrate, inform, and persuade, in all subject areas." Remarked Shanker, "In an excellent school, this could mean a portfolio of short stories, several 1,000-word essays, and numerous shorter ones. In a poor school, it could mean three short paragraphs loaded with misspellings.

"Vaguely worded outcomes like this will not send a message to students, teachers and parents about what is required of youngsters. Nor will they help bridge the enormous gap between schools where students are expected to achieve...and schools where anything goes."

As Shanker noted, Pennsylvania was something of a trailblazer in the area of establishing "goals" for outcome based educational programs. Officials there were so enthusiastic that they embraced 51 separate "learning outcomes," of which the vast majority concerned values, feelings, or attitudes.

One "outcome" defined as a base goal in Pennsylvania was that "all students understand and appreciate their worth as unique and capable individuals and exhibit self-esteem." It did not describe how self-esteem would be exhibited or measured.

Other learning outcomes included: "All students develop interpersonal communication, decision making, coping, and evaluation skills and apply them to personal, family and community living." "All students relate in writing, speech or other media, the history and nature of various forms of prejudice to current problems facing communities and nations, including the United States."

Once again, it was not clear how the schools would keep tabs on environmental decisions made in students' private lives or how they would remediate environmentally incorrect behaviors.

The very number of "learning outcomes" is significant. As Shanker notes, the large number of outcomes "sounds demanding, but it's the opposite." That is because teachers are already spread thin and will therefore have to pick and choose among the dozens of mandated "outcomes." It is not hard to predict what sort of choices they will make. Remarks Shanker, "it's a lot easier to schmooze with kids about 'life roles' than to make sure they can do geometry theorems or read Macbeth. In an educational version of Gresham's law, the fluffy will drive out the solid and worthwhile."

Wisconsin, known for its good sense and immunity to the trendy and untested, has not escaped infection. OBE buzzwords have become commonplace in local district mission statements and planning documents. The City of Waukesha School District's Strategic Planning report, for instance, declares that "The process of learning is as important as the content being taught" and that "learning to cooperate is as important as learning to compete."

The movement towards outcome based education was given its greatest impetus, however, by a state commission charged with developing goals for the state's schools. The Governor's Commission on Schools for the 21st Century called for state law to be revised "to state the goals and expectations of Wisconsin pubic schools in language that is compatible with an outcome-based integration education model..." It also called on state officials to ensure "conformity with outcome-based educational objectives."

The Fish Commission embraced an "integrated education model curriculum framework" that says that "every student will give evidence of the knowledge, skills, and understanding in each of the following areas."

There followed a list of "outcomes" and "goals," including: "Leisure Time; Cultural interdependence; Interpersonal skills; Adaptability; Equity; Accepting People; Positive self-image; Application of values and ethics; Risk taking and experimentation; Family relationships; Environmental Stewardship; Positive work attitudes and habits; Racial, ethnic, cultural diversity histories of U.S.; Team Work; Human Growth and Development; Respect all occupations; Shared decision making; Health & wellness.

While the list did include history, geography, computer literacy, and communications among other more traditional subjects, it is still remarkable for its lack of focus and its extraordinarily wide net. The commission did not explain how it would ascertain, measure, or correct students' knowledge, skills, and understanding of family relationships, or why this should be considered a state-mandated educational goal.

In May 1993, I had the chance to moderate a debate on outcome based education. During the debate, I asked an official of Wisconsin's Department of Public Instruction (and a proponent of OBE), "Have there been specific, controlled studies conducted to measure the performance of low, medium, and high capability students in Outcome Based Education versus traditional teaching curriculums."

His answer: "Most of the outcome based programs that are in effect now have not been in effect for a long enough period of time for studies of the kind you're talking about to take place."

In other words: no.

The suspicions that OBE might be a stalking horse for politically correct social engineering are fueled by its penchant for setting "outcomes" that relate to social, cultural, and political issues. Comments by some of OBE's most prominent architects tend to contribute to the misgivings of critics. William Spady, who has been paid $2,500 to make presentations to at least one suburban Milwaukee district, has made it clear that his vision of the future of education is dominated by social, cultural, and ideological preoccupations.

At times, his agenda is overtly political.

In 1987, Spady outlined his own assumptions regarding the future which needed to be taken into account when fashioning "exit outcomes."

His first assumption stated, "Despite the historical trend toward intellectual enlightenment and cultural pluralism, there has been a major rise in religious and political orthodoxy, intolerance, and conservatism with which young people will have to deal."

The implication is that OBE could somehow serve as an antidote to this 'ominous' resurgence of conservative thought.

His remaining assumptions strike a similarly ideological note. He describes the "re-pluralizing of society," the "decline of the traditional nuclear family," and the "gap between 'have' and 'have not' children." He is alarmist about the future of the environment.

"Global climate and ecology," he wrote, "are already shifting in a dangerous direction."

This is not to suggest that all OBE programs have a hidden political agenda. But its authors do seem to have a far more expansive view of the role of schools than more traditional educators ever envisioned. Albert Mammary, for example, writes:

"We believe that if students don't get love at home, they should get it in schools. If they don't get caring at home, they should get it in schools. If they don't belong and aren't connected at home, they should get it in schools. If they don't get food and clothing at home, they should also get that in schools."

This would seem to suggest that schools not only become centers of social work and welfare, but also substitute families. Educators should not be surprised if this ambition is not greeted with enthusiasm from every corner of society.

Designers of OBE scoff at charges that the new curriculums involve social engineering, and they are right to the extent that many programs bear little resemblance to the grandiose visions set out by Messrs. Mammary and Spady.

But, given the vagueness of the jargon-laden "outcomes," it is difficult for parents to know in advance what their students will learn and equally hard to measure success after the fact.

Such confusion provides ample opportunity for abuse. Political agendas can infiltrate curriculums as certain ideas and attitudes become part of the mandated "outcomes," but this is not inevitable.

In most cases, the outcome is less likely to be indoctrination than a pervasive mediocrity. A recent National Geographic article describing the culture of Sweden quoted one ethnologist: "We're taught very early not to stand out from the crowd..." The Swedish word lagom refers to this sense of "appropriateness," or averageness, that dominates Swedish life. "Lagom is best," Swedes are quoted as saying. "To be average is good in Sweden. To be different is bad."

This could well be the slogan for Outcome Based Education.

In a world with no losers and no winners, the overall tone will be blandness and conformity, an outcome that would probably be met with considerable enthusiasm by the designers of Outcome Based Education. No one feels very good, but then no one's self-esteem suffers much either.

What's really wrong with OBE? Its product is likely to be unmotivated, uninspired children who feel good about themselves, but who are unprepared for failure, rejection, and disappointment--and equally unprepared for competition in the 1990s and beyond.

Posted by Will Fitzhugh at 10:44 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison School District Seeks Community Volunteers for Strategic Planning Teams

Pat Schneider:

The Madison School District is inviting members of the community to join them in putting into action five priorities for the future identified in a major planning bash last month.

The "strategic priorities" were developed by a planning committee -- 60 strong -- that met for a marathon 22 hours over several days in January. See a school district article about the process here.

The process was open and inclusive with more than token representation by people of color, committee member Annette Miller on Monday told members of Communities United, a Madison coalition committed to promoting social justice. "I didn't feel like I was the African-American representing the whole African-American community," Miller said.

The process may have been close to the ground, but the priorities developed by the committee smack of "educationalese" (and writing by committee) in the draft report released Monday to Communities United.

As roughly translated into plain English, they are: eliminate the achievement gap between students of color and white students; evaluate programs and personnel, then prioritize and allocate resources equitably; recruit and retain staff members who reflect the cultural composition of the student body; "revolutionize" Madison education with rigorous, culturally relevant and accelerated learning opportunities; provide a safe, welcoming learning environment for all children by building ties to the community, confronting fears about diversity, and being accountable to all.

