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March 31, 2009

An Interview with Madison School Board Candidate Don Gors

Click to watch or listen (5MB mp3). Gors is running against incumbent Madison School Board President Arlene Silveira. Vote April 7.

Websites: Donald Gors and Arlene Silveira.
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Education Chief Urges Mayoral Control Of Schools

Education Secretary Arne Duncan says big city mayors should take control of their school systems.

Duncan said Tuesday that there's too much turnover among superintendents in cities where the mayor is not in charge of the schools. He says strong leadership is needed to carry out reform in big cities, where children are struggling the most.

Currently, mayors control the public schools in only a few cities while most others are run by school boards. Duncan told the U.S. Conference of Mayors that if the number doesn't rise, he will have failed as secretary.
Fascinating: Duncan is a former Chicago Public Schools CEO. His governance point is well worth discussin.
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Third Party Group Leafletting for Wisconsin DPI Candidate Tony Evers

Advancing Wisconsin is leafletting (and profiling voters with handheld devices) for Wisconsin DPI Candidate Tony Evers (opposed by Ruth Fernandez) (watch a recent debate), Supreme Court Candidate Shirley Abrahamson (opposed by Randy Koschnick) and Dane County Incumbent Executive Kathleen Falk (opposed by Nancy Mistele).

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Poverty Goes Straight to the Brain

Brandon Keim:
Growing up poor isn't merely hard on kids. It might also be bad for their brains. A long-term study of cognitive development in lower- and middle-class students found strong links between childhood poverty, physiological stress and adult memory. The findings support a neurobiological hypothesis for why impoverished children consistently fare worse than their middle-class counterparts in school, and eventually in life.

"Chronically elevated physiological stress is a plausible model for how poverty could get into the brain and eventually interfere with achievement," wrote Cornell University child-development researchers Gary Evans and Michelle Schamberg in a paper published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

For decades, education researchers have documented the disproportionately low academic performance of poor children and teenagers living in poverty. Called the achievement gap, its proposed sociological explanations are many. Compared to well-off kids, poor children tend to go to ill-equipped and ill-taught schools, have fewer educational resources at home, eat low-nutrition food, and have less access to health care.

At the same time, scientists have studied the cognitive abilities of poor children, and the neurobiological effects of stress on laboratory animals. They've found that, on average, socioeconomic status predicts a battery of key mental abilities, with deficits showing up in kindergarten and continuing through middle school. Scientists also found that hormones produced in response to stress literally wear down the brains of animals.
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Advanced Placement Annual Conference

The College Board, via a kind reader's email:
The AP Annual Conference is a forum for all members of the AP and Pre-AP communities, worldwide, to exchange experiences, strengthen professional ties, and gain a better sense of how they can help their students to prepare for college success.
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US Library of Congress Joins iTunes

Jeff Gamet:
The U.S. Library of Congress audio archives are becoming even more accessible now that the recordings are being added to Apple's iTunes Store. The move is part of an effort to bring some 15.3 million digital recordings to the public in an easy to access manner.

Matt Raymond, the Library of Congress director of communications, said "Our broad strategy is to 'fish where the fish are,' and to use the sites that give our content added value -- in the case of iTunes, ubiquity, portability, etc."

So far, there are about 39 podcasts available, and more files are on the way, according to Macworld. The Library of Congress is also adding its video library to YouTube.

"These services are a place to start learning, but our agreements are not exclusive, so other services are certainly possible in the future," said Michelle Springer, Library Web Service Division digital initiatives project manager.
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Greens in cafe - culture call for school lunc

Timothy Chui:
Schools with cafeterias can reduce food wastage and save about 2.14 million disposable lunch boxes heading for landfills every year, Greeners Action project officer Yip Chui-man said yesterday.

Roughly 380,000 primary school students take lunch everyday, according to Yip, who said over one-third of 13,000 disposable lunch boxes went straight into the garbage, a February to March survey of 212 primary schools showed.

The survey suggested most primary schools want more funding to introduce canteens in a bid to cut down on waste.

With a mere 5 percent drop in the amount of disposable lunch boxes being junked, compared to seven years ago, Yip is calling on the Education Bureau and the Environmental Protection Department to set up regulations to control lunch-time garbage.

A resounding 95 percent of primary schools want public money to outfit them with a cafeteria.
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Clever boys dumb down to avoid bullying in school

Jessica Shepherd:
Clever children are saving themselves from being branded swots at school by dumbing down and deliberately falling behind, a study has shown.

Schoolchildren regarded as boffins may be attacked and shunned by their peers, according to Becky Francis, professor of education at Roehampton University, who carried out a study of academically gifted 12- and 13-year-olds in nine state secondary schools.

The study, to be published in the Sociological Review next year, shows how difficult it is for children, particularly boys, to be clever and popular. Boys risk being assaulted in some schools for being high-achievers. To conform and escape alienation, clever boys told researchers they may "try to fall behind" or "dumb down".

One boy told researchers: "It is harder to be popular and intelligent. If the subject comes naturally ... then I think it makes it easier. But if the subject doesn't come naturally, they work hard and other people see that and then you get the name-calling." This may in part explain boys' perceived underachievement, Francis said.
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The New Hard Times

Barry Ritholtz:
Ernest Kurnow, a 96-year-old business school professor at New York University, finished his own schooling in the middle of the Great Depression. Now his current students are faced with finding a job in the floundering world of finance after graduation.
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Planting the Seeds of Life Skills

Michael Alison Chandler:

By the first week of spring, a crowd of shivering daffodils offered a lonely spray of color to a still-dormant garden outside Hollin Meadows Elementary School. But the bright blooms were not safe for long amid the prying fingers of two dozen curious fourth-graders.

Winter coats guarded the children against a chilly breeze, but their mittens came off as they pulled leaf after buttery leaf from the flower and gave names to each of its parts.

"It's breathtaking," said Nikos Booth, 9, as he rubbed the golden pollen from the stamen onto his finger.

Lots of elementary students learn plant anatomy by studying a diagram and labeling the parts or circling terms on a worksheet. At Hollin Meadows in Fairfax County, they get their hands dirty.

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Some Happy D.C. 8th-Graders Moving Up Without Moving On

Jay Matthews:

Christian Carter's conversation with his mother began last fall just before dinner. The eighth-grader said he didn't like any of next year's D.C. high school choices. The places were too scary or too disorganized, he said. He wanted to stay at Shaw Middle School, a former educational disaster area suddenly doing well. Other classmates had similar chats with their parents, their principal and eventually the chancellor of the city schools.

Now, to the astonishment of nearly every adult involved, class president Christian and his friends have become, as far as historians can determine, the first eighth-graders ever to lobby successfully for a ninth grade at their middle school so they could have an extra year to prepare for the jarring realities of urban high school.

Shelontae Carter, Christian's mother, said he and his co-conspirators, Trevon Brown, Daamontae Brown, Ronald Bryant, Marc Jones, Davaughn Taylor and Velinzo Williams-Hines, were spoiled. They ought to grow up, she said, and adjust to ninth grade in a high school just as she did. Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee was startled to find the seven boys from Shaw in her conference room, wearing suits and ties and armed with data. She is still not quite sure how they pulled it off.

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March 30, 2009

Dallas-Fort Worth school districts struggle as need for bilingual classes grows

Holly Yan:

Bilingual education is supposed to be expanding to more languages - such as Vietnamese and Arabic - but many school districts can't find the teachers to handle the two-language classes.

"The teacher shortage that was there for Spanish now translates to other languages," said Shannon Terry, Garland ISD's director of English as a Second Language (ESL) and bilingual education.

Area districts are recruiting for next school year, searching for tough-to-staff areas such as math and science. But bilingual teachers are also in high demand.

The state requires any school district that has at least 20 students in a grade level who speak a language other than English to provide a bilingual program in that language.

In 2007, the State Board for Educator Certification expanded the bilingual program to include Vietnamese, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese and Russian. But that doesn't mean more diverse teachers are lining up for jobs.

"It's not common knowledge," said Terry. "The universities aren't designing programs necessarily yet to support teachers in securing those credentials."

The Madison School District, in response to Nuestro Mundo's desire for a middle school charter, plans to implement dual immersion across the District.

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

Connecticut Special-Education Advocates Dislike Plan To Change Complaint Process

Jodie Mozdzer:

Parents and special education advocates fear that a proposal before the legislature could make it harder for special-education students to get "free, appropriate, public education" in the state.

Under a current regulation, parents who are unable to resolve a problem with their child's special-education plan through the school district can appeal to the state Department of Education. The appeal can lead to a state-mediated hearing at which the school district must demonstrate that the education plan adheres to federal law.

But a bill proposed by the legislature's education committee would shift that burden of proof to the party filing the complaint -- which in most cases is the parents.

Supporters of the bill say it would save school districts money and shorten hearings, which can last anywhere from a week to 40 days.

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Teach the Kids, and the Parents Will Follow

Jay Matthews:

Like most principals, Dave Levin believed that parental support was essential to a school's success. So when many families pulled their kids out of his struggling South Bronx charter school after its first year, he thought he was in trouble.

Some parents called him and his teaching partner, Frank Corcoran, "crazy white boys." The two had recruited 46 fifth-graders, barely enough to start the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) Academy, and 12 failed to return for sixth grade. Test scores were somewhat better than at other local schools, but Levin's discipline methods weren't working. By March of his second year he believed that he had no choice but to close the school.

That was 1997. Twelve years later, the academy, saved by a last-minute change of mind, is considered a great success and a model for the 66 KIPP schools in 19 states and the District. Together, they have produced the largest achievement gains for impoverished children ever seen in a single school network.

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Rendell, Nutter fill out Pennsylvania school reform panel

Martha Woodall:

Saying it was time "for a fresh look" at the Philadelphia School District, Gov. Rendell and Mayor Nutter yesterday named two lawyers and an educator who was trained as an artist to the School Reform Commission.

With the appointments, Rendell and Nutter have remade the five-member commission - established after the 2001 state takeover of the schools - signaling a new era in leadership of the 167,000-student district.

They announced their selections at a briefing packed with politicians and educational activists at the High School of the Future in West Philadelphia.

Rendell also announced he had nominated Sandra Dungee Glenn, the former commission chairwoman, to the state Board of Education.

"Your work is not done," Rendell told Dungee Glenn, who had been part of the district's governance for nearly a decade and attended the briefing.

Nutter named Robert L. Archie Jr., a partner at Duane Morris L.L.P., and Johnny Irizarry, director of the Center for Hispanic Excellence at the University of Pennsylvania, to four-year terms.

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Lower property values hurt schools

Greg Toppo & Jack Gillum:

Way back when times were good -- last April -- builders showed up one day at Forest Grove Middle School and gutted a little-used classroom off the gym.

Four months and a half-million dollars later, they had transformed the space into a bubbling mini-marine biology laboratory, with five huge, blue plastic tanks for local marine life and a refrigerated tank that replicates the cold-water ecosystem off Maine.

For the first time, teacher Kevin Stinnette said, his students could do hands-on lessons with cold-water species such as frilled anemones and Acadia hermit crabs.

Then the mortgage meltdown hit central Florida, and the crabs and anemones weren't the only ones hit with cold water. Here as elsewhere across America, hard times have forced schools to trim budgets, freeze hiring and, in a few cases, make substantial job cuts, raising doubts about the future of a range of programs, including the new marine lab.

Already, St. Lucie schools have lost $22 million in tax revenue from lower property values, and the district is staring at a 25% budget cut in the fall. It has frozen salaries and put central office employees on a four-day workweek. Enrollment is down only slightly but if things get much worse, schools in St. Lucie may cut athletics, after-school activities and summer school to the bone -- or even consider a four-day week for students.

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March 29, 2009

Surrogacy makes for a perilous path to parenthood

Alan Zarembo and Kimi Yoshino :

Not even jail could keep Nanette Delp out of the surrogacy business.

In 2006, she was arrested on allegations that she stole tens of thousands of dollars from couples who had paid her to find women to carry their babies, according to court records.

While she was behind bars awaiting trial in Sacramento, she continued to sign up more couples, using a new business name and a new website, state records show. Ultimately, she was sentenced to six years in prison after pleading no contest to seven counts of grand theft.

In the surrogacy industry, there are no consumer guarantees. A website is not a professional license -- in fact, there is no such thing. Even in California, widely considered the friendliest place in the world for people seeking surrogates, contracts tend to favor the broker agencies, not the clients.

Signing with an agency is frequently an act of faith, sometimes with bitter results. Often, aspiring parents must pay the entire bill -- $50,000 or more -- in advance. The money is nonrefundable, placing them at the mercy of the agency.

In recent days, Modesto-based SurroGenesis and Beverly Hills-based B Coming have been accused by attorneys or through lawsuits of misusing more than $2.5 million in clients' funds -- in some cases without ever helping couples choose a surrogate or conceive a child.

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The Impact of Dropping the SAT

Scott Jaschik:

A new research study -- based on simulations using actual student applications at competitive colleges that require the SAT or ACT for admission -- has found that ending the requirement would lead to demonstrable gains in the percentages of black and Latino students, and working class or economically disadvantaged students, who are admitted.

The finding is consistent with what admissions officers have reported at many colleges that have gone SAT-optional. But the basis of this new research goes well beyond the anecdotal information reported by colleges pleased with their shifts. Scholars at Princeton University's Office of Population Research obtained actual admissions data from seven selective colleges that require the SAT or ACT. Using the actual admissions patterns for these colleges, the scholars then ran statistical models showing the impact of either going SAT-optional or adopting what they called the "don't ask, don't tell" approach in which a college says that it won't look at standardized test scores.

These models suggest that any move away from the SAT or ACT in competitive colleges results in significant gains in ethnic and economic diversity. But the gains are greater for colleges that drop testing entirely, as opposed to just making it optional. (To date, only one institution -- Sarah Lawrence College -- has taken that step.)

In terms of other measures of academic competitiveness, the study found that going SAT optional would result in classes of students with higher grade point averages. Dropping testing entirely, on the other hand, would result in higher levels of academic achievement in the entering classes at the public institutions studied, but not the privates. The research will be formally presented next month at a conference at Wake Forest University about college admissions, but the Princeton researchers released the findings Wednesday.

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Teacher Unions vs. Poor Kids

Nat Hentoff:
The "education president" remained silent when his congressional Democrats essentially killed the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) in the city where he now lives and works.

Of the 1,700 students, starting in kindergarten, in this private-school voucher program, 90 percent are black and 9 percent are Hispanic.

First the House and then the Senate inserted into the $410-billion omnibus spending bill language to eliminate the $7,500 annual scholarships for these poor children after the next school year.

A key executioner in the Senate of the OSP was Sen. Dick Durbin, Illinois Democrat. I have written admiringly of Durbin's concern for human rights abroad. But what about education rights for minority children in the nation's capital?

Andrew J. Coulson, director of the Cato Institute (where I am a senior fellow) supplied the answer when he wrote: "Because they saw it as a threat to their political power, Democrats in Washington appear willing to extinguish the dreams of a few thousand poor kids to protect their political base."
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Bioscience, genetics, ecology revolutionizing 'Ag Ed' class

Erin Richards:
In Craig Kohn's classroom at Waterford Union High School, students use traditional Punnett square diagrams to study animal genetics.

But they also use 80-pound Foster, the living, breathing class Holstein calf, and talk about his genetics and which of those traits they can predict his offspring may have generations from now.

Using Foster requires more post-lesson cleanup in the school's agriculture education classroom, but students say Kohn's lessons bring science alive. It is fun, real and far more engaging than memorizing facts and formulas.

The approach represents part of a revolution in agriculture education that is under way across Wisconsin and the United States.

The so-called "cows and plows" high school curriculum - animal science, plant science and mechanics - once dominated by farm kids in Carhartt jackets and Wranglers has morphed into courses that cover turf management, wildlife ecology, landscape design, biotechnology, organic farming, genetic engineering, sustainable water, biodiesel production and meat science.

The developments have exciting implications, from a wave of new student interest in agri-science to ample post-secondary career prospects.

Many school leaders are harnessing the potential of the programs. The Hartland-Lakeside School District is designing an organic farming charter school; state agriculture officials hope a similar urban agriculture school could take root in Milwaukee.
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March 28, 2009

Europe and the Financial Crisis: US High School Students Take on The Euro Challenge


Is the global economy heading from recession to depression? Why did a crisis in US mortgage markets wreak havoc in economies across Europe? The Euro Challenge, an academic contest now in its fourth year, pits teams of high school students against each other as they answer economic and financial questions to showcase their knowledge of everything from ballooning government deficits to rising unemployment.

This year, 72 high school teams from nine states (Connecticut, Florida, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Illinois and Pennsylvania) will compete in the Euro Challenge, which fosters a better understanding of the European and transatlantic economy and supports local learning objectives in the field of economics and finance. Regional rounds kick off on March 30 and culminate in the finals at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York on April 29.

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Parent projects: When homework help goes too far

Bonnie Miller Rubin & Tara Malone:

Anyone who has ever proudly carried Junior's papier-mache heart into the science fair--only to run into the cardiologist's kid with the medical school model--has seen what happens when the line between parental involvement and parental takeover gets crossed.

Science fair season is in full swing, but meddling by mom and dad is not limited to budding scientists. It spans childhood, from the Cub Scouts Pinewood Derby to college essays.

Parents may try to help a struggling child, allow a perfectionist streak to get the best of them or get carried away by their own interest in the topic. But one way or another, dad's or mom's work gets turned in, giving the student an unfair advantage.

In response, several school districts are opting for more in-class assignments, studying the meaning of grades and flat-out reminding parents not to do their child's homework.

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Students Speak Out on AP and the Challenge Index

Jay Matthews:

Advanced Placement English teacher Allison Beers asked her 11th-grade students at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Prince George's County to critique my annual rankings, in The Washington Post and Newsweek, of public high schools. I use the Challenge Index, a measure of participation in AP and other college-level tests. Here are excerpts of comments from several students, with some comments from me:

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Grabbing Dropouts Early

Jay Matthews:

I am an optimist, maybe too much of one. I believe, for instance, that our school dropout problem in many instances takes care of itself. Often teenagers leave school because they just cannot bear sitting in class. Eventually they mature, return to school, graduate and have productive lives. Data show that of the 30 percent of students who do not graduate on time, about half have acquired high school diplomas or General Educational Development certificates (GED) by their late 20s.

Many people find my congenital sunniness on this and other issues annoying. My wife, who married me nearly 42 years ago, has always called me "the Pollyanna From Hell." She might have a point. Optimism can lead to error. For instance, I have found a impressive new report on dropouts that suggests my laissez faire attitude toward the issue might keep many young people from being yanked back into school in ways that would do them good.

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Other countries' efforts to develop and support teachers

Stacy Teicher Khadaroo:

A recent study of the professional development of teachers identified four key areas in which nations with high student achievement tend to have an advantage over the United States:

Support for new teachers

•Many countries mandate mentoring or other support for beginning teachers. In New Zealand, new teachers spend 20 percent of their time being coached. In Norway, each new teacher is paired with a teacher trained as a mentor. In Switzerland, novices meet with practice groups from other schools for peer evaluation.

• The US has made progress in this area. In the early 1990s, about half of new teachers participated in support programs. A decade later, that had grown to two-thirds, and 7 out of 10 had a mentor.

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Chicago Parent School Survey

Target Area DevCorp:

According to the results of a citywide survey released today, the parents of Illinois and Chicago public school students are poorly informed about the real problems and challenges faced by local students. The survey report, Parent Perceptions, Student Realities in Chicago Schools, released by the Citywide Education Organizing Campaign (the Campaign), a coalition of 13 community groups convened by Target Area DevCorp, explores ways to better engage parents in decisions regarding public education.

"It is imperative that parents play a leadership role in serious reform efforts affecting public education in Illinois," said Rev. Patricia Watkins, Executive Director of Target Area DevCorp. "In order to perform well, parents need accurate, timely information from unbiased sources. Unfortunately, the Campaign research suggests many parents are not being given all the information they need to make informed decisions about the educational futures of their children. We must unite ourselves now and create a remedy that speaks to this important matter because the price of ignorance on this issue is too high."

Jason Knowles has more.

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March 27, 2009

Obama Dialogue with a Teacher

Michael Fletcher & Jose Antonio Vargas:

Arguably the most animated and substantial exchange was between the president and a longtime teacher from Overbrook High School in West Philadelphia who was seated a few feet behind him. The teacher asked Obama for his definition of "a charter school" and "an effective teacher." While Obama quickly dispensed with the first part of the question, he could not get the teacher to answer when he asked whether in her 15 years on the job she has encountered colleagues who she would not want to teach her own children.

"My point is that if we've done everything we can to improve teacher pay and teacher performance and training and development, some people just aren't meant to be teachers, just like some people aren't meant to be carpenters, some people aren't meant to be nurses. At some point, they've got to find a new career," he said.

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Key Milwaukee voucher advocate says more regulation, standards for program needed

Alan Borsuk:

Calling this a potentially historic moment in Milwaukee education, a key leader of the private school voucher movement called Thursday for major increases in regulation of the participating schools and for a new focus on quality across all the channels of schooling in the city.

Howard Fuller, the former Milwaukee Public Schools superintendent who is now a central figure nationally in advocating for school choice, said he wants school leaders to join with Gov. Jim Doyle, legislative leaders and others in working out new ways to assure that students of all kinds have quality teachers in quality schools.

"We can't just keep wringing our hands about these terrible schools," Fuller said. "We have a moral responsibility to our children to not accept that."

He said that he believes Doyle is seeking higher quality and more accountability and transparency for the 120 private schools in Milwaukee that have more than 20,000 students attending, thanks to publicly funded vouchers. Fuller said he was in general agreement on those goals.

Doyle has presented "an opportunity to come together and do something that is truly constructive for our children," Fuller said. "I think it is one of those historic moments that don't come all the time."

Fuller was reacting both to a new set of studies of the voucher program and to a dramatically different situation for voucher supporters in the state Capitol.

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Why Homeschool

Janine, Derek, Henry and Grandma Cate:

Mission statement: On this blog we explore why homeschooling can be a better option for children and families than a traditional classroom setting. We'll also explore homeschooling issues in general, educational thoughts, family issues, and some other random stuff.

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'Great Texts' exposes high-schoolers to literature

Gwen Evans:

High school students in Wisconsin are digging into great world literature that would bewilder older and more experienced readers: "Don Quixote," by Miguel de Cervantes, "Dante's Inferno," by Dante Alighieri, "One Hundred Years of Solitude," by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and "The Brothers Karamazov," by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. All the students need is a chance to try and the right guidance from their teachers. Both of these necessities are provided by the Center for the Humanities.

During the past five years, the center's program Great World Texts in Wisconsin has enabled some 1,000 students to read heady and challenging tomes not found on the young adult reading list. The program is a perfect example of the Wisconsin Idea in action. It creates partnerships between UW-Madison faculty and Wisconsin high school teachers for the benefit of state students.

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Design Under Constraint: How Limits Boost Creativity

Scott Dadich:

..A 16-by 10.875-inch rectangle containing precisely 174 square inches of possibility, made from two sheets of paper glued and bound together. Legendary magazine art director and Pentagram partner D. J. Stout calls the science of filling this box with artful compositions of type and images "variations on a rectangle." That is, in any given issue of a magazine--this one, for example--subjects and stories will change, but as a designer, you're still dealing with the same ol' blank white box.

At Wired, our design team sees this constraint as our daily bread. On every editorial page, we use words and pictures to overcome the particular restrictions of paper and ink: We can't animate the infographics (yet). We can't embed video or voice-over (yet). We can't add sound effects or music (yet). But for all that we can't do in this static medium, we find enlightenment and wonder in its possibilities. This is a belief most designers share. In fact, the worst thing a designer can hear is an offhand "Just do whatever you want." That's because designers understand the power of limits. Constraint offers an unparalleled opportunity for growth and innovation.

Think of a young tree, a sapling. With water and sunshine, it can grow tall and strong. But include some careful pruning early in its development--removing low-hanging branches--and the tree will grow taller, stronger, faster. It won't waste precious resources on growth that doesn't serve its ultimate purpose. The same principle applies to design. Given fewer resources, you have to make better decisions.

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March 26, 2009

Academic Earth Aggregates Lectures from MIT, Harvard, Yale, and Others

Adam Pash:

Web site Academic Earth is like Hulu for academic lectures, pulling free lectures from Berkeley, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale into one attractive, easy to navigate site. It's incredible.

The site clearly takes its cues from Hulu and iTunes on its design, but it's ten times better than either, because it's open. The videos can be embedded anywhere or downloaded and enjoyed wherever you want to take them. It's easy to use, has tons of great content, and it doesn't cost a dime.

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When Private Schools Take Public Dollars: What's the Place of Accountability in School Voucher Programs?

Chester E. Finn, Jr., Christina M. Hentges, Michael J. Petrilli and Amber M. Winkler [458K PDF]:

Of all the arguments that critics of school voucher programs advance, the one that may resonate loudest with the public concerns school accountability. Opponents say it's not fair to hold public schools to account for their results (under No Child Left Behind and similar systems) and then let private schools receive taxpayer dollars--however indirectly--with no accountability at all. We at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute don't buy that argument entirely. Private schools participating in voucher programs, tax-credit programs, scholarship programs and such are accountable to parents via the school choice marketplace. But we don't dismiss it, either. For both substantive and strategic reasons, we believe it's time for school choice supporters to embrace accountability, done right.

For too long, school choice supporters have been stuck in a tired internal debate that hobbles the advance of vouchers and other worthy forms of school choice. Staunch free-marketers say "leave the schools alone and let the parents decide." More left-leaning critics say "if they won't play by the same rules as public schools don't give them any assistance at all." Yet this debate has become ever more archaic in a society preoccupied with student achievement, school performance, results based accountability, international competitiveness and institutional transparency.

It's time for the school choice movement to wake up--and catch up to the educational demands and expectations of the 21st century. It's paradoxical to us that even as the demands on K-12 education are escalating and important new forms of choice are emerging (not just vouchers for choice's sake but private schooling as a decent option for kids otherwise stuck in failing public schools, means-tested scholarships for low-income families, corporate and individual tax credit and deduction programs, specialized vouchers for disabled youngsters, and more) the accountability and-transparency discussion seems mired in the 1970s.

Let's restart the discussion. But what does "accountability, done right" looklike in practice? To find out, we sought the assistance of 20 experts in the school choice world--scholars, advocates, program administrators, private school representatives--to help us wrestle with the thorny issues that together embody the accountability question writ large. In this paper, we present their insights, opinions, and advice about how accountability for voucher programs should be structured. We then synthesize their views and offer our own take. Here's an overview.

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School-Voucher Movement Loses Ground After Democratic Gains

Robert Tomsho:

The school-voucher movement is under assault, as opponents have cut federal funding and states move to impose new restrictions on a form of school choice that has been a cornerstone of the conservative agenda for education overhaul.

Vouchers -- which give students public money to pay private-school tuition -- have grown since a 2002 Supreme Court decision upheld their use in religious schools. About 61,700 students use them in the current school year, up 9% from last year, according to the Alliance for School Choice, a voucher advocate.

But earlier this month, Congress voted to stop funding a voucher program for the District of Columbia. Two other prominent voucher programs -- in Milwaukee and Cleveland -- are facing statehouse efforts to impose rules that could prompt some private schools to stop taking voucher students.

Pressure is mounting from other corners as well. President Barack Obama has said he opposes vouchers, and the stimulus bill he signed in February bars its funds from being used to provide financial aid to students attending private schools. On Wednesday, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that two state voucher programs, benefiting foster children and disabled students, violated Arizona's state constitution.

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Do Your Kids Have Too Much Homework?

Sue Shellenbarger:

A Pennsylvania mom wrote me this week to say her son was drowning in too much homework.

As a middle-schooler at a demanding private school, this worried mom writes, her son is laden with hours of homework every night, and it seems to be getting the best of him. His grades have sunk to C-minuses from B's; he has begun dodging assignments and has been put in detention for missed work. "I don't remember sixth grade being this much of an ordeal, or any ordeal at all," she writes.

John has posted on why kids hate school, and homework is a major reason. A growing number of schools, including those in several California cities and Broward County, Fla., are putting a ceiling on kids' out-of-school workloads.

Parents remain deeply divided on whether kids get too little or too much homework, as shown by this recent report from Atlanta. Nevertheless, a growing number of school districts have embraced guidelines recommended by Duke University's Harris Cooper: Children should be assigned roughly 10 minutes of homework times their grade level. Thus a first grader would have 10 minutes, a third grader 30, and a high-school senior a couple of hours of homework a night.

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Break It to 'Em Gently: Telling Kids About Financial Woes

Sue Shellenbarger:

As hard as it is, as much as I'd like to avoid it, it's time to have The Talk with my kids.

I'm not talking about the birds and the bees. I'm talking about the need to cut spending -- to downsize my budget to reduce debt and gird for higher-than-expected college costs. I'm finding it surprisingly hard to communicate with my children, 18 and 21, about this. Based on my email and comments on our blog,, other parents are struggling too. Some spouses are fighting about how much to tell their children about financial setbacks. Others are just not saying why Daddy or Mommy has suddenly started driving the daily car pool.

In truth, the information we're trying so hard to hide or dress up for our kids probably doesn't matter nearly as much to them as how they see us behaving and feeling. "In conversations with kids of any age, how you say it is more important than what you say," says Ralph E. Cash, president of the National Association of School Psychologists.

In my own case, at least, providing well for my kids has gotten tangled up in my mind with showing my love for them. Separating the two is making The Talk harder.

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Soviet Legacy Looms Large In Russian Schools

Gregory Feifer:

Teachers and principals in Russian schools say the government is providing more money for education, but discouraging critical examination of Soviet history. Meanwhile parents complain that widespread bribery for good grades is eroding standards.

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March 25, 2009

It's Not OK To Treat People Special Based on Race, But it is OK based on the "Neighborhood"

Legal Pad (Cal Law) via a kind reader's email:

That's the gist we got out of the First District's ruling today, in a constitutional challenge to Berkeley's way-complicated system for assigning students to different elementary schools, and to different programs in high school. The upshot: The appeals court unanimously said Berkeley's system is A-OK, despite Prop 209, because it doesn't consider a student's own race at all. Instead, all students in a neighborhood are treated the same -- and the way the neighborhood is treated is based on a bunch of things, like average income level, average education level, and the neighborhood's overall racial composition. The court's opinion calls things like this "affirmative policies" fostering social diversity. That term doesn't sound familiar at all.
The Opinion 49K PDF

Perhaps this is what new Madison School District Superintendent Dan Nerad had in mind:

Still, Nerad has clearly taken notice. Given the new numbers, he plans to ask state lawmakers to allow Madison to deny future requests based on family income levels, rather than race, to prevent disparities from further growing between Madison and its suburbs.
2009/2010 Madison Open Enrollment information. Much more on Wisconsin Open Enrollment here.

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Giving up A's and B's for 4's and 3's.....

Winnie Hu:

There is no more A for effort at Prospect Hill Elementary School.

Parents have complained that since the new grading system is based on year-end expectations, 4s are generally not available until the final marking period.

In fact, there are no more A's at all. Instead of letter grades in English or math, schoolchildren in this well-to-do Westchester suburb now get report cards filled with numbers indicating how they are faring on dozens of specific skills like "decoding strategies" and "number sense and operations." The lowest mark, 1, indicates a student is not meeting New York State's academic standards, while the top grade of 4 celebrates "meeting standards with distinction."

They are called standards-based report cards, part of a new system flourishing around the country as the latest frontier in a 20-year push to establish rigorous academic standards and require state tests on the material.

Educators praise them for setting clear expectations, but many parents who chose to live in Pelham because of its well-regarded schools find them confusing or worse. Among their complaints are that since the new grades are based on year-end expectations, 4s are generally not available until the final marking period (school officials are planning to tweak this aspect next year).

"We're running around the school saying '2 is cool,' " said Jennifer Lapey, a parent who grew up in Pelham, "but in my world, 2 out of 4 is not so cool."

Much more on standards based report cards here.

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Goal of Preschool for All Tests Education System

Robert Tomsho:

When Mateus Bontempo started preschool at a public school in Long Branch, N.J., he rarely talked and was so shy he'd stand in the classroom doorway until a teacher came to escort him inside.

Anna Dasilva, his mother, says educators worked with Mateus on his social skills, sometimes taking him to other classrooms to meet new children. Four years later, the eight-year-old third grader plays trumpet, participates in math competitions and performs in plays. "They really helped him along," says Mrs. Dasilva, who thinks all children should have the same preschool opportunity.

So does President Barack Obama. As one of the main goals of his education plan, he wants to spend $10 billion to encourage states to offer universal preschool and expand federal early-learning programs like Head Start. The recently passed stimulus bill includes half that spending goal, or $5 billion, for Head Start and related early-childhood efforts.

