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April 30, 2009

Pass bill to boost science, math teachers Pass bill to boost science, math teachers

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial
: Public schools across Wisconsin expect a critical shortage of math and science teachers in the next few years. Supply is not keeping up with demand.

That's why the Legislature should approve Senate Bill 175. This sensible proposal would lure more math and science professionals into classrooms by creating a shorter and less expensive route to a teaching license for anyone with a college degree.

SB 175 also could attract more black men into the teaching profession to serve as role models in urban schools -- a key selling point for Rep. Jason Fields, D-Milwaukee, who is part of a bipartisan group of sponsors.
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Primary schoolchildren will learn to read on Google in 'slimmer' curriculum

Graeme Paton:
Computing skills will be put on an equal footing with literacy and numeracy in an overhaul of primary education that aims to slim down the curriculum - but not lose the basics.

Children will be taught to read using internet search engines such as Google and Yahoo in the first few years of school, it is announced.

Pupils in English primary schools will learn to write with keyboards, use spellcheckers and insert internet "hyperlinks" into text before their 11th birthday under the most significant reform of timetables since the National Curriculum was introduced in 1988.

The review by Sir Jim Rose, former head of inspections at Ofsted, also recommends the use of Google Earth in geography lessons, spreadsheets to calculate budgets in maths, online archives to research local history and video conferencing software for joint language lessons with schools overseas.

Sir Jim insisted the changes would not replace come at the expense of traditional teaching, saying: "We cannot sidestep the basics".

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We've let the curriculum become too fat. We need to give teachers the opportunity to be more flexible."

His report, which will be accepted in full by ministers, also proposes more IT training for teachers to keep them ahead of "computer savvy pupils".
John Sutherland has more.

Google (and other search engine) users should be aware of the many privacy issues associated with these services. Willem Buiter:
Google is to privacy and respect for intellectual property rights what the Taliban are to women's rights and civil liberties: a daunting threat that must be fought relentlessly by all those who value privacy and the right to exercise, within the limits of the law, control over the uses made by others of their intellectual property. The internet search engine company should be regulated rigorously, defanged and if necessary, broken up or put out of business. It would not be missed.

In a nutshell, Google promotes copyright theft and voyeurism and lays the foundations for corporate or even official Big Brotherism.

Google, with about 50 per cent of the global internet search market, is the latest in a distinguished line of IT abusive monopolists. The first was IBM, which was brought to heel partly by a forty-year long antitrust regulation (which ended in 1996) and partly by the rise of Microsoft.
We must also keep in mind the excesses of Powerpoint in the classroom.

Related: Democracy Now on a Google Anti-Trust investigation.
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The Boston Globe has been publishing for 137 years, and the news that it may have to fold has distressed its many readers. Each Fall, Winter and Spring the paper publishes a special section, of 14 pages or so, on notable local public high school athletes and their coaches. There is a mention of athletes and coaches at local prep schools as well.

The latest Boston Globe's Winter "ALL-SCHOLASTICS" section arrived, with the "ten moments that stood out among the countless athletic stories in Massachusetts." There are reports on the best athletes and coaches in Skiing, Boys' Basketball, Girls' Basketball, Boys' Hockey, Girls' Hockey, Boys' Track, Girls' Track, Boys' Swimming, Girls' Swimming, Preps, Wrestling, and Gymnastics. The Preps and Gymnastics parts consolidate boys' and girls' accomplishments, perhaps to save space (and cost).

Each full-page section also features photographs of 9-16 athletes, with perhaps a twitter-sized paragraph on their achievements. In addition, there are 30 photos and tweets about some coaches, spread among the various sports. There are 26 "Prep" athletes mentioned, from various sports, but I didn't see any "Prep" coaches profiled. For each high school sport there are two "athletes of the year" identified, and all the coaches are "coaches of the year" in their sport.

There may be, at this time, some high school "students of the year" in English, math, Chinese, physics, Latin, chemistry, European history, U.S. history, biology, and the like. There may also be high school "teachers of the year" in these and other academic subjects, but their names and descriptions are not to be found in The Boston Globe, perhaps the most well-known paper in the "Athens of America" (Boston).

It may be the case, indeed it probably is the case, that some of the athletes featured in the Winter "All-Scholastics" section today are also high school students of math, history, English, science, and languages, but you would not know that from the coverage of The Boston Globe. The coaches of the year may in many, if not all, cases, also be teachers of academic subjects in the Massachusetts public and private schools, but that remains only a guess as well.

When the British architect Christopher Wren was buried in 1723, part of his epitaph, written by his eldest son, Christopher Wren, Jr., read: "Lector, si monumentum requiris, Circumspice." If you wanted to judge his interest, efforts and accomplishments, all you had to do was look around you. His work was there for all to see.

The work of Massachusetts high school athletes and coaches is all around us in The Boston Globe on a regular basis, but the work of our high school scholars and teachers is nowhere to be seen in that public record.

If one seeks a monument to anti-academic and anti-intellectual views and practices in Boston today, one need look no further than The Boston Globe. I read it every day, and I will be sorry to see it fold, if it does, but I will not miss its attention to and recognition of the academic efforts and accomplishments of Massachusetts secondary students and their teachers, because there is none now, and never has been any, no matter how many reports on education reform and academic standards it may have published over the years. If you ask how much The Boston Globe editors (and I am sure The Globe is not alone in this) cares about the good academic work now actually being done by high school teachers and their students in Massachusetts, the answer is, from the evidence, that they do not.

Posted by Will Fitzhugh at 10:12 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Growing Pains in the Advanced Placement Program: Do Tough Trade-Offs Lie Ahead?