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That is Personal

When English teachers ask students to write personal journals and then turn them in for the teacher to read, the teachers have a chance to learn about the students' hopes, wishes, dreams, fantasies, family life, anxieties, ambitions, fears, and so on.

There are several problems with this practice. The first is, of course, that none of this information is any of the teachers' business. It is personal. The second problem is that asking students to spend time thinking about and writing about themselves for schoolwork is essentially anti-academic.

Teachers and students have real academic tasks. Teachers of literature should bring students to an understanding and appreciation of great writing that is not about the students themselves. Teachers of history have an obligation to introduce their students to historical events and persons well beyond the lives and experiences of the students. Math, science, foreign languages and other disciplines have little interest in the personal lives of the students. Teachers of those subjects have academic material they want students to learn as soon as they can.

However, in the English departments, there seems to be an irresistible attraction to probing the personal lives of the students. For some, the excuse is relevance. It seems hard to get students interested in anything besides themselves, they complain, so why not have students write, if they write about anything, about their own lives. This is seen as reaching out to where the students are, when what they should be doing is encouraging students to reach outside themselves to the grand and wide worlds of knowledge to be found in academic tasks and pursuits.

For some teachers, the excuse is perhaps curiosity. It can be amusing and diverting to read what students reveal about their personal lives, and some teachers may tell themselves that they will be better teachers if they can invade students' privacy in this way, and perhaps tailor their instruction and counsel to each student's personal fears and concerns. But this is not their job, nor is it a job for which they have been trained, educational psychology classes notwithstanding.

Parents, counselors, psychiatrists and others may have a need to know what is going on in a child's personal life, if they are depressed or otherwise having trouble making their way in life and in school, but teachers have an academic job to do.

Not that teachers should be impersonal. If a young student confides in a teacher, it is fine for that teacher to show an interest and feel compassion for the youngster. But it is not the teacher's job to "treat" the student or to persuade them to reveal more of their personal lives than perhaps the student had intended to share.

I am convinced that teachers who are well educated in academic subject matter themselves have a very strong desire to share the contents and the benefits of that knowledge with their students. The enthusiasm of a teacher for their academic subject has, on innumerable occasions, inspired students to take up further study of that subject themselves as they grow through their educational and even their professional lives.

It seems likely that teachers who are not well educated in academic subject matter, which includes far too many who prepare for teaching at graduate schools of education, do not have a strong desire to communicate the knowledge of literature, history, science, math, languages, and the like, which they do not possess. For these teachers, there is an enormous temptation to indulge a curiosity into the personal lives of students, through reading their personal journals and other techniques.

On the one hand, this is an unconscionable violation of the student's right to privacy, and on the other hand, such a focus on personal matters is a clear obstruction which helps to prevent students from acquiring the academic knowledge and skill they need and for which purpose we spend many many billions of taxpayer dollars.

Above and beyond the waste of money and academic opportunity for students, we should just ask teachers to stop assigning personal journals to students. Of course, young people can feel free to write diaries, journals, or whatever they want. But teachers should not demand the right to read them.

Students are already retarded in learning to write competently in school, by the widespread commitment of English teachers to creative writing and the five-paragraph essay. But when it comes to personal writing, teachers must learn to accept the fact that such writing is personal, and truly none of their business.

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

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Dual language immersion program to be offered at Leopold

The Capital Times:

Children entering Leopold Elementary School next year will have a chance to participate in a dual language immersion program which is designed to have the students proficient in both English and Spanish by the fifth grade.

Madison Metropolitan School District officials said the program will be offered for the first time in the 2009-2010 school year and parents will have an option of choosing either a standard English-only kindergarten program or enrolling students in the dual language program.

While the program is open to all families living in the Leopold Elementary attendance area, school officials said if there is greater demand than openings, a lottery system will be used to determine which students get into the new program.

The school system said it is anticipated that when the program is fully implemented in six years, the dual language program at Leopold will be used in 16 of the school's 44 classrooms.

And informational meeting about the program will be held at the school, at 2602 Post Road, at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 24, in the school's cafeteria.

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Singapore Math Bill Approved in Utah

Lisa Schencker:

Some lawmakers want Utah to follow the lead of a tiny Asian country when it comes to teaching math.

A senate committee Friday morning approved a bill, SB 159, that would allow districts and charter schools to apply for grants to use the Singapore method to teach math. Singapore is one of the highest scoring countries on international math tests.

In Singapore, math students are encouraged to think visually and develop mental strategies to solve problems. They're discouraged from using paper to compute math problems.

"We seek to create a school system that will produce a significant percentage of the scientists and engineers needed by our country," said Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, who is sponsoring the bill.

SB 159 would offer competitive grants to districts that come up with plans for teaching Singapore math in kindergarten through sixth grade and some secondary school classes. The bill would also require districts to train teachers in Singapore math and offer grants to colleges and other groups to train mathematicians to be teachers.

"I believe this will raise the math abilities of everyone in the state," said Aaron Bertram, chairman of the University of Utah mathematics department.

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Test Scores Provide Valuable Measure Of Success in D.C.

Jay Matthews:

Brian Betts, a new principal in one of the District's most troubled neighborhoods, excitedly displayed his school's latest reading test results. Tall green bars on the graphs meant that in some classes a majority of students were proficient. This was big news for Shaw Middle School at Garnet-Patterson, an amalgam of two campuses where failure had been the norm.

Betts's reaction to the quarterly results came in a rush of teachers' names, explosive interjections and expansive adjectives: "Anita Walls! Boom, boom, boom! Unbelievable! Brian Diamond! Boom, boom, boom! Fantastic!"

He had not felt so giddy the week before, when his unit tests -- written by his teachers -- showed that students were still struggling in the mid-to-low-C range. Most of Shaw's faculty members are new to the school, and many are new to teaching. That makes the school a crucial experiment for D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee. She has put extra resources into it and given Betts, 41, extraordinary power to make his own rules, with the help of two teaching stars he recruited from Montgomery County. But in mid-January he was worried.

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A Critique of "21st Century Skills"

The recent Madison School Board Strategic Planning Process included materials from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction on "21st Century Skills".

Sandra Stotsky offers a critique.

Wagner's book is engaging and sometimes points to real defects in American schools. Yet it fails to use research objectively to ascertain what is truly happening in America's 90,000 public schools. Moreover, like all too many education "reformers" Wagner is simply hostile to academic content. Wagner does not seem to care if students can read and write grammatically, do math or know something about science and history - real subjects that schools can teach and policy-makers can measure.

Unfortunately, Wagner dismisses measurable academic content while embracing buzzwords like "adaptability" and "curiosity," which no one could possibly be against, but also which no one could possibly measure. Do we really care if our students are curious and adaptable if they cannot read and write their own names?

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The Structure of Everything

Marc Kaufman:

Did you know that 365 -- the number of days in a year -- is equal to 10 times 10, plus 11 times 11, plus 12 times 12?

Or that the sum of any successive odd numbers always equals a square number -- as in 1 + 3 = 4 (2 squared), while 1 + 3 + 5 = 9 (3 squared), and 1 + 3 + 5 + 7 = 16 (4 squared)?

Those are just the start of a remarkable number of magical patterns, coincidences and constants in mathematics. No wonder philosophers and mathematicians have been arguing for centuries over whether math is a system that humans invented or a cosmic -- possibly divine -- order that we simply discovered. That's the fundamental question Mario Livio probes in his engrossing book Is God a Mathematician?

Livio, an astrophysicist at the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, explains the invention-vs.-discovery debate largely through the work and personalities of great figures in math history, from Pythagoras and Plato to Isaac Newton, Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein. At times, Livio's theorems, proofs and conundrums may be challenging for readers who struggled through algebra, but he makes most of this material not only comprehensible but downright intriguing. Often, he gives a relatively complex explanation of a mathematical problem or insight, then follows it with a "simply put" distillation.