But the current economic crisis may blunt state-level efforts to broaden access to preschool. Even in better times, building a "universal" preschool system would likely be a slow and expensive proposition, given the patchwork nature of what currently exists.

And as state and federal efforts target early learning programs toward disadvantaged students, some middle-class parents feel that their children are being left out. According to a recent study by Pre-K Now, families earning more than about $40,000 a year are already ineligible for free preschool in most of the 20 states that use income to determine eligibility.

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Why College Towns are Looking Smart

Kelly Evans:

ooking for a job? Try a college town.

Morgantown, W.Va., home to West Virginia University, has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the U.S. -- just 3.9% -- and the university itself has about 260 job openings, from nurses to professors to programmers.

"We're hurting for people, especially to fill our computer and technical positions," says Margaret Phillips, vice president for human relations at WVU.

Of the six metropolitan areas with unemployment below 4% as of January, three of them are considered college towns. One is Morgantown. The other two are Logan, Utah, home of Utah State University, and Ames, Iowa, home of Iowa State University. Both have just 3.8% unemployment, based on Labor Department figures that are not seasonally adjusted.

The pattern holds true for many other big college towns, such as Gainesville, Fla., Ann Arbor, Mich., Manhattan, Kan., and Boulder, Colo. In stark contrast, the unadjusted national unemployment rate is 8.5%.

While college towns have long been considered recession-resistant, their ability to avoid the depths of the financial crisis shaking the rest of the nation is noteworthy. The ones faring the best right now are not only major education centers; they also are regional health-care hubs that draw people into the city and benefit from a stable, educated, highly skilled work force.

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Allonzo Trier Is in the Game

Michael Sokolove:

After school on a recent afternoon, Allonzo Trier, a sixth grader in Federal Way, outside Seattle, came home and quickly changed into his workout gear -- Nike high-tops, baggy basketball shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt that hung loosely on his 5-foot-5, 110-pound frame. Inside a small gymnasium near the entrance of his apartment complex, he got right to his practice routine, one he has maintained for the last four years, seven days a week. He began by dribbling a basketball around the perimeter of the court, weaving it around his back and through his legs. After a few minutes, he took a second basketball out of a mesh bag and dribbled both balls, crisscrossing them through his legs. It looked like showboating, Harlem Globetrotters kind of stuff, but the drills, which Trier discovered on the Internet, were based on the childhood workouts of Pete Maravich and have helped nurture his exquisite control of the ball in game settings -- and, by extension, his burgeoning national reputation.

One of the Web sites that tracks young basketball prospects reports that Trier plays with "style and punch" and "handles the pill" -- the ball -- "like a yo-yo." He is a darling of the so-called grass-roots basketball scene and a star on the A.A.U. circuit -- which stands for Amateur Athletic Union but whose practices mock traditional definitions of amateurism.

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L.A. district to end high-profile dropout-prevention program

Howard Blume:

A high-profile and lauded dropout-prevention program is falling victim to budget cuts -- although top Los Angeles school officials insist that they'll provide a more effective program in its place.

The precarious Diploma Project is emblematic of the financial crisis slowly working its way across the nation's second-largest school system as ripples of a statewide budget shortfall touch counselors, teachers and other school employees whose work directly affects children enrolled in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Nearly 9,000 employees -- about 10% of the full-time workforce -- received notice of a possible layoff this month as the district seeks to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from its nearly $6-billion general fund. But there's more going on than financial pain.

Reshaping system

After taking the helm in January, Supt. Ramon C. Cortines, one of the country's most experienced educators, has attempted to reshape the school system. Cortines is seizing the moment to trim or gut some of the central bureaucracy, while also moving dollars and responsibility to schools. The superintendent wants schools to decide for themselves whether to pay for additional counselors, arts programs and librarians, among other things.

The new setup must save money, but it also should be more effective, he said.

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The Education Wars

Dana Goldstein:

Like any successful negotiator, Randi Weingarten can sense when the time for compromise is nigh. On Nov. 17, after the Election Day dust had cleared, Weingarten, the president of both the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and its New York City affiliate, the United Federation of Teachers, gave a major speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. In attendance were a host of education-policy luminaries, including Weingarten's sometimes-foe Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City, Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern, National Education Association (NEA) President Dennis van Roekel, and Rep. George Miller of California.
"No issue should be off the table, provided it is good for children and fair for teachers," Weingarten vowed, referencing debates within the Democratic coalition over charter schools and performance pay for teachers -- innovations that teachers' unions traditionally held at arm's length.

The first openly gay president of a major American labor union, Weingarten is small -- both short and slight. But she speaks in the commanding, practiced tones of a unionist. In speeches, newspaper op-eds, and public appearances, Weingarten, once known as a guns-blazing New York power broker, has been trying to carve out a conciliatory role for herself in the national debate over education policy. It is a public-relations strategy clearly crafted for the Obama era: an effort to focus on common ground instead of long-simmering differences.

Notably absent from the audience for Weingarten's post-election speech was D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. In the summer of 2007, Rhee, a Teach For America alumna and founder of the anti-union New Teacher Project, took office and quickly implemented an agenda of school closings, teacher and principal firings, and a push toward merit pay. These actions met with their fair share of outrage from both parents and teachers and especially from the local teachers' union. At the time of Weingarten's speech, Rhee and the AFT-affiliated Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) were stalemated over a proposed new contract for teachers.

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Keeping coaches in check

Rosanlind Rossi & Steve Tucker:

Chicago public school coaches are in for a crackdown under a proposed city policy that explicitly bans everything from pushing, pinching or paddling athletes to "displays of temper.''

The massive overhaul of the Chicago Public High Schools Athletic Association bylaws follows allegations that began emerging last fall that at least four CPS coaches had paddled or hit athletes.

The new policy creates the possibility that coaches can be banned for life for just one rule violation. Previously, such punishment followed only "knowing and repeated'' rule violations.

It also mandates annual coaching training, requires that all coaches undergo criminal background checks and fingerprint analysis, and establishes a "pool'' of thoroughly screened candidates from which principals must now pick their coaches.

Prohibitions against corporal punishment and even "forcing a student to stand or kneel for an inordinate time" were listed elsewhere in CPS policy, but after the paddling scandal, CPS wanted to take a clear stand against a wide variety of corporal punishment, said CPS counsel Patrick Rocks.

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Strip-Search of Girl Tests Limit of School Policy

Adam Liptak:

Savana Redding still remembers the clothes she had on -- black stretch pants with butterfly patches and a pink T-shirt -- the day school officials here forced her to strip six years ago. She was 13 and in eighth grade.

An assistant principal, enforcing the school's antidrug policies, suspected her of having brought prescription-strength ibuprofen pills to school. One of the pills is as strong as two Advils.

The search by two female school employees was methodical and humiliating, Ms. Redding said. After she had stripped to her underwear, "they asked me to pull out my bra and move it from side to side," she said. "They made me open my legs and pull out my underwear."

Ms. Redding, an honors student, had no pills. But she had a furious mother and a lawyer, and now her case has reached the Supreme Court, which will hear arguments on April 21.

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March 24, 2009

Public money for private schools?
Lawmaker: S.C.'s schools fail minorities; state should subsidize private school choice.

Roddie Burris:

State Sen. Robert Ford is putting a new face on the long-running fight over whether to spend public education dollars to pay for private schools.

To the dismay of his African American colleagues, the Charleston Democrat is hawking a bill that would give students a publicly paid scholarship or tuition grant to go to a private school.

So far, the push for school choice has had mostly white faces out front. But Ford, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, is making the case that the students who would benefit most from a voucher-style program in South Carolina are African Americans who attend poorly performing schools.

He dismisses those who say his program would hurt already struggling public schools, framing the argument as a choice between protecting schools or giving children the lifeline they need to succeed.

"You're damn right I'm hurting public education, because public education is hurting our kids," Ford said.

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Wider testing to ID kids

Rhonda Bodfield
Arizona Daily Star

Even as schools across the state brace for sky-is-falling budget cuts, the Tucson Unified School District program for gifted and talented students is prepping for dramatic growth in the next school year.

The district plans to double the number of students it tests -- up to 10,000 -- and will send postcards to every family about testing opportunities.

As a result of state and federal requirements, it also will begin offering gifted classes for kindergartners and for juniors and seniors in high school.

Currently, parents request testing to see if their children qualify. That's a system that can be full of pitfalls in lower-income areas where parents miss the newsletter because they may be working two jobs, for example, or where language barriers might lead to missed deadlines, let alone confusion over how to access the program.

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Parents in dark about kids' school life

Kelly Fiveash:

Becta has warned that a three-way communication breakdown between schools, parents and kids could have a harmful affect on individuals' educational performance.

Unsurprisingly the UK government's technology agency, which published a new report today, was keen to underline what it sees as the importance of IT in the classroom to help improve parent dialogue with their children.

Becta surveyed 1,000 school kids aged seven to 14 and 1,000 parents to find out the level of ill communication that existed between adults and children when it comes to talking about school.

It found more than a third (37 per cent) of kids had difficulty speaking to their parents about their education, while 43 per cent of parents questioned admitted they struggled to get information from their child about their school day.

According to the Oh, Nothing Much report, eight in ten parents confessed they didn't know as much about their kids' day at school as they would like.

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The Ethics of DNA Databasing: The House Believes That People's DNA Sequences are Their Business and Nobody Else's

An online debate at The Economist:: Professor Arthur Caplan:

Emmanuel and Robert Hart Professor of Bioethics and Director, Centre for Bioethics, Penn University

There are, it is increasingly said, plenty of reasons why people you know and many you don't ought to have access to your DNA or data that are derived from it. Have you ever had sexual relations outside a single, monogamous relationship? Well then, any children who resulted from your hanky-panky might legitimately want access to your DNA to establish paternity or maternity.

Craig Venter, Against:
As we progress from the first human genome to sequence hundreds, then thousands and then millions of individual genomes, the value for medicine and humanity will only come from the availability and analysis of comprehensive, public databases containing all these genome sequences along with as complete as possible phenotype descriptions of the individuals.

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In Favor of Arlene Silveira for the Madison School Board

The Capital Times:

Races for the Madison School Board, once among the most intense of local electoral competitions, have been a lot quieter in recent years. The more cooperative and functional character of the board, combined with a more responsive approach to community concerns, is confirmed by the fact that many voters are unaware that there is even a contest for one of the two seats that will be filled April 7.

While Seat 2 incumbent Lucy Mathiak, a serious and engaged board member, is unopposed, School Board President Arlene Silveira faces Donald Gors for Seat 1.

We're glad that Gors, a parent and business owner, is making the race. It is good to have the competition. But even as he launched his run, Gors admitted, "I don't really know anything about the people on the board or where they stand."

Watch or listen to a recent conversation with Arlene here.

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College Prestige Lies

Robin Hanson:

Over the next two weeks my eldest son will be rejected by some colleges, accepted by others. And then we'll likely have to make a hard choice, between cheap state schools and expensive prestigious ones. A colleague told me the best econ paper on this found it doesn't matter. From its 1999 abstract:

We matched students who applied to, and were accepted by, similar colleges to try to eliminate this bias. Using the ... High School Class of 1972, we find that students who attended more selective colleges earned about the same [20 years later] as students of seemingly comparable ability who attended less selective schools. Children from low-income families, however, earned more if they attended selective colleges.

A 2006 NYT article confirms this:

Higher education experts have this message ... Pay less attention to prestige and more to "fit" -- the marriage of interests and comfort level with factors like campus size, access to professors, instruction philosophy. ... A 1999 study by Alan B. Krueger ... and Stacy Dale ... found that students who were admitted to both selective and moderately selective colleges earned the same no matter which they attended.

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Saying "When" on DC School Vouchers

Jay Matthews:

I'm not trying to be a hypocrite. I have supported D.C. school vouchers. The program has used tax dollars well in transferring impoverished students to private schools with higher standards than D.C. public schools. But it has reached a dead end. Congress should fund the 1,713 current voucher recipients until they graduate from high school but stop new enrollments and find a more promising use of the money.

That exasperation you hear is from my friend and former boss, the brilliant Washington Post editorial writer who has been eviscerating Democrats in Congress for trying to kill D.C. vouchers. We don't identify the authors of our unsigned editorials, but her in-your-face style is unmistakable and her arguments morally unassailable.

My problems with what is formally known as the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program are political and cultural, not moral. The program provides up to $7,500 a year for private-school tuition for poor children at an annual cost of about $12 million. Vouchers help such kids, but not enough of them. The vouchers are too at odds with the general public view of education. They don't have much of a future.

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Detroit prep school helps students get back on track

Chastity Pratt Dawsey:

The silence is striking at Barsamian Preparatory Center. And so are the violence prevention therapy sessions, where a homework assignment is to tell a caregiver, "I love you."

Then there's the low teacher turnover and the one bored and unarmed security guard who keeps watch over 90 teenagers who are judged to be the most violent in Detroit Public Schools.

Barsamian is one of the few places where high school students expelled for violence, drugs, aggression toward school staff or other serious actions can continue their education. Some were kicked out of other schools in the district; others are serving out expulsions from districts around the state.

The expulsions range from a few months to a year. Most of the kids are on probation in the juvenile justice system. Students leave the school after their expulsion period is over.

Students, staff and parents said Barsamian's small setting and strict rules have worked well. Some wish the students could stay longer.

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In tough times, private schools take innovative approaches to fundraising

Carla Rivera:

Most solicitations don't begin with the words "don't give," but that's the approach being used this year by the private Oakwood School in a clever, celebrity-packed appeal timed to its annual fundraising drive.

In the 3 1/2-minute video, Danny DeVito, Jason Alexander, Steve Carell and other Hollywood stars voice such sentiments as "The economy is in the toilet, so don't give" and "You'd be stupid to give" before getting to the real point: "Unless you care about your children and their future," and "Unless you care about families who had a hard year and need some help with tuition."

Created by parent volunteers, the video is an example of the inventive methods private schools are using this spring to generate giving at a time when traditional benefactors may be hard-pressed themselves.

Oakwood's "Don't Give" campaign was a precursor to its major fundraiser, a star-studded event Saturday at The Lot in West Hollywood, featuring comedy, music and an auction. The video was meant to be an internal communication but was distributed on YouTube, said James Astman, Oakwood's head of school.

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Multiracial Pupils to Be Counted in A New Way

Michael Alison Chandler & Maria Glod:

Public schools in the Washington region and elsewhere are abandoning their check-one-box approach to gathering information about race and ethnicity in an effort to develop a more accurate portrait of classrooms transformed by immigration and interracial marriage. Next year, they will begin a separate count of students who are of more than one race.

For many families in the District, Montgomery and other local counties that have felt forced to deny a part of their children's heritage, the new way of counting, mandated by the federal government, represents a long-awaited acknowledgment of their identity: Enrollment forms will allow students to identify as both white and American Indian, for example, or black and Asian. But changing labels will make it harder to monitor progress of groups that have trailed in school, including black and Hispanic students.

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Ease the Tuition Squeeze

Penelope Wang:

You've been waiting for this moment for nearly 18 years: Your baby is almost ready for college. Your finances, not so much. The market's protracted free fall means that your college fund is now worth just a fraction of what you need. Your home's value has no doubt dropped sharply too - no help there. The only thing that keeps going up, you guessed it, is college tuition. So it's goodbye, Dream School U., hello, Central State, right?

Wrong. While there's no denying times are tough, you have more options to help pay for that BA than you think. From targeting the right schools to taking advantage of new financial aid rules and tax breaks, you can get the price to a manageable level. These steps will ensure your kid ends up at a great school you can really afford.

1. Use your savings strategically
The typical 529 college savings plan of a high school junior or senior has dropped 12.5% in value over the past year. And if you didn't invest in an age-based portfolio that automatically shifted into safer investments as your child got older, your losses may be far worse. The big question before you: Should you try to hold off withdrawing money from the account to give your savings time to bounce back?

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Reading Test Dummies

E.D. Hirsch

In his recent education speech, President Obama asked the states to raise their standards and develop "assessments that don't simply measure whether students can fill in a bubble on a test." With the No Child Left Behind law up for reauthorization this year, the onus is now on lawmakers and educators to find a way to maintain accountability while mitigating the current tendency to reduce schooling to a joyless grind of practice exams and empty instruction in "reading strategies."

Before we throw away bubble tests, though, we should institute a relatively simple change that would lessen the worst effects of the test-prep culture and improve education in the bargain.

These much maligned, fill-in-the-bubble reading tests are technically among the most reliable and valid tests available. The problem is that the reading passages used in these tests are random. They are not aligned with explicit grade-by-grade content standards. Children are asked to read and then answer multiple-choice questions about such topics as taking a hike in the Appalachians even though they've never left the sidewalks of New York, nor studied the Appalachians in school.

Teachers can't prepare for the content of the tests and so they substitute practice exams and countless hours of instruction in comprehension strategies like "finding the main idea." Yet despite this intensive test preparation, reading scores have paradoxically stagnated or declined in the later grades.

This is because the schools have imagined that reading is merely a "skill" that can be transferred from one passage to another, and that reading scores can be raised by having young students endlessly practice strategies on trivial stories. Tragic amounts of time have been wasted that could have been devoted to enhancing knowledge and vocabulary, which would actually raise reading comprehension scores.

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Waunakee teacher creates musicals that star all the fifth-graders

Pamela Cotant:

Music teacher Kathy Bartling is on a mission.

"I want every child to have one chance to be on the stage before they leave this school district," Bartling said.

To that end, she has written and produced 30 different musicals where every fifth-grader has a role, despite the growing student population. The first year she had 70 students to work in. This year, she found a way to include 261 students at Waunakee Intermediate School.

She has found ways for students who don't speak English to take part.

This year some students performed as a green inch worm. The required costume was one of 17 new ones she made this year.

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Service programs gain allure for students

Erica Perez:

Eric Sandow is poised to graduate with a geography degree in May, but career plans A and B - graduate school or a land-planning job - aren't panning out.

So the 28-year-old University of Wisconsin-Parkside student is seriously considering a pursuit he's had in the back of his mind for years: the Peace Corps.

The troubled economy and President Barack Obama's call to service are helping create a surge of interest in the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps and other service opportunities. Meanwhile, the U.S. House last week approved the largest expansion of government-sponsored service programs in years.

Both Peace Corps and AmeriCorps provide modest compensation, student loan deferment and a small scholarship at the end that members can use to pay off debt or pursue more schooling.

"With the job market being the way it is, and my situation, I could definitely do that for two years, then see what the economy's like and in the process maybe help some people out," said Sandow, who has contacted a Peace Corps recruiter and is mulling over an application.

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March 23, 2009

CNA program a boon to Oregon High School students

Gayle Worland:

Kayla Crowley, 18, is healthy, but she's lying in a financial institution with a thermometer in her mouth.

Two mornings a week, this basement room in the Oregon Community Bank and Trust has served as a bustling training area -- not for lending money, but for lending a hand.

Crowley and 10 other students from Oregon High School are earning both high school and college credit while they prepare for a booming job category: nursing assistant. While courses such as this take place across the region, the Oregon class "has been a real community effort," said Bill Urban, coordinator for Oregon's School 2 Career program, which matches students with on-the-job training.

The bank donated space. Meriter loaned two hospital beds. Oregon Manor contributed two wheelchairs and a Hoyer patient lift.

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Behind the Boom in AP Coursess

Lindsay Kastner:

It's about 9 a.m. on a Friday morning and history teacher Howard Wilen is lecturing on President Theodore Roosevelt's relationship with labor unions.

Roosevelt, Wilen told the class, helped secure better work hours for coal miners but coal prices increased as a result.

Wilen's Advanced Placement U.S. history students have brokered a deal of sorts too, taking a tough class in high school that could earn college credit. For those who do well on the placement exam, many colleges will give credit for the AP history class, saving students money and time down the road.

Participation in AP courses has skyrocketed in recent years as many school districts have adopted open-enrollment policies, allowing any student willing to take on the work a chance to try the college-level courses.

But at Alamo Heights High School, where Wilen chairs the social studies department, admission remains restricted to top students. The district is rethinking that policy now.

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Organizers looking to West High alumni to finance new entrance

Gayle Worland:

West High School students will have a grand new entrance to come through next fall. But to help finance it, organizers are looking down the street and across the country -- to alumni.

Later this month, about 20,000 West High graduates will find in their mailboxes a donation plea for "The Ash Street Project," a $400,000, front yard reconfiguration of a building that many consider a Near West Side landmark. Designed by Madison landscape architect Ken Saiki, a West High alum, the new entry will have a symmetrical, formal staircase, decorative walkway and performance area.

Referendum funds and grants will cover $250,000 to replace the school's crumbling steps and make the new entry comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. But it's up to West to raise another $150,000 to fund Saiki's design, a vision approved by a community committee, said Principal Ed Holmes.

"Technically the district money is enough to take down what we have and put it back the way it is," Holmes said. "It's time for a renovation, kind of a starting over. The Ash Street entrance is really the symbol and the image of West High School that people have had over the generations."

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Can AFT president Randi Weingarten satisfy teachers and reformers at the same time?

Andrew Rotherham & Richard Whitmire:

Randi Weingarten, the notoriously feisty president of the second-largest national teachers' union, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), received a hero's welcome at the National Press Club last November. In her speech, she vowed to give ear to almost any tough-minded school reform, and, in a line that thrilled many reformers, promised that the AFT will not protect incompetent teachers: "Teachers are the first to say, 'Let's get incompetent teachers out of the classroom.'"

Weingarten would seem to be donning the reformist mantle of a previous AFT president, Al Shanker, a highly regarded reformer who shook up pro-union liberals by reminding everyone that tough school discipline and achievement standards were civil rights fundamentals. But an approach that worked during Shanker's tenure is more difficult now, with the reformers and unionists pitched in a bare-knuckled fight that is not about lofty, system-changing goals as much as about the thorny specifics of state and local education policy. Caught up in a contentious situation with the Washington, D.C. school system that has challenged her reformist credentials, Weingarten's attempt to satisfy both sides of the debate is being put to the test--the result of which could dictate the future of education reform across the country.

Joanne Jacobs has more.

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Core Knowledge Foundation Blog, Take That, AIG!

Published by Robert Pondiscio on March 20, 2009 in Education News and Students:

An upstate New York high school student could teach a course in character to the bonus babies of AIG. Nicole Heise of Ithaca High School was one of The Concord Review's six winners of The Concord Review's Emerson Prize awards for excellence this year. But as EdWeek's Kathleen Kennedy Manzo tells the story, she sent back her prize, a check for $800, with this note:

"As you well know, for high school-aged scholars, a forum of this caliber and the incentives it creates for academic excellence are rare. I also know that keeping The Concord Review active requires resources. So, please allow me to put my Emerson award money to the best possible use I can imagine by donating it to The Concord Review so that another young scholar can experience the thrill of seeing his or her work published."

The Concord Review publishes research papers by high school scholars. It's a one-of-a-kind venue for its impressive young authors. Manzo notes TCR "has won praise from renowned historians, lawmakers, and educators, yet has failed to ever draw sufficient funding...It operates on a shoestring, as Founder and Publisher Will Fitzhugh reminds me often. Fitzhugh, who has struggled for years to keep the operation afloat, challenges students to do rigorous scholarly work and to delve deeply into history. His success at inspiring great academic work is juxtaposed against his failure to get anyone with money to take notice."

Young Ms. Heise noticed. Anyone else?

"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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Why Don't Students Like School?

Daniel Willingham, via a kind reader's email:

trange as it may sound, the mind is not designed for thinking--it's designed to save us from having to think. Because thinking is slow, effortful, and uncertain, we rely on memory, not thought, to guide us whenever possible. Nonetheless, we are curious and we do like to think, so long as the issue or problem at hand is neither too easy nor too hard.

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Wisconsin State Budget Forum, Wed. April 1, Wright Middle School, 6 p.m.

Joe Quick:

Dear MMSD Advocate,

Every two years, state government adopts a biennial budget that funds nearly every program in state government. Gov. Jim Doyle's budget mostly protects K-12, but many K-12 programs were cut by 1%. Due to the floundering national/state economy millions of dollars in federal stimulus funds for Wisconsin are being used to provide a one-time boost to state funding for schools over the next two years.

Short-term, there are some important items in the budget that will help MMSD; but long-term, little is being done to end the annual ritual of either going to referendum or determining what programs and services for students must be cut to balance the local budget.

In the two-year legislative cycle, April in odd years is probably the most important time to contact your legislator to advocate for school programs. Whether it's SAGE, the K-3 class size reduction program funded by the state, or funding for students in special education -- the biennial budget provides the resources.

If you want to advocate to protect school programs/services, please come to the State Budget Forum on April 1st (see attached flier [54K PDF]) to learn about the issues, receive information to help you with that advocacy and find out what is being done to bring about comprehensive school funding reform.

Please forward this information to others who might be interested. Hope to see you April 1st,

Joe Quick
Legislative Liaison/Communication Specialist
Madison Schools
608 663-1902

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Andrekopoulos likes the idea of "year-round" classes for Milwaukee Public Schools

Alan Borsuk:

Although Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent William Andrekopoulos is talking up the idea of converting almost the entire public school system to a year-round schedule, a new study of MPS schools finds mixed evidence, at best, that it increases academic success.

The study, conducted by Bradley R. Carl, a University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher, finds little difference in the annual improvement between students on year-round schedules and those on the traditional September to June calendar. The study, completed in February, can be found on the MPS Web site.

Andrekopoulos enters the week still promoting the year-round idea, although it got a tepid reception last week and, in addition to Carl's research, there is no agreement among researchers nationally that the revamped schedule improves results.

The superintendent pointed to evidence in the Carl study that students who remained in the same school for two years made bigger gains under the year-round schedule, in which they get shorter summer vacation and longer breaks during the rest of the year.

He said the results showed the importance of reducing the very high percentage of MPS students who change schools frequently - more than 30% are in a different school each September than they were in the year before, not including those who get promoted. A year-round schedule across the city would reduce mobility, Andrekopoulos suggested.

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Madison School District Candidate Forum 4/4/2009

via Laurel Cavalluzzo:

WHAT: Board of Education Candidate Forum
with Arlene Silveira Lucy Mathiak Donald Gors

WHEN:  April 4, 2009 10-noon

WHERE:  Lakeview Public Library
2845 N Sherman Ave. [Map]
Madison, WI 53704
(608) 246-4547
Open to the public

Learn more about candidate's positions on issues important to our schools and our communities.
Lakewood Gardens Neighborhood Committee
WI Charter School Assn
Nuestro Mundo, Inc.

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Education's Ground Zero: Michelle Rhee in Washington, DC

Nicholas Kristof:

The most unlikely figure in the struggle to reform America's education system right now is Michelle Rhee.

She's a Korean-American chancellor of schools in a city that is mostly African-American. She's an insurgent from the school-reform movement who spent her career on the outside of the system, her nose pressed against the glass -- and now she's in charge of some of America's most blighted schools. Less than two years into the job, she has transformed Washington into ground zero of America's education reform movement.

Ms. Rhee, 39, who became Washington's sixth school superintendent in 10 years, has ousted one-third of the district's principals, shaken up the system, created untold enemies, improved test scores, and -- more than almost anyone else -- dared to talk openly about the need to replace ineffective teachers.

"It's sort of a taboo topic that nobody wants to talk about," she acknowledged in an interview in her office, not far from the Capitol. "I used to say 'fire people.' And they said you can't say that. Say, 'separate them from the district' or something like that."

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RE: '07 U.S. Births Break Baby Boom Record

Douglas M. Newman:

It's irresponsible that Erick Ekholm doesn't mention well publicized research citing teen pregnancy being tied to racy TV in his article ('07 U.S. Births Break Baby Boom Record, Mar. 18, 2009).

In the widely published Nov. 3, 2008 Associate Press news release by Lindsy Tanner, Rand Corp. published a study in the November 2008 issue of Pediatrics, linking TV viewing habits and teen pregnancy.

Paraphrasing the AP's press release and Anita Chandra, lead author of Rand's study, "teens who watched the raciest shows were twice as likely to become pregnant as those who didn't. Previous research found that watching lots of sex on TV can influence teens to have sex at earlier ages. Shows highlighting only the positive aspects of sexual behavior without the risks can lead teens to have unprotected sex."

Perhaps 2007 birth rates just might have been influenced by racy television shows teens are viewing - with parental consent and produced by adults in the name of corporate profits I might add.

Douglas M. Newman
Guilford, Connecticut
Cell: (203) 516-1006
Word count: 148 (after the hyphen in the last sentence, the word count is 166).

Lindsay Tanner:
Groundbreaking research suggests that pregnancy rates are much higher among teens who watch a lot of TV with sexual dialogue and behavior, compared with those who have tamer viewing tastes.

"Sex in the City," anyone? That was one of the shows used in the research.

The new study is the first to link those viewing habits with teen pregnancy, said lead author Anita Chandra, a Rand Corp. behavioral scientist. Teens who watched the raciest shows were twice as likely to become pregnant over the next three years as those who watched few such programs.

Previous research by some of the same scientists had already found that watching lots of sex on TV can influence teens to have sex at earlier ages.

Shows that only highlight the positive aspects of sexual behavior without the risks can lead teens to have unprotected sex "before they're ready to make responsible and informed decisions," Miss Chandra said.

The more sexual content in television and magazines that teens are exposed to, the more likely they are to have sexual intercourse at an early age, a new study says.

The University of North Carolina study, published in today's issue of the journal Pediatrics, concludes that white adolescents who view more sexual content than their peers are 2.2 times more likely to have sexual intercourse by the time they are 14 to 16 years old.

"Some, especially those who have fewer alternative sources of sexual norms, such as parents or friends, may use the media as a kind of sexual superpeer that encourages them to be sexually active," the study authors state.

And, as similar past studies have noted, "one of the strongest protective factors against early sexual behavior was clear parental communication about sex."

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St. Maria Goretti Student Faces Weapons Charge

Capital Newspapers:

A 14-year-old Madison teen faces weapons charges after he allegedly brought a pellet gun to St. Maria Goretti School on Thursday morning.

The student was tentatively charged with possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under the age of 18 and also was tentatively charged with burglary after admitting committing other crimes, including a residential burglary from 2007, police said. Madison police said a school staff member found a black, plastic pellet gun in the student's backpack.

The student "claimed he did not mean to bring the weapon to school and had forgotten it was in his backpack," said police spokesman Joel DeSpain. "But the investigating officer was also told the suspect might have threatened to shoot another student."

St. Maria Goretti is a K-8 parochial school at 5405 Flad Ave. on the city's West Side.

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March 22, 2009

A Chat with Arlene Silveira

Click above to watch, or CTRL-click to download this mpeg4 or mp3 audio file. You'll need Quicktime to view the video file.
Madison School Board President Arlene Silveira is up for re-election on April 7, 2009. Arlene graciously agreed to record this video conversation recently. We discussed her sense of where the Madison School District is in terms of:

  1. academics
  2. finance
  3. community support/interaction
  4. Leadership (Board and Administration)
We also discussed what she hopes to accomplish over the next three years.

Arlene's opponent on April 7, 2009 is Donald Gors. The Wisconsin State Journal recently posted a few notes on each candidate here.

I emailed Arlene, Donald Gors and Lucy Mathiak (who is running unopposed) regarding this video conversation. I hope to meet Lucy at some point over the next few weeks. I have not heard from Donald Gors.

Arlene and Lucy were first elected in April, 2006. There are many links along with video interviews of both here.

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2009 Wisconsin DPI Superintendent Candidate Debate Tony Evers and Rose Fernandez

Via Wisconsin Public Television. CTRL Click here to download the 382MB 60 minute event video, or this 26MB mp3 audio file.

Candidate websites: Tony Evers & Rose Fernandez

Amy Hetzner:

Rose Fernandez regularly refers to herself as an outsider in the race to become the state's next schools chief.

The implication is that her April 7 opponent, Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, is an insider who is unlikely to change what is happening with education in the state.

The outsider candidate who can change things and shake up the status quo has long been a popular thrust in political campaigns. President Barack Obama, although a U.S. senator at the time, used aspects of the tactic in his campaign last fall.

But some wonder whether it will have the same impact in what is likely to be a low-turnout election April 7.

"The advantage to the insider is being able to draw off of established, organizational support," said Charles Franklin, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "The outsider's goal is to try to become visible enough that people unhappy with the status quo can voice their outsider outrage."

From her Web site address - - to frequently tying her opponent to the state's largest teachers union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, Fernandez appears to be trying to capitalize on one of her many differences with her opponent.

"There are perils with entrenchment," said Fernandez, a former pediatric trauma nurse and past president of the Wisconsin Coalition for Virtual School Families. "With that there comes an inability to see the problems as they really are."

But being an outsider also has some disadvantages, which Evers is trying to play up as well.