Ann Duffett & Steve Farkas:
In 2002-2003, 1 million students participated in AP by taking at least one exam. Five years later, nearly 1.6 million did—a 50+ percent increase. But is growth all good? Might there be a downside? Are ill prepared students eroding the quality of the program? Perhaps harming the best and brightest? To find out, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute commissioned the Farkas Duffett Research Group to survey AP teachers in public high schools across the country. Perhaps not surprisingly, the AP program remains very popular with its teachers. But there are signs that the move toward “open door” access to AP is starting to cause concern. Read the report to learn more.
Jacques Steinberg:
A survey of more than 1,000 teachers of Advanced Placement courses in American high schools has found that more than half are concerned that the program’s effectiveness is being threatened as districts loosen restrictions on who can take such rigorous courses and as students flock to them to polish their résumés.

The study, by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an educational research and advocacy organization, noted the sharp growth in the A.P. program’s popularity. The number of high school students who took at least one college-level A.P. course increased by 45 percent, to 1.6 million from 1.1 million, from the school year ended 2004 to that ended 2008.

The number of A.P. exams those students took — with hopes, in part, of gaining exemption from some college class work, depending on how well they scored — increased by 50 percent, to 2.7 million.
>Dane County, WI High School AP course offering comparison.
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Mandated K-12 Testing in Wisconsin: A System in Need of Reform

Mark C. Schug, Ph.D., M. Scott Niederjohn, Ph.D.:

By law public schools in Wisconsin must administer a rigid, comprehensive set of tests. In the fall of every school year students are tested in reading, math, language, science and social studies. Test results from each district and each school are posted on the Internet, passed along to the federal government to comply with No Child Left Behind requirements and are made available to parents. In an era where measurable student performance is essential, it is expected that Wisconsin's elaborate system of testing will tell us how Wisconsin students are performing. Unfortunately the testing required by Wisconsin state law is not very good.

The purpose of state standards and state-mandated testing is to increase academic achievement. Does Wisconsin's elaborate system of testing advance this goal? From every quarter the answer is a clear no. That is the consensus of independent, third-party evaluators. Wisconsin's massive testing program has come under fire from the U.S. Department of Education which said that Wisconsin testing failed to adequately evaluate the content laid out in the state's own standards. Further, a joint report issued by the independent Fordham Institute and the Northwest Evaluation Association performed a detailed evaluation of testing in every state and ranked Wisconsin 42nd in the nation. The Fordham Institute gave Wisconsin's testing a grade of "D-minus."

Perhaps even more troublesome is that many Wisconsin school districts find the testing system inadequate. Over 68% of Wisconsin school districts that responded to a survey said they purchase additional testing to do what the state testing is supposed to do. These districts are well ahead of the state in understanding the importance of timely, rigorous testing.

This report lays out the thirty-year history of testing in Wisconsin and the criticism of the current testing requirement. It is the first of two reports to be issued regarding Wisconsin's testing program. The second report will show how a new approach to testing will not only meet the standards that parents, teachers and the public expect, but will also allow teachers and policy makers to use testing to actually increase the achievement of Wisconsin's children.

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

April 29, 2009

WKCE Scores Document Decline in the Percentage of Madison's Advanced Students

For many years now, parents and community members, including members of Madison United for Academic Excellence, have expressed concerns about the decline in rigor and the lack of adequate challenge in our district's curriculum. The release this week of WKCE scores for the November 2008 testing led me to wonder about the performance of our district's strongest students. While most analyses of WKCE scores focus on the percentages of students scoring at the Advanced and Proficient levels, these numbers do not tell us about changes in the percent of students at each particular level of performance. We can have large increases in the percent of students scoring at the Proficient and Advanced levels because we have improved the performance of students who were previously at the Basic level on the WKCE, but yet fail to have any effect on the performance of our district's strongest students. This is the argument that we are improving the performance of our low ability students, but failing to increase the performance of our already successful students. An examination of the numbers of students who are performing at just the Advanced level on the WKCE provides us with some insight into the academic progress of our more successful students.

I decided to examine WKCE math scores for students across the district. While it is not possible to track the performance of individual students, it is possible to follow the performance of a cohort as they advance through the system. Thus students who are now in 10th grade, took the 8th grade WKCE in 2006 and the 4th grade test in 2002. Because there have been significant changes in the demographics of the district's students, I split the data by socio-economic status to remove the possibility of declines in WKCE performance simply being the result of increased numbers of low income students. Although the WKCE has been criticized for not being a rigorous enough assessment tool, the data on our students' math performance are not encouraging. The figures below indicate that the percent of students scoring at the Advanced level on the WKCE decreases as students progress through the system, and this decline is seen in both our low income students and in our Not Economically Disadvantaged students. The figures suggest that while there is some growth in the percent of Advanced performing students in elementary school, there is a significant decline in performance once students begin taking math in our middle schools and this decline continues through high school. I confess that I take no pleasure in sharing this data; in fact, it makes me sick.

Because it might be more useful to examine actual numbers, I have provided tables showing the data used in the figures above. Reading across a row shows the percent of students in a class cohort scoring at the Advanced level as they have taken the WKCE test as they progressed from grades 3 - 10.

Percent of Economically Disadvantaged Students Scoring at the Advanced Level on the WKCE Math Test Between 2002 and 2008

Graduation Year 3rd Grade 4th Grade 5th Grade 6th Grade 7th Grade 8th Grade 10th Grade

Percent of Not Economically Disadvantaged Students Scoring at the Advanced Level on the WKCE Math Test Between 2002 and 2008

Graduation Year 3rd Grade 4th Grade 5th Grade 6th Grade 7th Grade 8th Grade 10th Grade

While it could be argued that the declining percentage of low income students scoring in the advanced range on the WKCE are simply the result of a relatively stable number of Advanced ability students in this group becoming a smaller and smaller percentage as the overall numbers of economically disadvantaged students increases, an examination of actual numbers reveal an absolute decline in the number of low income students scoring at the Advanced level on the Math portion of the WKCE.