An extended section on knot theory is, well, pretty knotty. But it ultimately sheds light on the workings of the DNA double helix, and Livio illustrates the theory with a concrete example: Two teams taking different approaches to the notoriously difficult problem of how many knots could be formed with a specific number of crossings -- in this case, 16 or fewer -- came up with the same answer: 1,701,936.

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Madison Edgewood High School Wins English Award

National Council of Teachers of English:

The National Council of Teachers of English awarded the "highest award" for literary excellence to a magazine from Edgewood High School.

The Wayfarer has earned the highest rating in three of the last four years. According to Edgewood Public Information Associate Kate Ripple, the school is the only one in Wisconsin to receive this honor this year, and only one of 50 schools nationally.

Diane Mertens, head of the Edgewood English Department, has led students for the magazine's entire 23 years of production.

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February 9, 2009

Reforming schools starts with audits

School district audits need to be independent

Dennis Willard:

In one of his more significant, although slightly flawed, education reform initiatives, Gov. Ted Strickland wants school districts to undergo annual financial and operational performance audits.

''Just as we provide an academic report card for our schools, we will provide parents, public officials and taxpayers an annual fiscal and operational report card for every school district. That means that when we send districts funding to help students who need additional attention and instruction, we will now be able to track our dollars to see that they directly reach those students,'' Strickland said in his third State of the State address.

This is a great idea on a number of levels.

Parents and homeowners would be able to determine whether their district is making the grade on spending. For years, the Ohio Department of Education has issued academic report cards for districts.

Yes, at times, woeful news in the audits would make it more difficult for superintendents and school board members to ask voters to pass levies.

On the other hand, fiscal and operational performance audits would help districts identify and correct spending problems.

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On School Consolidation

The Daily Item:

It is troubling that Gov. Ed Rendell's budget-related proposal to reduce the number of school districts from 500 to fewer than 100 came as a surprise to educators.

Local administrators described it as a "bolt from the blue," and one local superintendent said he was "shocked and awed" by the scope of the proposal, for which the governor, apparently with little or no comment from educators, is now seeking taxpayer funding for a commission to study and plan the consolidations.

Interviewed this week, several local school district administrators questioned whether school consolidations would actually save money and raised concerns about how the changes would affect educational programs and family involvement in the schools. Some of those same questions were addressed in a 2001 study by the Center for Policy Research, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.

Researchers at Syracuse studied the impacts of consolidation in rural school districts in New York state from 1985 to 1997 and found operating cost savings of around 20 percent in the consolidation of two 300-pupil school districts, savings of 7 to 9 percent in the consolidation of two 900-pupil school districts and "little, if any, impact on the costs of two 1,500-pupil districts."

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The once and future e-book: on reading in the digital age

John Siracusa:

I was pitched headfirst into the world of e-books in 2002 when I took a job with Palm Digital Media. The company, originally called Peanut Press, was founded in 1998 with a simple plan: publish books in electronic form. As it turns out, that simple plan leads directly into a technological, economic, and political hornet's nest. But thanks to some good initial decisions (more on those later), little Peanut Press did pretty well for itself in those first few years, eventually having a legitimate claim to its self-declared title of "the world's largest e-book store."

Unfortunately, despite starting the company near the peak of the original dot-com bubble, the founders of Peanut Press lost control of the company very early on. In retrospect, this signaled an important truth that persists to this day: people don't get e-books.

A succession of increasingly disengaged and (later) incompetent owners effectively killed Peanut Press, first flattening its growth curve, then abandoning all of the original employees by moving the company several hundred miles away. In January of 2008, what remained of the once-proud e-book store (now called was scraped up off the floor and acquired by a competitor,

Unlike previous owners, Fictionwise has some actual knowledge of and interest in e-books. But though the "world's largest e-book store" appellation still adorns the website, larger fish have long since entered the pond.

And so, a sad end for the eReader that I knew (née Palm Digital Media, née Peanut Press). But this story is not just about them, or me. Notice that I used the present tense earlier: "people don't get e-books." This is as true today as it was ten years ago. Venture capitalists didn't get it then, nor did the series of owners that killed Peanut Press, nor do many of the players in the e-book market today. And then there are the consumers, their own notions about e-books left to solidify in the absence of any clear vision from the industry.

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China's high school reform proposal triggers debate


Tens of thousands of Chinese have joined a debate on whether students should be separated into science and liberal arts classes in high school, a practice that allows them to stay competitive in college entrance exam by choosing preferred subjects.

The debate came after the Ministry of Education began to solicit opinions from the public on Friday on whether it was necessary and feasible to abolish the classification system, which have been adopted for decades.

In a survey launched by, a Chinese portal, more than 260,000 people cast their votes as of Saturday with 54 percent of those polled voted for the abolishment and 40 percent against.

More than 87,000 netizens have made also their voice heard as of 10 a.m. Sunday morning in the website's forum.

A netizen from Chengdu, capital of southwest Sichuan Province, who identified himself as a high school math teacher, said "students should study both arts and science so they could have comprehensive development and become more flexible in using their knowledge."

"Sciences can activate the mind, while arts could strengthen their learning capability," he added.

Will Clem has more.

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How US Students Stack Up

Is America Falling off the Flat Earth?:

Nearly 60 percent of the patents filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in the field of information technology now originate in Asia.

• The U.S. ranks 17th among nations in high-school graduation rate and 14th in college graduation rate.

• In China, virtually all high school students study calculus; in the U.S., 13 percent of high school students study calculus.

• For every American elementary and secondary school student studying Chinese, there are 10,000 students in China studying English.

• The average American youth annually spends 66 percent more time watching television than in school.

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Time for that 'sextortion' talk with your teen

Jim Stingl:

As a parent, I thought I knew a few things about teenagers. And as a male, I figured I understood how guys think.

After hearing last week about the New Berlin Facebook sextortionist, I'm not so sure.

It made me wonder:

Did Anthony Stancl, the 18-year-old defendant, just one day dream up this scheme he's charged with and decide to prey on his classmates at Eisenhower High and risk going to prison? Was sex by blackmail really his best hookup option?

Could he have dreamed that 31 guys, tricked into believing he was a female classmate on Facebook, would send along a naked photo or video of themselves? How many said no is not clear, but 31 thought, yeah, where's my camera?

Do guys now have a good reason to believe that a girl at school truly wants naked pictures of them? And that she'll send one of herself back to them? And that it's perfectly safe to swap pics on the Internet where nothing ever falls into the wrong hands?

Isn't everyone who approaches you online potentially someone other than who they say they are? Kids are adults. Boys are girls. Girls are cops.

Isn't the Internet both the most fantastic and most monstrous invention in our lifetime?

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February 8, 2009

The Kid Nobody Could Handle

Kurt Vonnegut - free from

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Madison Math Task Force Report Public Session: February 11, 2009 @ Cherokee Middle School

The Cherokee PTO [Map] is hosting a discussion of the Madison School District's Math Task Force Report this Wednesday evening, February 11, 2009 in the Library.

Much more on the Math Task Force report here.

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Waunakee parents in 'an uproar' over teaching social studies in Spanish

Gena Kittner:

Being taught about famous people and events in Wisconsin history in Spanish is not how some Waunakee parents want their fourth-graders learning social studies at school.

"We as parents have been in such an uproar over this," said Keith Wilke about the district's elementary language program in which students learn Spanish by having the language integrated into social studies lessons for 30 minutes three days a week in first through fourth grades. "They're force-fed Spanish."

This is the third year for the program, which has added one grade a year since 2006 and is designed to continue until fifth grade.

"A fair amount of (social studies instruction) has been in Spanish," said Wilke, who has a daughter in fourth grade. "The kids are to the point where they don't understand it."

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Is it 'merit pay' if nearly all teachers get it?

Emily Johns:

A state program meant to give only effective Minnesota teachers merit pay raises instead appears to be rewarding nearly all the teachers participating in it with more money.