At a recent appearance before the Public Policy Forum, Evers puzzled about Fernandez's stance against a provision in Gov. Jim Doyle's bill that he said was supported by voucher school proponents while she expressed support for voucher schools.

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Change Pay, Change Teaching?

Amanda Paulson:

Taylor Betz will make a lot more as a high school math teacher this year than her normal salary might suggest.

There's the $2,300 bonus she gets for working at a "hard-to-serve school," the $2,300 for filling a "hard-to-staff position," the $2,300 that all teachers at her school are likely to get for raising student scores on state tests, the $2,300 "beating the odds" bonus she gets for significantly raising the math scores of her own students, and a few smaller bonuses.

Given the extra money, it's easy to see why a teacher like Ms. Betz would be an enthusiastic supporter of the "pay for performance" system that Denver has adopted. But even though such systems are proliferating, they're still both highly controversial and little understood.

Performance pay is one of several areas getting attention right now as education reformers zero in on high-quality teaching as the key to helping students learn. The thinking goes like this: It takes good teachers to improve student achievement, and it will take better pay to lure and keep good teachers.

Not only that, advocates of these plans say, but pay should be more directly linked to how well teachers do. And one way to make that link is by looking at students' scores on standardized tests.

Joanne has more.

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Reports surface that teens are taking cow drugs for abortions

Erin Richards:

Veterinary and medical professionals in Wisconsin said Friday that they have been warned about a potentially alarming practice among the state's rural youth: teenage girls ingesting livestock drugs to cheaply and discreetly end their unwanted pregnancies.

So far, the professionals in animal and human health and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction are treating the reports of girls inducing their own abortions with prostaglandins - drugs commonly used by cow breeders to regulate animals' heat cycles - as rumors, because no cases have been officially confirmed by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

But Anna Anderson, the executive director of Care Net Pregnancy Center of Green County in Monroe, maintains that she has identified at least 10 girls ages 14 to 18 in a three-county area who admitted to taking some form of cow abortifacient in the past year.

Anderson said the girls told her they took it because they found it to be a cheap and easy way to end their pregnancies without their parents finding out.

At the American Veterinary Medical Association, Assistant Director Kimberly May said Friday that her organization first heard the rumor about the teenagers in mid-February from the Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Association. Since then, the American Animal Hospital Association has also posted an advisory about the issue on its Web site.

Injected properly in livestock, prostaglandins shorten a heat cycle so a female animal can be bred again, May said.

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Some Rich Districts Get Richer as Aid Is Rushed to Schools

Sam Dillon:

Dale Lamborn, the superintendent of a somewhat threadbare rural school district, feels the pain of Utah's economic crisis every day as he tinkers with his shrinking budget, struggling to avoid laying off teachers or cutting classes like welding or calculus.

Just across the border in Wyoming, a state awash in oil and gas money, James Bailey runs a wealthier district. It has a new elementary school and gives every child an Apple laptop.

But under the Obama administration's education stimulus package, Mr. Lamborn, who needs every penny he can get, will receive hundreds of dollars less per student than will Dr. Bailey, who says he does not need the extra money.

"For us, this is just a windfall," Dr. Bailey said.

In pouring rivers of cash into states and school districts, Washington is using a tangle of well-worn federal formulas, some of which benefit states that spend more per pupil, while others help states with large concentrations of poor students or simply channel money based on population. Combined, the formulas seem to take little account of who needs the money most.

As a result, some districts that are well off will find themselves swimming in cash, while some that are struggling may get too little to avoid cutbacks.

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Teachers Alleging Attacks by Youths Find Themselves Scrutinized

Bill Turque:

Woodson Academy teacher William Pow had just finished writing on the blackboard one January afternoon, he said, when he turned to face his algebra class and saw the textbook "Mathematics in Life" hurtling toward his head.

He ducked, he said, but it caught him in the neck and shoulder. His colleagues at Woodson have not been as lucky. English teacher Randy Brown said he was hit just above the left ear by a book thrown by a student last month. He was treated for a concussion and said he has since suffered from headaches and nausea.

"They think it's a game to hit people in the head," said Brown, who, like Pow, has not returned to school.

They say the 260-student ninth-grade academy, housed at Ronald H. Brown Middle School in Northeast Washington while a new Woodson High is under construction, is overcrowded and dangerous. Brown and Pow count five other teachers or administrators who they said have been attacked this academic year, including one who was pelted by textbooks and another pinned to a desktop and choked. Other teachers, Brown and Pow said, are routinely subjected to verbal threats of violence.

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Price Drop: Stocks, Homes, Now Triple-Word Scores

Carl Bialik:

A trio of words -- one that's slang for pizza, another defined as a body's vital life force and a third referring to a snoring sound -- have conspired to change the game of Scrabble.

"Za," "qi" and "zzz" were added recently to the game's official word list for its original English-language edition. Because Z's and Q's each have the game's highest point value of 10, those monosyllabic words can rack up big scores for relatively little effort. So now that those high-scoring letters are more versatile, some Scrabble aficionados would like to see the rules changed -- which would be the only change since Alfred Butts popularized the game in 1948.

For non Scrabble-rousers, there are analogs for the proposed re-evaluations in other leisure pursuits. Some notable mispriced assets: Vermont Avenue in Monopoly, three-point field goals in basketball and football and overtime losses in hockey. Yet traditionalists say rules should endure; it's up to players to exploit them.

In Scrabble, players form words on a 15-by-15-space board using 100 tiles -- two of them blanks that can stand in for any letter, and 98 tiles with letters and corresponding point values. Players draw seven tiles to start the game and refresh their set after each turn.

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March 21, 2009

A Summary of the Wisconsin DPI Superintendent Candidate Event

Greg Bump:

WisPolitics: Evers, Fernandez question each other in We The People debate

By Greg Bump

Tony Evers questioned opponent Rose Fernandez's qualifications for the state's top education spot Friday night, while Fernandez countered by trying to portray him as a crony of Wisconsin's largest teacher's union.

The two, vying for the post of superintendent of Public Instruction, laid out competing visions in a We The People debate.

Evers, the deputy superintendent at DPI, touted his 34 years of experience in education while contrasting his resume with the credentials of Fernandez, who is a nurse by trade and has never worked in a public school.

Fernandez, a virtual school advocate, countered by continually trying to lay problems with the state's educational system at the feet of Evers, who has held the No. 2 post at the agency for eight years.

Given the opportunity to question each other, Evers pointed out Fernandez represented virtual schools and has zero experience in the administration of public schools. He asked how parents with children in public schools can trust her to invest in their education rather than funneling money toward special interests.

"My own special interest is the boys and girls growing up in the state of Wisconsin," Fernandez shot back.

Fernandez then stressed Evers' endorsement by the Wisconsin Education Association Council and the "hundreds of thousands of dollars" the union has spent to support his campaign. She asked him to list three reforms he has supported that WEAC opposed.

Evers answered that the union was unhappy with a settlement DPI reached on allowing virtual schools -- in which districts allow students to take courses on-line -- to continue. He also said he has been a strong advocate of charter schools -- which operate without some of the regulations of other public schools -- something the union has opposed.

"I started charter schools. I know what charter schools are about," Evers said. "I don't need a lecture about charter schools."

Evers also stressed his support from school boards, child advocates, parents and others.

"That's why you have to have a broad coalition," Evers said. "This isn't about this overwhelming group of people driving policy at the state level. That just isn't fact."

Fernandez ripped DPI for not doing enough to help the struggling Milwaukee Public School system address issues like dropout rates and the achievement gap for minority students.

Evers countered that he has worked on the issue with educators in Milwaukee, but there are also socioeconomic factors that are hampering achievement.

"Laying this issue on my lap is irrational," Evers said.

Fernandez also brought up a piece of Evers' campaign lit that referred to voucher schools in Milwaukee as "a privatization scheme."

"Some of the schools have been scheming, and those schools we have drummed out of the program," Evers replied.

Evers warned that Fernandez would run DPI through the prism of the "special interest" of choice schools.

Both candidates agreed that a merit pay system for educators could have benefit, but they disagreed on the details. Fernandez indicated that she would base her merit pay system more on classroom outcomes, while Evers stressed that rewards for training were equally important.

They differed more prominently on the qualified economic offer, which Gov. Jim Doyle has proposed eliminating in his 2009-11 budget plan. Fernandez wants to retain it, saying that without the control on teacher compensation, property taxes could rise sharply.

"Children may become the enemy of the taxpayer," she said.

Evers said he has bargained on both sides of the table, and he opposes the QEO because it hurts the state's ability to stay competitive in teacher pay.

Evers embraced the coming federal stimulus cash, which will pump $800 million into state schools as "a historic event" that acknowledges "educators are the lever that can turn our economy around." He said he would appoint a trustee to oversee the allocation of the funds in Milwaukee schools to ensure the money is getting to the classrooms.

In contrast, Fernandez said she looked upon the federal stimulus with caution in that it is one-time funding that won't be there in the future

And while Evers touted the state's ACT and SAT scores as being among the highest in the nation, Fernandez said those tests are only administered to college-bound students and aren't indicative of the academic struggles in districts like Milwaukee.

We the People/Wisconsin is a multi-media that includes the Wisconsin State Journal, Wisconsin Public Television, Wisconsin Public Radio, WISC-TV, and Wood Communications Group.

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Wisconsin DPI Superintendent Candidate Tony Evers Advocates Charter Schools

Tony Evers campaign, via email:

Tony Evers today pledged to continue his long commitment to Wisconsin's charter schools, which provide innovative educational strategies. Dr. Evers has played a major educational leadership role in making Wisconsin 6th in the nation, out of all 50 states, in both the number of charter schools and the number of students enrolled in charter schools.

"We are a national leader in charter schools and I will continue my work for strong charter schools in Wisconsin," Evers said. "As State Superintendent, I will continue to promote our charter schools and the innovative, successful learning strategies they pursue as we work to increase achievement for all students no matter where they live."

Evers, as Deputy State Superintendent, has been directly responsible for overseeing two successful competitive federal charter school grants that brought over $90 million to Wisconsin. From these successful applications, Evers has recommended the approval of over 700 separate planning, implementation, implementation renewal, and dissemination grants to charter schools around the state since 2001.

During the past eight years, the number of charter schools in Wisconsin has risen from 92 to 221 - an increase of almost 150%. The number of students enrolled in charter schools has increased from 12,000 students in 2001 to nearly 36,000 today.

Evers has also represented the Department of Public Instruction on State Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster's Charter School Advisory Council. The council was created to provide charter school representatives, parents, and others with the opportunity to discuss issues of mutual interest and provide recommendations to the State Superintendent.

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Boosting Schools Without Spending a Dime -- Your Ideas

Jay Matthews:

My suggestions last month [Metro Monday column, Feb. 16] for raising achievement in budget-cutting times inspired an outpouring of reader ideas. Some were interesting, such as tougher honor rolls, more reading clubs and more speaking practice. Some were wild, such as my favorite, eliminating school buses.

A lot of people yearned, as I did, for simpler approaches that drew parents into schooling, thus strengthening family ties and improving education while saving money. Most of us admitted that few, if any, of our suggestions will be adopted, but keep in mind that hardly anyone believed the Boston Red Sox would ever win the World Series again.

I had seven ideas: replace elementary school homework with free reading; eliminate barriers to charter school growth; have teachers call parents to praise their kids; have parents e-mail educators to laud their teaching; require high school students to read at least one nonfiction book; call on every child in every class; and declare a national holiday on which everyone reads. As I expected, my charter school notion was unpopular, but President Obama has since made it a top priority anyway. Good luck with that, Mr. President. All the rest won reader support, particularly the first idea on homework. I will get to that after we review the most intriguing of your suggestions.

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Wisconsin's Budget Picture

Christian Schneider:

We've made the case numerous times on this blog that Governor Doyle's proposed budget uses too much one-time money to balance the state budget. Just yesterday, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimated the structural deficit for 2011-13 at $1.5 billion - and keep in mind, that's with $3 billion in new ongoing taxes added to the rolls.

It seems that some local government officials are starting to pick up on the house of cards Doyle has built. In Madison ( of all places), a school board member has written a criticism of Doyle's use of one-time money, understanding the peril which awaits school budgets in the future:

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March 20, 2009

Study: Charter school students may be more likely to graduate, go to college

Martha Woodall:

Charter schools generally cannot take credit for boosting test scores, but there is intriguing evidence that students at charter high schools may be more likely to graduate and attend college, a national study concludes.

The Rand Corp. study, which was released Wednesday, examined charters in eight states. Rand, a nonprofit research organization in Santa Monica, Calif., also examined charters in Chicago, San Diego, Denver, Milwaukee, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas and Florida.

A year ago, a Rand report on charter schools in Philadelphia found that their students performed about the same as students in district-run schools.

Charter school research has become politically charged, with dueling views. Some reports have concluded that students at the nation's 4,100 charter schools outperform their counterparts in traditional public schools. Other investigators have said charter students do no better than public school students and often do worse.

Researchers involved with the Rand report said they had used performance data of individual students over time to try to evaluate charter schools more accurately. Their work received financial support from several nonprofit foundations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the William Penn Foundation. Bill Gates supports charter schools, and the Gates Foundation has provided millions of dollars to help successful ones expand.

Ron Zimmer, Brian Gill, Kevin Booker, Stephane Lavertu, Tim R. Sass, John Witte:
The first U.S. charter school opened in 1992, and the scale of the charter movement has since grown to 4,000 schools and more than a million students in 40 states plus the District of Columbia. With this growth has also come a contentious debate about the effects of the schools on their own students and on students in nearby traditional public schools (TPSs). In recent years, research has begun to inform this debate, but many of the key outcomes have not been adequately examined, or have been examined in only a few states. Do the conflicting conclusions of different studies reflect real differences in effects driven by variation in charter laws and policies? Or do they reflect differences in research approaches -- some of which may be biased? This book examines four primary research questions: (1) What are the characteristics of students transferring to charter schools? (2) What effect do charter schools have on test-score gains for students who transfer between TPSs and charter schools? (3) What is the effect of attending a charter high school on the probability of graduating and of entering college? (4) What effect does the introduction of charter schools have on test scores of students in nearby TPSs?

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Teen Births on the Rise for Second Year in a Row

Rob Stein:

The rate at which teenage girls in the United States are having babies has risen for a second year in a row, government statistics show, putting one of the nation's most successful social and public health campaigns in jeopardy.

The birth rate among 15- to 19-year-olds rose 1.4 percent from 2006 to 2007, continuing a rise that began a year earlier when the rate jumped 3.4 percent, reversing what had been a 14-year decline. Although researchers will have to wait at least another year to see whether a clear trend emerges, the two consecutive increases signal that the long national campaign to reduce teen pregnancies might have stalled or possibly even reversed.

"We may have reached a tipping point," said Stephanie J. Ventura of the National Center for Health Statistics, which issued the report today. "It's hard to know where it's going to go from here."

Other experts said the two-year data probably represent a trend and fit with other research showing a stall in the long drop in sexual activity among teens, as well as a decrease in condom use.

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Just Say Smarties? Faux Smoking Has Parents Fuming

Dionne Searcey:

Summit Middle School in Frisco, Colo., is a tobacco-free campus. Students who smoke cigarettes are suspended.

But when a lunchtime crew of sixth-graders last fall started "smoking" Smarties, the tart, chalky candy discs wrapped in cellophane, lunchroom monitors and the school nurse were flummoxed.

The children didn't light the candy. They crushed it into a fine powder in its wrapper, tore off one end, poured the powder into their mouths and blew out fine Smarties dust, mimicking a smoker's exhale.

"It was freaky," says Corinne McGrew, a nurse for Summit School District. "My biggest concern was that they would aspirate the wrapper or a whole Smarties and it would be a choking hazard."

The fad at Summit Middle School died down after a few days and some harsh words from the lunchroom staff. But at other schools and across the Internet, "smoking Smarties," as the activity has been labeled, is gaining popularity. Some children have even taken to snorting it, all to the horror of parents, teachers and the 60-year-old company that manufactures the candy.

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To improve education, improve teacher training

Marc Bernstein:

Last week, President Barack Obama challenged parents, school leaders and teacher unions to raise their expectations for our children's educational achievement, warning that we cannot maintain our global economic competitiveness otherwise. So Obama has increased the federal government's financial commitment to education and strongly recommended both an increase in the number of charter schools and merit pay for teachers whose students show progress.

But these two initiatives are stopgaps. The real need is to improve the quality of all our teachers. And that goal starts with the colleges of education that prepare new teachers to enter the classroom.

What we need most is a total revamping of teacher-preparation programs. Until this occurs, we'll continue to have second-rate schools no matter how much money we spend.

And now is the time to act. In addition to a president who's identified education as a top priority, we have Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who led one of our country's largest school districts and has a reputation for getting things done; teacher unions that support higher standards for new teachers; and, perhaps most importantly, a $5 billion pot of stimulus funds at Duncan's disposal for educational improvement initiatives.

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57 apply to operate new Milwaukee voucher schools

Alan Borsuk:

In each recent year, the number of people saying they are opening voucher schools was similar to this year's total and the number who made it into operation was in the single digits. The schools have substantial hurdles to clear, including getting a building that meets codes and signing up students and teachers.

In addition to the 57 new applicants, just about all of the current roster of voucher schools - around 120, including a few that do not appear to be operating at the moment - have applied to remain in the program next year.

Rising ranks of students

Put it all together and DPI is forecasting the number of low-income students using the state voucher program next year will be equal to about 20,500 full-time students, up from about 19,500 this year, an increase that is line with the pattern of recent years. (The actual number of students is higher than the "full time equivalent" figure because four-year-old kindergartners are funded at a fraction of other students. The actual number in September was 20,244.)

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Dallas ISD records show school held 'cage fights'

Emily Ramshaw and Tawnell Hobbs:

The principal and other staff members at South Oak Cliff High School were supposed to be breaking up fights. Instead, they sent troubled students into a steel utility cage in an athletic locker room to battle it out with bare fists and no head protection, records show.

Documents obtained by The Dallas Morning News say the "cage fights" took place between 2003 and 2005. The records don't say how many fights may have taken place.

Donald Moten, who was principal at South Oak Cliff High at the time, denied any wrongdoing when contacted Wednesday.

District investigators learned of the fights as part of an investigation into grade-changing for student athletes that ultimately cost the school its 2006 boys state basketball championship.

Internal district reports obtained by The News describe a culture of sanctioned violence in which school employees and even the principal relied on "the cage" to settle disputes and bring unruly students under control.

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Advocating Rose Fernandez for Wisconsin DPI Superintendent

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

Wisconsin voters have a clear choice in the April 7 race for state superintendent of the Department of Public Instruction.

The race features a consummate and careful insider, Tony Evers, versus a spirited and straightforward outsider, Rose Fernandez.

The State Journal endorses Fernandez.

The pediatric nurse and mother of five will be a strong advocate for change -- someone who will use the mostly symbolic post of state schools superintendent as a bully pulpit to press for reforms, many of which President Barack Obama favors.

With so many high school students failing to graduate in Milwaukee, with so much at stake for Wisconsin in the changing, knowledge-based economy, Fernandez is the best candidate to invigorate DPI.

Fernandez, of Mukwonogo, drew public attention last year for her advocacy of public online charter schools. She helped push for a bipartisan legislative compromise that allowed virtual schools to continue serving thousands of students online with more accountability.

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March 19, 2009

Madison Schools to Deny Open Enrollment Applications Based on Income?

Seth Jovaag, via a kind reader's email:

In February 2008, the Madison school board - facing mounting legal pressure - overturned a policy that allowed the district to deny transfer requests based on race. Before that, white students were routinely told they couldn't transfer. Madison was the only district in the state with such a policy, which aimed to limit racial inequalities throughout the district, said district spokesman Ken Syke.

With that policy gone, Madison saw a nearly 50 percent increase in students asking to transfer, from 435 to 643.

Madison superintendent Daniel Nerad notes that Madison's numbers had been steadily increasing for years. But he acknowledged that the policy change likely explains some of this year's jump.

"I think we do see some effect of that, but I'm not suggesting all of it comes from that, because frankly we don't know," he said.

Still, Nerad has clearly taken notice. Given the new numbers, he plans to ask state lawmakers to allow Madison to deny future requests based on family income levels, rather than race, to prevent disparities from further growing between Madison and its suburbs.

Other districts that border Madison - including Monona Grove, Middleton and McFarland - are seeing more transfer requests from Madison this year, too.

"The change Madison made ... that certainly increased the application numbers," said McFarland's business director, Jeff Mahoney.

In addition, Verona school board member Dennis Beres said he suspects many Madison parents are trying to transfer their kids from the chronically overcrowded Aldo Leopold elementary school, which is just two miles northeast of Stoner Prairie Elementary in Fitchburg.

Fascinating. I would hope that the Madison School District would pursue students with high academic standards rather than simply try, via legislative influence and lobbying, to prevent them from leaving.... The effects of that initiative may not be positive for the City of Madison's tax base.

Related: 2009/2010 Madison Open Enrollment applications. Much more on open enrollment here.

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Students See Value in History-Writing Venue

Education Week "Curriculum Matters"
Kathleen Kennedy Manzo 17 March 2009:

It is difficult to figure why some education ventures attract impressive financial and political support, while others flounder despite their value to the field. For years, I've written about The Concord Review and the really amazing history research papers it publishes from high school authors/scholars.

The Review has won praise from renowned historians, lawmakers, and educators, yet has failed to ever draw sufficient funding. The range of topics is as impressive as the volume of work by high school students: In 77 issues, the 846 published papers have covered topics from Joan of Arc to women's suffrage, from surgery during the Civil War to the history of laser technology. (The papers average more than 7,000 words, and all have been vetted for accuracy and quality. Many of the students do these research papers for the experience and knowledge they gain, not for school credit.)

But here's the kicker: It operates on a shoestring, as Founder and Publisher Will Fitzhugh reminds me often. Fitzhugh, who has struggled for years to keep the operation afloat, challenges students to do rigorous scholarly work and to delve deeply into history. His success at inspiring great academic work is juxtaposed against his failure to get anyone with money to take notice.

Well, if the grown-ups in the world have failed to recognize and reward the Review for its 22 years of contributions, the students themselves have not.

Fitzhugh has shared many of the letters he receives from students whose work has been published in The Concord Review over the years. Yesterday, he shared with me one of the most memorable of those letters, which arrived recently at his Sudbury, Massachusetts, office.

Nicole Heise won one of the Review's Emerson Prize awards for excellence this year. The senior at Ithaca High School in Upstate New York sent the check back, with this note:

"As you well know, for high school-aged scholars, a forum of this caliber and the incentives it creates for academic excellence are rare. I also know that keeping The Concord Review active requires resources. So, please allow me to put my Emerson award money to the best possible use I can imagine by donating it to The Concord Review so that another young scholar can experience the thrill of seeing his or her work published."

The prize was no pittance either. Each of the winners received $800, thanks to a $5,000 donation from Douglas B. Reeves, CEO of the Leadership and Learning Foundation in Salem, Massachusetts. Reeves, and a couple dozen member schools, are all that help Fitzhugh continue publishing. Now the student-scholars themselves are starting to pool their pennies.

I keep wondering just what will it take for the Review to get the kind of attention, and support, it deserves? Maybe some of the Wall Street executives can follow Heise's lead and put some of those huge "retention awards" they've received--some at taxpayer expense--into this worthy cause, or at least donate it back to the U.S. Treasury.

Here's a complete list of the winners of the 2009 Emerson Prize, several of whom are now studying at some of the nation's top universities:

2009 Paul Armstrong, of Richard Montgomery High School, in Rockville, Maryland. (Fall 2007 issue: paper on the historical relationship between Poland and Lithuania)

2009 Pamela Ban, of Thomas Worthington High School, in Worthington, Ohio, (Summer 2008 issue: paper on the stages of Chinese economic reform)

2009 Nicole Heise, of Ithaca High School in Ithaca, New York. (Winter 2007 issue: essay on the Tu Quoque defense at Nuremberg and after)

2009 Benjamin Loffredo, of the Fieldston School in the Bronx, New York. (Winter 2007 issue; paper on the Philippine War)

2009 Colin Sellers Harris, of Sidwell Friends School, in Washington, D.C. (Fall 2007 issue: essay on the United Arab Republic)

2009 Elize S. Zevitz, of the Prairie School, in Racine, Wisconsin. (Spring 2008 issue: paper on the Northern and Southern reactions to Uncle Tom's Cabin).

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'Relentless Pursuit': A Year Teaching America

Talk of the Nation:

Donna Foote followed four elite college graduates in the Teach For America program. They were assigned to one of the worst schools in one of the toughest neighborhoods of Los Angeles, and Relentless Pursuit is their story.

TFA recruits are a remarkable group, and the program is an incredibly popular destination for new college grads. In 2008, roughly 10% of Georgetown, Harvard and Yale's graduating seniors applied.

Thanks to Rick Kiley for the link.

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D.C. Schools Chief Turns To Rookie Teacher Corps

Claudio Sanchez:

Michele Rhee, the District of Columbia's public schools chancellor, has done a lot to shake up schools in the nation's capital.

But for some, change can't come soon enough.

So Rhee is intent on attracting young teachers who aren't vested in the old contractual arrangements with the teachers' union, which Rhee thinks is getting in the way of her reform efforts.

In other words, Rhee is looking for a "new breed" of teachers, mostly 20-somethings fresh out of college, who may not have majored in education but are drawn to teaching; like 22-year-old Meredith Leonard, a sixth-grade English teacher at Shaw-Garnet-Patterson Middle School.

Like many first-year teachers who've poured into Washington, D.C., in the past few years, Leonard is receptive to the changes that Rhee is proposing, such as merit pay and doing away with tenure.

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American Adults Flunk Basic Science

Science Daily:

Are Americans flunking science? A new national survey commissioned by the California Academy of Sciences and conducted by Harris Interactive® reveals that the U.S. public is unable to pass even a basic scientific literacy test.

Over the past few months, the American government has allocated hundreds of billions of dollars for economic bailout plans. While this spending may provide a short-term solution to the country's economic woes, most analysts agree that the long-term solution must include a transition to a more knowledge-based economy, including a focus on science, which is now widely recognized as a major driver of innovation and industry.

Despite its importance to economic growth, environmental protection, and global health and energy issues, scientific literacy is currently low among American adults. According to the national survey commissioned by the California Academy of Sciences:
Only 53% of adults know how long it takes for the Earth to revolve around the Sun.

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New online dictionary redefines 'look it up'

Jina Moore:

Erin McKean doesn't look much like a revolutionary. She speaks softly. She sews her own skirts and writes a daily blog entry about vintage patterns. She does work out of a basement, but it's got carpeting and good lighting and roughly 1,500 books, many of whose titles involve the word "words." Her suburban Chicago home is not exactly the picture of subversion.

This week, though, she is slated to launch what may be the biggest revolution in the printed word since, well, printed words.

Ms. McKean's brainchild is called Wordnik, and it combines the best practices of the old-fashioned desk reference with Internet innovations. Words can be tagged like a blog entry, their pronunciation recorded and replayed like streaming radio, their related words cataloged like a list of books customers also bought at an online book depot. When the paper page gives way to the Web page, everything about the way we think of words will change, McKean says. "This project," she predicts in a quiet voice devoid of bravado, "is going to completely revolutionize all of dictionarymaking forever."

Granted, a dictionary is closer to a database than a mystery thriller, its authors nothing like, say, John Grisham. But to McKean, nothing has ever seemed more fascinating than collecting and organizing American words.

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March 18, 2009

Madison School Superintendent Dan Nerad on Poverty and Enrollment: "For every one student that comes into the MMSD, three leave it"

Kristin Czubkowski, via Jackie Woodruff:

All of the speakers were good, but I will admit I really enjoyed listening to Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Dan Nerad talk on the issue of poverty in our schools.
"Oftentimes, the statement is used as follows: Our children are our future. In reality, we are theirs."
Nerad made one more point I found interesting, which was his explanation for why for every one student that comes into the MMSD, two to three students leave it. While MMSD has been well-recognized for having great schools and students, many of the schools have high concentrations of poverty (17 of 32 elementary schools have more than 50 percent of students on free or reduced lunch programs), which Nerad said can lead to perception issues about how MMSD uses its resources.
"From my perspective, it's a huge issue that we must face as a community -- for every one child coming in, two to three come out right now. I worry that a lot of it is based on this increasing poverty density that we have in our school district ... Oftentimes that's based on a perception of quality, and it's based on a perception based on that oftentimes that we have more kids in need, that we have more kids with more resource needs, and oftentimes people feel that their own children's needs may not be met in that equation."
Recent open enrollment data.

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Advocating Mayoral Control of Schools - in Milwaukee

Bruce Murphy:

Not long ago, the idea of placing the Milwaukee Public Schools under control of the city's mayor was getting considerable discussion. Then two things happened. The Public Policy Forum did a study of other cities, which found no clear-cut answers as to whether a governance change improved their school districts.

The Forum also convened a panel of community leaders to discuss this, and the feeling was unanimous that this would make no difference to the success of MPS. From teachers union head Dennis Oulahan to business leader Tim Sheehy, there was not "a great deal of support for a change in governance," moderator Mike Gousha concluded.

That seems to have killed the idea. After all, if the experts agree it wouldn't do anything, and the study is equivocal, it must be a bad idea, right?

Wrong. The idea has great merit, and nothing in the study - or the statements of experts - proves otherwise. A system in which, say, the mayor appoints the school board members, much as he appoints the Fire and Police Commission, could have many benefits, including:

More attention to the problem: School Board members are elected in low-turnout elections in which a minuscule percentage of city residents vote. Mayoral elections are high-interest affairs that would automatically elevate the issue of education, while making the city's most important officeholder accountable for the schools. We vote for the mayor based on how he does on property taxes and crime, but not on education, which is just as important to the city's success. Why put so little value on the schools?

A less parochial school board. The teachers union routinely gets candidates elected who readily vote for increases in salaries and benefits. The typical opponent of the union is the business community. The board has swung back and forth between these interests, as their respective candidates get elected. By contrast, the mayor is answerable to the full spectrum of voters. His choices for the board are likely to be more independent.

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Hudson, New Hampshire Fights Free Kindergarten

Dan Gorenstein:

itizens of Hudson, N.H., are backing their school board's decision to reject an unfunded state mandate to provide free kindergarten. The case gets a hearing Wednesday.
Hudson School District web site. Many links here, and here.

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Software Tests Patience in Prince George County Schools

Nelson Hernandez:

A $4.1 million computer program designed to put Prince George's County students' grades, attendance and discipline data online has been plagued with errors in its first year, leading to botched schedules, an over-count of students and report cards that were delayed or, in some cases, simply wrong.

Since going online Aug. 19, SchoolMax has crashed four times, once for 17 hours, said W. Wesley Watts Jr., the school system's chief information officer. Errors led to the duplication of 3,600 student identification numbers in the 128,000-student system; almost 300 were double-enrolled, leading to an inaccurate count of the student population. The delivery of report cards was delayed last semester, and some students have found they've gotten E's instead of A's. There have been problems doing things as straightforward as printing an alphabetical directory of students.

The latest hit is a six-day delay in the distribution of third-quarter progress reports, which will be distributed Thursday "due to the closure of schools because of snow on March 2 and a recent computer network outage," administrators said in a statement.

"There are a lot of issues with SchoolMax. Some of them are technical. Some of them are data-related," Watts told the school board. "If there is an issue, we need to know what that issue is. Telling us the grade book doesn't work, or it stinks, doesn't help me or our team."

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Verona High school students study the federal stimulus bill

Gena Kittner:

It's 7:30 in the morning and about 30 high school students are chomping on doughnuts and debating the merits of federal dollars used to fund everything from building child-care centers on U.S. Army bases to lead reduction programs.

The scene is a weekly occurrence at Verona High School where advanced placement students are analyzing the 407-page American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- commonly known as the stimulus bill -- as part of an extra credit project.

The students must report the dollar amount appropriated under each title, summarize that section and react to how the money's being spent.

"I frankly don't see how that will help the economy or is a pressing need," Kaitlin McLean, a Verona senior, said of about $90 million going to facilities that deal with passports and training. "Couldn't $90 million be used to create jobs somewhere else?"

The goal is to have the entire document read by April 3 -- an ambitious objective considering many legislators probably haven't done the same.

Steve Coll has been blogging (and reading) the stimulus/splurge documents.

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The Immigrant Paradox

Joanne Jacobs:

The first generation comes to America and struggles, but their children do better and the third generation does even better. That's how it's supposed to work. But scholars are trying to understand the "immigrant paradox," reports Education Week. The Americanized children of immigrants often do worse in school than the foreign-born generation, despite fewer English problems. American-born children have more health problems and are more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs and act violently.

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Pennsylvania's Cyber Charter Schools

Daveen Rae Kurutz:

When thousands of students ditch home computers and gather in makeshift classrooms across the state today, the future of their cyber charter schools is uncertain.