Numbers of Economically Disadvantaged Students Scoring Advanced on the Math WKCE Between 2002 and 2008

Graduation Year 3rd Grade 4th Grade 5th Grade 6th Grade 7th Grade 8th Grade 10th Grade

In the interest of thoroughness, I am providing enrollment numbers for the Not Economically Disadvantaged students in the MMSD over this period of time. Readers will see that the absolute numbers of Not Disadvantaged students have declined over the past seven years; this simply confirms what we already know (the increase in numbers from 8th to 10th grade reflect the influx of 9th grade students who have attended private schools for their K-8 education, e.g., Blessed Sacrament and Queen of Peace in the West attendance area).

Numbers of Not Economically Disadvantaged Students Enrolled Across Different Grade Levels in the Madison Schools and Taking the WKCE between 2002 and 2008

Graduation Year 3rd Grade 4th Grade 5th Grade 6th Grade 7th Grade 8th Grade 10th Grade

Because the percent of students in this group scoring at the Advanced level has declined as well, there are two possible explanations for what has been happening. One explanation is that the district has had a relatively larger decline in enrollments of high ability students amongst this group of Not Disadvantaged students, what is often referred to as "Bright Flight". A more probably explanation is that the math curriculum, particularly in our middle schools and in 9th grade, does not adequately challenge our students and foster their intellectual growth regardless of their socio-economic background, and of course, it is possible that both of these factors are contributing to what we see here.

I should note that I have only examined the math data, and I don't know if the WKCE data for the other subject areas is as dismal. This would seem like an analysis that the District should be doing on a regular basis, but I encourage anyone who is interested to explore the performance of our students in reading or language arts. I also do not know the extent to which the Madison data merely reflects a similar decline in performance across the state. The members of the UW Math faculty that I have talked with in the past have expressed their concerns about the overall level of preparation from Wisconsin students, and our district's data may simply be a confirmation of the failure of currently popular constructionist approaches to adequately teach mathematical concepts. The statewide data is certainly worth exploring as well, and again I invited interested parties to visit the Department of Public Instruction WINNS website and download their own copy of the data.

I will say again that I find these data to be incredibly demoralizing, but perhaps we can take hope that our new superintendent and our School Board will use these data as a rallying point as they finalize a strategic plan and consider the recommendations of the Math Task Force. We have to find ways to raise the performance of all our district's students, and right now it appears we aren't meeting anyone's academic needs.

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 12:53 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Some colleges checking out applicants' social networking posts

Larry Gordon:

igh school students, beware! College admissions and financial aid officers in California and elsewhere may be peeking over your digital shoulder at the personal information you post on your Facebook or MySpace page.

And they might decide to toss out your application after reading what you wrote about that cool party last week or how you want to conduct your romantic life at college.

According to a new report by the National Assn. for College Admission Counseling, about a quarter of U.S. colleges reported doing some research about applicants on social networking sites or through Internet search engines. The study, which included 10 California colleges, did not specify which schools acknowledged the practice or how often scholarships or enrollment offers might be nixed because of online postings.

David Hawkins, director of public policy and research for the counselors group, said the moral is clear: "Don't post anything that you don't want your mother or father or college admission officer to see," he said.

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Rejection: Some Colleges Do It Better Than Others

Sue Sehllenbarger:

Members of this year's record-size high-school graduating class applied to more colleges than ever -- and now, that's resulting in a heavier than usual flurry of rejection letters.

Hundreds of students at high schools from Newton, Mass., to Palo Alto, Calif., have created cathartic "Wall of Shame" or "Rejection Wall" displays of college denial letters. On message boards at, students critique, attack and praise missives from various schools, elevating rejection-letter reviews to a sideline sport.

Even with impressive test scores and grades, abundant extracurricular activities, good recommendations and an admission essay into which "I poured myself heart and soul," Daniel Beresford, 18, of Fair Oaks, Calif., netted 14 rejection letters from 17 applications, he says. Among the denials: Harvard, Yale, Johns Hopkins and the University of Chicago. (He's bound for one of his top choices, Pepperdine University.) When he "realized it was going to be so much harder this year," he started calling in reinforcements, asking teachers and friends to open the rejections for him.

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

2009 USA Today College All-Stars

Mary Beth Marklein:

The nation's most gifted college students rightly take pride in their academic achievements, be they in the area of environmental policy, medical research or the classics.

But give them the chance to talk about their proudest accomplishments, and a refreshingly eclectic set of extracurricular interests and talents slips into view.

Matthew Baum, a soon-to-be Yale University graduate whose research on Fragile X Syndrome may someday lead to better treatments for mental retardation, is a wrestler on the side and started a club for beer aficionados. Harvard chemistry major Allen Cheng, 20, who envisions a career as a physician-scientist, finds pleasure in kendo, a form of fencing based on the art of Japanese samurai swordsmanship. And when Aaron Krolikowski is not advocating for environmental justice, he just might be on stage with the Buffalo Chips, a collegiate male a cappella group.

"Music has always been an important part of who I am," says Krolikowski, 22, who will graduate next month from the University at Buffalo and hopes to serve someday in state public office. Writing and arranging music is an escape, he says, and performing is "exhilarating."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:46 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

School Reform Talk Is Good, Now Let's See the Walk

Wall Street Journal Editorial:

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan tells us that "School Reform Means Doing What's Best for Kids" (op-ed, April 22). His cry for "doing what's best for kids" rings a bit hollow when he failed to do what is best for the 1,700 low-income kids in Washington, D.C. who were counting on him. Those kids were given a lifeline -- a voucher to escape schools that continually failed them, schools in a district to which neither Mr. Duncan nor his boss would send their own children. When crunch time arrived, politics trumped educational freedom, at least when it came to poor, inner-city kids in the District of Columbia.

Mr. Duncan speaks eloquently about how the public education establishment must change. He correctly says "we need a culture of accountability in America's education system if we want to be the best in the world." But what greater accountability can there be than that which comes from customers exercising free choices? True accountability in education will only come about when all parents are empowered to choose what they deem is best for their own children, not just those, like President Obama, Mr. Duncan, and most readers of the Wall Street Journal, who have financial means. So my question is, "When will the Obamas, Duncans, et. al. stand up for low-income parents so that they, too, can make choices that are best for their kids?"