The program, called "Q Comp," is one of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's top initiatives to improve schools, and many educators say it is strengthening teacher evaluations and training. But others are questioning whether Q Comp has just become a cash handout.

In 22 school districts whose Q Comp practices were examined by the Star Tribune, more than 99 percent of teachers in the program received merit raises during the most recent school year.

Only 27 of the roughly 4,200 teachers eligible did not get a pay raise.

The state gave schools $64 million to spend on Q Comp, which stands for quality compensation, during the 2007-08 school year. Pawlenty is now proposing to increase spending on the program by $41 million next year. But some lawmakers are questioning that step.

"Why should we expand it statewide when there is no evidence that it's improving anything?" asked Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan.

"Let's quit the charade, let's give every district another $300 per pupil, and quit bluffing."

Pawlenty's spokesman Brian McClung defended the program Friday as "a move towards greater emphasis on student achievement and the measures that lead to [it]." He added, "Ideally Q Comp would demand more, but we had to compromise with a Legislature that was uncomfortable going further."

Test data suggest that, so far, students in school districts in at least their third year of Q Comp have not shown more improvement in reading and math than students in schools not participating in the program.

The Minnesota Department of Education asserts that it is too early in the program's life to make substantive comparisons about how Q Comp is affecting student achievement. In a statement Friday, Education Commissioner Alice Seagren said the department has faith in the program.

"We believe that Q Comp will lead to higher levels of student achievement, students who are college-and-work ready upon graduation, and a larger supply of qualified workers for our state's employers," she said.

School superintendents, meanwhile, say the money involved--up to $260 per pupil this year--has been a major draw in an era of budget cuts.

Joseph Brown, superintendent of the Grand Meadow School District, said Q Comp is improving teacher pay in ways that might otherwise not be possible.

"We really felt the only way teachers would get additional income was to generate additional revenue," he said.

Reward or punishment?

Under Q Comp, participating districts and charter schools set up teacher-driven training, such as having them observe one another and work in small groups to share tips.

Each participating district--there were 39 in 2007-08--sets up its own program with the local teachers union, resulting in a complicated patchwork of programs that reward teachers for a variety of things.

In addition to the merit pay raises, teachers can receive bonuses--usually up to a total of around $2,000--for things such as improving student performance, meeting professional development goals, being evaluated by other teachers, and whether their school meets testing goals. In districts the Star Tribune examined, the vast majority of teachers got most of the bonus money available. Many lost portions of the money when students did not meet testing goals.

The merit pay raises that teachers receive--the scale on which virtually all the state's teachers succeed--are mostly based on things such as whether teachers successfully complete evaluations and training, rather than on student performance.

"Is the focus supposed to be growing better teachers or punishing bad teachers?" said Tim Bunnell, program leader for the South Washington County schools, who said he isn't surprised districts aren't withholding pay scale advancement. "That would be a huge punishment."

It could, in fact, mean up to $15,000 or $20,000 lost over a teacher's career in the district, Bunnell said.

Education Minnesota, the state teachers union, has always taken the position that ongoing, high-quality professional development is needed in schools, according to Tom Dooher, the union's president. Q Comp can provide that if it's correctly negotiated with the union, he said.

On Tuesday, the state's legislative auditor is scheduled to release a report on Q Comp, analyzing the Department of Education's oversight of the program.

According to Sandi Jacobs, vice president for policy at the National Council on Teacher Quality, the fact that virtually all the state's teachers are advancing "should really give the state some important food for thought about whether the program is accomplishing their intent."

Teaching can be a lonely profession, with teachers sequestered in classrooms, having too few opportunities to see their colleagues work.

With Q Comp, teachers get a chance to coach and be coached by other teachers. They talk about their craft in small professional development groups, and work together to help students meet goals. Many educators and policymakers applaud this aspect of the program.

In the Brandon School District in central Minnesota, a district with 22 teachers, teachers are observed three times during the school year.

"It's about taking time to reflect," Superintendent Mark Westby said. "I don't think teachers change because they're told they need to. They change because they see on their own what they could do differently."

A June 2008 teacher survey of South Washington County teachers shows that 84 percent of teachers are highly or somewhat satisfied with the district's pay program, and 77 percent report that peer coaching and observation is either "vital and highly effective" or "has an important role" in promoting professional growth.

But not all teachers on the front lines agree, according to Steve Watson, a recently retired Eden Prairie art teacher and a vocal critic of the program.

He says that the program is advertised as paying effective teachers, but points out that the bonus for having students meet testing goals is minimal--usually about several hundred dollars in most districts--compared with what teachers receive for "jumping through hoops."

In more than 30 years of teaching, Watson said, he's seen many other trends in education come and go. This one is different.

"They found out the teachers would buy into it if they just paid them off."

Require it statewide?

There are currently 44 school districts and 28 charter schools enrolled in the Q Comp program, educating about a third of Minnesota's 820,000 students.

Dooher said that Education Minnesota would rather have money currently spent on Q Comp be added to general school funding.

"The system [Pawlenty] has proposed doesn't get at the real crux of the problem," he said. "Our class sizes are too big, we don't have the resources, and we don't have the up-to-date materials to really, really impact test scores and student achievement."

Many participating districts are stressed about the state's financial position: Facing a $4.8 billion two-year deficit going into this year's legislative session, superintendents are worried about professional development advances they've made, and what would happen if the money disappears.

The Orono School District spent almost $800,000 on the program last year, according to the Department of Education.

Neal Lawson, the district's assistant superintendent for business, said, "We just don't have that kind of money sitting around for us to be able to continue the program if the funding is cut."

Staff writer Glenn Howatt contributed to this report. Emily Johns • 612-673-7460

© 2009 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.

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Smaller school districts looking to consolidation

Gena Kittner:

Three area school districts in need of building renovation or expansion are taking very tentative steps toward consolidation -- a touchy topic for residents worried about losing a community's identity.

The Belleville, Monticello and New Glarus school districts, located in Dane and Green counties, are asking the state Department of Public Instruction for $10,000 to study the idea of combining their programs and student populations.

"I think it's just a case of having a nice discussion and getting solid, objective information," said Randy Freese, superintendent for the Belleville School District.

Facing continued tight budgets, districts around the state will be looking at options to save money, and "investigating consolidation is definitely one of those options," said Patrick Gasper, DPI spokesman. "I think we'll see more people looking into it."

Using money approved as part of the 2007-09 state budget, the DPI has funded grants for at least eight other district groups, including Pecatonica and Argyle in Lafayette and Iowa counties.

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A Survey on College Preparation for Recent Madison High School Graduates

Madison School Board member Ed Hughes has posted a survey for recent Madison High School Graduates on their level of preparation for college. Via a kind reader's email.

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February 7, 2009

Bill Gates on "How Do You Make a Teacher Great?"

TED Video:

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Madison Strategic Planning Short Video

MMSDTV posted a short video clip on the Madison School District's recent Strategic Planning Process.

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Daley Says Charter Schools Keep the System Honest

Collin Levy interviews Chicago Mayor Richard Daley:

Mayor Daley also sees an important role for charter schools. "You can't have a monopoly and think a monopoly works. Slowly it dissolves. And I think that charter schools are good to compete with public schools." Nobody says there's something wrong with public universities facing competition from private ones. "I think the more competition we have, the better off we are in Chicago."

But the mayor won't support vouchers. "School choice is hard. You're going back to arguing," he says, trailing off without making clear whether he means the politics. But he does think it's notable that, while federal money and Pell grants can be used to finance an education at a private college, federal money can't be used to help students get a private education at the K-12 level.

Ron Huberman, Mr. Daley's former chief of staff and head of the Chicago Transit Authority, is anything but an education bureaucrat, and that's just what the mayor wants in the man he named to replace Mr. Duncan as chief of Chicago schools. Too often in the past, before the mayor took over, the city would bring in schools chiefs who seemed to be riding an education lazy-susan from school to school. "We'd give them big bonuses to come here and then when we'd fire them they'd go to other school systems."