Testing begins on reading and math portions of the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, the measure by which the state determines whether public schools are making "adequate yearly progress" under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Last year, only three of the state's 11 cyber schools -- which educate more than 19,000 students -- achieved AYP.

Traditional schools that fail to do so face corrective action from the state that increases in severity each succeeding year, up to a state takeover. Cyber schools face the threat of the state not renewing their five-year charters, effectively shutting them. Six charters are up in the next two years, and test scores will be a big factor in renewals, said Leah Harris, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Bill Tucker has more.

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Interest surges in leaving other jobs for teaching

Libby Quaid:

Plenty of people dream of leaving their jobs to become teachers. Today, more people are actually doing it.
Peter Vos ran an Internet startup. Now he teaches computer science to middle school kids in Maryland.

Jaime McLaughlin used to do people's taxes. Now he teaches math to sixth graders in Chicago.

Alisa Salvans was a makeup artist at Saks department store. Now she teaches high school chemistry in suburban Dallas.

These teachers, with real-life experience and often with deep knowledge of their subjects, are answering a call to service that is part of a strategy to dramatically boost the size and quality of the teaching work force.

Career switchers make up about one-third of the ranks of new teachers, and that number has jumped in the past decade. Now, as the recession deepens, even more people are deciding to become teachers.

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March 17, 2009

Our Lady Queen of Peace School Principal Steve Bolser dies

George Hesselberg:

Steve Bolser, the man with the Snoopy tie and the Charlie Brown "Never, ever give up" attitude, the principal at "QP" who really was a pal, died Saturday, a year after being told he had a cancerous brain tumor.

Bolser, 56, was the principal at the 470-student Our Lady Queen of Peace School since 1994 but had been in Catholic education for many years, working as a teacher at Edgewood Campus School and as principal of Edgewood High School.

The news of his illness was delivered last year while students were already coping with the death of a fellow student from brain cancer, and after Bolser had brought in specialists to train staff on how best to help children cope with illness and death.

"We were very grateful that along the whole journey the family was in constant communication with us, our pastor, and it was their desire to keep everyone full informed, it was a huge gift to everyone," said Patty Chrsyt, acting principal at the school.

Bolser had a combination of teaching gifts to go along with his faith, she said, that endeared him to student and staff alike.

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A Look at Wisconsin State Tax Funded K-12 Spending

TJ Mertz:

Not only is one time revenue being used for ongoing expenses (which may be acceptable in these economic circumstance), but all this revenue is being used to offset state funds. When combined with the "current law" revenue cap increases estimated at $277 and $286 per member for the two years, this shifts the burden to local property taxpayers in significant ways.

However things go down, the state will move further from the 2/3 support concept and consequently the local property tax portion of school revenues will be increasing at a faster rate than the state portion (unless districts don't tax to the limit, but that has some bad effects in subsequent years). I am still confused about the Governor's and the LFB thoughts on IDEA and Title I, which appear to be at least partially contrary to the "supplement not supplant" provisions. I do know that there is lobbying going on from many quarters to expand the loopholes and allow more of the stimulus money to be used to fund existing, not expanded programs and services.

There are also some positives. Revenue cap increases are included at past levels, school safety, nurses and transportation are eased; the low revenue ceiling is raised, Special Education isn't actually cut, SAGE and 4 K are given increases, albeit insufficient ones. It could be worse.

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Madison School District Cuts Busing Costs by $926,343,09

Thanks to Erik Kass for sending this along.

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We Should Not Be Surprised at These Outcomes, When We Teach our Children PowerPoint

A recently released "slideument" from General Motors. This document [PDF or [PPT] "explains" their March, 2009 buyer and dealer incentives. Via the Truth About Cars.

Related: "The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint", "slideuments", PowerPoint and Military Intelligence, PowerPoint does Rocket Science and Two Decades of PowerPoint, is the World a Better Place?

I am frequently amazed at the information sent around in such slideuments.

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Will school finances end in tragedy?

Maya Cole:

The headlines are dramatic: a state running billions in debt with declining revenue and a legislature waiting anxiously for federal money to show up.

"All the world's a stage" -- beyond a doubt. The feat is to decide whether this is a comedy or tragedy amid a dismal economy and different players.

Like stock characters, lobbyists continue to collect in the halls of government to sell their wares.

The predictable talk of paying for education plays to the citizenry. Don't raise taxes and do more with less -- it's the same old dichotomy. Lately there's new irony, as suggested by Gov. Jim Doyle, that school boards should go to the table with "more creative ways" to bargain and without the QEO (qualified economic offer).

We've been focusing in the wrong place, according to Doyle. All we need is a "creative teacher compensation package." Problem solved. So school boards just need to get more creative and drop the discussion on school finance and educational excellence? Talk about a plot twist!

The cynical souls suggest that now is the time for caution and control, no time to attempt school finance reform, though the current formula was a short-term solution whence it began. They heed us to plod along with conventional plans and wait for -- who and when? Next year? The year after?

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Transforming Workers and Work: Learning how to read the new knowledge economy.

Jack Falvey:

THOUSANDS OF PROFESSIONAL JOBS IN THIS COUNTRY have been downsized or offshored, and the Americans who held them have been laid off. Where are those people now? Few have starved to death or the tabloids would have told us. Few have jumped from bridges or the security camera footage would be all over YouTube. All those poor souls somehow have continued to earn enough for bare subsistence, or better.

Like it or not, the underemployed eventually realize that they have become small-business people. They did not register with the SBA for loans; they just began creating wealth for themselves by selling stuff or services to others.

We live in the most adaptable organism on earth. With a computer and a link to a network, we can use our knowledge to adapt and create wealth.

FARMERS AND FACTORY WORKERS could tell us that economic activity has always had a knowledge component. It's hard to create much wealth without skills. Now, for the first time in human history, knowledge is becoming the dominating determinant of wealth creation.

There are giant companies, such as Microsoft, that manufacture almost nothing. They don't ship anything except computer disks loaded with data, and sometimes not even that. Even an old-line "heavy-iron" company like IBM has transformed its manufacturing business into a different kind of wealth-creating enterprise, in which 60% of sales come from service contracts.

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Paying It Forward as a Full-Time Job

Elizabeth Garone:

When Trevor Patzer was growing up in Ketchum, Idaho, he received an unusual offer from family friend Ric Ohrstrom: get admitted to New Hampshire's prestigious St. Paul's School, and Mr. Ohrstrom would foot the entire bill for his schooling there.

Mr. Patzer was accepted and graduated three years later. He says the experience of someone offering to pay for his high-school education had a profound effect on him, and the gift was always in the back of his mind, even as he moved to college and into the work world.

After graduating from Brown University, Mr. Patzer, now 35, headed off to Andersen Consulting to be a systems integration consultant. "It was that or investment banking," he says. But it didn't take him long to realize that there was more to life than "coding someone else's computers," he says. "I knew it wasn't the best fit for me. I'm a people person." Still, he kept plugging away in consulting for two more years.

During one of his vacations in 1998, he decided to visit Nepal and see "the biggest mountain in the world." While there, Mr. Patzer had another life-changing experience and it had little to do with the majestic awe of Mount Everest. His tour guide for the trip was Usha Acharya, an author and the wife of Nepal's former ambassador to the United Nations. While they took in various historic sites together, she talked to Mr. Patzer about the plight of poor children in Nepal. He decided on the spot that he wanted to fund the education of a Nepalese child, in the same spirit Mr. Ohrstrom had funded his education. When Mr. Patzer asked Ms. Acharya if she knew of such a child, she spoke of a young girl who could benefit from his philanthropy.

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Oakland officials sue over charter school funding

Jill Tucker:

The Oakland school board has sued State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, saying he violated state law and financial common sense when he gave city charter schools $450,000 out of the district's bank account.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday, is the latest volley in a fight for power and authority over the Oakland schools. O'Connell has controlled the purse strings since the state bailed out the nearly bankrupt district with a $100 million loan in 2003.

O'Connell said giving additional funding to the district's 32 charters schools - about $60 for each of their 7,500 students - was an equity issue. The alternative public schools were left out of a parcel tax passed by voters a year ago.

"Clearly all of the public schools in Oakland are deserving of resources, including the district's charter schools," said O'Connell spokeswoman Hilary McLean.

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Duncan: Schools must improve to get stimulus money

Libby Quaid:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan says schools must make drastic changes to get money from a special $5 billion fund in the economic stimulus bill.
"We're going to reward those states and those districts that are willing to challenge the status quo and get dramatically better," Duncan said Monday at the White House.
Those who keep doing the same old thing, however, won't be eligible for the money, he said.

Schools will be getting tens of billions more dollars through regular channels. On top of that, Duncan will have an unprecedented $5 billion to award for lasting reforms.

To get an award, schools and states must show they have been spending their money wisely. They are supposed to find innovative ways to close the achievement gap between black and Latino children who lag behind their white counterparts in more affluent schools.
Specifically, states are supposed to:

  • Improve teacher quality and get good teachers into high-poverty schools;
  • Set up sophisticated data systems to track student learning;
  • Boost the quality of academic standards and tests;
  • Intervene to help struggling schools.
It will be interesting to see how real this is.

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March 16, 2009

An Outbreak of Autism, or a Statistical Fluke?

Donald McNeil, Jr.:

Ayub Abdi is a cute 5-year-old with a smile that might be called shy if not for the empty look in his eyes. He does not speak. When he was 2, he could say "Dad," "Mom," "give me" and "need water," but he has lost all that.

He does scream and spit, and he moans a loud "Unnnnh! Unnnnh!" when he is unhappy. At night he pounds the walls for hours, which led to his family's eviction from their last apartment.

As he is strapped into his seat in the bus that takes him to special education class, it is hard not to notice that there is only one other child inside, and he too is a son of Somali immigrants.

"I know 10 guys whose kids have autism," said Ayub's father, Abdirisak Jama, a 39-year-old security guard. "They are all looking for help."

Autism is terrifying the community of Somali immigrants in Minneapolis, and some pediatricians and educators have joined parents in raising the alarm. But public health experts say it is hard to tell whether the apparent surge of cases is an actual outbreak, with a cause that can be addressed, or just a statistical fluke.

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Obama's Education Chief Knows Stars Are Aligned for Real Change

Gerald Seib:

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner may be the Obama cabinet member facing the biggest crisis -- the economic one -- but Education Secretary Arne Duncan may be the one holding the biggest opportunity in his hands.

It is this: He inherits the best chance in a generation to really shake up an American education system that is uneven and underperforming. And he knows it.

"I see this as an extraordinary opportunity," Mr. Duncan says in an interview. "We have a couple of things going in our direction that create what I call the perfect storm for reform."

If the economy ever heals, and if Afghanistan doesn't blow up, this quest to change the way Americans educate their kids may emerge as one of the biggest dramas of the Obama term. Here are the components of that perfect storm for change that Mr. Duncan describes:

There's virtually a national consensus -- one that certainly includes business leaders panting for a better-prepared work force -- that America's ossified education system needs a big shake-up. Moreover, a bipartisan trail toward real change was blazed by the Bush administration (which gets too little credit for doing so).

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Sweden's School Choice: Vouchers for All

"Education is so important that you cannot leave it to just one producer" - Sweden's former Education Minister, Per Unckel; Video by Lance Izumi. Izumi is co-author of "Not as Good as You Think: Why the Middle Class Needs School Choice".

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France Set to Raise Drinking Age

David Gauthier-Villars:

Garçon! A glass of red.

Teenagers under the age of 18 could soon lose the right to drink wine in France because of a new bill that would tighten restrictions on alcohol sales.

The government of President Nicolas Sarkozy has drafted the bill, which would raise France's minimum drinking age for wine and beer to 18 from 16. The government says it would reduce a dangerous addiction among youths. A vote on the bill is expected to take place Wednesday at the National Assembly, where it is likely to pass, as Mr. Sarkozy's center-right coalition has a majority of the votes. A final vote in the Senate could take place in April.

France has had a liberal approach to alcohol thus far. Unlike most other countries, France has two drinking ages: Young people can drink or purchase wine and beer from the age of 16 and hard liquor from 18. Bartenders and shopkeepers don't usually check the identification cards of their customers, however young.

The powerful lobby of French winemakers says it won't try to derail the law, but thinks the government is making a big mistake. A stricter law, winemakers say, could reverse the age-old French custom of parents teaching children how to taste and appreciate wine at the family meal.

The risk of the new law, they say, is a habit of binge drinking imported from the U.S., where the drinking age is 21, and the U.K., where studies show one in four adult men and one in three adult women are heavy drinkers.

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Milwaukee Schools Chief Seeks to Disrupt the Status Quo

Alan Borsuk:

Superintendent William Andrekopoulos on Sunday called for using tens of millions of dollars in federal economic stimulus money "to disrupt the status quo" in Milwaukee Public Schools in a bid to increase student achievement.

Making school days for kindergarten through eighth grader longer by something less than an hour a day and pushing the entire MPS system to switch to a "year-round" schedule, in which summer vacation is shortened, were two of the ideas suggested by Andrekopoulos.

He also called for improving teaching quality by giving staff members more time to prepare for class and collaborate with other teachers and by providing teachers more training.

Andrekopoulos said the short time frame being set for spending economic stimulus money and the urgency of improving student achievement mean that MPS should aim to implement the changes by the start of the coming school year. Decisions must be made by about May 1, he said.

A set of public meetings will be held, beginning Wednesday, to get public reaction and allow people to make their own suggestions on what MPS should do.

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Grade Inflation at American Colleges and Universities, via a kind reader:

This web site is an outgrowth of an op-ed piece that I wrote on grade inflation for the Washington Post, "Where All Grades Are Above Average" In the process of writing that article, I collected data on trends in grading from about 30 colleges and universities. I found that grade inflation, while waning beginning in the mid-1970s, resurfaced in the mid-1980s. The rise continued unabated at virtually every school for which data were available. By March 2003, I had collected data on grades from over 80 schools. Then I stopped collecting data until December 2008, when I thought it was a good time for a new assessment.

I now have data on average grades from over 180 schools (with a combined enrollment of over two million undergraduate students). I want to thank those that have helped me by either sending information or telling me where I can find it. I especially want to thank Chris Healy and Lee Coursey who, combined, uncovered over 50 web sites with detailed data. Chris Healy has written a research paper with me on the topic of grading at American colleges and universities that we finished March 2, 2009; preprints are available upon request. I also want to thank those that have sent me emails on how to improve my graphics. Additional suggestions are always welcome.

View University of Wisconsin-Madison grades by College and Department from 1998 onward here.

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"Dumbing Down" UK University Standards


wo senior academics at a Manchester university have accused it of "dumbing down" higher education.

Sue Evans and Walter Cairns, both lecturers at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), said the marks of failing students had been "bumped up".

They also claim the university will not take action against students who fail to turn up for lectures.

Deputy vice chancellor Kevin Bonnett said the comments were an "insult" to the university and its students.

The Daily Mail:
A group of university lecturers have painted a bleak picture of the falling standards of British higher education in a 500-page dossier presented to an MPs' inquiry.

The academics warn of an across-the-board dumbing down with degrees becoming increasingly easy, widespread plagiarism and institutional pressure from university bosses to award students higher grades than they deserve.

The lecturers come from a wide range of universities including Oxford, Birmingham, Cardiff, Sussex and Manchester Metropolitan, reported The Sunday Times.
Graduates throwing mortarboards in the air

The aim of the dossier, which blames the problems on university expansion without adequate funding, is to force Universities Secretary John Denham to take action to safeguard standards of higher education.

One academic to give evidence is Stuart Derbyshire, a senior lecturer in psychology at Birmingham University.

More from Greame Paton and Yojana Sharma.

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Where Education and Assimilation Collide

Ginger Thompson:

Walking the halls of Cecil D. Hylton High School outside Washington, it is hard to detect any trace of the divisions that once seemed fixtures in American society.

The United States has experienced the greatest surge in immigration since the early 20th century, with one in five residents a recent immigrant or a close relative of one. This series examines how American institutions are being pressed to adjust.

Students in Hylton High School's program for English learners, like Leon Peng and Nuwan Gamage, at right, cross paths in the hallways with mainstream students. But the groups seldom socialize. More Photos >

Two girls, a Muslim in a headscarf and a strawberry blonde in tight jeans, stroll arm in arm. A Hispanic boy wearing a Barack Obama T-shirt gives a high-five to a black student with glasses and an Afro. The lanky homecoming queen, part Filipino and part Honduran, runs past on her way to band practice. The student body president, a son of Laotian refugees, hangs fliers about a bake sale.

But as old divisions vanish, waves of immigration have fueled new ones between those who speak English and those who are learning how.

Walk with immigrant students, and the rest of Hylton feels a world apart. By design, they attend classes almost exclusively with one another. They take separate field trips. And they organize separate clubs.

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Why is NEA cheering Obama's education ideas?

Elizabeth Hovde:

The National Education Association appears to be humming "Stand By Your Man," even after President Barack Obama promoted both merit pay and an expansion of charter schools in his recent comments about education.

What gives? Whenever a conservative leader talks about pay differences for educators instead of one-size-fits-all raises, teachers' unions say "no," "no" and, "hell, no." And whenever a Republican supports charter schools, NEA members start calling politicians enemies of public schools.

In a statement released after Obama's "cradle-to-career" education speech last week, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel welcomed Obama's "vision" for strengthening public education and said, "He's off to a solid start. ... His 'cradle-to-career' proposal mirrors what NEA and its 3.2million members have been advocating."

The union clearly heard what it wanted to hear (more money) and ignored much of Obama's talk. Merit pay, charter school expansion and more school accountability are not what the union has been advocating. Given the NEA's glowing review, I wondered if the union would even have blinked if the president demanded an end to undemocratic, mandatory unionism. (That was not on Obama's radar, needless to say.)

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Wisconsin DPI Superintendent Debate Friday 3/21/2009


A debate between the two candidates for Wisconsin state superintendent will be broadcast statewide Friday night on public television and radio.

Tony Evers and Rose Fernandez are running to be the next superintendent of the Department of Public Instruction. The election for the nonpartisan position is April 7.

Evers currently serves as the deputy superintendent. Fernandez is a leading advocate of virtual schools.

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How To Stop Google From Following You

Lauren Aaronson:

A simple tool lets you opt out of advertising programs that track your Web clicks

Hundreds of thousands of Web sites show ads provided by Google, such as those little text ads that offer you everything from diets to dog training. Now Google has announced plans to track your clicks across all these sites, and then serve up ads personalized to your tastes. Visit a bunch of electronics-related sites, say, and the next site you view may show you an ad for the latest must-have gadget, even if you're now reading about ways to reduce stress through yogic meditations.

As Big Brother as it sounds, this is actually something that many advertising companies already do. But don't worry: There's a way to stop Google--and all the others--from prying.

First, Google has offered up several ways to change and reduce the info it stores about you. Using its new Ads Preferences Manager, you can delete any of the interests that Google believes you have, such as Entertainment or Travel. You can even add interests, if you happen to like personalized advertising.

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March 15, 2009

Push for financial literacy spreads to schools

Amy Green:

Create a budget and stick to it. Shop around for the best price. Pay off credit-card balances each month.

Roy Kobert set aside his work as a bankruptcy attorney one Friday morning to teach these and other personal-finance lessons at Boone High School. He starts by showing the 11 students of this senior-level business class a Saturday Night Live sketch in which Chris Parnell touts a book called, "Don't Buy Stuff You Can't Afford." He garners laughs then delves into the basics.

The students listen up. Three say they already have credit cards. One says his dad makes him read books by personal finance expert Suze Orman. All say most of their friends have no idea how to manage money.

"They spend stuff on little stuff," says Hillary Haskins, a 17-year-old senior. "It adds up."

Mr. Kobert knows many adults never will master what he's teaching. But with the economy spiraling, interest in financial literacy is growing. Nationwide, a movement is spreading, with the emphasis on children and young adults who advocates want to reach before credit-card companies do.

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Congress vs. Washington DC Kids

Andrew Coulson:

Congressional Democrats succeeded this week in crippling a school choice program operating in the nation's capital. For the last five years, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarships have made private schooling affordable to 1,700 poor children. Rather than reauthorizing the program for another five-year term, Democrats have all but ensured it will die after next year.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat, has asked D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee to prepare for the return of voucher students to the city's broken public schools.

Sen. Ted Kennedy's office claims the senator opposed the voucher program from the start because it "takes funds from very needy public schools to send students to unaccountable private schools." (The House Budget Committee holds hearings today on the U.S. Education Department budget).

But just how needy are D.C. public schools? To find out, I added up all the K-12-related expenditures in the current D.C. budget, excluding preschool, higher-education and charter school items. The total comes to $1.29 billion. Divide that by the official enrollment count of 48,646 students, and it yields a total per-pupil spending figure of $26,555.

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Milwaukee's St. Anthony to add high school

Alan Borsuk:

Govanne Martinez said it will be an honor to be in the first ninth-grade class at St. Anthony School.

Sebastian Pichardo said, "I want to test how smart I am, how much I can achieve." The best way to do that, he thinks, is to stay at the school where he has been since he was 4 years old.

The two St. Anthony eighth-graders are among more than 90 students who have enrolled in what will be the first new Catholic high school in the Milwaukee archdiocese in more than 25 years. It also will be the first Catholic high school to operate on the south side and within the boundaries of the city of Milwaukee since St. Mary's Academy closed in 1991.

St. Anthony is already the largest kindergarten through eighth-grade school in Milwaukee, with 1,045 students, all but a handful participants in the publicly funded private-school voucher program. That makes the school one of the largest Catholic grade schools in the United States

And now: St. Anthony, the high school.

School leaders plan to add a grade a year and reach 400 students or more by the fifth year.

A building just north of W. Mitchell St. on S. 9th St. is expected to house the high school for the first couple years, said Terry Brown, president of the school. That's in the block north of St. Anthony church and the several buildings used now by the school's upper grades.

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SAT Question: Do You Think It is Sometimes Necessary to Be Impolite to Get Your Wa

Bob Sutton:

My daughter took the SAT this morning. The essay question she was asked to answer was more or less what you see in the headline. How is that for a coincidence? She thought it was pretty funny to see the question, and in talking to her about her answer she wrote, I got the first hint ever that she had actually read The No Asshole Rule, or at least parts of it. I hope it helped.....

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Information Technology Academy

University of Wisconsin-Madison:

Sponsored by the UW-Madison Division of Information Technology (DoIT), ITA is an innovative, 4-year pre-college technology access and training program for talented students of color and economically disadvantaged students attending Madison Public Schools. Our mission is to prepare students for technical, academic, and personal excellence in today's Information Age.

Each year, ITA competitively recruits 30 students in their final semester of 8th grade to participate in the program. Selected students receive four years of intensive training in preparation for high tech, IT related careers; in addition to intensive academic support in preparation for competitive University admissions and study. The Academy's dual focus on academic excellence and technological literacy prepares promising students for learning and leadership in the 21st century digital age, and continues the University of Wisconsin's long tradition of excellence and service.

Through hands-on training, mentoring, leadership development, community service, and internship opportunities, ITA students develop the knowledge and skills to increase their own, as well as their community's access to technology; while gaining valuable skills and experiences as future leaders and professionals.

ITA is one of only five information technology outreach programs for high school students in the State of Wisconsin, and the only program of its kind and scope in the Madison area.

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March 14, 2009

MPS' Parental Enticement Program Spent Freely, Widely But, oh, the questionable expenditures. Now some are banned.

Mike Nichols:

Tax dollars intended to help parents improve their children's academic achievement have for years routinely been spent by Milwaukee public schools on everything from roller skating to bowling to water-park field trips, an investigation by Wisconsin Interest has found.

Thousands of dollars were also spent on fast food, DJs, prizes, gift certificates and other goodies and giveaways. One school spent $556 in parental-involvement money to buy 250 pumpkins. Another spent $686 for a Milwaukee Bucks "Family Night."

Even when a clear academic purpose is evident, there are often questions about excess. Two schools, according to invoice descriptions, spent more than $17,000 to rent hotel and banquet-hall space for student recognition ceremonies.

Research, as well as common sense, has long shown that having engaged and informed parents is one of the most important ways to increase a child's success in school - and in life. Recognizing that, the federal government has funneled "parental involvement" tax dollars to many school districts across the country.

This year alone, schools run by MPS will receive $38.2 million from the federal government's Title I program. Like other large districts, MPS must set aside at least 1% for parental-involvement initiatives. The district goes further and sets aside 2% - which would amount to about $764,000 in the 2008-2009 school year.

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Minnesota Democrats Propose $1 Billion Education Cut

Tom Scheck:

Democrats in the Minnesota Senate are proposing deep cuts in education funding to help balance the state's budget. Their plan includes a cut in early education through 12th grade funding of nearly $1 billion dollars. They would also cut state funding for higher education by $221 million dollars. The Senate DFL plan is the first proposal from state lawmakers to erase the state's $4.6 billion deficit.

The plan would cut spending by 7 percent across all budget areas. The largest programs hit are schools, health and human services and aid to local government. In total, the plan cuts $2.4 billion in spending. The plan also relies on $2 billion in unspecified new revenue.

At a news conference, DFL Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller said the cuts are needed to stabilize the budget in the long term. He said Governor Pawlenty's proposal to use one-time money, accounting shifts and spending cuts does not adequately address the problem.

"It's a day of reckoning for Minnesotans, both for elected officials both in the executive branch and the legislative branch," Pogemiller said. "We need to do our duty to balance the state budget for the long-term financial health of the state."

What is most notable is that Senate Democrats are proposing $1 billion in cuts to early childhood education and K thru 12 schools. K-12 funding is required under the Minnesota Constitution and lawmakers have been reluctant to cut those programs for fear of angering voters. Senate Education Finance Chair Leroy Stumpf, of Plummer, said the depth of the budget problem, along with a sputtering economy, mean all programs have to be on the table.

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Runaway daughters

Katharine Mieszkowski:

Debra Gwartney was trying to escape a failed marriage when she moved from Tucson, Ariz., to Eugene, Ore., in the early '90s with her four daughters in tow. What the newly single mother didn't foresee was that, as she fled from her past to a different city and job, her relationship with her girls would be forever transformed, too. Enraged by the divorce and the move, her two oldest daughters, Amanda and Stephanie, soon ran away, seeking adventure on the streets and shelter in abandoned buildings with other teenagers like them.

In "Live Through This: A Mother's Memoir of Runaway Daughters and Reclaimed Love," Gwartney relives the private desperation and shame of being a mother whose teenage daughters disappear for days at a time, only dropping in occasionally when no one else is home to stock up on supplies, leaving empty beer cans, fetid clothes, empty cigarette boxes and puddles of brilliant Manic Panic hair dye behind. As the girls' absences stretch to weeks and months, Gwartney recalls her frantic searches for them, first in Eugene and then in San Francisco. Along the way, she delves into her own culpability in the family dynamic that drove them away.

A former correspondent for the Oregonian and Newsweek, Gwartney wrote about her relationship with her eldest daughter, Amanda, in Salon back in 1998. Debra, Amanda and Stephanie also appeared together on "This American Life" in March 2002, in an episode tellingly titled "Didn't Ask to Be Born."

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Teachers to Face Individual, School Evaluations of Student Success

Bill Turque:

District teachers will be evaluated on their individual effectiveness and their school's overall success in improving student performance under an assessment system to be unveiled this fall, Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee said yesterday.

In her most detailed public comments to date on planned changes to the evaluation system, Rhee said at a D.C. Council hearing that the approach would combine standardized test scores where practical, intensive classroom observation and "value added" measurements of students' growth during the year.

Teachers would also be allowed to set buildingwide goals for achievement that would be used in evaluating their performance.

Rhee said the Professional Performance Evaluation Program, which the District has used in recent years, is inadequate and does not reflect a teacher's worth or how much he or she has helped students grow. She said the federal No Child Left Behind law, as written, is too narrowly focused on test results and not student progress from year to year.

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The Early-Ed Big Lie

Adam Schaeffer:

In a speech on education this morning at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, President Obama repeats questionable statistics in support of his bid to expand the government's monopoly on education back to the womb, asserting that "$1 of early education leads to $10 in saved social services."

Unfortunately he's referring to small-scale programs that involved extensive and often intensive total-family intervention rather than simple "early education."

In contrast to the- real-world school choice programs have been tested extensively with solid, random-assignment studies. Nine out of ten of these studies find statistically significant improvement in academic achievement for at least one subgroup.

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Chancellor, Superintendent address the "business" of education


Education depends on state funding to survive, but that funding is not the only key to its success. Some educators say business leaders have plenty to do with it. It might not be the most obvious connection, but education and business go hand in hand.

It certainly does if you ask our top educators, such as Higher Education Chancellor Jim Rogers and Clark County School District Superintendent Walt Rulffes. Both attended a business luncheon Thursday to deliver a message: Even in tough times, education will bring good returns.

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Obama on Math

Michael Alison Chandler:

President Obama outlined his reform agenda yesterday for the nation's public schools in a speech before the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He promoted extending the school day, adopting performance pay for teachers, and encouraging the proliferation of charter schools, to name a few.

But what did he say about math, you are wondering.

Here it is - the math report. Obama's speech mentioned math education explicitly four times:

1. He reminded the nation that economic development and academic achievement go hand in hand and that the federal government can play a significant role.

"Investments in math and science under President Eisenhower gave new opportunities to young scientists and engineers all across the country. It made possible somebody like a Sergei Brin to attend graduate school and found an upstart company called Google that would forever change our world," he said.

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Examining Obama's Education Numbers

Larry Abramson:

In his education speech earlier this week, President Barack Obama described the U.S. education system in some pretty dire terms. He used some dramatic numbers to back up his claims.

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March 13, 2009

Middleton-Cross Plains schools ask voters for funds to ease overcrowding

Samara Kalk Derby:

No time is really a good time to ask taxpayers to vote on three expensive school referendums, but in the current economic climate, Ellen Lindgren hopes Middleton and Cross Plains voters choose hope over fear.

"Some people think that it's bad timing," said Lindgren, president of the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School Board. "But unfortunately we didn't have a say on when the economy tanks."

The Middleton-Cross Plains Area School Board voted in November to ask taxpayers for extra spending to ease overcrowding in Middleton elementary and middle schools.

"We are out of space, and we have a need to provide for basic classrooms for students," said Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District Superintendent Don Johnson.

Johnson said the district's elementary schools are about 350 students over capacity, and the middle schools are struggling with about 150 more children than they can fit in the space.

The district will also ask voters on April 7 for funds to beef up security and to purchase instructional materials, including textbooks and computers.

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'No Picnic for Me Either'

David Brooks:

The problem is that as our ability to get data has improved, the education establishment's ability to evade the consequences of data has improved, too. Most districts don't use data to reward good teachers. States have watered down their proficiency standards so parents think their own schools are much better than they are.

As Education Secretary Arne Duncan told me, "We've seen a race to the bottom. States are lying to children. They are lying to parents. They're ignoring failure, and that's unacceptable. We have to be fierce."

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Five Ways to Survive the April College Crunch

Jay Matthews:

I was born in April. I used to have positive feelings about the month, notwithstanding T. S. Eliot's observation about its cruelty, although lately my birthday has become just another reminder of my rapid decline into irrelevancy and ruin. The other problem with April is that it is, by far, the worst month for college-bound high school seniors. Twelfth-graders are among my best sources, so I sense their pain and want to help ease it.

Everything piles up in April. The month starts with often frightful news about which colleges accepted you and your friends, and which didn't. By the end of the month you have to decide which school should get your unrefundable deposit to reserve a place in its freshman class. Your favorite school may have wait-listed you, and you have to figure out what to do about that. Your Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate final exams are just a month away, and you don't want to embarrass yourself. It's spring, so your social life may be heating up, maybe for the first time in your adolescence if you were a bookworm like me. You have to worry about your parents interfering in all these important personal decisions. They will be concerned about how college is going to fit into the family finances, which don't look so good this year.

Here is my helpful guide to surviving April. Since it is still March, you have time to think and prepare. Let me know how it works for you.

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An Interview with US Education Secretary Arne Duncan

The NewsHour:

JUDY WOODRUFF: Next, the new secretary of education and what's on his plate. President Obama earlier this week called for big changes in education. The NewsHour's special correspondent for education, John Merrow, has a look at how the president's point-man plans to approach that.

JOHN MERROW, NewsHour Correspondent: This time last year, former pro basketball player Arne Duncan was leading the Chicago public schools and occasionally playing basketball with friends, including then-Senator Barack Obama. A lot has changed since then.

BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States: I think we are putting together the best basketball-playing cabinet in American history.

JOHN MERROW: Thanks to President Obama, Arne Duncan has the opportunity to become the most powerful U.S. secretary of education ever.

ARNE DUNCAN, Secretary of Education: This was not something I aspired to do. Frankly, were it anyone but him, I wouldn't probably do it.