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:29 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Waukesha to use child care centers for 4-K classes

Erin Richards:

bout 15 local child care centers are likely to host the Waukesha School District's new half-day, 4-year-old kindergarten program next year, a district curriculum and instruction coordinator said.

Deb Wells, the district coordinator for the new 4-K program and coordinator for kindergarten and elementary social studies, said her staff is conducting site visits at 15 or 16 community child care sites in Waukesha to determine that they meet high standards for 4-K instruction.

Wells said that about 20 community sites applied to be a part of the program.

Of the 15 or 16 they've settled on, Wells said, the district will likely work with most if not all of them.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:28 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Colleges offer no-frills degrees

Stacy Teicher Khadaroo:

Kaileen Crane was hardly interested in the hefty price tag that comes with the traditional college experience. So she's paying $10,000 a year for the Advantage Program offered by Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), a private college.

Forget about campus housing. Or a meal plan, or a gym with a climbing wall. This program is about the basics - core courses at a bare-bones satellite campus. But the price is less than one-third of what it costs for tuition and room and board at the main campus in Manchester.

"It's close to where I live, it's close to where I work, and the cost is just so much cheaper than a lot of other places," says Ms. Crane during a break from classes in an office building in Salem.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:32 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Selling Obesity At School

NY Times Editorial:

The federal school lunch program, which subsidizes meals for 30 million low-income children, was created more than half a century ago to combat malnutrition. A breakfast program was added during the 1960s, and both were retooled a decade ago in an attempt to improve the nutritional value of food served at school.

More must now be done to fight the childhood obesity epidemic, which has triggered a frightening spike in weight-related disorders like diabetes, high-blood pressure and heart disease among young people. And the place to start is the schools, where junk foods sold outside the federal meals programs -- through snack bars, vending machines and à la carte food lines -- has pretty much canceled out the benefits of all those healthy lunches and breakfasts.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:31 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

China Faces a Grad Glut After Boom at Colleges

Ian Johnson:

Zhang Weidong has been making the rounds at this city's weekend talent fair for more than a month now and can't understand why he hasn't landed a job.

"These companies are looking for employees, and I have a degree," says the 22-year-old computer major, clutching a plastic organizer stuffed with résumés, business cards and company information. "I don't know what I'm doing wrong."

Unemployed university graduates used to be rare in China. But now their ranks are ballooning to critical levels just as the country suffers its worst economic slump in two decades. Up to one-third of last year's 5.6 million university graduates are still looking for work, and this year will see another 6.1 million hit the labor market. Finding jobs for graduates is suddenly a national priority: Earlier this month, the central government ordered local governments and state enterprises to hire more graduates to maintain China's "general stability."

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April 28, 2009

Education Building Architecture Awards

World Architecture News:
In the first of WAN's groundbreaking sector awards this year, educational buildings were submitted from across the globe with architects hoping their project would clutch the title of Education Building of the Year. A long list of 27 projects was reached by 31 March and following a tense jury session, a shortlist of six has now been reached.

WAN introduced the WAN International Sector Awards following the success of the WAN House of the Year Awards which have run for the past three years. Diversifying by sector has opened up a huge array of worldwide projects, delivered sustainably to the desktops of 127,000 architects via News Review every week. Acknowledging the ever-increasing need to address sustainability WAN makes extensive use of digital and internet technology to provide the information and some of the scoring electronically.

Breaking further ground, the Education Award formed a pioneering jury combining world-class talent in design and those in the know at ground level. Michael Hammond, chairman of the Education panel said, “At WAN, we pride ourselves in our ability to assemble top class juries, vital for the delivery of a rounded verdict. This principle was borne out by our Education panel, which comprised one of the UK’s top headmasters, two leading architects (from the US and Denmark), a director of the Government’s school procurem
Obviously, it is far more important to evaluate what goes on inside these buildings than simply their facade.
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Wisconsin's Latest State K-12 Test Results, and Related Criticism

Gayle Worland:

Across Wisconsin, educators like Hensgen are part of a growing chorus to reassess the way the state assesses students. Currently, teachers and districts wait five months for WKCE results, so they have little time to react to the findings and adjust their curriculum. The tests eat into a week of class time and are based on standards that, critics say, are too low to give parents and teachers a clear picture of how students measure up globally.

"It's widely agreed that the WKCE is a really lousy test that measures lame standards," said Phil McDade, a departing member of the Monona Grove School Board. "The bigger issue to me in Wisconsin is that there's a sense of self-satisfaction with our school districts, that we're doing fine, that we're Lake Wobegon, that everybody here's above average."

The Department of Public Instruction commissioned a state task force on the issue last fall and is reviewing the group's recommendations, said Michael Thompson, executive assistant to the state superintendent of schools. The state's current testing contract lasts at least another two years.

Alan Borsuk has more.

"Schools should not rely on only WKCE data to gauge progress of individual students or to determine effectiveness of programs or curriculum"

The ACT Explore test was mentioned in Gayle Worland's article.

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No long-term plan, no research - fine-tuning of language policy reflects a lack of values

Jonathan Lai, principal, Lee Kau Yan Memorial School in San Po Kong:

This is an era of "NO Values" - that is confirmed! Ten years have passed since 1998 and the medium-of-instruction pendulum is swinging again. From one side to the other, or rather, back to square one, although the government refuses to admit the fact and gives the latest policy move a beautiful name: "fine-tuning". Yet, who will feel fine? The Education Bureau? Parents? Teachers? Students?

While the community is deeply involved in the discussion about the so-called labelling effect that could be caused by the fine-tuning policy, what has made the pendulum swing back remains a complete mystery. No one will be interested in the mystery, they will be too busy getting their surfboards ready for the tide to turn again.

However, this mysterious force is pushing our community into an era without beliefs and values. The issue of teaching language should not be considered as something solely related to education, it should be viewed and discussed from a wider angle. It is, in fact, demonstrating how our government formulates and adjusts its public policies.