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Reduced Prices Affect School Spending Authority

Jason Stein:

Schools would also be affected, since the per pupil limits on how much money schools can raise through property taxes and state aid are also linked to changes in consumer prices. Currently schools are limited to a statewide average of about $9,835 dollars per pupil, Schmiedicke said.

Normally schools' roughly $270 annual increase in the per pupil limits would go up to reflect the rise in consumer prices. Because of deflation, that $270 increase may stay as it is or be slightly smaller, Schmiedicke said.

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February 6, 2009

Senate Version of the "Splurge / Stimulus"

US Senate HR1 736 Page 1.3MB PDF. Much more on the splurge here. The word education is mentioned 259 times, while school is mentioned 90 times.

Meanwhile, it appears improved PR is on offer by the new Administration:

To improve the bailout's poor public image, the administration is considering renaming the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program and making it independent of the Treasury. It is also going to announce new terms and conditions for companies that receive or have already taken government aid -- in addition to the new executive-compensation limits announced this week -- including a demand that they report how the money is being spent.
Related: Cicero & Plato on how republics die.

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On Milwaukee's Education Splurge: "Money for Unneeded Schools"

Wall Street Journal:

To understand the problem with the stimulus bill, it helps to focus on specific parts. Take the $142 billion for schools, which is nearly double the total outlays of the Department of Education in 2007. Now consider that much of this cash would go to public-school systems that don't even need the money for its earmarked purposes.

The Milwaukee Public School system, for example, would receive $88.6 million over two years for new construction projects under the House version of the stimulus -- even though the district currently has 15 vacant school buildings and declining enrollment. Between 1990 and 2008, inflation-adjusted MPS spending rose by 35%, per-pupil spending increased by 36% and state aid grew by 58%. Over the same period, enrollment fell by a percentage point and is projected to continue falling, leaving the system with enough excess capacity for some 22,000 students.

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"In general, MPS facilities have been described by school officials as being in good to better-than-good condition," reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "The kind of situations that create urgent needs for renovation or new construction in some cities have not been on the priority list for MPS officials in recent years."

Much more on the splurge here.

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Did Rap, Crack or TV Kill Reading?

Jay Matthews:

People my age are prone to what I call geezerisms, such as: What's the matter with kids these days? Why aren't schools good like they used to be? Where can I get a really thick milkshake? Stuff like that.

You don't often run into these outbreaks of cranky nostalgia in educational research, but one has surfaced recently. Several prominent scholars have suggested that teenage reading for pleasure, and verbal test scores, plummeted after 1988 because of the rise of rap and hip-hop music and an increase in television watching.

Changes in youthful cultural tastes and habits always push us senior citizens into rants about declining values, so I wondered whether the researchers -- many of them in my age group -- were giving into one of those recurring bromides that the new music is terrible and will turn our society into a garbage dump.

I couldn't sustain that argument because the scholars involved (including Ronald Ferguson, David Grissmer and Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom) are brilliant people whose work always meets the highest standards of professional inquiry. I was trying to decide how to sort this out when University of California at Los Angeles sociologist Meredith Phillips, one of my favorite writers on student achievement, came to the rescue with an intriguing take in a chapter of a new book, "Steady Gains and Stalled Progress: Inequality and the Black-White Test Score Gap," edited by Katherine Magnuson of the University of Wisconsin at Madison and Jane Waldfogel of Columbia University and published by the Russell Sage Foundation.

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A Boost in Online Money Courses

Alina Dizik:

ince September's financial meltdown, community colleges and universities offering free personal-finance courses online have seen a sharp increase in enrollment.

Many people are turning to the more than 180 business courses offered through the OpenCourseWare Consortium -- a group of about 250 universities world-wide, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of California-Irvine. These courses aren't exactly classes, but they offer free access to online syllabi and study materials, along with lecture notes and exams.

An MIT initiative called OpenCourseWare offers business courses online.
One course, "Fundamentals of Financial Planning," has seen a 27% increase in traffic since September, according to the school. With 48,000 viewers, it has become the most popular of the University of California-Irvine's OpenCourseWare offerings, the school says. Class takers are given worksheets and assessments to help them negotiate topics like college planning and retirement savings, says Gary Matkin, dean of continuing education. "It's a cross between a reference and a learning experience," says Mr. Matkin. As more people are affected by the downturn, he expects the number of course takers to grow.

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February 5, 2009

5th Annual AP Report to the Nation

1MB PDF The College Board:

Educators across the United States continue to enable a wider and ethnically diverse proportion of students to achieve success in AP®. Significant inequities remain, however, which can result in traditionally underserved students not receiving the sort of AP opportunities that can best prepare them for college success. The 5th Annual AP Report to the Nation uses a combination of state, national and AP Program data to provide each U.S. state with the context it can use to celebrate its successes, understand its unique challenges, and set meaningful, data-driven goals to prepare more students for success in college.
Many links here.

Wisconsin ranked 14th in the percentage of seniors scoring 3+ on an AP exam.

Related: Dane County AP Course offering comparison.

Daniel de Vise has more.

Three California schools recognized for role in boosting Latino performance on AP tests by Carla Rivera:

Three public schools in California led the nation in helping Latino students outperform their counterparts in other states on Advanced Placement exams in Spanish language, Spanish literature and world history, according to a report released Wednesday by the College Board.

Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach was cited as the public school with the largest number of Latino students from the class of 2008 earning a 3 or better in AP world history. Exams are scored on a scale of 1 to 5, and many colleges and universities give students course credit for scores of 3 or higher. Advanced Placement courses offer college-level material in a variety of subjects.

Latino students at Fontana High School outpaced their peers on the AP Spanish-language exam, and San Ysidro High School in San Diego had the most Latino students who succeeded on the AP Spanish literature exam.

The "tension" between increased academic opportunities for all students as exemplified in this report versus curriculum reduction for all, in an effort by some to address the achievement gap was much discussed during last week's Madison School District Strategic Planning Process meetings. Background here, here, here, here and here.

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New Berlin teen accused of using Facebook for sexual blackmail

Jacqui Seibel and Mark Johnson:

A former New Berlin Eisenhower student was accused Wednesday of a pattern of manipulation and deception using the social networking site Facebook to coerce male schoolmates into sexual encounters.

Anthony R. Stancl, 18, posing as a female on Facebook, persuaded at least 31 boys to send him naked pictures of themselves and then blackmailed some of the boys into performing sex acts under the threat that the pictures would be released to the rest of the high school, according a criminal complaint.

All 31 boys attend New Berlin Eisenhower Middle/High School, said Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel.

The sexual assaults occurred in a bathroom at the high school, the school parking lot, a New Berlin Public Library restroom, Valley View Park, Malone Park, Minooka Park and at some of the victims' homes.

At least seven boys, 15 to 17, were forced into performing sex acts, Schimel said. The incidents occurred from spring 2008 until the time of Stancl's arrest in November. Stancl had 300 photos and movie clips on his computer of boys from the school, ages 13 to 19, Schimel said.

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The Great College Hoax

Kathy Kristof:

Higher education can be a financial disaster. Especially with the return on degrees down and student loan sharks on the prowl.

As steadily as ivy creeps up the walls of its well-groomed campuses, the education industrial complex has cultivated the image of college as a sure-fire path to a life of social and economic privilege.

Joel Kellum says he's living proof that the claim is a lie. A 40-year-old Los Angeles resident, Kellum did everything he was supposed to do to get ahead in life. He worked hard as a high schooler, got into the University of Virginia and graduated with a bachelor's degree in history.

Accepted into the California Western School of Law, a private San Diego institution, Kellum couldn't swing the $36,000 in annual tuition with financial aid and part-time work. So he did what friends and professors said was the smart move and took out $60,000 in student loans.