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Written Bomb Threat at Madison West High School: Letter to Parents

Principal Ed Holmes [9K PDF] via a kind reader's email:

When Madison Schools receive any information that jeopardizes or threatens the safety of our schools, we immediately report the incident to Madison Police and consult with them to determine what the best course of action should be.

The Madison School District has well-defined protocols that are implemented anytime a threat is made against schools. The decisions regarding a response to safety situations are always made in close consultation with the Madison Police Department and other law enforcement agencies.

The safest place for students is in school where we provide structure and supervision. Therefore any decision to remove students from that environment has to be weighed carefully with a potential for placing them in a less structured environment that potentially raises other safety concerns.

These procedures were followed today at West High in response to a written bomb threat.

After consulting with District Administration, the building was searched at 6:00 a.m. using trained Madison Metropolitan School district engineers, architects and custodial supervisors. This procedure has been used in other schools under similar circumstances. Our goal is to maintain a safe educational environment for all students and staff. We have an excellent relationship with our students and encourage them to talk with us about possible issues. We ask you, as families, to help keep our lines of communication open by encouraging your students to talk about their concerns.

West High continues to be a safe place. We pledge that we will continue to focus our time, attention, and resources to keep it so.

Ed Holmes, Principal
Madison West High School [Map]

Related: Police calls near Madison high schools 1996-2006 and recent Madison police calls (the event referenced in the letter above is not present on the police call map as of this morning (3/13/2009)).

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San Francisco Apparently Loves Charter Schools

Jill Tucker:

San Francisco Unified hasn't always had the best reputation when it comes to welcoming charter schools.

And yet, the district was warmly awarded "Authorizer of the Year" this week by the California Charter Schools Association.

They called Superintendent Carlos Garcia a "champion for charter school equity," saying he helped the charters get funding from the city's Rainy Day Fund and Proposition A's parcel tax.

The bestowers of the award also pat the school board on the back.

"The SFUSD Board of Education has also played a strong authorizing role in recent years and recognizes the special contributions charter schools make to public schools in San Francisco," the association said in its announcement.

I would not be surprised if Madison has more charter schools - in 10 years.

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Battling childhood obesity in the US: An interview with Robert Wood Johnson's CEO

Matt Miller & Lynn Taliento:

Obesity used to be a privilege reserved for wealthy people in wealthy countries. Now, however, this and other lifestyle diseases also afflict better-off people in poorer countries and poorer people in richer ones, particularly the United States. In 2007, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation--the biggest US philanthropy devoted solely to health care and health, with roughly $8 billion in assets--announced that it would award $500 million in grants to reverse the soaring incidence of US childhood obesity over the past 40 years. These grants support programs designed to raise levels of physical activity and improve nutrition for kids; to identify other levers for reversing the childhood obesity epidemic; and to determine, advocate, and implement the requisite policy and environmental changes. The foundation also focuses on issues such as improving the quality of the US health care system; increasing access to stable, affordable health care; strengthening the public-health system; and addressing the health needs of vulnerable populations.

Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, who holds both an MD and an MBA, has been president and CEO of the foundation since late 2002. Matt Miller, a senior adviser to McKinsey, and Lynn Taliento, a principal in the Washington, DC, office, interviewed her at the foundation's headquarters,...

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Mitch Joel:

It's not enough to just worry about how your revenues are going to look at the end of this quarter, and it's also not enough to be thinking about how your business is going to adapt to new realities in the coming years. We need to take a serious step back and also analyse the state of education, and what it's going to mean (and look like) in the future.

None of us are going to have any modicum of success if we can't hire, develop and nurture the right talent out of school. It's also going to be increasingly challenging if those young people are not prepared for the new realities of the new workplace.

While in New York City recently for a series of meetings, I was introduced to a senior publishing executive who was intrigued by the topic of my forthcoming book (Six Pixels of Separation, expected in September). It turns out said executive has a son who is about to complete his MBA at an Ivy League school. The problem (according to this industry executive) is: "Where is he going to work? All of those jobs are either gone, or people with tons more experience are willing to do them for a fraction of what they were paying only six months ago." It's not an uncommon concern, and the obvious fear in this father's tone of voice is becoming much more apparent in conversations with other business professionals who have young adult children about to enter the workforce.

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Ending the "Race to the Bottom"

New York Times Editorial:

There was an impressive breadth of knowledge and a welcome dose of candor in President Obama's first big speech on education, in which he served up an informed analysis of the educational system from top to bottom. What really mattered was that Mr. Obama did not wring his hands or speak in abstract about states that have failed to raise their educational standards. Instead, he made it clear that he was not afraid to embarrass the laggards -- by naming them -- and that he would use a $100 billion education stimulus fund to create the changes the country so desperately needs.

Mr. Obama signaled that he would take the case for reform directly to the voters, instead of limiting the discussion to mandarins, lobbyists and specialists huddled in Washington. Unlike his predecessor, who promised to leave no child behind but did not deliver, this president is clearly ready to use his political clout on education.

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Cutting Back On the Kum Ba Yah

Anjali Athavaley:

Last summer, Lisa Bailey put down a $650 deposit each to send two of her children this year to Camp Saginaw in Oxford, Pa. She and her husband, Doug, planned to pay the $12,100 total in camp fees out of the bonus and stock options they expected from his job as finance director at a pharmaceutical company.

Then, about six weeks ago, Ms. Bailey, a 41-year-old communications worker for a Philadelphia cancer center, withdrew her deposit. "Options aren't worth what they were, and bonuses are lower," she says. "We are just trying to get by paying for what we have to." The family has applied to the camp for financial assistance but hasn't heard back.

For many families, camp is an annual tradition that teaches kids independence, keeps them busy during slow summer months and gives parents some alone-time in the house. But in this year of recession, some parents are still on the fence about whether they can afford the expense. Other families are seeking discounts and cheaper alternatives -- or even skipping camp altogether.

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Keeping Kids' Spending on Track With Prepaid Credit Cards

Jane Kim:

Parents have another way to control their teens' spending.

Today, Discover Financial Services launched a new prepaid debit card aimed at teens. The card, dubbed the Current Card, works like a standard debit card. Parents can deposit funds directly onto the card at no cost from their credit card, bank account or through recurring deposits.

Sure, most teens could open their own checking account or parents could give them a debit card linked to their own checking accounts. But Discover's Mike Boush says the card eliminates the risk of overdraft fees, since teens can't spend more than is loaded into their account. "The spend is limited and the control is established by the parent," he says. Although the cards are aimed at teens, there are no eligibility requirements, so consumers can use the cards for other people, such as elderly parents or babysitters.

One drawback: Unlike credit cards, debit cards don't help users establish a credit history, which may hurt teens once they leave school and need to shop around for a loan.

Nevertheless, prepaid cards can be an alternative for parents who are worried about their teens accumulating thousands of dollars in credit-card debt. The cards generally allow parents to track spending online, block certain merchant categories such as bars and liquor stores and get email or text-message alerts when certain spending limits are reached.

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Nine Mouths to Feed

Mike Tierney:

Travis Henry was rattling off his children's ages, which range from 3 to 11. He paused and took a breath before finishing.

This was no simple task. Henry, 30, a former N.F.L. running back who played for three teams from 2001 to 2007, has nine children -- each by a different mother, some born as closely as a few months apart.

Reports of Henry's prolific procreating, generated by child-support disputes, have highlighted how futile the N.F.L.'s attempts can be at educating its players about making wise choices. The disputes have even eclipsed the attention he received after he was indicted on charges of cocaine trafficking.

"They've got my blood; I've got to deal with it," Henry said of fiscal responsibilities to his children. He spoke by telephone from his Denver residence, where he was under house arrest until recently for the drug matter.

Henry had just returned from Atlanta, where a judge showed little sympathy for his predicament during a hearing and declined to lower monthly payments from $3,000 for a 4-year-old son.

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March 12, 2009

The Insider vs. the Upstart: Wisconsin DPI Superintendent Race

Erik Gunn:

It's a classic political face-off: a seasoned professional with a mile-long résumé and a host of influential backers versus a relative neophyte with a fervent grassroots base.

It happened in last year's presidential contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and it's happening in Wisconsin now, in the race to run the state Department of Public Instruction.

Standing in for Clinton is Tony Evers (, currently deputy superintendent to retiring DPI head Elizabeth Burmaster. Evers, 57, is the choice of the state's education establishment, including unions and professional groups representing teachers and administrators.

This kind of backing has been critical to Burmaster and her predecessors, who've had little trouble dispatching challengers over the last two decades. The easy analysis is that heavy union spending should ensure Evers' victory April 7.

That is, unless Rose Fernandez ( pulls an Obama.

Fernandez, 51, who finished a close second in the five-way Feb. 17 primary, is a pediatric nurse who became a parent activist on behalf of families of children enrolled in "virtual" schools. She led the charge for the online academies after their existence was threatened by a court ruling sought by DPI.

The race is officially nonpartisan, and both candidates eschew identifying with political parties. But as in past races, the candidates and their supporters seem to fall into two camps: center/left (Evers) or right (Fernandez). And the campaigns reflect the ideological fissures dominating discourse regarding education reform.

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Dissolving School Boards: For More Mayors, School Takeovers Are a No-Brainer Oversight by City Hall Can Help Push Through Reforms, but Some Parents and Teachers See Too Much Bullying

John Hechinger & Suzanne Sataline:

More U.S. cities are considering scrapping a longstanding tradition in American education, the elected school board, and opting to let mayors rule over the classroom.

Dallas and Milwaukee are currently mulling mayoral control of the city's schools, and Detroit is under pressure to try it -- for the second time. A dozen major school systems, including New York, Boston, Chicago and Washington, D.C., already have a form of mayoral control.

Advocates say the structure, in which mayors generally appoint school boards and have the power to pick superintendents, enables tough-minded reforms by promoting stable leadership and accountability. Giving the idea more currency, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, until recently the Chicago schools chief, is a fan and product of mayoral control. And, this week, President Barack Obama promoted some controversial initiatives that have been pushed heavily in districts with mayoral control: charter schools, merit pay for teachers, and accountability, based on rigorous testing standards.

"I would anticipate that over the next few years we will see a new wave" of switches to mayoral authority, says Kenneth Wong, director of Brown University's urban education policy program, who studies mayoral control of schools.

But critics say that results on student achievement are mixed, and mayoral control can shut out dissent, especially from parents and teachers. That concern is fueling a debate over the reauthorization of a seven-year-old state law this June that gives New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg control over the city's schools. His hard-charging chancellor, Joel Klein, who has introduced more school and teacher accountability, has also alienated some politicians and parents, leading to questions about whether the law should be changed or eliminated.

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Miracle at St. Marcus

Sunny Schubert:

Henry Tyson shows how urban education can succeed in the right setting.

"I never wanted to be involved in helping the poor. My mother was born in Africa and was always very sympathetic toward the poor and people of other races. But the whole inner-city thing came about during my senior year at Northwestern," says the superintendent of Milwaukee's St. Marcus School.

"I was majoring in Russian, so in the summer of my junior year, I went to Russia. I absolutely hated it - just hated it. So when I got back to school, I realized I had a problem figuring out what to do next," he remembers.

About that time, he was having a discussion with a black friend, "and she basically told me I didn't have a clue what it was like in the inner city. She challenged me to do an 'Urban Plunge,' which is a program where you spend a week in an inner-city neighborhood.

"We were in the Austin neighborhood, on the West Side of Chicago. It was a defining moment for me," he says. "I was so struck by the inequity and therefore the injustice of it all. I couldn't believe that people lived - and children were growing up! - in such an environment, such abject poverty."

"I knew after that week that I wanted to work with the urban poor. I felt a deep tug, like this was what I was meant to do. In my view, it was like a spiritual calling."

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MPS' Parental Enticement Program Spent Freely, Widely

Mike Nichols:

Tax dollars intended to help parents improve their children's academic achievement have for years routinely been spent by Milwaukee public schools on everything from roller skating to bowling to water-park field trips, an investigation by Wisconsin Interest has found.

Thousands of dollars were also spent on fast food, DJs, prizes, gift certificates and other goodies and giveaways. One school spent $556 in parental-involvement money to buy 250 pumpkins. Another spent $686 for a Milwaukee Bucks "Family Night."

Even when a clear academic purpose is evident, there are often questions about excess. Two schools, according to invoice descriptions, spent more than $17,000 to rent hotel and banquet-hall space for student recognition ceremonies.

Research, as well as common sense, has long shown that having engaged and informed parents is one of the most important ways to increase a child's success in school - and in life. Recognizing that, the federal government has funneled "parental involvement" tax dollars to many school districts across the country.

This year alone, schools run by MPS will receive $38.2 million from the federal government's Title I program. Like other large districts, MPS must set aside at least 1% for parental-involvement initiatives. The district goes further and sets aside 2% - which would amount to about $764,000 in the 2008-2009 school year.

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Self-Education Resource List

Self Made Scholar:

The internet is an invaluable resource to self-educated learners. Below is a list of some of the most helpful sites out there including opencourseware materials, free libraries, learning communities, educational tools, and more.

Including links to individual classes would make this list too long. So, I've added umbrella links that will help you find the material you need with just a little searching. For example, instead of listing individual classes, I've provided links to college opencourseware websites and course directories. From there, you'll be able to find the individual subjects you're interested in.

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What to do when old photos of you appear on Facebook

Brain Braiker:

I am not a digital native. I was born 1975 and didn't send my first e-mail until I was a sophomore in college. I spent my junior year abroad, where e-mail came in handy and Internet porn would have, if only I had known about it. Don't get me wrong, I'm no Luddite. These days I love the Web like Joanie loves Chachi. (That's a pre-digital cultural reference for all you youngsters.) But I came of age at a time when most photographs ended up in a shoe box or a photo album. I never spent hours snapping self-portraits with a digital camera trying to get that perfect profile pic. And I always assumed that any pictures taken of me before I had graduated from college were forever safe from Google's tentacles.

That was until Caroline, a high-school friend's little sister, joined Facebook. She scanned a batch of her pics from the late '80s and early '90s, posted them to her page, and tagged them--identifying the people in pictures and, if they were on Facebook, announcing to their entire networks that these photos had been uploaded. I signed on one day to find that she had posted a picture of our friend Dan in all of his 1990 glory: blousy white shirt, jeans that may or may not have been acid-washed, righteous mullet. He is standing beside Kim, who is wearing a floral print dress and a scrunchie around her wrist. Of course I left a comment, something to the effect of "HAHAHAHAHAHA!" Caroline commented back, ominously, "ur next braiker."

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The Reader

Scott McLemee:

Sometime after my 15th birthday, to judge by the available evidence, I began inscribing my name on the inside of each new book that came into my library, along with the date of acquisition - a habit that continued for 20 years and more. The initial impulse seems very typically adolescent: a need to claim ownership of some little part of the world, and to leave your mark on it.

But there was a little more to it than that. It was a ceremony of sorts, a way to mark the start of my relationship with the book itself. For a while, I also noted when I started and finished reading it.That level of precision came to an end soon enough. In my twenties, the record dwindled to just an indication of the month and year the book reached me. By my thirties the whole routine started collapsing, overwhelmed by the sheer volume of printed stuff coming across my desk. The wide-eyed expectation that any given book might open some new chapter in my life was worn away. It happened, but not that often. Moments of inner revolution occur only just so frequently. In the meantime you had to keep moving.

The impulse to "brand" certain volumes was still there: I developed a fairly precise system for annotating texts, when necessary. But experience had proven the wisdom of Francis Bacon who responded to the publishing explosion of the early 17th century with a plainspoken call for a system of triage in handling the claims on one's attention.

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March 11, 2009

Madison Says No to a Nuestro Mundo Charter Middle School, Opting for Dual Immersion Across the District

TJ Mertz comments on Monday's Madison School Board meeting:

At Monday’s Board of Education Meeting an administrative recommendation to move forward with planning for a dual language district middle school program at Sennett was approved by a vote of 7-0 and the request for a memo of understanding with Nuestro Mundo Inc in order to qualify a charter dual language immersion middle school program for planning grants was not acted on. The lack of action was an expression of non support for the charter, as the comments by the Board members made clear.

I applaud the Board for their action and inaction.

Background here.

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Intel Science Winners Announced: Two from Wisconsin

Brooke Crothers:

Intel has announced the winners of the pre-college Intel Science Talent Search 2009.

The winner, Eric Larson, 17, of Eugene, Ore., was awarded a $100,000 Intel Scholarship. Larson won for his research project "classifying mathematical objects called fusion categories. Eric's work describes these in certain dimensions for the first time," Intel said in a statement.

Larson's background is described on this Siemens Foundation site, which discussed his project and his background last year. The Siemens post states that Larson, in addition to his mathematics prowess, is a piano player and a four-time winner of the Oregon Junior Bach Festival.

He is the son of Steven Larson and Winifred Kerner of Eugene, both members of the music faculty at the University of Oregon, according to the The Oregonian newspaper.

Philip Streich, 18, of Platteville, Wis placed third (home school) and Gabriela Farfan of Madison placed tenth (Madison West High School). Congratulations all around!

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On Obama's Education Speech: "You had Me at Reform"

Andrew Rotherham:

The President's speech today includes a lot of interesting tidbits, a shout-out for performance pay, a call to lift charter school caps, and even a very pro-Broad Prize signal embedded in the data section. I've been lukewarm on some of the stimulus, more on that later, but this is an important speech. They're scrambling on 16th Street...

Update: It's on? AP's Libby Quaid breaks some news on the lines that are being drawn:

[National Education Association President Dennis] Van Roekel insisted that Obama's call for teacher performance pay does not necessarily mean raises or bonuses would be tied to student test scores. It could mean more pay for board-certified teachers or for those who work in high-poverty, hard-to-staff schools, he said.

However, administration officials said later they do mean higher pay based on student achievement, among other things.

Hmmm...doesn't seem like they both can be right...

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Life Stories: Children Find Meaning in Old Family Tales

Sue Shellenbarger:

When C. Stephen Guyer's three children were growing up, he told them stories about how his grandfather, a banker, lost all in the 1930s, but didn't lose sight of what he valued most. In one of the darkest times, Mr. Guyer says, when his grandfather was nearly broke, he loaded his family into the car and took them to see family members in Canada. The message: "There are more important things in life than money," says Mr. Guyer, of Littleton, Colo.

The tale took on new relevance recently, when Mr. Guyer downsized to a small house from a more luxurious one. He was worried that his children, a daughter, 15, and twins, 22, would be upset. To his surprise, they weren't. Instead, their reaction echoed their great-grandfather's. "What they care about," Mr. Guyer says his children told him, "is how warm are the people in the house, how much of their heart is accessible."

As parents cut budgets, many are finding family stories have surprising power to help children through hard times. Storytelling experts say the phenomenon reflects a growing national interest in telling tales, evidenced by a rise in storytelling events and festivals. New research bears out the value of family stories, linking teens' knowledge of them to better behavior and mental health.

An Emory University study of 65 families with children ages 14 to 16 found kids' ability to retell parents' stories was linked to a lower rate of depression and anxiety and less acting-out of frustration or anger, says Robyn Fivush, a psychology professor. Knowing family stories "helps children put their own experience in perspective," Dr. Fivush says.

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Washington State High School Math Text Review

W. Stephen Wilson: 285K PDF via a kind reader's email:

A few basic goals of high school mathematics will be looked at closely in the top programs chosen for high school by the state of Washington. Our concern will be with the mathematical development and coherence of the programs and not with issues of pedagogy.

Algebra: linear functions, equations, and inequalities

We examine the algebraic concepts and skills associated with linear functions because they are a critical foundation for the further study of algebra. We focus our evaluation of the programs on the following Washington standard: A1.4.B Write and graph an equation for a line given the slope and the y intercept, the slope and a point on the line, or two points on the line, and translate between forms of linear equations.

We also consider how well the programs meet the following important standard: A1.1.B Solve problems that can be represented by linear functions, equations, and inequalities.

Linear functions, equations, and inequalities in Holt

We review Chapter 5 of Holt Algebra 1 on linear functions.

The study of linear equations and their graphs in Chapter 5 begins with a flawed foundation. Because this is so common, it will not be emphasized, but teachers need to compensate for these problems.

Three foundational issues are not dealt with at all. First, it is not shown that the definition of slope works for a line in the plane. The definition, as given, produces a ratio for every pair of points on the line. It is true that for a line these are all the same ratios, but no attempt is made to show that. Second, no attempt is made to show that a line in the plane is the graph of a linear equation; it is just asserted.

Third, it not shown that the graph of a linear equation is a line; again, it is just asserted.

Related: Math Forum and Madison's Math Task Force.

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Schools Try Separating Boys From Girls

Jennifer Medina:

Michael Napolitano speaks to his fifth-grade class in the Morrisania section of the Bronx like a basketball coach. "You -- let me see you trying!" he insisted the other day during a math lesson. "Come on, faster!"

Across the hall, Larita Hudson's scolding is more like a therapist's. "This is so sloppy, honey," she prodded as she reviewed problems in a workbook. "Remember what I spoke to you about? About being the bright shining star that you are?"

They are not just two teachers with different personalities. Ms. Hudson, who is 32 and grew up near the school, has a room full of 11-year-old girls, while Mr. Napolitano, a 50-year-old former special education teacher, faces 23 boys. A third fifth-grade class down the hall is co-ed.

The single-sex classes at Public School 140, which started as an experiment last year to address sagging test scores and behavioral problems, are among at least 445 such classrooms nationwide, according to the National Association for Single-Sex Public Education. Most have sprouted since a 2004 federal regulatory change that gave public schools freedom to separate girls and boys.

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Older Fathers Linked to Lower I.Q. Scores

Roni Caryn Rabin:

The children of older fathers scored lower than the offspring of younger fathers on I.Q. tests and a range of other cognitive measures at 8 months old, 4 years old and 7 years old, according to a study released Monday that added to a growing body of evidence suggesting risks to postponing fatherhood.

The study is the first to show that the children of older fathers do not perform as well on cognitive tests at young ages. Although the differences in scores were slight and usually off by just a few points on average, the study's authors called the findings "unexpectedly startling."

"The older the dads were, the slightly worse the children were doing," said Dr. John J. McGrath, the paper's senior author and a professor of psychiatry at the Queensland Brain Institute in Brisbane, Australia. "The findings fit in a straight line, suggesting there may be some steady beat of mutations happening in the dad's sperm."

Earlier studies have found a higher incidence of schizophrenia and autism among the offspring of men who were in their mid-to-late 40s or older when they had children. A study published in 2005 reported that 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds with older fathers scored lower on nonverbal I.Q. tests, as did the offspring of teenage fathers.

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As LAUSD layoffs loom, debate over teacher seniority resurfaces

Jason Song & Seema Mehta:

Richard Rivera joined the Algebra Project at exactly the wrong time.

After three years at charter schools, Rivera returned to the Los Angeles Unified School District last year as a math coach -- a kind of roving instructor and supervisor -- at Luther Burbank Middle School in Highland Park. He also agreed to work on the Algebra Project, a new program designed to keep low-achieving students involved in math.

But even though Rivera spent a decade teaching in the district, he lost his seniority with L.A. Unified because of his foray into the charter world. Because the district lays off teachers based on the amount of time they've worked for the school system, Rivera is now in danger of losing his job, and the Algebra Project might stall before it even begins.

If Rivera and other younger teachers involved in the program leave, the school goes "right back to square one," said John Samaniego, the principal at Burbank, where test scores have slowly been rising.

Samaniego's dilemma is common throughout the state as districts prepare to issue preliminary layoff notices to teachers by Friday and principals try to determine their plans for next year. The Los Angeles Board of Education is scheduled to vote today on whether to issue these notices to about 9,000 employees, including 5,500 teachers, because of an expected $700-million budget shortfall.

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March 10, 2009

Sun Prairie sells naming rights to baseball field

Gena Kittner:

With the announcement of the new Summit Credit Union Baseball Field, Sun Prairie has likely become the first Dane County school district to sell the naming rights for a specific school facility.

And the high school's varsity baseball field could be just the beginning: District officials want to sell naming rights to everything from the classrooms and the cafeteria to trophy cases and field lights at the new high school slated to open in the fall of 2010.

"Our goal is to have as many of the big items named before the school opens," said Jim McCourt, Sun Prairie School Board treasurer and member of the Naming Rights Subcommittee.

The subcommittee has a tentative goal of selling more than $3 million in naming rights. However, district officials say business or individual monikers would be presented tactfully, such as a plaque bearing a person's name on the back of an auditorium seat or above a classroom doorway.

"It's not like we're going to have banners all over the school," McCourt said.

On Tuesday the district announced Summit Credit Union as the first company to be granted naming rights for a district facility, under the new policy to allow for names of businesses attached to facilities, in exchange for donations.

The School Board approved the naming rights agreement with Summit on Monday night, which will be in effect for 20 years. The credit union donated $99,537, which pays for about a third of the cost of the field that will have artificial turf on the infield.

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On Obama's Education Speech

Jay Matthews:

President Obama's education speech this morning was, in my memory, the largest assemblage of smart ideas about schools ever issued by one president at one time. Everyone will have a different favorite part -- performance pay models for teachers, better student data tracking systems, longer school days and years, eliminating weak state testing standards, more money for schools that improve, more grants for fresh ideas, better teacher training, more charter school growth, faster closing of bad charters and many more.

The speech puts Obama without any further doubt in the long line of Democratic party leaders who have embraced accountability in schools through testing, even at the risk of seeming to be in league with the Republican Party. His explicit endorsement of the tough Massachusetts testing system -- a favorite of GOP conservatives -- will irritate many teachers and education activists in his own party, but that group of Democrats has not had a champion who has ever gotten closer to the presidency than former Vermont governor Howard Dean, and we know how his candidacy turned out.

The problem, which the president did not mention, is that he has limited power to make any of these things happen. His speech was full of encouraging words to state and school district officials, who will be the true deciders. True, he has some money to spread around for new ideas. But the vast bulk of the budget stimulus dough will go, as he said, to saving jobs in school systems.

Scott Wilson has more.

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Indian business blasts education reform move

James Lamont:

India's business leaders have reacted strongly to government opposition to the opening up of higher education to private investment that might help millions of young people.

The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry has expressed "strong reservations" about the rejection by education bodies of recommendations by the National Knowledge Commission, set up by Manmohan Singh, prime minister, on measures to attract greater private investment.

India faces the challenge of finding ways to give skills to a large population of whom more than 550m are under the age of 25.

Over the next six years, India needs to create 1,500 universities, by some estimates, but faces a big funding gap. Educational institutions in the UK, US and elsewhere are lining up to help with the tertiary level expansion through faculty partnerships, distance learning and by setting up campuses.

The federation fears that advances by some institutions, such as the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, Manipal University and the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani, may stall without public-private partnerships to promote global academic standards and more flexible fee structures.

The supply of education is out of touch with an economy that grew at 9 per cent over the past three years. The prize for many young people is a place at an overstretched institute of technology or management.

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Obama Education Push to Include Merit Pay

Laura Meckler:

President Barack Obama is laying out his "cradle to career" agenda for education Tuesday, including a controversial plan to boost pay for teachers who excel.

The White House plan also includes new incentives for states to boost quality in their preschool programs, to raise standards for student achievement and to reduce the high school drop-out rate. And the president is fleshing out his plan to increase financial aid for college students, senior administration officials said.

In a speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the president will also call on Americans to take responsibility for their children's education and their own, the officials said.

The speech will build on comments made during his address to Congress, where Mr. Obama dramatically declared that those who drop out of school are failing not just themselves, but their country.

The speech was described by three administration officials speaking on condition of anonymity in advance of the official announcement, and in a fact sheet provided by the White House.

The merit pay proposal would significantly expand a federal program that increases pay for high-performing teachers to an additional 150 school districts, officials said. "What he'll be calling to reward good teachers that are improving student outcomes," said one official.

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Schools to Retain Controversial Math Curriculum

Michael Birnbaum:

Prince William County elementary schools will continue to teach mathematics with a textbook series that has drawn parent criticism and national scrutiny, despite deep divisions in the community over whether students should be given other options.

The curriculum from Pearson Education, "Investigations in Number, Data, and Space," which is used in thousands of classrooms nationwide, has been debated virtually since Prince William began using it three years ago under the administration of Superintendent Steven L. Walts. Critics say it fails to help students learn basic skills and facts.

Their contention was buttressed last month by a federally sponsored study of first-grade test scores in schools that used four kinds of textbooks. "Investigations," known for a student-centered approach that emphasizes creative ways to solve problems, trailed in the comparison.

But educators who have championed "Investigations" say it helps students develop a deeper conception of math fundamentals before they take on complicated topics. The debate shows no signs of going away.

Last week, the Prince William School Board split 4 to 4 on a proposal that would have allowed parents to choose between "Investigations" and a more traditional math curriculum. Opponents of the proposal, which failed Wednesday on the tie vote, said that it would have been cost prohibitive and that education would have suffered.

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60 Minutes on Lowering the Drinking Age

Radley Balko:

The video below aired a couple of weeks ago, but it's a pretty good look at the drinking age debate, with lots of camera time for Amethyst Initiative founder John McCardell.

(Note: If video isn't working below, you can watch it here.)

One quibble: At one point in the segment, Lesley Stahl suggests that the "conundrum" for policymakers is that raising the drinking age has reduced alcohol-related traffic fatalities, but may be contributing to fatalities associated with underage binge drinking.

But there may not be a conundrum at all. When I interviewed McCardell for the February issue of Reason, he explained why the argument that raising the drinking age is responsible for the 20-year drop in highway deaths doesn't hold water:

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A cruel school move

Chicago Tribune Editorial:

We wrote last week about Democratic efforts to strip 1,900 low-income Washington children of $7,500 "opportunity scholarships" to attend private schools.

It's an experiment in school vouchers, an experiment with little potential downside. But it's an experiment that was launched in 2004 by a Republican-controlled Congress. Today it's on the verge of extinction because the Democratic-controlled Congress wants to do the bidding of public-school teachers unions. The unions see vouchers that let poor kids go to private schools as aiding the enemy.

Language passed by the House as part of a massive $410 billion spending bill would effectively doom the federally funded program. The 1,900 kids would have to leave their schools and re-enter public schools in Washington, which has some of the worst schools in the nation.

The measure, by the way, is referred to as "the Durbin language" for sponsoring Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois.

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A Family Illness, and Fewer Friends Who Can Help

Vanessa Fuhrmans:

Chris and Vickie Cox's health insurance never covered the full cost of treating their children's bone-marrow disorder. They relied on donations from their church, neighbors and family to plug the holes in their coverage, which ran as high as $40,000 a year.

That safety net is now unraveling. The slumping economy is pulling down fragile networks of support that in better times could keep families with insurance but big bills from falling into a financial hole.

The three Cox children have a rare disease called Shwachman Diamond Syndrome, which curtails the production of bacteria-fighting blood cells and digestive enzymes needed to absorb nutrients properly. It can lead to life-threatening infection, bone-marrow failure or a deadly form of leukemia.

After Samuel, 7, Grace, 12, and Jake, 15, were diagnosed with the genetic disease earlier this decade, landing a job with good health benefits became the biggest priority for Mr. Cox. He gave up plans to run his own home respiratory-care business to work as a salaried medical-equipment salesman. In 2006, the family moved to North Carolina from Kansas City to be closer to specialists at Duke University.

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New superintendent Gray injects optimism into Waukesha schools

Erin Richards:

From the start, Todd Gray knew it wasn't going to be easy.

On the day he signed the Waukesha Public School District superintendent's contract, he was told that he might have to close one or two schools because of finances - something nobody brought up in his interviews.

Eight months later, Gray hasn't closed those schools. Instead, he's trying to create new ones as part of a sweeping reform effort for Waukesha that may include the implementation of 4-year-old kindergarten, a new middle school structure and expanded business partnerships with the community.

Gray's emphasis on collaboration and innovation, and his fiscal skills gleaned from years as a certified public accountant, might make him the adrenaline shot that Waukesha's schools have needed for years.

His guiding principles are inclusive and simple: We can educate kids better, and we can do it for less money.

"Whatever we throw out has to improve education and fit our current goals," said Gray, who grew up near Lake Geneva and had worked as a deputy superintendent for Oshkosh schools.

When he started in Waukesha this past summer, Gray inherited a report from the former superintendent that suggested closing a school or two to consolidate space and save money. He distanced himself from it, spending weeks studying alternatives.

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Milwaukee's Educational Options

Becky Murray:

Our urban and suburban school districts are under tremendous pressure to be all things for all students. Special learning needs and unique learning styles complicate the process of providing each student with a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).

I have served in conventional schools and public charter schools in the Milwaukee area. I've found that every school has its strengths as well as its needs to improve.

I am currently a speech therapist in two Milwaukee public charter schools, the Downtown Montessori Academy and Inland Seas High School. Yes, charter schools are actually public schools. Yes, many public charter schools provide special education services for frequently occurring disabilities.