Let us have a look at the Education Bureau's proposal. The officials are now suggesting that teachers hold a grade six in the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), considered appropriate to be able to conduct a lesson in English in the future.

What is IELTS? According to the official webpage , it is an internationally recognised English test measuring the ability of a student to communicate in English across all four language skills - listening, reading, writing and speaking - for people who intend to study or work where English is the language of communication.

Just like TOEFL, this is an English benchmarking test for students who wish to further their studies overseas and for people who are applying for migration to an English-speaking country.

How is a person's English-speaking capacity evaluated in IELTS? The oral test consists of two sections. The five-minute section one is a general "getting-to-know-the-candidate" part with common questions such as: "Do you enjoy studying English?" Section two is a two-minute monologue, with the candidate asked to give a presentation on a set topic based on information given on a cue card.

Clearly, the test has nothing to do with English teaching - the results of IELTS are unable to tell a person's ability to conduct a secondary school English lesson.

What makes Education Bureau officials believe so confidently that a non-English teacher holding a grade six in IELTS would be competent to deliver a lesson in biology or geography? Up until now we have not seen any evidence or research to support such a belief. Obviously the government owes the public an explanation.

In terms of command of English, what does grade six in IELTS stand for? In Australia, if a student wants to further his or her studies at a graduate school, a grade eight in IELTS is a must. In Hong Kong, both City and Baptist universities consider IELTS grade six equivalent to grade E in the Hong Kong AS-level Use of English examination. Would the public believe a teacher holding a grade E in Use of English capable of teaching a general subject such as chemistry and liberal studies in fluent English? I am afraid only someone who is ignorant of the exam requirements and content would say "yes".

Does the government know this? Beyond doubt, nearly all officials themselves should have gone through this system and exam themselves some years ago.

Either the government did not know what level of language proficiency an IELTS grade six represented. If so, it means that our officials are ignorant and are not making policy decisions in a professional way. There again, what if the officials did know what an IELTS grade six stood for when they designed the fine-tuning policy?

This is a question we should all ask, and it is why professional teachers and principals are against the proposed fine-tuning policy.

Ten years ago, without giving the public any research findings, the government told secondary schools that code-mixing was something very bad for students and had to be abandoned. Similarly, we have not seen any research to explain why there should be some schools allowed to cling to English teaching, while the government ruled that mother-tongue should be the best teaching language in the classroom.

Couldn't the government foresee that such an odd policy - telling the public that English-medium schools were admitting better students - would harm the fundamental spirit of mother-tongue education at that time?

Now, a generation of students has gone and the government tells the public it is time the pendulum swung back to the original side. Again, no theories, no research and no long-term plans are available to support such a move.

What can we learn from this? The fine-tuning policy move awakes all of us to the fact that we are living in an era of no beliefs and values. We are simply struggling in the ripples of political waves. Our government is not making sensible decisions based on any schools of thought or other rational considerations; it is a machine operating on political concerns.

Where have all our professional beliefs, values and practices gone? Long gone with the political monsoons.

May God bless our children - the future pillars of Hong Kong!

Jonathan Lai Ping-wah.

Alumnus principal of Lee Kau Yan Memorial School, Kowloon (a Chinese middle school since 1964).

Master of Public Administration, University of Hong Kong.

Master of Language Studies, Baptist University.

Bachelor of Arts (Chinese and English), Chinese University.

Teacher's Certificate (special education), Hong Kong Institute of Education.

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Court Weighs Funding For Special Education

Robert Barnes & Daniel de Vise:

The Supreme Court will consider a question this week that has riled parents, cost local school boards here and across the country hundreds of millions of dollars, and vexed the justices themselves: When must public school officials pay for private schooling for children with special needs?

The issue has emerged as one of the fastest-growing components of local education budgets, threatening to "seriously deplete public education funds," which would then detract from the care of students with disabilities who remain in the system, according to a brief filed by the nation's urban school districts.

It has also become one of the most emotional and litigious disagreements between frazzled parents and financially strapped school officials, with the battles often ending in court. District of Columbia schools allocated $7.5 million of this year's $783 million budget just for such legal costs.

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Are 'No-Fail' Grading Systems Hurting or Helping Students?

Joshua Rhett Miller via a kind reader's email:

What's a kid gotta do to get an "F" these days?

At a growing number of middle schools and high schools across the country, students no longer receive failing marks when they fail. Instead, they get an "H" -- for "held" -- on their report cards, and they're given a chance to rectify their poor performance without tanking the entire semester.

Educators in schools from Costa Mesa, Calif., to Maynard, Mass., are also employing a policy known in school hallways as ZAP -- or "Zeros Aren't Permitted" -- which gives students an opportunity to finish the homework they neglected to do on time.

While administrators and teachers say the policies provide hope for underperforming students, critics say that lowering or altering education standards is not the answer. They point to case studies in Grand Rapids, Mich., where public high schools are using the "H" grading system this year and, according to reports, only 16 percent of first-semester "H" grades became passing grades in the second semester.

Click here to see schools that implement some type of no-fail policy.

Much more on "standards based report cards", here.

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Senior Projects

Jay Matthews:

When Wakefield High School first required senior projects 12 years ago, students suspected it was a plot to drain the last precious drops of joy from their teenage years. "We were pretty disgruntled," Shelby Sours, who was student government president, said at the time. "We felt abused and neglected."

This school year, Wendy Ramirez and many classmates were similarly resentful. They could not believe such a wrong-headed effort to make their lives miserable had survived so long. But after finishing her report on forensic science, Ramirez had a change of heart. Now she sees her teachers as farsighted. "It's an experience that I will never forget that will help me so much in my future," she said.

That's mushy and nice, but it doesn't explain something odd. The program's success at the Arlington County school shows senior projects are a good idea. So why are they so rare in area public schools?

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Shorter Florida High School Sports Season

Chris Chmura:

Most high school athletes will spend fewer nights under the stadium lights next year, as the state's athletic board shortens the season for many sports.