Kellum's law school sweetheart, Jennifer Coultas, did much the same. By the time they graduated in 1995, the couple was $194,000 in debt. They eventually married and each landed a six-figure job. Yet even with Kellum moonlighting, they had to scrounge to come up with $145,000 in loan payments. With interest accruing at up to 12% a year, that whittled away only $21,000 in principal. Their remaining bill: $173,000 and counting.

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Christian Schneider:

How did the state budget end up in shambles? Governor Doyle and supportive legislators lay the budgetary imbalance at the feet of the poor economy. State Senator Bob Jauch went so far as to call the budget shortfall "a natural disaster," saying it was a "Katrina-style collapse."

Yet despite these declarations that the budget shortfall is outside the control of Wisconsin's elected officials, several questionable budget practices allow Wisconsin to continually spend more than it takes in. First, the state has been filling budget holes in the general fund by pouring in one-time revenues from segregated state accounts, paid for with various user fees. According to state government's own financial records, from fiscal years 2001 through 2008, a total of $2.373 billion of these one time, non-routine, revenues was used to help the general fund show positive ending balances. Much of this came from the transportation fund, which was then made whole by issuing debt to backfill the hole left by the transfer.

With regard to the spending side of the ledger, the state can appear to spend less from the general fund by "offloading" spending to accounts funded with user fees. For instance, in the 2003-05 budget, $100 million was shifted out of the transportation fund and into the school aids equalization formula ($40 million in 2004 and $60 million in 2005). By replacing $100 million of spending previously paid from general purpose revenue with segregated transportation funds, the Governor and Legislature sought to create the appearance that general fund spending was being held in check.

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High school hoops coach told to stop hypnotizing team


A high school basketball coach has been told he can't hypnotize his players anymore because it sends the wrong message to other schools and could get the students hooked on hypnosis.

The St. John High School boys team -- the same team that won state two years ago and finished second last year -- was just 7-6 through last week when coach Clint Kinnamon decided to bring in a hypnotist.

He chose Carl Feril, a Church of Christ minister who also is a clinical family and marriage therapist.

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Technology not the panacea for education

Todd Oppenheimer:

Now that Arne Duncan, President Obama's new education secretary, has presented the administration's $150 billion plan for reviving our education system, it's time to start separating Obama's smart ideas for schools from his dumb ones. The first folly Duncan could dispense with - at an enormous cost saving - would be Obama's desire to outfit the nation's classrooms with new computers. His big push for this idea occurred in December, when he said, "Every child should have the chance to get online," Obama said, "and they'll get that chance when I'm president - because that's how we'll strengthen America's competitiveness in the world."


Educators have been trying to improve schools with every technology we've ever invented, beginning with Thomas Edison's promise, in 1912, to create "100 percent efficiency" in the classroom through the medium of "the motion picture." Since personal computers and the Internet first arrived in classrooms, in the early 1990s, schools have spent approximately $100 billion on technology. Throughout this campaign, educators and the technology industry have been searching madly for solid evidence of whether the computers were boosting achievement. So little has been found that this data has become education's WMD.

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February 4, 2009

The Global Achievement Muddle

Sandra Stotsky:

Wagner promotes seven "21st century" skills that he claims are not taught in our schools. These "survival" skills are also being promoted by advocacy groups like the National Educational Association.

Wagner's list seems plausible. Who can argue against teaching students "agility and adaptability" or how to "ask good questions?" Yet these "skills" are largely unsupported by actual scientific research. Wagner presents nothing to justify his list except glib language and a virtually endless string of anecdotes about his conversations with high-tech CEOs.

Even where Wagner does use research, it's not clear that we can trust what he reports as fact. On page 92, to discredit attempts to increase the number of high school students studying algebra and advanced mathematics courses, he refers to a "study" of MIT graduates that he claims found only a few mentioning anything "more than arithmetic, statistics and probability" as useful to their work. Curious, I checked out the "study" using the URL provided in an end note for Chapter 3. It consisted of 17, yes 17, MIT graduates, and, according to my count, 11 of the 17 explicitly mentioned linear algebra, trig, proofs and/ or calculus, or other advanced mathematics courses as vital to their work - exactly the opposite of what Wagner reports! Perhaps exposure to higher mathematics is not the worst problem facing American students!

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Seniority-Based Layoffs Will Exacerbate Job Loss in Public Education

Marguerite Roza:

K-12 school districts that lay off personnel according to seniority cause disproportionate damage to their programs and students than if layoffs were determined on a seniority-neutral basis.

School districts face severe budget challenges with state funding at risk in this perilous economy. In this four-page analysis of K-12 district layoff issues, Marguerite Roza, a senior scholar at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, calculates that if a district is required to use layoffs to cut its budget by 10 percent and cuts the most junior employees, it will need to axe 14.3 percent of its workforce (including teachers) to meet the 10 percent budget reduction.

On the other hand, if that district followed a seniority-neutral layoff policy--say by a standard of employee effectiveness--only 10 percent of the workforce would lose their jobs.

Nationwide, if all districts followed a seniority-neutral layoff policy to save 10 percent, 612,256 jobs would be lost compared with 874,623 lost under a seniority-based policy.

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Face of space Tyson laments Americans' scientific illiteracy

PJ Slinger:

Neil deGrasse Tyson is one in a million.

He said so himself.

"There are six-and-half billion people on this planet, and there are 6,500 astrophysicists, so that makes each of us (astrophysicists) one in a million," Tyson said Monday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater as part of the UW's Distinguished Lecture Series.

It's too bad there aren't a lot more like Tyson, who kept the packed house enthralled with his charisma, knowledge and off-the-cuff humor for more than two hours.

Tyson is the 21st century face of space, a mantle previously held by the late, great Carl Sagan. Tyson is director of the Hayden Planetarium and the host of PBS' "NOVA ScienceNOW" program, aimed at educating a new generation of Americans in science.

And that is no small task.

Tyson pointed out numerous examples of scientific illiteracy in the U.S., including a general lack of understanding and a belief in silly superstitions.

On the screen behind him he showed a photo of the inside of an elevator in a tall building, and how there was no button for the 13th floor.

"We are supposedly a technologically advanced country, and yet people are afraid of the number 13?" he said.

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Who gets what from the splurge/stimulus package?

Wall Street Journal:

How some of the major spending will be shared among the states, according to estimates for the current stimulus bill proposed by House Democratic leaders.

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UW's Delta Teaching Program

Kiera Wiatrak:

In its first five years on campus, Delta has made a profound impact on UW-Madison's teaching and learning culture. A fall 2008 review found that more than 400 faculty and instructional staff enhanced their teaching practices in some way as a direct result of Delta workshops.

As Delta grows, it continues to receive recognition for its efforts. On Monday, Feb. 9, Delta will be presented with the National Consortium for Continuous Improvement in Higher Education's Award for Leveraging Excellence.

Delta members are encouraged to take Delta courses and small-group-facilitated programs, attend roundtable dinners and seminars, and participate in the Delta internship program to learn how to implement Delta's three pillars -- teaching-as-research, learning community and learning-through-diversity -- into the classroom.

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Wisconsin Governor Stumps for Mandatory Autism Insurance Coverage


Gov. Jim Doyle is stumping for a bill that would require insurance companies to cover autism.

Most insurance companies don't cover autism because it is classified as an emotional disorder rather than a neurological condition.

A host of lawmakers and Drew Goldsmith, a 12-year-old autistic boy from Middleton, backed Doyle at a press conference in his office Tuesday.

Doyle is proposing strengthening current legislation to include minimum coverage levels of $60,000 for intensive treatment and $30,000 for post-intensive services. He said it would cut the waiting list to join a state-run program for autism services by a third.

Lawmakers on Tuesday said they hope to win support for the bill in the Legislature.