Teaching at a charter school allows me to think outside the box as I serve my students. Public charter schools can offer teachers greater autonomy to be innovative in the classroom. For example, if a school's reading program is not serving the needs of a classroom, charter schools have the autonomy to make changes as needs are identified. I think the ability to initiate necessary changes is where the "can-do" attitude of fellow teachers in charter schools comes from.

Many of Milwaukee's charter schools are based on cutting-edge curriculums that serve a variety of learning styles. One option is referred to as "project based," where students design and carry out a learning project of their particular interest. Another option is the student-led, teacher-guided Montessori environment. Direct instruction is a teacher-led style of learning that uses the repetition of very small, specifically targeted learning goals.

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March 9, 2009

Colleges share applicants' anxiety

Larry Gordon:

Economic uncertainties prompt private institutions to admit more students in order to meet enrollment targets. But public schools, including UC and Cal State, are taking fewer students.

It's not much solace for nervous college applicants awaiting acceptance or rejection letters, but there is plenty of anxiety this month inside college admissions offices as well.

Many colleges and universities in California and around the country report unprecedented uncertainty about how the depressed economy and state budget cuts could affect fall enrollments. As a result, they say they cannot rely this year on the admission formulas that typically help them hit enrollment targets without overcrowding dorms.

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Parochial schools weather the economic storm

Gayle Worland:

On Tuesday the kindergartners and first-graders at Madison Jewish Community Day School will celebrate the traditional holiday of Purim, and the public is invited -- not just because Purim is a festive, joyous event, but because the school wants people to know it's here.

"We're very tiny but we're very strong," said Meisha Leibson, the school's Jewish studies teacher, who seamlessly interweaves Hebrew and English during lessons for the school's nine students. "We have very supportive parents."

Across the Madison area, families who send their children to religiously affiliated schools are proving faithful in more ways than one: Enrollments are mostly on track for the 2009-10 school year. Still, the current economic crisis is likely prompting parents to make some extra calculations before putting down a deposit on next year's private-school tuition, said Dave Retzlaff, the principal and seventh-eighth-grade teacher at Our Redeemer Lutheran School.

"For us (the economy) hasn't had a huge impact," Retzlaff said. "You'd probably see it more in families who are having to think it through a little bit more than they would have in the past. It might have been a little more automatic before."

Current students already have re-enrolled, and applications for any remaining spots at Our Redeemer usually peak in the summer, said Retzlaff, "so that's probably when we'll see if there's a bigger impact or not." Still, in a less jittery economic climate, "for us our goal would be to grow."

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Watch the Madison School District Discuss the Proposed Middle School Charter School Online

via MMSDTV. Much more on the proposed Middle School Spanish immersion charter school here.

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Online Education - Introducing the Microlecture Format


Most college students would likely concur - fifty minute lectures can be a bit much. With current research indicating that attention spans (measured in minutes) roughly mirror a students age (measured in years), it begs the question as to the rationale behind lectures of such length.

Given that it is tough to justify the traditional lecture timeframes, it is no surprise to see online educational programs seeking to offer presentations that feature shorter podcasts. But in an astonishing switch, David Shieh of the Chronicle of Higher Education recently took a look at a community college program that features a microlecture format, presentations varying from one to three minutes in length.

The Micro-Lecture
While one minute lectures may be beyond the scope of imagination for any veteran teacher, Shieh reports on the piloting of the concept at San Juan College in Farmington, N.M. The concept was introduced as part of a new online degree program in occupational safety last fall. According to Shieh, school administrators were so pleased with the results that they are expanding the micro-lecture concept to courses in reading and veterinary studies.

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Obama and the Schools

Wall Street Journal Editorial:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said last week that poor children receiving federally financed vouchers to attend private schools in Washington, D.C., shouldn't be forced out of those schools. Bully for Mr. Duncan. But the voice that matters most is President Obama's, and so far he's been shouting at zero decibels.

His silence is an all-clear for Democrats in Congress who have put language in the omnibus spending bill that would effectively end the program after next year. Should they succeed, 1,700 mostly black and Hispanic students who use the vouchers would return to the notoriously violent and underperforming D.C. public school system, which spends more money per pupil than almost any city in the nation yet graduates only about half of its students.

The D.C. voucher program has more than four applicants for every available slot. Parental satisfaction is sky high. And independent evaluations -- another is scheduled for release later this month -- show that children in the program perform better academically than their peers who do not receive vouchers. This is the kind of school reform that the federal government should encourage and expand.

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U.S. to Nation's Schools: Spend Fast, Keep Receipts

Sam Dillon:

Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, sent a message to the nation's school officials last week: Heads up! We'll be sending you billions of dollars by month's end. Spend the money quickly but wisely. And keep receipts; we'll be asking.

The message, which went out Friday in documents e-mailed to governors, state education commissioners and thousands of school superintendents, provided the first broad guidelines for how the Education Department intends to channel $100 billion to the nation's 14,000 school districts over the next few months. The expenditure is part of the Obama administration's economic stimulus package.

Some $44 billion will be made available to states before the end of this month, Mr. Duncan said, in the hope that layoffs can be averted. Hundreds of thousands of job losses in schools had been projected for the fall because of growing state budget deficits caused by a steep drop in tax revenues.

More school stimulus money will be distributed in the spring through the fall, the documents said, after states apply for the financing and provide Congressionally mandated "assurances" to Mr. Duncan that they are complying with federal education laws.

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Computer calls the shots for L.A. County children in peril

Garrett Therolf:

Social workers feed in data on suspected abuse and neglect, and a decision pops out. Officials say the system eliminates the previous scattershot approach. Critics say the human element is slighted.

There's no time to wash away the smell of sour milk from the baby's skin, so the mother wipes the dozing infant's face with the filthy bib hanging from his neck. "WIC cares about me," it reads, a reference to the free food program for poor women and children.

Social worker Ladore Winzer has just told the mother she will detain the 11-month-old boy and process him this night into foster care.

It's after dusk and the slim, efficient social worker is late returning home to her own family, stuck for now in the middle of this ghetto vista. Cars swerve around a lampshade; a graffiti tribute to a dead man runs across a cinder block wall; a hunched homeless man pushes his cart across the grass-tufted sidewalk.

"If I'm good, can I get my baby back in three months?" the mother asks, conjuring a weak smile in an attempt to seal the proposal.

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The ABCs of federal tax breaks for college education expenses

Kathy Kristof:

If you're paying for a college education, you may need an advanced degree to figure out how to claim federal tax breaks for those expenses.

Congress in recent years has approved myriad special credits, deductions and other tax breaks for people paying tuition bills and related costs, and new breaks and twists were added in the recent stimulus bill.

The tax breaks can be generous, saving you as much as $2,500 per student. But how much you can claim depends on your income, the student's educational status and how and when you paid the bill.

"We call it complexification," said Jackie Perlman, an analyst at H&R Block's Tax Institute in Kansas City, Mo. "We hear people saying that they would like the tax law simplified, but simplifying means eliminating tax breaks. It's really simple when there's nothing to claim."

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The Black Box of Peer Review

Scott Jaschik:

Countless decisions in academe are based on the quest for excellence. Which professors to hire and promote. Which grants to fund. Which projects to pursue. Everyone wants to promote excellence. But what if academe actually doesn't know what excellence is?

Michèle Lamont decided to explore excellence by studying one of the primary mechanisms used by higher education to -- in theory -- reward excellence: scholarly peer review. Applying sociological and other disciplinary approaches to her study, Lamont won the right to observe peer review panels that are normally closed to all outsiders. And she was able to interview peer review panelists before and after their meetings, examine notes of reviewers before and after decision-making meetings, and gain access to information on the outcomes of these decisions.

The result is How Professors Think: Inside the Curious World of Academic Judgment (Harvard University Press), which aims to expose what goes on behind the closed doors where funds are allocated and careers can be made. For those who have always wondered why they missed out on that grant or fellowship, the book may or may not provide comfort. Lamont describes processes in which most peer reviewers take their responsibilities seriously, and devote considerable time and attention to getting it right.

She also finds plenty of flaws -- professors whose judgment on proposals is clouded by their own personal interests, deal making among panelists to make sure decisions are made in time for panelists to catch their planes, and an uneven and somewhat unpredictable efforts by panelists to reward personal drive and determination over qualities that a grant program says are the actual criteria.

On diversity, Lamont's research finds that peer reviewers do factor it in (although the extent to which they do so varies by discipline). But peer reviewers are much more likely to care about diversity of research topic or institution than gender or race, she finds.

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Secular Education, Catholic Values

Javier Hernandez:

On his first day of eighth grade at the former Holy Name Roman Catholic school last fall, Jeffrey Stone bowed his head, clasped his hands and began to recite the Lord's Prayer. Within seconds, his teacher chided him: "We don't do that anymore."

Over the summer Holy Name, along with six other financially troubled Catholic schools here, had converted into a charter school, packing up crucifixes, redesigning uniforms and expunging religion from its curriculum. But virtually the entire staff and much of the student body stayed the same through the transition, and they had come to expect lessons in faith and values alongside algebra and literature.

"I was shocked," recalled Jeffrey, 13, who played on the Catholic youth basketball team and relied on his school's pastor-in-residence for advice. "I was like, how am I going to survive?"

The seven Catholic-turned-charter schools in Washington are at the cusp of what is becoming a popular exit strategy for urban parochial schools nationwide facing plummeting enrollment and untenable operating costs. In New York, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg unveiled a plan last month to transform four Catholic schools in Brooklyn and Queens into charters, which are publicly financed but independently operated. In San Antonio, a major charter school operator is lobbying the archdiocese to consider charters if it is forced to close schools.

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School district wants 10 percent pay cut for teachers and staff to save jobs

Keith Reid:

The Lodi Unified School District is proposing its 3,100 employees take a pay cut of up to 10 percent, district officials have confirmed.

District negotiators and union leaders met last week to discuss a potential pay cut or furlough plan for all employees, including high-ranking officials, that could trim millions from the district's estimated $25 million budget shortfall and curb a proposed elimination of 500 jobs, Trustee President Richard Jones said.

"I won't get into specifics, but negotiations have begun," Jones said
Salaries account for 90 percent of Lodi Unified's $273 million budget, and officials have determined that the majority of budget cuts must be made through payroll.

Trustees have approved a layoff plan of 217 teachers and are expected to approve the layoff of 109 full-time positions at a future meeting as well.

Trustees say jobs could be spared, however, if employees are willing to accept a furlough or pay cut. Trustees have already approved a 10 percent reduction of their $750 monthly stipend and have entered negotiations regarding Superintendent Cathy Nichols-Washer's contract, Jones said.

Lodi Unified personnel director and lead negotiator Mike McKilligan would not comment on negotiations. Based on the $245 million district payroll, however, a 10-percent across-the-board cut would add up to $24.5 million, district officials confirmed.

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UK Children 'forced to accept unwanted comprehensives'

Graeme Paton & Jon Swaine:

One-in-10 pupils in some areas were given places parents refused to name on application forms amid unprecedented competition this year.

In at least 32 areas, more children were forced to accept unwanted secondary schools for this September compared to 2008.

Across London, almost 4,700 pupils failed to get into any favoured school.

Critics said the disclosure made a mockery of Government claims of school choice in the state education system.

Samantha Jellett, 34, a freelance music teacher from Knebworth, Hertfordshire, failed to win any of her preferred choices for daughter Lydia, 10.

The child was rejected from the sought-after Barnwell School and has been told to attend the Thomas Alleyne Comprehensive in Stevenage, four miles away.

She described the admissions process as "haphazard and unjust".

"They have removed every element of choice we had and placed our children at a school we know little about and have never seen," she said. "Parents should not be put in this situation."

It came as research showed the lengths parents are prepared to go to ensure pupils get into best schools.

The Good Schools Guide used census data to map schools and the postcodes of pupils admitted over the last few years.

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"Top" Wisconsin High Schools

Great Schools:

Five high schools in each state that represent the qualities of a great school
via Prashant Gopal:
Kimberly Lynch, a redhead with freckles, had a keen interest in sunblock. So much so that she spent the past year developing a new method to test the effectiveness of sunscreens and recently submitted the results to a medical journal.

The 17-year-old senior at Bergen Academies in Hackensack, N.J., is quite a bit younger than most scientists submitting papers to accredited medical journals. Then again, Lynch doesn't go to a typical public high school.

Bergen Academies, a four-year high school, offers students seven concentrations including science, medicine, culinary arts, business and finance, and engineering. It even has its own stem-cell laboratory, where Lynch completed her experiments under the guidance of biology teacher Robert Pergolizzi, a former assistant professor of genetic medicine at Cornell University.

The stem-cell lab, where students work with adult stem cells and mouse stem cells, and the nanotechnology lab down the hall, which has a high-powered scanning electron microscope, have hundreds of thousands of dollars of cutting-edge equipment.

"I've done internships at different labs in the area, and none of them had the equipment we have here," Lynch said.

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Immersion from an early age is the best way to teach English

Lyle Kleusch:

The Hong Kong education system has become far too complex and exam-oriented with regard to teaching English. For example, the Education Bureau's websites are so difficult to understand and navigate that many public schools are hiring native-English-speaking consultants to break down new senior secondary curriculum guides and assessment modules.
This is all being done in the name of the HKCEE, an acronym that strikes fear into many a secondary student. This is a dysfunctional system. English needs to be taught as a means to communicate, not as an end product used to pass exams. The bureau is neglecting the core, instinctive method of learning a language.

The driving forces behind learning a language remain the same whether it is the mother tongue or a secondary one. They include: the need to understand others and to communicate effectively, and the desire to express ones ideas and opinions. It is hard-wired into our brains from birth to strive to master communication, in any form or language. There is what we call "intrinsic motivation". Our children are born with an innate desire to hear and be heard. They seek to mimic, emulate and ultimately understand others. This is not theory, it is fact.

There is a language explosion between the ages of two and six. The average child's vocabulary expands from about 50 words at the age of 18 months to an average of more than 10,000 words by the age of six. Children are not concerned at this age with what language it is, as long as it allows them to communicate their thoughts, emotions and ideas.

If fluent English is the goal for local students, then the whole language and education system in Hong Kong needs to be overhauled and simplified to allow for this crucial period in children's linguistic development. Teaching children in one language and then switching to another simply to prepare for exams ignores the underlying principles of why and how children learn a language. It favours only those who have been immersed in that second language from an early age.

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March 8, 2009

Advocating More Madison Charter Schools

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial, via a kind reader's email:

Madison needs to get past its outdated phobia of charter schools.

Charter schools are not a threat to public schools here or anywhere else in Wisconsin. They are an exciting addition and asset to public schools -- a potential source of innovation, higher student achievement and millions in federal grants.

And when charter schools do succeed at something new, their formula for success can be replicated at traditional schools to help all students.

That's what's starting to happen in Madison with the success of a dual-language charter elementary school called Nuestro Mundo. Yet too many district officials, board members and the teachers union still view charters with needless suspicion.

Madison's skeptics should listen to President Barack Obama, who touts charter schools as key to engaging disadvantaged students who don't respond well to traditional school settings and curriculums. Obama has promised to double federal money for charter school grants.

But Madison school officials are ignoring this new pot of money and getting defensive, as if supporting charter schools might suggest that traditional schools can't innovate on their own.

Of course traditional schools can innovate. Yet charter schools have an easier time breaking from the mold in more dramatic ways because of their autonomy and high level of parent involvement.

Several School Board members last week spoke dismissively of a parent-driven plan to create a dual-language charter school within a portion of Sennett Middle School. Under the proposal, Nuestro Mundo would feed its bilingual students into a charter at Sennett starting in the fall of 2010.

I continue to believe that our community and schools would be better off with a far more diffused governance structure, particularly in the management of more than $415,699,322 (current 08/09 budget) for a 24,189 student district. Related: the failed Madison Studio Charter School application.

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Decision could pave way for 4-year-old kindergarten

Doug Erickson:

A family's federal court victory over the Madison School District in a disability rights lawsuit could push forward efforts in the district to start a 4-year-old kindergarten program, the attorney representing the family predicts.

On Feb 25, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled that the district violated the federal law governing children with disabilities when it refused to pay a portion of the private preschool tuition for a 4-year-old with a learning disability.

The child needed to participate in activities with non-disabled peers to improve his social behavior, according to the lawsuit filed by his parents.

The preschool was an appropriate setting for this to happen, and the district did not offer any alternatives, Crabb ruled.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires districts to provide disabled 3- and 4-year-olds with an appropriate preschool education at no charge

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Degree of Difficulty

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
7 March 2009

In gymnastics, performances are judged not just on execution but also on the degree of difficulty. The same system is used in diving and in ice skating. An athlete is of course judged on how well they do something, but their score also includes how hard it was to do that particular exercise.

One of the reasons, in my view, that more than a million of our high school graduates each year are in remedial courses after they have been accepted at colleges is that the degree of difficulty set for them in their high school courses has been too low, by college standards.

Surveys comparing the standards of high school teachers and college professors routinely discover that students who their teachers judge to be very well prepared, for instance in reading, research and writing, are seen as not very well prepared by college professors.

According to the Diploma to Nowhere report issued last summer by the Strong American Schools project, tens of thousands of students are surprised, embarrassed and depressed to find that, after getting As and Bs in their high school courses, even in the "hard" ones, they are judged to be not ready for college work and must take non-credit remedial courses to make up for the academic deficiencies that they naturally assumed they did not have.

If we could imagine a ten point degree-of-difficulty scale for high school courses, surely arithmetic would rank near the bottom, say at a one, and calculus would rank at the top, near a ten. Courses in Chinese and Physics, and perhaps AP European History, would be near the top of the scale as well.

When it comes to academic writing, however, and the English departments only ask their students for personal and creative writing, and the five-paragraph essay, they are setting the degree of difficulty at or near the bottom of the academic writing scale. The standard kind of writing might be the equivalent of having math students being blocked from moving beyond fractions and decimals.

Naturally, students who have achieved high grades on their high school writing, but at a very low level of difficulty, are likely to be shocked when they are asked to write a 10-20-page research paper when they enter college. They have never encountered that degree of difficulty in their high school careers.

It would be as if math students were taking only decimals and fractions, and then being asked to solve elementary calculus problems when they start their higher education.

I was shocked to discover that even the most famous program for gifted students in the United States, the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, which began as a search for mathematically precocious youth, and has very challenging programs for bright students in the summer, when it comes to writing, has sponsored a contest for "Creative Minds" to have students do "Creative Nonfiction." This genre turns out to be like a diary entry about some event or circumstance in the author's life, together with their feelings about it.

This may fit very well with the degree of difficulty in many if not most high school English classes, but, even if is done well (and wins the contest, for example) it falls very short of the expectations for academic writing at the college level.

My main experience for the last thirty years or so, has been with high school writing in the social studies, principally history. I started The Concord Review in 1987, as the only journal in the world for the academic papers of high school students. My expectation was that students might send me their 4,000-word history research papers, of the sort which the International Baccalaureate requires of its Diploma students.

I did receive some excellent IB Extended Essays, and I have now published 846 papers by secondary students from 44 states and 35 other countries, but as time went by, the level-of-difficulty in submissions went up, as did the excellence in their execution.

These students who sent me longer and better essays, did so on their own initiative, inspired, by the chance for recognition, and the example of their peers, to raise the degree of difficulty themselves, even as each set of gymnasts, divers, and ice skaters do for the Olympics ever four years. I began receiving first-class 8,000-word papers, then 13,000-word papers from high school history scholars. The longest I have published was 21,000 words, on the Mountain Meadows Massacre in Utah in 1857, by a girl who had also taken time to be a nationally-ranked equestrian, an activity which also features a degree-of-difficulty measure. Students like the ones I publish find themselves mobbed when they get to college, by their peers who have never had to write a research paper before.

We now require too few of our high school students to read nonfiction books--another failure in setting an appropriate degree of difficulty--and we set the degree-of-difficulty level far too low when it comes to academic writing. We should consider giving up this destructive practice of holding the performance of our students to such a low standard, and one that disables too many of them for early success in higher education. Lots of our high school students can and will meet a higher standard, if we just offer it to them.

"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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Vouchers vs. the District with 'More Money than God'

Andrew Coulson, via a kind reader's email:

This week, education secretary Arne Duncan referred to DC public schools as a district with " more money than God." Perhaps he was thinking of the $24,600 total per-pupil spending figure I reported last year in the Washington Post and on this blog. If so, he's low-balling the number. With the invaluable help of my research assistant Elizabeth Li, I've just calculated the figure for the current school year. It is $28,813 per pupil.

In his address to Congress and his just-released budget, the president repeatedly called for efficiency in government education spending. At the same time, the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate have been trying to sunset funding for the DC voucher program that serves 1,700 poor kids in the nation's capital. So it seems relevant to compare the efficiencies of these programs.

According to the official study of the DC voucher program, the average voucher amount is less than $6,000. That is less than ONE QUARTER what DC is spending per pupil on education. And yet, academic achievement in the voucher program is at least as good as in the District schools, and voucher parents are much happier with the program than are public school parents.

In fact, since the average income of participating voucher families is about $23,000, DC is currently spending about as much per pupil on education as the vouchers plus the family income of the voucher recipients COMBINED.

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Proof of Anaheim math teacher's skill is in students' test scores

Carla Rivera:

The former engineer has won a national honor for his energetic commitment in the classroom. Last year his young charges, who think he may be the best math teacher anywhere, aced the AP calculus test.

Sam Calavitta presides over what may be the noisiest, most spirited math class in the nation.

He greets each student personally, usually with a nickname ("Butterfly," "Batgirl" and "Champ" are a few) and a fist bump. Then he launches a raucous, quiz-show-style contest.

Boys and girls line up on opposite sides of the room, Calavitta shouts out complex equations from index cards, and the opposing sides clap and cheer with each correct answer.

"State the anti-derivative of the secant function," Calavitta yells.

"The natural log of the absolute value secant x plus tangent x plus c," answers a student correctly.

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On Obama's Proposed Termination of Washington, DC's Voucher Program

Letters to the Wall Street Journal:

Regarding William McGurn's Main Street column "Will Obama Stand Up for These Kids?" (March 3): The Opportunity Scholarship program was created in 2003, as a five-year pilot project designed to give District of Columbia students federally paid vouchers to attend private schools. More than 1,700 students are enrolled in a wide range of private institutions, some world class and others with substantial problems.

Reviews of the program by the Department of Education and Government Accountability Office have found "schools" (sometimes consisting of a single room in a church basement) with significant health and safety issues; teachers lacking basic college degrees or teaching credentials; and no demonstrable evidence that students are performing better than their public school counterparts.


President Barack Obama was fortunate to attend the most elite private high school in Hawaii. Without that educational option, it is highly unlikely that our country would today have the first black president in the White House.

After giving hope to so many, and while serving as a role model for what can be accomplished with educational striving, it is unconscionable that the president would allow his party to kill the very same opportunities he enjoyed and upon which he built his accomplishments.


Dick Durbin (D., Ill.)

Carol Penskar
Orinda, Calif.

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Students post videos of schoolyard brawls online

Sudhin Thanawala:

In schoolyards across the country, all it takes to attract a crowd are the words "Fight! Fight! Fight!"

But students are increasingly showing up with cameras to record the brawls, then posting the footage on the Internet. Some of the videos have been viewed more than a million times.

Now school officials and cyberspace watchdogs are worried that the videos will encourage violence and sharpen the humiliation of defeat for the losers.

"Kids are looking for their 15 megabytes of fame," said Parry Aftab, executive director of the Internet safety group "Kids' popularity is measured by how many hits they get, how many people visit their sites."

Not all of the fights are spontaneous or motivated strictly by animosity. Some are planned ahead of time by combatants who arrange for their own brawling to be recorded.

Scores of bare-knuckled fights appear on YouTube or on sites devoted entirely to the grainy and shaky amateur recordings, which are usually made with cell phones or digital cameras.

In one recent video, two girls are egged on by friends and soon begin punching and choking one another. In other videos, a boy appears to be knocked unconscious by a well-placed haymaker, and a second boy spits out blood after suffering a blow to the mouth.

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On Education Spending Facts, not faith Obama pours money into discredited programs

Bruce Fuller:

President Obama's massive education initiative detailed in his proposed budget aims at the right challenge - lifting our schools and narrowing achievement gaps. But huge chunks of his eye-popping $131 billion package, now before Congress, would go for stale federal programs that have long failed to elevate students' learning curves.

Mr. Obama promised a sharp break from President Bush, who often bent scientific findings to advance his favored dogma. Instead, "it's about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology," Obama promised at his inauguration.

Few question the president's plea to improve the quality of our schools and colleges, racheting-up our economy's competitiveness. This requires not just retooling auto factories or investing in solar power, but enriching the nation's human capital as well.

To boost school quality Obama declared that he would only fund programs that lift pupil performance. "In this budget," he declared before the Congress, "we will end education programs that don't work." Music to the ears of the empirically minded.

But hard-headed scholars are scratching those craniums over Obama's desire to spend billions more on disparate federal programs that have delivered little for children or teachers over the past decade.

Take Washington's biggest schools effort: the $14 billion compensatory education program, known as Title I, supporting classroom aides and reading tutors for children falling behind. A 1999 federal evaluation showed tepid results at best, largely because local programs fail to alter core classroom practices or sprout innovative ways of engaging weaker students.

Bruce Fuller, professor of education and public policy at the UC Berkeley, is author of "Standardized Childhood."

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PISA & Hong Kong Schools

Mima Lau:

Pisa tests 15-year-old students in reading, maths and science. More than 400,000 students from 57 countries and regions took part in 2006 when Hong Kong students came second in science and third in maths and reading. This year, 72 countries and regions will participate. The test takes place from next month until May.

On Monday, the HKCISA appealed to schools to take part after not enough signed up for the test, saying they were too busy dealing with education reforms. The bureau brushed aside the centre's concern the next day, calling it a "false alarm" and saying there was "no question of Hong Kong not participating".

But Professor Ho said the message was wrong. The government failed to "understand the actual situation" and sent out "a wrong message" to the public by misjudging the sampling requirement.

"It was very irresponsible to make such a comment," she said.

Professor Ho also expressed a concern that schools might be pressured by the administration to take part in the test.

"If Hong Kong is lacking students and falls out of Pisa's international rankings, the government will have to take up the responsibility," Professor Ho warned.

She said she had been working on Pisa for 10 years and did not want to see the hard work jeopardised. This year's test was particularly significant because it was the first time Macau, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore would be compared internationally at the same time.

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Red Cross Teaches Madison Students CCR


The American Red Cross Badger Chapter taught cardio cerebral resuscitation, or CCR, to Madison Memorial freshmen Friday.

The students learned the life-saving benefits of the new technique used to treat people who stop breathing. It provides oxygenated blood to the brain quickly when someone collapses, saving valuable time.

"It's all about getting not only the youth involved but our community involved, and if we can get every freshman in the city of Madison and the surrounding area to learn this new technique by the time they're seniors, then we'll have every student in the entire high school trained knowing this new technique," said Tom Mooney, CEO of the Badger Chapter of the American Red Cross.

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Against Virtual Schools: K12 should not take tax money from local schools

Tim Schilke:

The Wisconsin Virtual Academy, sponsored by the Northern Ozaukee School District, just completed its busiest time of year. As Wisconsin progressed through the open school enrollment period for the 2009-2010 school year, the WIVA bombarded homes around the state with mailings, advertising itself as an online alternative to local schools. School administrators traveled to dozens of locations around the state, offering introductory sessions designed to entice students away from brick and mortar schools, in favor of clicking, scrolling and remotely conferencing through virtual classes.
Wisconsin’s open enrollment provides more than $6,000 per student in transfer fees to the recipient school district, on behalf of students whose parents choose to send them to public schools outside of their local community. Open enrollment in general carries many benefits for students, providing alternatives in heavily populated areas like Milwaukee, where many different school districts of varying quality and program offerings exist in close proximity. But the WIVA, operated by the McFarland School District, has no geographical association with the majority of its students.

School districts in southern Ozaukee County require between $11,000 and $13,000 in tax revenue per student, collected from federal, state, and property taxes, and other sources. The Wisconsin Virtual Academy receives only the 2008-2009 state transfer payments of $6,322 per student. Unlike traditional schools, the state payment fully funds the virtual program, and coincidentally still provides ample profit for the virtual program’s curriculum and software vendors. But any such comparison between a virtual school and a more traditional brick and mortar facility is probably not comparing apples to apples, considering teacher-to-student ratios and well-rounded learning experiences.

The WIVA is operated in partnership with a company called K12, Inc., which even hosts the WIVA’s promotional Web site on behalf of the school district. K12 is a publicly-traded, for-profit company based in Virginia, and for the record, the company has no shortage of profit. For the fiscal year ended June 30, 2008, K12 reported net income of $18 million, on revenues of $226 million, primarily collected from states like Wisconsin, which make tax dollars available to virtual schools.

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Milwaukee Seeks to Close Charter Schools

Erin Richards:

In what might be the largest number of school closing proposals presented at once, Milwaukee Public Schools officials announced plans Friday to end contracts with six charter schools in the district, including almost all the fledgling small high schools within the North Division complex.

MPS Superintendent William Andrekopoulos said he supported a proposal from School Board Director Michael Bonds, who wants to return North to its original incarnation - a large, comprehensive city high school at 1011 W. Center St.

While Bonds cited the desire from alumni to return North to a large-scale institution, Andrekopoulos said a review of the small schools in the complex revealed failures in test scores and poor student progress.

"We can do better for our kids; the status quo is not acceptable," Andrekopoulos said, though he stopped short of calling the small-schools-within-a-big-school experiment a failure.

"We've created successful small schools," he said. "But we're willing to stand up (and change) something not working."

The high schools in North that could lose their charter contracts include the Truth Institute for Leadership and Service with 171 students, the Genesis School of Business Technology/Trade, Health and Human Services with 233 students, and Metropolitan High School, with 250 students.

The proposal will be discussed at two meetings next week.

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The School Of Second Life

Scott Simon:

Michael Demers is a geography professor at New Mexico State University. He not only uses a standard classroom to teach his students, but also uses the online virtual world, Second Life.

Host Scott Simon speaks with Demers about how this virtual terrain helps his students learn more effectively.

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March 7, 2009

Stimulus can't solve schools' shortfalls

Mark Pitsch:

The federal economic stimulus law will deliver about $398 million to Wisconsin's schools over the next two years, but officials say it won't solve their budget problems and homeowners should still expect property tax increases.

Moreover, it's still unclear how districts will be able to use the money, when it will arrive and what impact it will have on students.

"It is pretty significant," said Erica Pickett, director of business services for the Stoughton School District, of the stimulus money. "But what we don't have are the strings -- what we can and can't spend it on."

Also unclear is how most of the money will be divided among school districts.

The U.S. Department of Education last week unveiled preliminary district-by-district allocations for the program in the stimulus law that provides money to help disadvantaged students, a total of $139 million for Wisconsin.

Madison schools, for example, would receive $5.7 million over the next two years for the program, known as Title I and designed to assist disadvantaged students in reading and math.

That's in addition to the $5.4 million the district is getting in the current year under the program. In Portage, schools will get $175,987 over two years in new Title I money under the stimulus law. That compares with the $268,497 it is receiving this year.

School Districts should not spend the money in ways that increase ongoing operating costs.... Much more on the splurge/stimulus here.

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Student Beaten in Toki Middle School Bathroom

WKOW-TV via a kind reader's email:

Parents of students at a Madison middle school worry about safety after a child was beat up in one the school's bathroom.

The incident happened last week Thursday.

According to a letter sent home to parents Monday, a group of students followed a male student into the boy's bathroom where another student assaulted him.

The group blocked entrance to the bathroom.

Surveillance cameras show the beating along with a group of witnesses cheering on the violence.

Toki [Map] Principal Nicole Schaefer says the school sent the letter to alert parents that the proper actions were taken and assure them the school is safe.

Schaefer would not tell 27 News if any students were suspended or if the victim is back in school.

Toki Middle School Restorative Justice Plan [82K PDF]:
Judicious discipline is a three pillared process set on a solid educational foundation. The first pillar is prevention through education and positive behavior supports; the second pillar is equity through fair and consistent consequences, and the third pillar is restoration through empathy, forgiveness and conflict resolution. The educational foundation that these pillars stand on is curriculum, instruction and assessment practices that are engaging, rigorous, culturally responsive, and individualized. In summary, kids who are engaged in learning are less likely to engage in misconduct.

The backbone of our discipline policy is that all staff and students must be treated with dignity and respect, including those who harm others. We want everyone to know that misconduct is never acceptable, but always fixable. We will be warm but strict, and follow through with clear, fair and consistent consequences, but also encourage students to repair the harm they caused, earn forgiveness, and restore their reputations.