The Florida High School Athletic Association voted Monday to cut costs by reducing varsity seasons by 20 percent and junior varsity seasons by 40 percent. Football and cheerleading are exempt.

"Football is a moneymaker and most others are not," said Lanness Robinson, Athletic Director for public schools in Hillsborough County.

FHSAA could not provide specifics for the estimated cost savings. A spokeswoman said the board had the backing of school districts and superintendents. She said an across-the-board schedule reduction would spare some sports from total elimination.

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End the University as We Know It

Mark Taylor:

GRADUATE education is the Detroit of higher learning. Most graduate programs in American universities produce a product for which there is no market (candidates for teaching positions that do not exist) and develop skills for which there is diminishing demand (research in subfields within subfields and publication in journals read by no one other than a few like-minded colleagues), all at a rapidly rising cost (sometimes well over $100,000 in student loans).

Widespread hiring freezes and layoffs have brought these problems into sharp relief now. But our graduate system has been in crisis for decades, and the seeds of this crisis go as far back as the formation of modern universities. Kant, in his 1798 work "The Conflict of the Faculties," wrote that universities should "handle the entire content of learning by mass production, so to speak, by a division of labor, so that for every branch of the sciences there would be a public teacher or professor appointed as its trustee."

Unfortunately this mass-production university model has led to separation where there ought to be collaboration and to ever-increasing specialization. In my own religion department, for example, we have 10 faculty members, working in eight subfields, with little overlap. And as departments fragment, research and publication become more and more about less and less. Each academic becomes the trustee not of a branch of the sciences, but of limited knowledge that all too often is irrelevant for genuinely important problems. A colleague recently boasted to me that his best student was doing his dissertation on how the medieval theologian Duns Scotus used citations.

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April 27, 2009

Angling for attention: Teacher devised board game to make geometry fun

Samara Kalk Derby:

Chris Dyer's students want to know if, when he becomes rich and famous, he'll let them swim in his pool.

Dyer, an eighth-grade math teacher at Cherokee Middle School on Madison's west side, developed a board game while student teaching at the school that was picked up by an international educational products manufacturer and has now sold more than 2,000 copies.

The game, Angleside School Adventure, teaches kids how to measure angles. While learning to play the game in class one recent afternoon, student Oscar Hernandez, 14, wondered aloud whether Dyer is a millionaire yet. Dyer laughed and assured his students that, if he becomes a millionaire, he'll still be teaching them.

Many of Dyer's students say he is the best math teacher they've had.

"He's pretty good at explaining things to people who don't know," said 13-year-old Allison Ballard. "And for the people who do know, he just lets them go ahead."

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Raising Bill Gates

Robert Guth:

In interviews with The Wall Street Journal, Bill Gates Sr., Bill Gates and their family shared many details of the family's story for the first time, including Bill Gates Jr.'s experience in counseling and how his early interest in computers came about partly as a result of a family crisis. The sometimes colliding forces of discipline and freedom within the clan shaped the entrepreneur's character.

The relationship between father and son entered a new phase when the software mogul began working full-time seven months ago at the Gates Foundation. For the past 13 years, the father has been the sole Gates family member with a daily presence at the foundation, starting it from the basement of his home and minding it while his son finished up his final decade running Microsoft. They now work directly together for the first time.

At six-foot-six, Bill Gates Sr. is nearly a full head taller than his son. He's known to be more social than the younger Bill Gates, but they share a sharp intellect and a bluntness that can come across to some as curt. He isn't prone to introspection and he plays down his role in his son's life.

"As a father, I never imagined that the argumentative, young boy who grew up in my house, eating my food and using my name would be my future employer," Mr. Gates Sr. told a group of nonprofit leaders in a 2005 speech. "But that's what happened."

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An Unschooling Manifesto

Dave Pollard via a kind reader:
In Grade 11, my second last year of high school, I was an average student, with marks in English in the mid 60% range, and in mathematics, my best subject, around 80%. Aptitude tests suggested I should be doing better, and this was a consistent message on my report cards. I hated school. As my blog bio explains, I was shy, socially inept, uncoordinated and self-conscious. My idea of fun was playing strategy games (Diplomacy and Acquire, for fellow geeks of that era -- this was long before computer games or the Internet) and hanging around the drive-in restaurant.

Then in Grade 12, something remarkable happened: My school decided to pilot a program called "independent study", that allowed any student maintaining at least an 80% average on term tests in any subject (that was an achievement in those days, when a C -- 60% -- really was the average grade given) to skip classes in that subject until/unless their grades fell below that threshold. There was a core group of 'brainy' students who enrolled immediately. Half of them were the usual boring group (the 'keeners') who did nothing but study to maintain high grades (usually at their parents' behest); but the other half were creative, curious, independent thinkers with a natural talent for learning. The chance to spend my days with this latter group, unrestricted by school walls and school schedules, was what I dreamed of, so I poured my energies into self-study.
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Charter School Rally Set for Massachusetts State House

Boston Globe:
Parents who want to lift the cap on charter schools in Massachusetts are taking their case to the State House. More than 500 people are expected at a rally Wednesday to urge Governor Deval Patrick and state lawmakers to allow more charter schools. The state has 61 charter schools. Advocates say the schools do a better job of teaching children and engaging parents, and offer a necessary alternative to failing schools. Teacher unions oppose the schools. Patrick has long opposed lifting a cap on the number of charter schools, though this year, he has proposed lifting the cap in underperforming districts.
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"Twitter" as a Teaching Tool......

Erica Perez:
Facebook may be the social medium of choice for college students, but the microblogging Web tool Twitter has found adherents among professors, many of whom are starting to experiment with it as a teaching device.

People use Twitter to broadcast bite-sized messages or Web links and to read messages or links posted by others. It can be used as a source of news, to listen to what people in certain groups are talking about, or to communicate with experts or leaders in certain fields.

Marquette University associate professor Gee Ekechai uses Twitter to discuss what she's teaching in class with students and connect them with experts in the field of advertising and public relations.