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February 3, 2009

The Future of Online Learning: Ten Years On

Stephen Downes:

In the summer of 1998, over two frantic weeks in July, I wrote an essay titled The Future of Online Learning. (Downes, 1998) At the time, I was working as a distance education and new media design specialist at Assiniboine Community College, and I wrote the essay to defend the work I was doing at the time. "We want a plan," said my managers, and so I outlined the future as I thought it would - and should - unfold.

In the ten years that have followed, this vision of the future has proven to be remarkably robust. I have found, on rereading and reworking the essay, that though there may have been some movement in the margins, the overall thrust of the paper was essentially correct. This gives me confidence in my understanding of those forces and trends that are moving education today.

In this essay I offer a renewal of those predictions. I look at each of the points I addressed in 1998, and with the benefit of ten year's experience, recast and rewrite each prediction. This essay is not an attempt to vindicate the previous paper - time has done that - but to carry on in the same spirit, and to push that vision ten years deeper into the future.

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Madison School District Departing Parent Surveys

Via a kind reader's email. Three surveys for families that have left the Madison School District for the following destinations [PDF]:

Related Links:The Madison School District's tax and spending authority is based on its enrollment.

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Google and Nasa back 'singularity' school for when technology overtakes humans

Caroline Gammell:

The Singularity University will be based at the space programme's Ames campus in Silicon Valley, USA.

Its chancellor will be the controversial futurist Ray Kurzweil, whose 2005 book The Singularity is Near inspired the name of the school.

He believes that the rapid rise of technology will enable machines in the near future to use artificial intelligence to make themselves cleverer than humans.

Critics of singularity believe such sophisticated technology could end up being a threat to man.

But Mr Kurzweil said it was important to realise the potential of technological development: "The law of accelerating returns means technology eventually will be a million more times powerful than it is today and cause profound transformation."
Singularity University will accept 30 graduate students in its first intake this summer, increasing to 120 next year.

Despite its name, the college is not an accredited university but will offer nine-week courses exploring ways to ensure technology improves mankind's plight instead of harming it.

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UWM online psych students outperform those in lecture hall class

Erica Perez:

Most sections of Psychology 101 at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee fit the popular image of a college class: Hundreds of students pack into a lecture hall twice a week and attend regular discussion sections.

With four 100-point exams making up most of the grade, it is the kind of course an academically weak student might struggle to pass.

But as the university faces pressure to improve success rates for underprepared college students, one professor's markedly different approach to the introductory psychology course is turning heads.

Professor Diane Reddy has replaced the traditional lecture format with an online version of Psych 101. Students learn at their own pace but also have to obtain mastery, demonstrated by passing a quiz on each unit, before they can move on to the next.

Along the way, students get help from teaching assistants who monitor their online activity, identifying weak spots and providing advice - even if the students don't seek it.

Initial evidence says it works: In a study of 5,000 students over two years, U-Pace students performed 12% better on the same cumulative test than students who took traditional Psych 101 with the same textbook and course content, even though U-Pace students had lower average grades than those in the conventional course.

The online model, the study found, was particularly successful for disadvantaged or underprepared students - low-income students, racial and ethnic minorities, and those with low grades or ACT scores. And students in general do better in the class, too, earning a higher percentage of As and Bs than students earn in traditional Psych 101.

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In Cutting Sports Funding, Everyone Loses

Jay Matthews:

Times are tough, particularly in our schools. We don't have the money, beleaguered education officials say, for every student who wants to play games after class. Some school sports have to go. Loudoun County is talking about cutting junior varsity lacrosse and all freshman sports. Fairfax County's proposed budget would end girls' gymnastics. Other teams are in jeopardy. The public high schools can't afford them anymore.

And yet many people who reflect for a moment will remember their own school days and see this kind of financial austerity as shortsighted, like cutting back on English classes because most kids already speak that language. Many of us remember some competitive activity, usually in high school, that became a vital force in our adolescence. It gave us a self-awareness and self-confidence that changed us forever.

None of us read all of the 481,563 articles published last year on the early life and struggles of the soon-to-be president of the United States, but most of us know that if Barack Obama had not discovered basketball he would not have become the leader he is today. On the opposite end of that scale of significance, I compiled the worst record ever at my high school, 0-14, in league play as the tennis team's No. 1 singles player. I didn't care much about winning. I got some exercise, and something even better. I was a total nerd, but I could strut around with my very own varsity letter, just like the football players. I still carry that morale boost.

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February 2, 2009

School segregation at highest level in decades

Shawn Garcia:

The legal segregation of U.S. public schools was supposedly halted in 1954 by the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision. But according to a January report released by the Civil Rights Project, school segregation is now at the highest level in four decades.

The study, titled "Reviving the Goal of an Integrated Society: A 21st Century Challenge," [960K PDF] concludes that the election of the first African American president does not indicate that the United States has become a "post-racial" society. Rather, it argues against the notion that things are progressing in the right direction, especially in light of the harsh reality of race relations in public education.

The 1954 Supreme Court decision concluded that Southern segregation was "inherently unequal" and did "irreversible" harm to Black students. In an education system segregated by race, poverty and language, most Black and Latino students do not receive opportunities equal to their white counterparts. The U.S. Department of Education states, "Poverty poses a serious challenge to children's access to quality learning opportunities and their potential to succeed in school."

Institutionalized racism has effectively replaced the Jim Crow laws of the post-Reconstruction period as the basis for continued segregation. Although there have been significant reforms, mostly won during the Civil Rights movement, these victories have been eroded by reactionary court decisions and racist political leadership from elected officials.

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Starting Out: The story of Stephen Sebro

Julian Guthrie:

ebro, who had never been to America before arriving in Palo Alto in late September 2005, had dreams of earning a degree in economics and going to work for a venerable bank, either in finance or computer systems.

Now, the 21-year-old Sebro is months shy of graduating. Financial markets have convulsed and unemployment is climbing. And Sebro, who interned at Goldman Sachs in New York in September, had a front row, white-knuckle seat as Lehman - once the nation's fourth-largest investment bank - went bankrupt.

Sebro, who listens to friends talk about job offers rescinded and about the possibility of taking a fifth year of school in hopes the market will recover, is rethinking his own strategy as he prepares to leave the cocoon of college and make it on his own.

"I learned a lot from this crisis," says Sebro, an economics major. "We do not know who will fail next. There is a total change in what is considered risky."

Sebro added, "Nobody knows if a job offer is real these days. I've realized I can't tie my fortune to a big bank. My thinking now is that starting my own business is going to be less risky than going to work for someone else."

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Rochester's $100K Calculus Teacher: 5 Students.....

Michael Winerip:

But while this generation of baby-boom teachers has witnessed remarkable transformations in their lifetime -- in women's rights, in civil rights -- the waves of education reforms aimed at remaking our urban schools that they have been dispatched to implement have repeatedly fallen short.

Ms. Huff has taught both basic math and calculus at East High, a failing school under the federal No Child Left Behind law, considered by many here to be the city's most troubled. As I walked in the front door one frigid day last month, ambulance attendants were rolling out a young man on a gurney and wearing a neck brace.

MS. HUFF'S eighth period has just five calculus students -- normally not enough to justify a class -- but the administration keeps it going so these children have a shot at competing with top students elsewhere. No sooner had they sat down and finished their daily warm-up quiz, than there was a loud clanging. "A pull," Ms. Huff said. "Let's go." Someone had yanked the fire alarm. Ms. Huff led her students through halls that were chaotic. Several times when she tried to quiet students from other classes, they swore at her.

For 15 minutes she and her calculus students -- none of them with coats -- stood in a parking lot battered by a fierce wind off Lake Ontario. Everywhere, kids could be seen leaving school for the day, but all the calculus students returned, took their seats, and just as Ms. Huff started teaching, there was another false alarm and they had to march out again.

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What is School For?