When a student engages in misconduct, we must care for two interests:
  1. The student who misbehaves - We teach the student how to repair the harm, earn forgiveness, and restore his or her reputation
  2. All other students - We protect their health, safety, property, and opportunity to learn in an environment free from distractions
Therefore, when a student engages in misconduct, he or she has two options:
  1. Fix the harm (ex: Apology, Mediation, Repair or Replace, Community service, Extended learning)
  2. Accept a consequence (ex: Lunch detention, After school detention, In school suspension, Out of school suspension, Suspension alternatives)

The consequences for misconduct will vary, depending on how the behavior harms the health, safety, property and learning opportunities of other students. Although choosing to "fix the harm" may reduce or replace consequences for less harmful misconduct, behaviors that significantly or severely harm others will result in mandatory suspension days, up to a recommendation for expulsion.
40 students ( 2008/2009 student population is 538) open enrolled out of Toki Middle school for the 2009/2010 term according to this Madison School District document. Much more on Toki here.

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Three students under investigation after device was ignited outside of Whitehorse Middle School

Gena Kittner:

Three students are being investigated after a "homemade explosive device" was ignited around 1 p.m. outside of Whitehorse Middle School on Madison's East Side.

Police responded after "a 12-year old was caught throwing an improvised explosive device (IED) against the school building," according to a Madison Police Department news release. "A 13-year old student had made the ball-looking device out of some caps, coins, aluminum foil, and black electrical tape," the release said.

The 13-year old had given other "balls" to a second 12-year-old student who put the device in his locker, the release said.

The Dane County Sheriff's Department Bomb Squad rendered that device safe. The school was not evacuated, but the hallway around the locker was kept clear, police said.

"There was no damage, there were no injuries," said Ken Syke, spokesman for the Madison School District. "There's no indication of an intent to do harm. There's no indication that this small explosive device would go off on its own."

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Supporting Cell Phones in Schools

Mark Geary:

Bill Gates has been quoted as saying (before iPhone) "The computer of the future will be the cellphone". The implications for educators is profound, and should have us re-thinking are attitudes and acceptance of cell phones in the school. I am not blind to the fact that there are sometimes problems associated with the cellphone in the schools, but we should address those by addressing the behavior, not the object. We don't take away a pencil the student is tapping, we address the tapping behavior.

As an administrator for highly at-risk students in a Cincinnati charter high school, I found it much easier to have students use Google SMS to look up words and definitions when they were struggling with reading than using a book. Very few of these students would be caught carrying books home, but they would use their cell phone to help complete assignments.

As we look at HOW cellphones may be implemented today, we also look at Adobe and their role. Captivate lets us easily create microcontent with quizzes, saved in Flash. Flash itself let's students see, create and engage with interactive simulations and games that can have a profound effect on learning. Many Web 2.0 sites are built in Flash, and extend the capabilities of the cellphone beyond what we would have thought possible a few years ago.

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Parents Sue Trustees Over Prep School's Shutdown

Geraldine Fabrikant:

When the students of the Conserve School in Wisconsin poured into the auditorium on a blustery morning early this year, they had no inkling of what would follow.

Stefan Anderson, the headmaster, told them that the trustees were essentially shutting down the prep school because of the dismal economic climate. Its four-year program would be converted to a single semester of study focused on nature and the environment.

"We thought we would hear they were cutting financial aid," recalled Erty Seidel, a senior on the wooded campus, which is filled with wildlife and sprawls across 1,200 acres in Land O' Lakes.

Greta Dohl, a student from Iron River, Mich., in her third year at the school, broke down and cried. "I was absolutely heartbroken," she said of the closing.

Now students and parents are banding together and challenging the action, contending the school's underlying financial condition does not look so dire. In fact, the school's endowment would be the envy of many a prep school. With $181 million and 143 students, it has the equivalent of more than $1 million a student.

In a lawsuit filed in State Circuit Court in Wisconsin, the parents argue that the trustees are acting in their own interests -- as officials of a separate, profit-making steel company -- and want them removed from oversight of the school.

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Hacking Education

Fred WIlson:

Last fall I wrote a post on this blog titled Hacking Education. In it, I outlined my thoughts on why the education system (broadly speaking) is failing our society and why hacking it seems like both an important and profitable endeavor.

Our firm, Union Square Ventures, has been digging deeply into the intersection of the web and the education business in search of disruptive bets we can make on this hacking education theme.

My partner Albert led an effort over the past few months to assemble a group of leading thinkers, educators, and entrepreneurs and today we got them all together and talked about hacking education for six hours.

The event has just ended and my head is buzzing with so many thoughts.

We will post the entire transcript of the event once the stenograpger gets it to us. That usually takes about a week. In the meantime you can see about ten or twenty pages of tweets that were generated both at the event and on the web by people who were following the conversation and joining in.

But here's a quick summary of my big takeaways:

1) The student (and his/her parents) is increasingly going to take control of his/her education including choice of schools, teachers, classes, and even curriculum. That's what the web does. It transfers control from institutions to individuals and its going to do that to education too.

The Economist recently published a piece on Frederick Taylor "The Father of Scientific Management", whose work had a significant effect on our current education system.

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March 6, 2009

20 Ways AP is Bad -- Not!

Jay Matthews:

Bruce G. Hammond, a well-regarded educator and former Advanced Placement teacher, is at it again. His organization, Excellence Without AP, has changed its name to the Independent Curriculum Group (ICG). Hammond, based in Charlottesville, is the executive director. The group's new Web site is

I have written before about what I consider his short-sighted opposition to AP, the nation's largest program of college-level courses and tests for high school students. I thought the group's name change was a good sign. I hoped that Hammond had revised a point of view that alienated many AP teachers. I thought he was going to emphasize henceforth his best and most positive point, that good teachers should be able to challenge their students in any way that works best for them, AP or not.

But the announcement of the name change did not go in that direction. Instead, Hammond unveiled a document titled "Twenty of the most fundamental reasons to rethink AP."

I have shared the document with AP teachers I know. They had the same reaction I did: The list betrays an insufferably elitist view of American education. This is not entirely surprising since almost all of the 70-or-so institutions listed on the ICG Web site are small, private schools that cater to affluent families, such as Beaver Country Day in Massachusetts, Putney in Vermont, Fieldston in New York and Crossroads in California. The public schools that I write about most frequently, those that use AP and International Baccalaureate courses and tests to challenge average and below-average students, many of them from low-income minority families, appear to be unfamiliar to the Independent Curriculum Group.

Dane County High School AP Course Offering Comparison.

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Killers of Writing

"Even before students learn to write personal essays." !!!

[student writers will now become "Citizen Composers," Yancey says.]

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Eschool News

NCTE defines writing for the 21st century

New report offers guidance on how to update writing curriculum to include blogs, wikis, and other forms of communication

By Meris Stansbury, Associate Editor:

Digital technologies have made writers of everyone.

The prevalence of blogs, wikis, and social-networking web sites has changed the way students learn to write, according to the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)--and schools must adapt in turn by developing new modes of writing, designing new curricula to support these models, and creating plans for teaching these curricula.

"It's time for us to join the future and support all forms of 21st-century literacies, [both] inside...and outside school," said Kathleen Blake Yancey, a professor of English at Florida State University, past NCTE president, and author of a new report titled "Writing in the 21st Century."

Just as the invention of the personal computer transformed writing, Yancey said, digital technologies--and especially Web 2.0 tools--have created writers of everyone, meaning that even before students learn to write personal essays, they're often writing online in many different forms.

"This is self-sponsored writing," Yancey explained. "It's on bulletin boards and in chat rooms, in eMails and in text messages, and on blogs responding to news reports and, indeed, reporting the news themselves...This is a writing that belongs to the writer, not to an institution."

She continued: "In much of this new composing, we are writing to share, yes; to encourage dialogue, perhaps; but mostly, I think, to participate."

The report defines this new age of writing as the Age of Composition: a period where writers become composers not through "direct and formal instruction alone (if at all), but rather through what might be called an extracurricular social co-apprenticeship."

Students who go online today and participate in the web's many forms of communication compose their writing in informal contexts, where a hierarchy of the expert-apprentice (or teacher-student) does not exist. Instead, there is a peer co-apprenticeship, where communicative knowledge is exchanged freely.

Yancey provided the recent example of a 16-year-old girl named Tiffany Monk who saved her neighborhood after Tropical Storm Fay hit Melbourne, Florida. By taking pictures and writing eMail messages, she managed to garner enough attention to her stranded neighbors--and all were rescued from the flood.

Everyone was saved because "a 16-year-old saw a need, because she knew how to compose in a 21st-century way, and because she knew her audience," said Yancey. "And what did she learn in this situation? That if you actually take action, then someone might listen to you. That's a real lesson in composition." [Could she have used the telephone?...Will]

Yancey cited another example of composing in which Facebook users decided to write "THIS IS SPARTA" during an Advanced Placement test, then cross it out so that no points would be deducted. More than 30,000 students reportedly participated.

According to Yancey, this light prank shows that students understand the power of networking, and they understand the new audiences of 21st-century composing--their peers across the country and faceless AP graders alike.

"We have moved beyond a pyramid-like, sequential model of literacy development in which print literacy comes first, digital literacy comes second, and networked literacy practices--if they come at all--come third and last," she said.

Her report suggests that multiple models of composing now operate simultaneously, each informed by new publication practices, materials, and vocabulary.

Yancey says there are new questions that writing teachers need to ask. For example:

- The current models of composing deal largely with printed media, and they are models that culminate in publication. When composers blog as a form of invention, rather than a form of publication, what does that do to the print-based models of composing that culminate in publication?

- How do educators mark drafts of a text when revising takes place inside of discrete drafts?

- How and when might educators and their students decide to include images and visuals in compositions, and where might schools include these processes in the curriculum?

- How do educators define a composing practice that is interwoven with eMail, text messaging, and web browsing?

- How does access to the vast amount and kinds of resources on the web alter schools' models of composing? Can we retrofit our earlier models of composing, or should we begin anew?

The report also identifies three tasks that educators should undertake:

1. Articulate the new models of composing that are currently developing. Define composition not as a part of testing or its primary vehicle, but apart from testing. This will bring about a new dimension of writing: the role of writing for the public.

2. Design a new writing curriculum for kindergarteners through graduate students--one that moves beyond an obsessive attention to form.

3. Create new models for the teaching of writing skills. Try not to grade alone; instead, incorporate peer review and networking--and make sure students know how to sift thoughtfully through increasing amounts of information.

NCTE has 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 to submit a piece of writing for a national gallery of 21st-century composition. Acceptable submissions for this gallery include letters, eMail or text messages, journal entries, reports, electronic presentations, blog posts, documentary clips, poetry readings, how-to directions, short stories, memos, and more.

"By capturing a portrait of how writing happens today--who writes and for what purposes--teachers can better prepare the next generation for success across the full range of 21st-century literacies," said Kent Williamson, executive director of NCTE. "Our hope is that everyone who participates in this initiative will better understand writing as a valuable lifelong practice rather than as something that is done only in school or only by a select group of people."

[Yancey also writes: "Writing has never been accorded the cultural respect or the support that reading has enjoyed, in part because through reading, society could control its citizens, whereas through writing, citizens might exercise their own control."] (Take that!, George Orwell!...Will)


"Writing in the 21st Century"

NCTE's National Day on Writing

7920 Norfolk Ave, Suite 900, Bethesda Maryland, 20814
Tel. (866) 394-0115, Fax. (301) 913-0119
Web:, Email:


"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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Madison School Board: Legislative Session and Fine Arts Task Force

Legislative Informational Community Session: We are holding a special Board meeting to focus on legislative issues on Wednesday April 1 at 6:00pm at Wright Middle School. At this session we will provide updates on school funding and state budget issues that affect the MMSD. We will discuss and share strategies on how the community can get involved in advocating for our schools.

Fine Arts Task Force (FATF) Informational Community Sessions: The focus of each session will be a presentation of the findings and recommendations of the FATF followed by an opportunity for discussion. The Executive Summary and complete FATF report can be found at Tuesday, March 10, 6:00-8:00pm, Memorial High School. Thursday, March 12, 6:00-8:00pm, La Follette High School LMC.

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Throwing billions at schools won't fix them

Pedro Noguera:

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, President Obama's stimulus package, could serve as a historic investment in our children's future, an initiative that could very well change the course of our nation.

It is an opportunity that cannot be squandered.

However, there is good reason for concern that the funds made available for education under the act will not result in the change we need.

Over the past eight years, educational progress in the United States has been modest at best. According to a national study by the Gates Foundation ("The Silent Epidemic," 2006), dropout rates in many of our nation's largest cities are 50 percent or higher.

Similarly, large numbers of students lack proficiency in reading and math in many school districts across the country, and many who graduate and go on to college are largely unprepared for the rigors of college-level course work.

Seven years after the adoption of the No Child Left Behind law, it is clear we are still leaving many children behind.

Tinkering with existing policy is unlikely to produce different results. The Obama administration needs a bold new strategy for reforming our public education system if it hopes that our schools are going to play a more significant role in moving the nation forward. However, so far, and certainly it is still is early in the term of this administration, no new vision or strategy for reforming the nation's schools has been articulated.

There is justifiable reason to be concerned that by calling for funds from the stimulus package to be spent quickly on "shovel-ready" projects in order to produce the jobs that are so desperately needed, the administration will not have the time to develop a thoughtful strategy that can guide the reform of the nation's public schools.

Pedro Noguera is a professor at New York University and director of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education. He is editor of "Unfinished Business: Closing the Achievement Gap in Our Nation's Schools" and author of "The Trouble With Black Boys: And Other Reflections on Race, Equity and the Future of Public Education."

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Reid Hoffman Tells Charlie Rose: "Every Individual Is Now An Entrepreneur."

Leena Rao:

Reid Hoffman is an entrepreneur's entrepreneur. He worked at Paypal, founded LinkedIn, and invested in dozens more. Last night, he appeared on Charlie Rose (full interview embedded above, full transcript below), where he talks about the rise of social networking in general, and LinkedIn's success in particular (it is adding one million professionals every 17 days and is emerging as a "low cost provider of really good hiring services").

Yesterday, Hoffman wrote a post for us with some concrete suggestions for a Stimulus 2.0 plan led by startups. He hit some of the same themes on Charlie Rose. The best part of the hour-long interview, however is towards the end where Hoffman discusses the role that entrepreneurship can play in getting America out of its rut. Some excerpts:

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March 5, 2009

US Education Secretary Duncan Advocates for the Stimulus

Bill Turque & Maria Glod:

To help struggling schools, the federal government will use stimulus funding to encourage states to expand school days, reward good teachers, fire bad ones and measure how students perform compared with peers in India and China, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said yesterday.

History has shown that money alone does not drive school improvement, Duncan said, pointing to the District of Columbia, where public school students consistently score near the bottom on national reading and math tests even though the school system spends more per pupil than its suburban counterparts do.

"D.C. has had more money than God for a long time, but the outcomes are still disastrous," Duncan said in an interview with Washington Post editors and reporters. He said the unprecedented influx of cash, which will begin to flow in the next 30 to 45 days, would target states, local school systems and nonprofit organizations willing to adopt policies that have been proven to work.

"The challenge isn't an intellectual one, it's one of political courage," said Duncan, who developed a reputation for a willingness to experiment and disrupt the status quo in seven years as chief executive of Chicago schools.

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Grading system change debated: Will city's method make difference?

Joe Smydo:

David Chard, dean of the Simmons School of Education and Human Development at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, says there's little difference between most grading scales.

"It's like Celsius and Fahrenheit. It's exactly the same thing," he said.

Bob Schaeffer, public education director for the advocacy group FairTest, said a debate over grading scales often reveals the "tyranny of false precision."

"These numbers were not handed down by God on a stone tablet," he said.

To Robert Marzano, a Denver-based education researcher, the typical grading scale is an incomplete measure of student achievement. He recommends bar graphs measuring student achievement on various course topics.

As officials in the Pittsburgh Public Schools prepare to drop a controversial grading scale for a 5-point scale they're calling fairer and more accurate, Dr. Chard, Dr. Marzano and Mr. Schaeffer cautioned that no version is perfect.

All require some degree of teacher subjectivity, and all require careful, thoughtful application, Dr. Chard said.

Mr. Schaeffer said grading scale controversies generate "much more heat than light," yet Dallas and Fairfax, Va., also are in the midst of them now.

Dr. Marzano said as many as 3,000 schools or districts have made some of the improvements he favors, such as expanded report cards with bar graphs breaking down student achievement at the topic level while still giving overall course averages and letter grades. He said the bar graphs can correspond to five-point scales measuring achievement in the topic areas.

The Madison School District's move toward "Standards Based" report cards has not been without some controversy.

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Californian and Texan universities struggle with admissions policies

The Economist:

CALIFORNIA and Texas are both large states that are home to a growing population of minorities. They also share another trait. In a blow to the policy of affirmative action, public universities in the two states were forbidden, a decade ago, from using race as a factor in college admission decisions--by a federal court, in Texas's case, and by state law in California's.

Texas stalled, guaranteeing admission at the state university of his or her choice to any student graduating in the top 10% of their high-school class. This helped students from predominantly minority high schools who excelled relative to their peers. The University of California (UC), on the other hand, altered its admissions standards in 2002 to require a "comprehensive" review of applications. Under that system, students win points not just for academic criteria such as grades and test scores, but also for overcoming "life challenges". Affirmative action by the back door, some critics say.

Both policies have had modest success in maintaining diversity. But now policymakers in both states are about to shake the kaleidoscope again. William Powers, the president of the University of Texas (UT) at Austin, has sounded an alarm. The number of students in the top tenth of fast-growing Texas's high-school classes will have climbed from some 20,000 in 1998 to over 30,000 by 2015. Last year more than 80% of Texas freshmen at UT Austin came from this group. By 2013 it will be 100%.

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The 2008 Brown Center Report on American Education: How Well Are American Students Learning?

Tom Loveless:

The watchword of this year's Brown Center Report is caution--caution in linking state tests to international assessments--"benchmarking" is the term--caution in proceeding with a policy of "algebra for all eighth graders," caution in gleaning policy lessons from the recent progress made by urban schools. State and local budget woes will restrain policymakers from adopting costly education reforms, but even so, the three studies contained herein are a reminder that restraint must be exercised in matters other than budgets in governing education well. All too often, policy decisions are based on wishful thinking rather than cautious analysis. As education evolves as a discipline, the careful analysis of high-quality data will provide the foundation for meaningful education reform.

The report consists of three sections, each discussing a separate study. The first section looks at international testing. Powerful groups, led by the National Governors Association, are urging the states to benchmark their state achievement tests to an international assessment, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). After comparing PISA to the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), the other major international assessment in which the United States participates, the Brown Center analysis examines findings from a chapter of the 2006 PISA report that addresses student engagement. The chapter presents data on students' attitudes, values, and beliefs toward science.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:11 AM | Comments (1) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Warning to UK schools over admissions code breaches

The Guardian:

The new chief adjudicator for schools, Ian Craig,has warned schools that are breaking rules by selecting pupils covertly that they will be found out.

Craig, who takes up the post responsible for policing admissions in April, told the Guardian: "If they [schools] are still breaking the code they will be found out quite quickly... we will be sampling schools and reporting to the secretary of state."

Research published today by researchers at the London School of Economics suggested that a minority of schools - mostly faith schools - are still breaking the two-year-old code of admissions which forbids the interviewing of applicants or discriminatory questions about parents' marital status or occupations.

Craig said: "I can guarantee the system is fairer now than in the past. The secretary of state is emphasising the fact that he will do his best to make sure it's fairer. Whether it's 100% fair or not - I'm sure it isn't. But it's up to the legislators to improve it and make it fairer and we will monitor the system."

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March 4, 2009

How Science Teachers Enact the Curriculum

Sadhana Puntambekar

Scientific knowledge seems to grow at an exponential rate. The sheer amount of data and knowledge and understanding of the world and of the universe keeps growing. That's obvious. But less obvious is the fact that approaches to science education also change over time.

Of course science education still involves teaching students about the current scientific knowledge base. But another part of science education receiving attention is teacher-facilitated inquiry--that is, helping students learn how to ask a scientific question, how to pursue that question through a series of activities, and how to make activities and data sources cohere.

When science teachers adopt innovative curricula, it's important that they structure students' activities as a unit, rather than as a set of linear, discrete events. That's because students learn with deeper understanding when the teacher has woven the concepts and activities into a coherent whole. Recent research by UW-Madison education professor Sadhana Puntambekar has helped to pinpoint how that's done, and how science teachers effectively facilitate classroom discussion.

Coherent presentation of activities in a science unit is especially critical when students use a variety of information resources--for example, books, CD-ROMs, and hypertext systems--along with their hands-on activities. Students need teacher help, or scaffolding, as they work to make sense of all the available information.

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An Update on Washington DC's Teacher Compensation Plan

Bill Turque:

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee has said a financial consultant's report shows that her plan to pay teachers as much as $135,000 a year in salaries and bonuses can be sustained with District dollars after a promised five-year, $100 million contribution by private foundations is spent.

The District's long-term ability to pay for such an unprecedented compensation package is one of several important questions surrounding Rhee's proposal. Leaders of the Washington Teachers' Union have expressed concern about the risks of signing a contract with the District based in part on private funding, given the troubled economic climate.

"What we want is funding that is sustainable," said WTU President George Parker.

Appearing recently on WAMU's "Kojo Nnamdi Show," Rhee said an outside consultant, whom she did not identify, had vetted her compensation proposal.

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The Teenager Audio Test

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Parents wonder whether Madison's school lunches are healthy for kids

Mary Ellen Gabriel:

The "hot lunch" line snakes out the door of the multipurpose room at Franklin Elementary School. Kids dressed in snow boots and parkas file past a table where a staff member is handing out plastic-wrapped containers of hot dogs and fries, canned peaches and a cookie. Forget trays or plates. The kids clutch the packages in both hands and, after a student helper plunks a carton of milk on top, hug the whole load to their chests, trying not to drop mittens and hats. They scurry into the gym and squeeze into a spot at one of the crowded lunch tables, where the "cold lunch" kids are chowing down with a 10-minute head start. Twelve minutes left before the bell rings. Better eat fast.

Is the Madison Metropolitan School District's school lunch program unhealthy for kids?

It depends who you ask. On one side is a well-trained food service department that manages to feed 19,000 kids under a bevy of guidelines on a slim budget. On the other is a growing number of parents and community advocates armed with research about the shortcomings of mass-produced food and race-to-the-finish mealtimes.

"We're perpetuating a fast-food mentality," said Pat Mulvey, a personal chef and the parent of a second-grader and a kindergartner at Franklin. "We can do better."

Mulvey has joined a small group of parents at south side Franklin and affiliated Randall Elementary calling for changes to the school lunch program. Among their concerns: a lack of fresh fruits and vegetables, high fat and salt content in items perceived as "processed" or "junk food," little nutritional information on the Web site, too much plastic, too much waste and too little time to eat.

This isn't the first time parents in the district have raised concerns about school lunch. For the past decade, parents, educators and healthy food advocates in the Madison area have asked the School Board, principals and the district's food service to serve more fresh foods and make lunch longer than 25 minutes.

This issue has come up a number of times over the years.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:37 AM | Comments (6) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Teenagers With Souls of Poets Face Off

Liz Robbins:

It was a rainy Friday evening in Chelsea, and nobody wanted to go home, preferring instead to spit poems from the depths of their tortured teenage souls.

The finals of the New York Knicks Poetry Slam Program were in four days, and a handful of high school poets from around New York City had gathered at the headquarters of Urban Word, a literary arts organization for young people, to cheer Tia-Moné Llopiz as she cried out again in eloquent anguish over her mother's death.

They needed to hear Cynthia Keteku, known as Ceez, come to grips with her girlfriend's dumping her for a boy.

And they could not help but hear Elton Ferdinand III -- even through the walls of the director's office -- crescendo to a state of raging guilt over his mute uncle in Guyana, a man misunderstood.

In their search for identity and their quest to be understood, the teenagers mold metaphors from their jagged-edge experiences and bend rhymes to their own rhythm.

"Ladies and gents, this is more than a silly teen's heartbreak," intoned Lauren Anderson, 16, who attends the Beacon School.

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School placement loopholes remain

Gary Eason:

Government guidance that parents should know the results of school entry tests before finalising applications for places is still being flouted.

Research shows more schools in England are using selection tests, and parents already find the system too complex.

The government says its admissions code - which admissions authorities must abide by - is now fairer than ever.

The loophole is that it contains clauses to which admissions authorities "should" adhere - not "must".

On selection tests, the admissions code says: "Grammar schools and other schools, or their admission authorities, which are permitted to use selection by ability or aptitude, should ensure that parents are informed of the outcome of entry tests before they make their applications for other schools."

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Re-thinking our education system a necessity

Matthew Jarzen:

Privatizing education is the best way to ensure quality

With Gov. Jim Gibbons' proposed budget cuts to Nevada's education system being debated within the chambers of the state legislature, everyone is cowering in the corner wondering whether or not we will have a recognizable education system in the future.
Managing and cutting the budget for useless and wasteful programs is what might determine our future. Does a UNLV coach deserve to get paid millions of dollars? Does President David B. Ashley really need a $15,000 desk with matching $3600 leather chairs? Most people don't care enough to notice this wasteful spending or assume that these benefits are predetermined in contracts. But, when we catch corporate CEOs and other executives flying in private jets or building huge corporate offices, we criticize them openly.
Outrageously expensive desks aside, raising taxes is not the solution. Some suggest raising the room tax because the burden falls on tourists. This mentality is careless because I can't imagine a tourist who would spend a night in a hotel room with artificially inflated prices due to higher room taxes. As we have seen recently, they are more likely to take their business elsewhere.

More than enough tax money already goes to an already failing public school system. This past election, voters passed yet another room tax to further support the failing public education system in the state.

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Charters Offer More Choices in Harlem, but Stir Concern for Public Schools

Javier Hernandez:

The high-achieving sixth graders huddled near the gym bleachers to mull their options: African drumming at the Future Leaders Institute, debate team at Democracy Prep or piano at New Heights Academy.

The sixth graders, seven of them, said they were bored with the intellectual pace at Middle School 322 in Washington Heights, so their teachers brought them to the Harlem Education Fair on Saturday to hunt for a new school for the fall.

"I need to be challenged more," said Shirley Reyes, 11, who was checking out the mix of public charter schools and private schools making their pitches. "These schools give you a better opportunity, they give you better test grades."

The bustle inside the gym at City College of New York at 138th Street in Harlem -- organizers said the fair drew about 5,000 people -- reflected just how significantly Harlem's educational landscape has changed over the past decade.

Charter schools, which are publicly financed but have latitude in how they operate, are now a major force in the community, with 24 of them serving 6,000 children (across the city, there are about 24,000 students enrolled in 78 charter schools). The neighborhood includes about 70 traditional public schools, 14 Catholic schools and 16 other private schools.

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Public Colleges Get a Surge of Applicants

Lisa Foderaro:

Admissions officers at the State University of New York college campus here are suddenly afraid of getting what they have always wished for: legions of top high-school seniors saying "yes" to their fat envelopes.

Lisa Jones, right, and Kimberly Strano assess applications at SUNY New Paltz.
Students are already tripled up in many dorm rooms after an unexpectedly large freshman class entered last fall. And despite looming budget cuts from the state, which more tuition-paying students could help offset, officials say they are determined not to diminish the quality of student life by expanding enrollment at their liberal-arts college beyond the current 6,000 undergraduates.

At SUNY New Paltz, as at many other well-regarded public institutions this spring, admissions calculations carefully measured over many years are being set aside as an unraveling economy is making less expensive state colleges more appealing.

The application deadline is not until April 1, but officials here conservatively predict 15,500 students competing for 1,100 spots, a 12 percent jump over last year.

Similar surges are occurring at public colleges and universities across the country, education experts say.

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Community College Transfer and Articulation Policies: Looking Beneath the Surface

Betheny Gross & Dan Goldhaber:

As the demand for higher education has grown, so has the role of community colleges in providing post-secondary education to students. The development of curriculum articulation and school transfer policies is one policy movement that demonstrates the extent to which state policymakers view community colleges as creating greater and broader access for students. Recent research suggests that the presence of a state articulation and transfer policy does not increase the transfer rate of community college students to four-year institutions. However, all such policies are not the same - so we must account for more than just the presence of these policies when assessing their impact, and account for the mechanisms through which they encourage or facilitate student transfers.

We attempt to address this gap in this paper by exploring the relative importance of specific policy components (such as common course numbering or common general education requirements) on post-secondary outcomes, and how such policies differently impact students with different aspirations or economic and ethnic backgrounds. In addition, we explore how the potential impacts of these policies compare with some institution-level policies such as support for tenured faculty, expenditures for student services, or expenditures for instruction. In the end, we find only small effects - concentrated amongst Hispanic students - that state transfer and articulation policies are related to the transfer of students between sectors. In terms of general effects across students, institutional factors regarding faculty tenure at community colleges seem to be more correlated to the propensity of students to transfer between community colleges and four-year institutions.

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March 3, 2009

More on DC Vouchers: "Will Obama Stand Up for These Kids?"

William McGurn:

Dick Durbin has a nasty surprise for two of Sasha and Malia Obama's new schoolmates. And it puts the president in an awkward position.

The children are Sarah and James Parker. Like the Obama girls, Sarah and James attend the Sidwell Friends School in our nation's capital. Unlike the Obama girls, they could not afford the school without the $7,500 voucher they receive from the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program. Unfortunately, a spending bill the Senate takes up this week includes a poison pill that would kill this program -- and with it perhaps the Parker children's hopes for a Sidwell diploma.

Sarah and James Parker attend Sidwell Friends School with the president's daughters, thanks to a voucher program Sen. Dick Durbin wants to end.

Known as the "Durbin language" after the Illinois Democrat who came up with it last year, the provision mandates that the scholarship program ends after the next school year unless Congress reauthorizes it and the District of Columbia approves. The beauty of this language is that it allows opponents to kill the program simply by doing nothing. Just the sort of sneaky maneuver that's so handy when you don't want inner-city moms and dads to catch on that you are cutting one of their lifelines.

Deborah Parker says such a move would be devastating for her kids. "I once took Sarah to Roosevelt High School to see its metal detectors and security guards," she says. "I wanted to scare her into appreciation for what she has at Sidwell." It's not just safety, either. According to the latest test scores, fewer than half of Roosevelt's students are proficient in reading or math.

That's the reality that the Parkers and 1,700 other low-income students face if Sen. Durbin and his allies get their way. And it points to perhaps the most odious of double standards in American life today: the way some of our loudest champions of public education vote to keep other people's children -- mostly inner-city blacks and Latinos -- trapped in schools where they'd never let their own kids set foot.

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Rapid Thinking Makes People Happy

Siri Carpenter:

Lousy day? Don't try to think happy thoughts--just think fast. A new study shows that accelerated thinking can improve your mood. In six experiments, researchers at Princeton and Harvard universities made research participants think quickly by having them generate as many problem-solving ideas (even bad ones) as possible in 10 minutes, read a series of ideas on a computer screen at a brisk pace or watch an I Love Lucy video clip on fast-forward. Other participants performed similar tasks at a relaxed speed.

Results suggested that thinking fast made participants feel more elated, creative and, to a lesser degree, energetic and powerful. Activities that promote fast thinking, then, such as whip­ping through an easy crossword puzzle or brain-storming quickly about an idea, can boost energy and mood, says psychologist Emily Pronin, the study's lead author.

Pronin notes that rapid-fire thinking can sometimes have negative consequences. For people with bipolar disorder, thoughts can race so quickly that the manic feeling becomes aversive. And based on their own and others' research, Pronin and a colleague propose in another recent article that although fast and varied thinking causes elation, fast but repetitive thoughts can instead trigger anxiety. (They further suggest that slow, varied thinking leads to the kind of calm, peaceful happiness associated with mindfulness meditation, whereas slow, repetitive thinking tends to sap energy and spur depressive thoughts.)

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Schools Crunch Calculus on Stimulus

Anne Marie Chaker:

Schools struggling with some of their worst budget crises in generations are taking stock of President Obama's stimulus package -- hoping the money will restore funding for things like textbooks, teacher salaries and tuition.

The $100 billion in funding dedicated to education touches programs for almost every age group, from early-childhood programs to financial aid for college students. While the money, part of the $787 billion stimulus package, may not result in a full turnaround, districts say, it will help stop some of the bleeding.

Michael Klein
"It's going to mean a softer landing for us," says Jack O'Connell, state superintendent of public instruction in California. That state is facing an $11.6 billion cutback in public-education funding, affecting the remainder of this school year as well as next. In some cases, Mr. O'Connell says, "instead of a superintendent having to decide between textbooks or a math teacher, we'll be able to do both. Or, it will mean a longer bus ride for kids, instead of eliminating transportation."