Instructor Linda Menck, who also teaches at Marquette, encourages students to include social media as a strategy in marketing campaigns for clients.

Twitter is helping these professors build community in their classes in a way that appeals to some members of a Facebook-addicted generation. The phenomenon is certainly not ubiquitous, and some professors have found Twitter doesn't do anything for them in the academic realm.

But others, particularly those who teach in communications fields, are finding that Twitter and other social media are key devices for students and faculty to include in their professional toolbox.
All of these things have their place, I suppose. However, much like the excesses of PowerPoint in the classroom, it is surely better to focus on sound reasoning and writing skills first.
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He Wants Subjects, Verbs and Objects

Adam Bryant:

Q. What are you listening for as somebody describes their family, where they're from, etc.?

A. You're looking for a really strong set of values. You're looking for a really good work ethic. Really good communication skills. More and more, the ability to speak well and write is important. You know, writing is not something that is taught as strongly as it should be in the educational curriculum. So you're looking for communication skills.

You're looking for adaptability to change. You're looking at, do you get along well with people? And are you the sort of person that can be a part of a team and motivate people? You know, do you have the emotional I.Q.?

It's not just enough to be able to just do a nice PowerPoint presentation. You've got to have the ability to pick people. You've got to have the ability to communicate. When you find really capable people, it's amazing how they proliferate capable people all through your organization. So that's what you're hunting for.

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Mayoral Control of Schools Unlikely in St. Paul

Emily Johns & Chris Havens:

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman often says that education is the key to many things that make a city successful, including economic development, crime fighting and neighborhood stability.

"Every mayor has to make education their Number 1 priority," he says.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan takes it one step further -- he wants more big-city mayors to follow the lead of Michael Bloomberg in New York City and take over their cities' school systems to help improve their leadership and stability.

"Where you've seen real progress in the sense of innovation, guess what the common denominator is?" Duncan asked. "Mayoral control."

That said, could the mayors take over the schools here?

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Rancor Where Private-School Parents Make Public-School Decisions

Peter Applebome:

If you wanted to help a Martian understand this sliver of the planet in Rockland County, you might do two things.

First, you would take him (or her or it) to the cavernous Foodmart International on the main drag, Route 59.

The shoppers chatter in the broad, chilly aisles in every language under the sun. The wares include Cuban bread, Thai jasmine rice, Vietnamese chili-garlic sauce, Chinese kidney and liver herb extract, Haitian sugar, Salvadoran pickled vegetables, Honduran cream, Malaysian papaya pudding -- like the provisions for some modern ark.

Then, you would head a mile or so down the road toward Monsey, where you would see gaggles of observant Jews in traditional garb walking on the street, pushing strollers, popping into shops offering kosher pizza, falafel and ice cream.

This would be helpful in understanding not just this area, but disputes along sensitive cultural fault lines that are playing out in several suburban communities. In fact, the East Ramapo school district here is going through the same drama as the district in Lawrence, on Long Island.

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Moorpark High School wins National Academic Decathlon for fourth time

Seema Mehta:

Amid cheers and leaps of excitement, Moorpark High School had won the National Academic Decathlon, the fourth time the team has won the highest prize.

"There is joy, there is happiness and there is the academic decathalon," said 17-year-old Zyed Ismailjee, who started sobbing when the results were announced during an awards luncheon in Memphis, Tenn., this afternoon.

Team mates hoisted each other into the air, and the coach lept on to his chair in celebration. Team members also won 30 medals in individual events, as well as several college scholarships.

Moorpark High School has long been among the strongest teams in state and national competitions. The school won a narrow national victory last year over Waukesha West High School of Wisconsin. Today's win marks the fourth national title for Moorpark.

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Doyle, Barrett warn Milwaukee Schools on tax increase

Alan Borsuk:

Gov. Jim Doyle and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett warned Friday that it "defies common sense" to consider a large increase in property taxes for Milwaukee Public Schools for next year and said they will hold MPS leaders accountable if there is such an increase.

They did not spell out exactly what they meant by accountable, but their sharp statement came as the two consider supporting major changes in the way MPS is run, including a possible mayoral takeover of the system. It also came shortly before they name a commission to oversee putting into action a consultant's report that said MPS could save millions of dollars if it operated like a well-run business.

The governor and mayor were reacting to Thursday's release of a proposed budget for MPS by Superintendent William Andrekopoulos. The proposal did not include a projection for property taxes for next year - that won't come for months - but it did include a statement that it was likely there would be "a significant property tax increase." Some MPS leaders have suggested it could be 10% or more.

The reaction also came the same day incoming state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers told the state Assembly's Education Reform Committee that he intends to appoint a "federal funds trustee" to oversee how MPS spends tens of millions of dollars of federal economic stimulus money.

Doyle and Barrett jointly issued a brief statement about the MPS property tax picture:

Somewhat related: Joel McNally on the QEO.

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Why do professional paths to the top vary so much?

The Economist:

WHEN Barack Obama met Hu Jintao, his Chinese counterpart, at the G20 summit in London, it was an encounter not just between two presidents, but also between two professions and mindsets. A lawyer, trained to argue from first principles and haggle over words, was speaking to an engineer, who knew how to build physical structures and keep them intact.

The prevalence of lawyers in America's ruling elite (spotted by a Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville, in the 1830s) is stronger than ever. Mr Obama went to Harvard Law School (1988-91); his cabinet contains Hillary Clinton (Yale Law, 1969-73) as secretary of state, Eric Holder (Columbia Law, 1973-76) as attorney-general, Joe Biden (Syracuse University law school, 1965-68) as vice-president and Leon Panetta (Santa Clara University law school, 1960-63) as director of the CIA. That's the tip of the iceberg. Over half of America's senators practised law. Mr Obama's inner circle is sprinkled with classmates from Harvard Law: the dean of that school, Elena Kagan, is solicitor-general; Cass Sunstein, a professor there, is also in the administration.