Seth Godin:

Seems like a simple question, but given how much time and money we spend on it, it has a wide range of answers, many unexplored, some contradictory. I have a few thoughts about education, how we use it to market ourselves and compete, and I realized that without a common place to start, it's hard to figure out what to do.

So, a starter list. The purpose of school is to:

  1. Become an informed citizen
  2. Be able to read for pleasure
  3. Be trained in the rudimentary skills necessary for employment
  4. Do well on standardized tests
  5. Homogenize society, at least a bit
  6. Pasteurize out the dangerous ideas
  7. Give kids something to do while parents work
  8. Teach future citizens how to conform
  9. Teach future consumers how to desire....
The consumption aspects of this list are useful to consider, particularly in light of some reform textbooks.

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More on the Splurge: Federal Spending Largess Could Leave Wisconsin Budget Worse Off

Mark Pitsch:

The giant economic stimulus bill working its way through Congress should deliver enough money to Wisconsin to keep the state from taking such draconian measures to close its $5.7 billion budget shortfall as furloughing prisoners, knocking poor children off Medicaid rolls and slashing school aids.

But the federal largesse -- up to $4 billion or more for Wisconsin alone -- carries the potential of leaving the state budget worse off in the future if the economy doesn't recover and lawmakers don't do a better job than they have in the past of making sure the state lives within its means.

"In two years this money won't be there," Sen. Mike Ellis, R-Neenah, said of the stimulus. "The programs will be there, the costs will be there, but the money will be gone."

"(It's as if) your uncle died and left you a few bucks," Ellis said. "And did you take your wife out for a beer and a burger? No. . .You've spent the inheritance, and therein lies the problem."

Jason Stein on Wisconsin's lack of prudent budgeting:
Instead, they've pushed today's bills off until tomorrow, creating some of the shakiest budgets in the nation and jeopardizing future commitments to safe roads, good schools and aid to the poor, according to a Wisconsin State Journal review of past budget practices.

"We've met the enemy and it's us," said Mark Bugher, a former Administration secretary who helped write state budgets when Republican Tommy Thompson was governor. "On both sides of the spectrum ... politicians have just demonstrated a lack of ability to face the public and say, 'We're not going to be able to afford this.' "

Showing such leadership now is more difficult than it has been in decades. The recession has struck tens of thousands of families, leaving many workers without jobs or health coverage, and pinching businesses and local governments. Aging roads, dams and bridges require massive investments. The global economy calls for better schools and smarter graduates. The demand to hold the line on taxes is high.

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February 1, 2009

In Black History Month, One-Room School Opens to Offer Lessons

Jennifer Buske:

A 19th-century school that served Prince William County's African American population opens for public tours today in honor of Black History Month.

The Lucasville School, at 10516 Godwin Dr. in the Manassas area, will be open every weekend this month from noon to 4 p.m. The one-room school was the only one in the county solely for African Americans, said Robert Orrison, a historic site manager for the county. A few one-room schools that served whites remain, but most have been converted into homes.

"We opened the school up last February," Orrison said. "It's a great place to learn about segregated schools and how education was done in the 19th and early 20th century."

Built in 1885, the Lucasville School served children in grades one through six until 1926, Orrison said. About 20 to 25 students of different ages would pack into the building each year to learn from a single instructor. The school was filled with benches, not desks, Orrison said, and blackboards were made of pieces of plywood painted black, unlike at white schools, where students had blackboard slates.

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Madison School District Survey for Parents Who Have Left

via a kind reader's email:

Superintendent Dan Nerad is conducting a survey of families who left the MMSD and invites your participation.

If you opted to not enroll your child/children in their MMSD school -- if they attend private school, you home school or you moved out of the District -- or you are strongly considering the same and you are willing to participate in this survey, please let Superintendent Nerad know. Send your contact information to his assistant, Ann Wilson ( or 608 663-1607).

Related: Wisconsin Open Enrollment begins February 2, 2009.

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Abolishing the Apostrophe in Birmingham

William Langley:

The problem child of English grammar is a tiny, tadpole-shaped bundle of trouble that makes no sound, but spells chaos. Three centuries after it invaded our language (almost certainly sneaked in by the French), the apostrophe continues to defeat, confuse and humiliate large numbers of people, and, in retaliation, they want to abolish it.

Then we wont have to worry about where its supposed to go.

Last week Birmingham city council announced that it would no longer use apostrophes on street signs . Councillor Martin Mullaney, the Liberal Democrat chairman of its transport scrutiny committee, claimed that dropping them would make the city's signage policy "more consistent", and easier for users of computer databases and satellite navigation systems. Apparently, if you have the misfortune to be a Mr O'Dowd, needing a minicab from the King's Arms in D'Arcy Avenue, drivers can't find you.

So, St Paul's Square, an elegant, late-Georgian landmark in Jewellery Quarter, will become St Pauls Square. We'll have the fashionably de-apostrophised Druids Heath and Acocks Green, but things are unlikely to stop there. Once they start to slide they slide quickly, and it surely won't be long before Great Charles Street, in the shopping district, becomes GR8 Chas St.

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

Almost half of Americans want to live somewhere else

Haya El Nasser:

City dwellers want out

"City residents disproportionately are more likely than people living in other types of communities to say they would prefer to live in a place other than a city," Morin says. "Fewer than half of all city residents say there is no better place to live than in a city."

A smaller proportion of women express the desire to live in the nation's largest cities. "Women are less drawn to big cities," says Robert Lang, co-director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech. "It could be safety."

Wanting to live outside cities doesn't necessarily mean people reject urban lifestyles, however. The appeal of developments with an urban flair -- ones that combine housing, stores and offices in a neighborhood setting -- is growing.

The complete report can be found here.

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Students, Teachers Praise Janesville's Single-Gender Classrooms


Marshall Middle School in Janesville is in its second year of offering single-gender classrooms, and students and teachers said the program has made a positive difference in their education.

Currently, more than 200 school districts around the country are testing out the teaching method, and about 10 schools in Wisconsin offer a single-gender classroom program.
Marshall Middle School teacher Charles Smith said getting eighth-grade boys and girls to agree on music isn't easy. But his social studies class is girls only, and Smith said the class prefers to study to the music of Beyonce.

"If the kids are comfortable, they feel better about it. Then this is a good place for them," said Smith.

Smith said the single-gender classroom is about making students feel comfortable.
While his students learn, he said he's also learning how to better tailor his lessons.

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Houston School Board Retreat Summary: "Differentiated Compensation Strategy"

Ericka Mellon:

*The administration has been developing a differentiated compensation strategy. Saavedra has hinted at this before, but the bottom line is he wants to pay the highest-performing teachers significantly more money. Some proposed details: The district would identify the teachers who rank among the top 10 percent of value-added student test data for at least two consecutive years. Those top performers would get a 10 percent salary increase, and they would have the option -- Saavedra emphasized this would be a choice -- to transfer to a low-performing school and get another 15 percent salary increase. These top teachers also could get even more money if they agree to teach summer school; rather than the usual $25-an-hour rate, they would get 125 percent of their full daily rate of pay. And there's more: These teachers could choose to serve as master teachers and share their best practices across the district for 15 days, at a rate of $500 per day.

*Mission and vision for human capital, from Best's PowerPoint (I'll try to get an electronic copy and post later):

Mission: HISD's most important resource in helping our students become college- and career-ready is our employees. Our success to move our organization to its next level of achievement depends on our ability to attract and cultivate human capital and provide the support for our employees to excel in their work.

Vision: HISD seeks to create a culture that values employees who are talented, innovative thinkers who are reuslts-oriented; individuals who strive to increase student achievement and revolutionize the field of education. We know that a wise investment in human capital in each individual at every level will yield success for our students.

*On the recruiting strategy, it sounds like Best wants the central HR department to have a bigger central office role in the recruiting process. Basically, the department would take the lead in identifying talent, wherever it is. Best is proposing a pilot where principals would agree to hire some of the centrally recruited teachers.

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