When addressing education in the stimulus package, the president last week told a joint session of Congress, "We have provided the resources necessary to prevent painful cuts and teacher layoffs that would set back our children's progress."

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NYC Board of Education Human Resources

Ira Glass:

The true story of little-known rooms in the New York City Board of Education building. Teachers are told to report there instead of their classrooms. No reason is usually given. When they arrive, they find they've been put on some kind of probationary status, and they must report every day until the matter is cleared up. They call it the Rubber Room. Average length of stay? Months, sometimes years. Plus other stories of the uneasy interaction between humans and their institutions.

The Rubber Room story was produced by Joe Richman and the good people at Radio Diaries.

Note: we're doing the Rubber Room story with some filmmakers who are making a feature-length documentary about the Rubber Room. Learn more here.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 11:21 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

On Public vs. Private School

Jan Hoffman:

An annual rite is well under way, as families around the country receive their private-school renewal contracts or acceptance letters. In conventional years, grumbling over tuition aside, their outgoing mail would include signed forms and a registration fee.

This year's hand-wringing over tuition might be dismissed as the latest hardship for the patrician class, which, like everyone else, can simply educate its young in the public system. But of the more than three million families with at least one child in private school, according to the 2005 census, almost two million of them have a household income of less than $100,000. According to a Department of Education survey, in 2003-4, the median annual tuition of nonsectarian schools was $8,200; for Catholic schools, $3,000.

So for every family that pays $30,000 and up to attend elite schools in Manhattan, thousands more will pay tuitions closer to $2,700 -- next year's cost for St. Agnes Catholic School in Roeland Park, Kan.

To many parents who step outside the public system, an independent or parochial school is not a luxury but a near necessity, the school itself a marker of educational values, religious identity, social standing or class aspirations. Whether tuition payments to the country's 29,000 private schools are made easily or with sacrifice, many parents see the writing of those checks as a bedrock definition of doing the best by their children.

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Low Income Student Advance Placement (AP) Wisconsin Incentive Grant

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction:

Wisconsin has won a $2.2 million grant to expand Advanced Placement to low-income students.

Wisconsin's $2.2 million federal Advanced Placement Incentive Program grant will target 46 eligible middle and high schools, benefitting about 26,600 students.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction's "Blended Learning Innovations: Building a Pipeline for Equity and Access" grant from the U.S. Department of Education will support a multipronged approach for students from eligible middle and high schools throughout the state. Poverty rates in participating districts range from 40 percent to 83 percent. Statewide, 35 percent of students are economically disadvantaged based on family income levels that qualify them for free or reduced-price school meals.

In the recent Advanced Placement Report to the Nation, Wisconsin had the Midwest's highest participation rate (24.2 percent) for 2008 graduates taking one or more Advanced Placement exams while in high school. Of the 15,677 graduates who took Advanced Placement exams, 973 students, or just 6.3 percent, received a fee waiver because they were from economically disadvantaged families.

State Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster noted that the grant employs strategies that engage students at various times in their educational planning and preparation. "We want to increase our support for students so they are ready for the academic challenges of Advanced Placement coursework," she said. "Staff development and business, community, and family partnerships are major components of our effort."

The three-year grant targets 19 high schools and 27 middle schools located in three cooperative educational service agencies (CESAs) and the Madison Metropolitan School District. CESA 7 is headquartered in Green Bay, CESA 9 is headquartered in Tomahawk, and CESA 11 is headquartered in Turtle Lake. The CESAs will coordinate activities associated with the grant.

Related: Dane County AP Course Offering Comparison.

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Winterhouse Writing Awards

The Winterhouse Awards for Design Writing & Criticism seek to increase the understanding and appreciation of design, both within the profession and throughout American life. A program of AIGA, these annual awards have been founded by Jessica Helfand and William Drenttel of the Winterhouse Institute to recognize excellence in writing about design and encourage the development of young voices in design writing, commentary and criticism.

The 2009 awards will be open for entries beginning March 2.
Read about the members of the 2009 jury.

Writing Award of $10,000
Open to writers, critics, scholars, historians, journalists and designers and given for a body of work.

Education Award of $1,000
Open to students (high school, undergraduate or graduate) whose use of writing, in the interest of making visual work or scholarship or cultural observation, demonstrates extraordinary originality and promise.

This awards program is part of a larger AIGA initiative to stimulate new levels of design awareness and critical thinking about design.

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A Fascinating Look at K-12 Tax & Spending Politics: WEAC and Wisconsin's latest Budget

Christian Schneider:

The mood was sour at the WEAC offices in August of 2001. Republican Governor Scott McCallum had signed a budget that only increased school funding by $472 million over the biennium. These new funds, approved by McCallum while the Governor was wrestling with a budget deficit, represented increases of 3.1% and 4.2% in school aids over the 2001-03 biennium.

In a press release following the bill signing, the teachers' union sneered at McCallum's paltry effort, calling it a "status quo" budget. At no point in the release did they mention the half a billion in new funds they received - instead, they excoriated McCallum for vetoing a .78% increase in the property tax caps and for vetoing relaxation of the Qualified Economic Offer (QEO) law, which caps teacher salaries. They derided the Republican governor for not increasing aid enough for special education, saying the "lack" of special education funds meant "school districts will be forced to pit special education against other programs, resulting in decisions that hurt all students." To the extent they mention the increased aids at all, they dismiss them as merely "part of a continuing effort" to hold down property taxes.

Nearly eight years later, Democratic Governor Jim Doyle stood at the podium in front of the Legislature, which was now controlled fully by members of his own party. Faced with a budget deficit of $5.9 billion (much of it his own doing) Doyle announced his intention to increase school aids by $426 million over the biennium. Even public school children in Wisconsin will recognize this as $46 million less than the increase authorized by McCallum in 2001.

Doyle's budget also included a funding shell game that imperiled school aids in the future. Doyle cut over $500 million in general funds out of school aids and plugged in an equal amount in federal "stimulus" funds to cover the aids - federal funds which may very well not be available in the next budget. On top of that, he funds virtually the entire school aid increase with one-time federal money. When 2011 rolls around, school aids could be over $1 billion in the hole and fighting tooth and nail with other state programs for funding.

Undoubtedly, the small funding increase, coupled with the risky way funds are shifted around to patch up holes, would cause the thoughtful folks at WEAC to have some serious concerns regarding Doyle's budget.

Surprise! The day after his budget address, WEAC wasted no time in praising the proposed Doyle school funding plan, gushing that it "stays true to Wisconsin's priorities and values."

Schneider correctly points out the risks of using stimulus/splurge funds to plug budget holes. Wisconsin K-12 spending has grown significantly over the years, while UW System state tax dollars have been flat.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:10 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The riddle of education: Why is it the last priority?

Alexandra Marshall:

ALTHOUGH it wasn't favored to win, and it didn't, "The Class" was film critics' "should win" pick for best foreign-language film. Because this deeply engaging movie addresses the subject of teaching underserved public school students, it points to the obvious larger question of why education itself so often should win, but doesn't.

In the compromised version of the economic stimulus package, it was reported by the Los Angeles Times, education spending was "one of the main sticking points" in securing the necessary votes. While protecting funds for other needs such as healthcare, housing, transportation, green energy, infrastructure, the auto industry, and even banking, why cut education? Why are teaching and learning so routinely deemed expendable when everyone agrees they shouldn't be?

In a bracingly effective way, "The Class" confronts this riddle with the vivid example of a middle school French teacher in an immigrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Paris. François Bégaudeau is this teacher as well as the author of "Entre les Murs," the acclaimed novel/memoir on which the film is closely based. Onscreen, he and his actual students make the hectic "ordinaire tragi-comique" of the book three-dimensional. And under the sly direction of Laurent Cantet, their fragmented classroom interactions yield a film celebrated as "seamless" by actor Sean Penn, who headed the jury awarding it the Cannes Festival's Palme d'Or for best picture.

Alexandra Marshall, a guest columnist, is the author of "The Court of Common Pleas" and four other novels.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:34 AM | Comments (1) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The ABCs of federal tax breaks for college education expenses

Kathy Kristof:

You can save as much as $2,500 per student, but how much you claim depends on your income, the student's educational status and how and when you paid the bill.

If you're paying for a college education, you may need an advanced degree to figure out how to claim federal tax breaks for those expenses.

Congress in recent years has approved myriad special credits, deductions and other tax breaks for people paying tuition bills and related costs, and new breaks and twists were added in the recent stimulus bill.

The tax breaks can be generous, saving you as much as $2,500 per student. But how much you can claim depends on your income, the student's educational status and how and when you paid the bill.

"We call it complexification," said Jackie Perlman, an analyst at H&R Block's Tax Institute in Kansas City, Mo. "We hear people saying that they would like the tax law simplified, but simplifying means eliminating tax breaks. It's really simple when there's nothing to claim."

There's no worry of anything simple when it comes to college costs. Among the education-related breaks for 2008 are two tax credits, two deductions and at least two significant "income exclusions." And for 2009 there's a new and improved tax credit.

Tax credits provide a dollar-for-dollar reduction in the tax you owe. Deductions reduce the income that's subject to tax. Income exclusions, like deductions, reduce the amount of income that's subject to tax.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Leader Selection: Disturbing Evidence That Looks Trump Performance

Bob Sutton:

Who would you choose to sail your boat? Who would you vote for? Who do you want for your boss?

The little test above is from a study summarized in the always wonderful BPS Digest, my vote for the best place in the world to find translations of academic research. It is from a forthcoming study in Science. As BPS reports:

"John Antonakis and Olaf Dalgas presented photos of pairs of competing candidates in the 2002 French parliamentary elections to hundreds of Swiss undergrads, who had no idea who the politicians were. The students were asked to indicate which candidate in each pair was the most competent, and for about 70 per cent of the pairs, the candidate rated as looking most competent was the candidate who had actually won the election. The startling implication is that the real-life voters must also have based their choice of candidate on looks, at least in part."

Then, the researchers asked kids and adults the "who would you choose as the captain" question and "For the pair of candidates shown above, 77 per cent children who rated this pair, and 67 per cent of adults, chose Laurent Henart, on the right (the real-life winning candidate), rather than Jean-Jacques Denis on the left."

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Retiree health debt can't be ignored

The Orange County Register:

State legislators no sooner congratulated themselves for solving California's $42 billion budget deficit than state Controller John Chiang insensitively reminded them they are continually adding to an even larger debt for retiree health and dental benefits.

The $42 billion deficit supposedly was wiped away by last week's narrowly approved $12.5 billion in new taxes, $14.9 billion in spending cuts and $11 billion in new borrowing in adopted budgets for 2008-09 and 2009-10. We're skeptical considering the state's typically rosy revenue projections, the continual economic decline that is likely to reduce revenue even more and voters' unlikely approval of borrowing schemes on the May 19 ballot to bridge the budget gap.

However that pans out, the state already owes another $48.2 billion in unpaid costs for retiree health and dental benefits. This year, 392,000 state employees and retirees whose health coverage is provided by the California Public Employees' Retirement System cost the state $3.7 billion. The health benefits are separate from CalPERS' retirement fund, and are financed from employer and member payments.

In effect the state has paid the bare minimum to cover its annual costs, as an overspending consumer might squeak by making the minimum monthly credit card payment. But the debt mounts.

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March 2, 2009

(un)classes: P2P Learning

Ever wish you had the option to get up off the couch and spend the afternoon learning to rock climb, cook, or maybe juggle? Well, we have and that's why we came up with (un)classes. (Un)classes are to continuing education what BarCamps are to conferences -- a lightweight, low-pressure, and most of all fun way to explore topics that interest you without having to make a big up-front commitment. is a site to connect people who want to learn about a topic with those in their area who want to teach it. It's basically a marketplace for matching interest with passion. The actual (un)classes can be whatever you want them to be. People in your area suggest things they want to learn, others join, and someone volunteers to teach. It's that simple.

(Un)classes are what we call casual learning, fun people exploring mutual interests in a stress-free (and non-competitive) social setting. And the community is in charge: wanna learn something no one is teaching, create a class and recruit a teacher; have a hobby you love and want to share, offer to teach it and assemble some students.

(Un)classes are all about intellectual curiosity and the joy of learning. They're for people who want to explore the world around them, try out new hobbies, and get out of their boxes one (un)class at a time. If that sounds like you, then you're exactly the type of person we want to form the core of the (un)class community.

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Jane Pettit might see good - and bad - at Bradley Tech High School

Alan Borsuk:

Dear Mrs. Pettit,

Ald. Bob Donovan wrote recently that Bradley Tech High School, the school you made happen with a $20 million gift, is "a disgrace that is likely causing Jane Pettit to turn over in her grave."

Fran Croak, who, unlike Donovan, knew you well as your lawyer and close adviser, is confident you're resting comfortably, because there are a lot of good things going on at the school, which is named after your father and your uncle. Unlike Donovan, he spends time in the building and is a member of the commission of community leaders that oversees what's going on.

I thought I'd fill you in on things I saw and heard when I spent a few hours at Tech the other day, as well as in other visits over the years, in case that's helpful in making up your own mind whether to be pleased or horrified.

The community at large appears to be on the horrified side - at least if you listen to the radio talk shows and some similar chatter. But the folks at the school, both adults and kids, are convinced Bradley Tech is pretty much your typical school, except better than some others. They feel like the kid who incurs the teacher's wrath even though everyone else did worse things - except in this case, it's the wrath of the TV helicopters circling overhead after a fight in the school.

Of course, high schools these days - even in the suburbs (did you hear about the New Berlin Eisenhower mess?) - aren't like they were when you were a student.

There are good aspects to that. A lot of kids, at Bradley Tech and elsewhere, are doing more sophisticated work than you did in high school, not only because of the changes in technology, but because expectations are so different. College wasn't a must in your day the way it is in the eyes of many kids now, including some at Bradley Tech.

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

Future Investors Club

via a reader email:

Do you want to grow up one day and become rich? If your answer is yes, then you have come to the right place. Future Investor Clubs of America (FICA) is a national financial intelligence training program for kids and teens ages 8-19. Our primary goal is to provide our student members with the skills to earn, save and invest their money. All training and information is designed to help you reach your goals. How do we do it? The first thing you need to know about FICA's training programs is that our face to face and our online training sessions are presented in a Creative, Fun and Interactive way that keeps students wanting to learn more! As a member you will have an opportunity to attend our fun, exciting, informative Field Trips, Summer Camps and Young Investors Workshops. In addition to face-to-face training programs we will help you design your American Dream Plan and keep track of your goals and objectives using our Young Investors Club Network online training system. Need to earn some fast cash? Use our 99 Ways to Earn Extra Cash training system to find moneymaking ideas.


If it's ok with you, we would like to help you have a little fun along the way. Once we have taken care of business its FUN CITY we know how to have a good time by visiting entertainment centers like GameWorks, Six Flags, Universal Studios, Dave & Busters! That's not all during our training sessions you will have a chance to win prizes of Cash, Savings Bonds, Video Games, Electronics, Trips and more! New friends are on the way. Get ready to meet some awesome, ambitious, fun loving kids and teens just like you! All our member students are committed to learning to become successful and having fun along the way. You will build life long friendships. In addition we have designed informative field trips to local business and financial districts. If you like to travel, join FICA students on trips to the New York Stock Exchange, Chicago Board of Trade, Orlando, Florida and Tokyo, Japan! If this all sounds like fun to you then talk to your parents and complete the contact us form and we will get back to you with a registration package.

See You Soon!

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MPS to allow advertising in schools, with restrictions

Alan Borsuk:

You're now welcome to put up advertising inside Milwaukee public schools - provided you can meet more than 15 restrictions on what the ads say and where they're placed.

An end to the ban on advertising inside schools was sought by MPS athletic commissioner Bill Molbeck and others who are hoping that ads in places such as gyms and athletic fields will generate money for financially stressed athletic programs.

After extended discussions at three meetings in recent weeks, the School Board approved the policy last week without discussion.

Athletic directors and coaches at several high schools told School Board members that they are having a hard time obtaining uniforms, practice equipment and other necessities because they are short of money. They said many of the teams they play, including teams from some suburban schools, are able to do things that they can't because they get money from advertising.

Board members, particularly Jennifer Morales, added provisions to the original proposal from school administrators to make sure advertising they thought was inappropriate remained out of bounds.

Under the new policy, businesses or organizations will be allowed to advertise as long as ads meet requirements such as:

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There is a conspiracy to deny children the vital lesson of failure

Chris Woodhead, via a kind reader:

Parents, teachers and ministers are all engaged in a deception over our exam system says the former chief inspector of schools

Sitting at the back of the classroom, I cringed. A pupil had given an answer that betrayed his complete misunderstanding of the question. His teacher beamed. "Well done, Johnny," she said, "that is fantastic."

Why, I asked her afterwards, had she not corrected his mistake? She looked at me as if I were mad. "If I'd told him that he'd got it wrong he would have been humiliated in front of the rest of the class. It would have been a dreadful blow to his self-esteem." With a frosty glare she left the room.

Have you looked at your children's exercise books recently? The odds are that the teacher's comments will all be in green ink. Red ink these days is thought to be threatening and confrontational. Green is calm and reassuring and encouraging. If you read the comments, you will probably find that they are pretty reassuring and encouraging, too. The work may not be very good, but the teacher appears to have found it inspirational.

One of my Sunday Times readers wrote in recently to ask why her son's headmaster was so reluctant to tell parents whether children had passed or failed internal school examinations. His line was that school tests were meant to diagnose weaknesses rather than to give a clear view of a pupil's grasp of the subject. He wanted to help his pupils do better and he was worried that honesty might demotivate pupils who were not achieving very much. Did I, she asked, think this was a very sensible idea? I replied that I did not.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:45 AM | Comments (1) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

How To Be A Genius

Forbes - Scott Berkun

Have you got what it takes to be seen as a genius? Do you really want to?
Geniuses don't exist in the present. Think of the people you've met: Would you call any of them a genius in the Mozart, Einstein, Shakespeare sense of the word? Even the MacArthur Foundation's "genius" grants don't call their winners geniuses.
We throw the g-word around where it's safe: in reference to dead people. Since there's no one alive who witnessed Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart pee in his kindergarten pants or saw young Pablo Picasso eating crayons, we can call them geniuses in safety, as their humanity has been stripped from our memory.
Even if you believe geniuses exist, there's little consensus on what being a genius means. Some experts say genius is the capacity for greatness. Others believe it's that you've accomplished great things.
Forget this pointless debate. Chasing definitions never provides what we want: a better understanding of how to appreciate, and possibly become, interesting creative people.

Be obsessed with work
Show me a genius and I'll show you a workaholic. Van Gogh produced 2,000 works of art between 1880 and 1890 (or 1,100 paintings and 900 sketches). That's four works of art a week for a decade. He didn't even get started until age 25.
Da Vinci's journals represent one clear fact: Work was the center of his life. He had neither a spouse nor children. Picasso was a machine, churning out 12,000 works of art. He said, "Give me a museum and I'll fill it" and made good on that boast. Shakespeare wrote more than 40 plays, plus dozens of sonnets, poems and, of course, grocery lists.
These are people who sacrificed many ordinary pleasures for their work.
The list of lazy geniuses is short. There are burnouts, suicides and unproductive years in retreat--but none could be called slackers.

Have emotional or other serious problems
For all their brilliance, most geniuses did not live well-adjusted lives. Picasso, Van Gogh, Edison, Einstein and Nietzsche (and most major modern philosophers) were often miserable. Many never married or married often, abandoned children and fought depression.
Newton and Tesla spent years in isolation by choice and had enough personality disorders to warrant cabinets full of pharmaceuticals today. Michelangelo and da Vinci quit jobs and fled cities to escape debts.
Kafka and Proust were both hypochondriacs, spending years in bed or in hospitals for medical conditions, some of which were psychological. Voltaire, Thoreau and Socrates all lived in exile or poverty, and these conditions contributed to the works they're famous for.
Happily positive emotions can work as fuel, too. John Coltrane, C.S. Lewis and Einstein had deeply held, and mostly positive, spiritual beliefs that fueled their work.
But the real lesson is that all emotions, positive or negative, provide fuel for work and geniuses are better at converting their emotions into work than more ordinary people.

Don't strive for fame in your own lifetime
Most people we now consider geniuses received little publicity in their lifetimes compared with the accolades heaped on them after their deaths. Kafka and Van Gogh died young, poor and with little fame.
Desiring fame in the present may spoil the talents you have. This explains why many young stars have one amazing work but never rise to the same brilliance later: They've lost their own opinions. Perhaps it's best to ignore opinions except from a trusted few and concentrate on the problems you wish to solve.

To focus on learning and creating seems wise. Leave it to the world after you're gone to decide if you were a genius or not. As long as you're free to create in ways that satisfy your passions and a handful of fans, you're doing better than most, including many of the people we call geniuses.

Posted by Larry Winkler at 7:30 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas


National Council on Teacher Quality:

Kenya appears to be a fave location among educational researchers of late. A relatively stable country where teacher salaries are low (primary teachers make the equivalent of about $3,500 annually) must be the draw. To study the effects of ability tracking in schools, three U.S. researchers provided the funding to 121 Kenyan schools so that they could double the number of their first grade teachers, enabling class sizes of 45 students instead of 90.

Half of the students were assigned to the new first grade classes based on their ability, a practice pejoratively referred to in the U.S. as 'tracking', and the other half were randomly assigned, regardless of their ability. Researchers found that students in the schools with tracking scored higher--though just a little--on a post-test than their peers in nontracked schools. More important was the fact that the improved performance was consistent across the board at all levels, for low-, medium- and high-scoring students.

Given the inordinate differences between class sizes, the results are likely not generalizable to the U.S., but still of interest.

Complete 750K PDF Report.

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Naughty Teenagers

The Economist:

There is the usual and predictable outrage in the British papers and on the radio today about the latest figures for teenage pregnancy--which has become a bit more common at the last count, and which, despite the government's best and lavish efforts, remains much more prevalent in Britain than in most of continental Europe (though less so than in America). The idea of wildly libidinous adolescents feeds usefully into a general tabloid narrative of rampant teenage delinquency, parental fecklessness and a country that is going to the dogs.

So here's an inconvenient fact for the moral declinists: teenage pregnancy and births to teenage mothers were very much more common fifty years ago, before the invention of the pill and the legalisation of abortion, than they are today. Teenagers are rutting no more now than they ever have. What has changed is that teen pregnancies used frequently to result in shotgun marriages, and so the eventual infants were less of a burden on the state than those born to unwed mothers are today. In other words, the deterioration is fiscal rather than moral.

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High school teams make it as complicated as they can for Rube Goldberg contest

Stanley Miller:

They built them out of pulleys and levers and ramps and marbles.

Small plastic toys flew, water flowed, dominoes dropped, mousetraps snapped, and, when all was said and done, an incandescent light bulb was switched off and energy-efficient light-emitting diodes were turned on.

That, after all, was the goal of the regional Rube Goldberg Machine Contest on Friday at Discovery World, where more than a dozen high school teams showed off their contraptions, which were designed to complete the simple task of turning off one light and activating another in at least 20 steps.

The team from Pius XI High School did it in 48 steps, culminating in a light bulb representing the sun setting over a tabletop football stadium and banks of LEDs in the scoreboard blazing to life.

Of course, the crowd went wild.

"We run everything, and all of the work is done outside of school," said Patrick Kessenich, a Pius junior and co-captain of the 14-student team. "It's fun to be independent, and it's just great to get together with friends and do something fun."

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

"21st Century Skills"

Andrew Rotherham:

Seems that in the last 96 hours the zeitgeist about “21st Century Skills” has shifted from lively debate and healthy skepticism to a brawl…was it the debate the other day?

For instance, Panic attacks here, while Mike Petrilli unloads the f-bomb here, and The Boston Globe says:

…the burden should be on 21st-century skills proponents to prove that their methods offer a better way to prepare students for college and the workplace. So far, they haven’t done that. And while they say 21st-century skills will only complement the state’s current efforts, it’s not clear that the approach can be implemented without de-emphasizing academic content.

Teachers and parents across the state just don’t know enough about 21st-century skills. The unnerving part is that the proponents don’t seem to know much more.

Much more on "21st Century Skills" here, from the Boston Globe and Education Next

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March 1, 2009

To Keep Students, Colleges Cut Anything but Aid

Kate Zernike:

With the economy forcing budget cuts and layoffs in higher education, colleges and universities might be expected to be cutting financial aid. But no.

Students considering a wide range of private schools, as well as those who are already enrolled, can expect to get more aid this year, not less.

The increases highlight the hand-to-mouth existence of many of the nation's smaller and less well-known institutions. With only tiny endowments, they need full enrollment to survive, and they are anxious to prevent top students from going elsewhere.

Falling even a few students short of expectations can mean laying off faculty members, eliminating courses or shelving planned expansions.

"The last thing colleges and universities are going to cut this year is financial aid," said Kathy Kurz, an enrollment consultant to colleges. "Most of them recognize that their discount rates are going to go up, but they'd rather have a discounted person in the seat than no one in the seat."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 11:01 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

West High School presents Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods"

An ambivalent Cinderella? A blood-thirsty Little Red Riding Hood? Prince Charming with a roving eye? A Witch... who raps? They're all among the cockeyed characters in James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim's fractured fairy tale "Into the Woods." When the Baker and his Wife learn they're cursed with childlessness, they embark on a quest for the special objects required to break the spell ­ swindling, lying and stealing from Cinderella, Little Red, Rapunzel, and Jack (of beanstalk fame). One of Sondheim's most popular works, this timeless yet relevant piece is a rare modern classic.

Performance and ticket information:

March 6, 7, 13 and 14 • 7:30 pm • West High Auditorium
Tickets are $8 for students and $10 for adults

Buy your tickets online now at

Please join the West HS community in a celebration of the arts in our schools. This year's cast is exceptionally talented and a Sondheim musical is always a treat. "Into the Woods" is a production not to be missed!

Note: "Into the Woods" is not appropriate theater fare for elementary school and younger, less mature middle school children; however, do not worry if you're child's class is going to the school performance on March 10. They are only doing the first act for that performance and the first act is delightfully appropriate for young audiences.

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

Congress in the Classroom 7/27/2009 to 7/30/2009: Pelkin, IL

The Dirksen Center, via a Cindy Koepel email:

What is Congress in the Classroom®?

Congress in the Classroom® is a national, award-winning education program now in its 17th year. Developed and sponsored by The Dirksen Congressional Center, the workshop is dedicated to the exchange of ideas and information on teaching about Congress. The Center will join with the new Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service in conducting the workshop.

Who Should Attend?

Congress in the Classroom® is designed for high school or middle school teachers who teach U.S. history, government, civics, political science, or social studies. Forty teachers will be selected to take part in the program.

What Will I Learn?

Although the workshop will feature a variety of sessions, the 2009 program will focus on two themes: (1) developments in the 111th Congress, and (2) new resources for teaching about Congress.

Throughout the program, you will work with subject matter experts as well as colleagues from across the nation. This combination of firsthand knowledge and peer-to-peer interaction will give you new ideas, materials, and a professionally enriching experience.

"Until now so much of what I did in my class on Congress was straight theory--this is what the Constitution says," noted one of our teachers. "Now I can use these activities and illustrations to help get my students involved in the class and at the very least their community but hopefully in the federal government. This workshop has given me a way to help them see how relevant my class is and what they can do to help make changes in society."

In sum, the workshop consists of two types of sessions: those that focus on recent research and scholarship about Congress (and don't always have an immediate application in the classroom) and those geared to specific ways to teach students about the federal legislature.

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

Achievement Effects of Four Early Elementary School Math Curricula Findings from First Graders in 39 Schools

Roberto Agodini, Barbara Harris, Sally Atkins-Burnett, Sheila Heaviside, Timothy Novak, Robert Murphy and Audrey Pendleton [693K PDF]:

Many U.S. children start school with weak math skills and there are differences between students from different socioeconomic backgrounds--those from poor families lag behind those from affluent ones (Rathburn and West 2004). These differences also grow over time, resulting in substantial differences in math achievement by the time students reach the fourth grade (Lee, Gregg, and Dion 2007).

The federal Title I program provides financial assistance to schools with a high number or percentage of poor children to help all students meet state academic standards. Under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), Title I schools must make adequate yearly progress (AYP) in bringing their students to state-specific targets for proficiency in math and reading. The goal of this provision is to ensure that all students are proficient in math and reading by 2014.

The purpose of this large-scale, national study is to determine whether some early elementary school math curricula are more effective than others at improving student math achievement, thereby providing educators with information that may be useful for making AYP. A small number of curricula dominate elementary math instruction (seven math curricula make up 91 percent of the curricula used by K-2 educators), and the curricula are based on different theories for developing student math skills (Education Market Research 2008). NCLB emphasizes the importance of adopting scientifically-based educational practices; however, there is little rigorous research evidence to support one theory or curriculum over another. This study will help to fill that knowledge gap. The study is sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) in the U.S. Department of Education and is being conducted by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. (MPR) and its subcontractor SRI International (SRI).

This report presents results from the first cohort of 39 schools participating in the evaluation, with the goal of answering the following research question: What are the relative effects of different early elementary math curricula on student math achievement in disadvantaged schools? The report also examines whether curriculum effects differ for student subgroups in different instructional settings.

Curricula Included in the Study. A competitive process was used to select four curricula for the evaluation that represent many of the diverse approaches used to teach elementary school math in the United States:

The process for selecting the curricula began with the study team inviting developers and publishers of early elementary school math curricula to submit a proposal to include their curricula in the evaluation. A panel of outside experts in math and math instruction then reviewed the submissions and recommended to IES curricula suitable for the study. The goal of the review process was to identify widely used curricula that draw on different instructional approaches and that hold promise for improving student math achievement.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:11 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas


National Council on Teacher Quality:

We've grown so accustomed to Massachusetts' trailblazer stature in education that perhaps we were a little blasé over its decision to participate in the TIMSS, international assessments of 4th and 8th grade mathematics performance. Nor were we all that surprised to learn that the state's students performed relatively well compared to students from other nations.

Less blasé are we about Minnesota, which for years has demonstrated little more than smug satisfaction over its high standing among American states, but which decided to finally prove its mettle by competing against the world and doing fairly well (as is illustrated here).

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Rendering Knowledge

Dave Snowden:

I may have finally broken a writing block. Aside from two book chapters in the last couple of months I more or less completed a paper length opinion piece for a report ARK are producing on KM in the Legal Profession. The title includes one of those words which has multiple and different meanings namely render which is allowing me to play games between the poetic meaning and that of rendering something down to fat. As a part of that paper I updated my original three rules of knowledge management to seven principles which I share below.

Knowledge can only be volunteered it cannot be conscripted. You can't make someone share their knowledge, because you can never measure if they have. You can measure information transfer or process compliance, but you can't determine if a senior partner has truly passed on all their experience or knowledge of a case.
We only know what we know when we need to know it. Human knowledge is deeply contextual and requires stimulus for recall. Unlike computers we do not have a list-all function. Small verbal or nonverbal clues can provide those ah-ha moments when a memory or series of memories are suddenly recalled, in context to enable us to act. When we sleep on things we are engaged in a complex organic form of knowledge recall and creation; in contrast a computer would need to be rebooted.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:32 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

There's financial help for college students -- if you can decipher the application forms

Deborah Ziff:

There could soon be more money than ever to help students go to college, but figuring out how to get it is the trick.

Both the proposed state and federal budgets included significant investments in financial aid, beefing up grant and loan programs and creating new ones.

The concern among some officials is that the federal application form for aid -- a labyrinthine 109 questions -- intimidates prospective college students and their families from applying to college.

"I think it's overwhelming," said Cari Schuepbach, a parent from McFarland who attended a recent session at Edgewood College designed to help families fill out the application. "It's my first time and you think, 'Oh god, I don't know what I'm doing.'â€..."

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

Money for Wisconsin Covenant promised but not yet delivered

Jason Stein:

In introducing his budget last week, Gov. Jim Doyle said he had "identified" $25 million for a state program aimed at ensuring a college education for students who stay straight and study hard.

But what the Democratic governor's budget proposal doesn't do is either spend that money or set it aside for the Wisconsin Covenant program.

Instead, the money in the phantom appropriation for the college guarantee program would be returned, unspent, to the state's main account at the end of the two-year budget in June 2011.

Why do that?

Doyle budget director Dave Schmiedicke said the line item is intended to serve as a placeholder until the fall of 2011, when the first of thousands of Wisconsin Covenant scholars will be entering college.

Over the past two years, 35,000 students in two grades have signed the Covenant, which guarantees a place in a Wisconsin college and adequate financial aid to any eighth-grader who keeps a pledge to do well in school and keep out of trouble. Department of Administration spokeswoman Linda Barth said that the state will start deciding how many students are eligible after they finish filling out their federal student financial aid forms in January 2011.

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