President Hu, in contrast, is a hydraulic engineer (he worked for a state hydropower company). His predecessor, Jiang Zemin, was an electrical engineer, who trained in Moscow at the Stalin Automobile Works. The prime minister, Wen Jiabao, specialised in geological engineering. The senior body of China's Communist Party is the Politburo's standing committee. Making up its nine members are eight engineers, and one lawyer. This is not a relic of the past: 2007 saw the appointments of one petroleum and two chemical engineers. The last American president to train as an engineer was Herbert Hoover.

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April 26, 2009

Madison School District Strategic Planning Update

The Madison School District's Strategic Planning Group met this past week. Several documents were handed out, including: This recent meeting was once again facilitated by Dr. Keith Marty, Superintendent of the Menomonee Falls school district. Non-MMSD attendance was somewhat lower than the initial 2.5 day session.
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There Once Was a Wall of Shame

Edward Rothstein:

But the museum also reminds us that East Germany claimed to be engaged in a social experiment based on a utopian vision. A survey of mandated salaries demonstrates that ideological preferences were rewarded over rarefied achievement and training. A picture from a day care center shows children lined up on a "potty bench," where "everyone remained seated until the last one was done." This was more than toilet training, the museum tells us: "It also was the first step to social education."

You can also see the effects of that social education, as its moralism was mixed with tyranny, individuality suppressed in favor of legislated social virtue. Such imposed uniformity could not have been alien to a culture that had nurtured enforced compliance earlier in the century under another regime; here its darkest side can be seen in displays of equipment and eavesdropping devices of the Stasi, the feared secret police. But you can also see evidence of rebellion against such constraints: the persistent interest in Western rock music and fashion and even an East German nudist movement.

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The Grammar Cheat Sheet

Alexander Charchar:

When you know the correct way to structure a sentence, the world becomes a scary place - you start to notice how many people get it painfully wrong. The ease of content creation that the web now affords us is making the problem worse, so why not get a basic understanding to help make your text a little more professional?

Before we get into this, let's establish two things.

1. A lot of these 'rules' are different country to country, decade to decade.
The way a proof reader or typesetter might lay out a page in Britain is different to how it might be done in America. How it's done in 1985 is different than how it might be done in 2005. The styles of typesetting can change over time and throughout different regions.

2. Always be consistent, even if it might not be 'correct'.

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Toy Libraries

Joyce Siu:

The five-year-old flips back and forth, mulling over his choices before settling on a chess set.

Ho-hin and his mother Man Ting are among the crowd gathered outside a toy library at the weekend, eagerly waiting for it to open. The Love Pleasure Community Toy Library has been hugely popular since it opened last year in Prime View estate, Tuen Mun.

Man, a housewife, says her son looks forward to their visit to the library every week. "There are so many things to play with. To him, it's just like a toy shop," she says.

The Tung Wah Group of Hospitals set up the library as part of its neighbourhood services centre, with more than 500 toys donated by companies and individuals. Alerted in 2007 to a dearth of facilities for young families in the area, organisers aimed to give parents and children a chance to do things together while people whose homes are overflowing with toys can share them with families in need, says Heung Yin-kwan, a social worker at the Tuen Mun centre.

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Memphis school district a finalist for Gates Foundation money

Memphis Appeal:

Memphis City Schools is one of 10 districts being considered for millions of dollars over five years to improve teacher quality, including exit strategies for those who don't make the grade.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has set aside $500 million to study what makes an effective teacher, create ways to develop more and set up meaningful rewards, which could include merit pay.

Four winners will be announced in mid-August.

A delegation from Memphis, including Supt. Kriner Cash, school board president Tomeka Hart and Stephanie Fitzgerald, president of the Memphis Education Association, is in Atlanta discussing options with foundation members through today.

"The focus is very clear. The Gates are looking for how you keep excellent teachers and new ways to begin measuring their effectiveness," Cash said. "The work will also include an exit strategy for teachers who are not as satisfactory."

Gates -- the biggest private source of money for education reform in the nation -- invited 30 districts to submit applications. Memphis made the cut after foundation officials visited several days late this winter and invited district leaders to Atlanta as a semifinalist.

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Recession gives 'take your child to work day' new tenor this year

Joel Dresang:

Thursday may have been "take your child to work" day, but Paul Holley couldn't do that. He lost his job in December.

So Holley and fellow job seekers Andy Krumrai and Dotty Posto instead took their daughters along to the Barnes & Noble Café, where they meet each week with other unemployed professionals to encourage and advise one another as they look for new jobs.

It's a new twist on the annual Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, which aims to expose young people to careers and help them make connections between the classroom and the workplace.

Since last year's event, 4.5 million more Americans are out of work, according to the latest government numbers.

The scene at the café Thursday - amid Starbucks coffee, cappuccinos and cocoa - was a reminder that unemployment also rattles children.

Clare Posto, 9, said three or four of her friends have parents out of work; one is worried about the parents' marriage. Clare's mom, an organizational development manager who left Harley-Davidson as part of a downsizing in February, recently expanded her job search nationwide.

"I don't really want to move, because I have a lot of friends here," Clare said.

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April 25, 2009

Private school enrollment in Wisconsin drops 11% in decade

Amy Hetzner:

Buffeted by the twin forces of a slumping economy and a decline in school-age children, enrollment in Wisconsin private schools dropped more than 11% over the past decade.

The decline is more than that suffered by the state's public schools, which saw their enrollments decrease by less than 1%, according to state Department of Public Instruction reports.

The losses threaten the survival of some schools in the Milwaukee area.

St. Luke Parish School in Brookfield already has announced plans to close at the end of the school year. Holy Angels and St. Mary's schools in West Bend are exploring a possible merger, although those involved with the discussions say enrollment drops at both are only one reason for the move.

"Part of it is financially driven, the other part is driven by this is a good idea," said David Lodes, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese in Milwaukee, which operates schools in 10 southeastern Wisconsin counties. "We don't need to be competing against each other. We need to be working together as Catholics in a community."

Student enrollment shifts vary from school to school, but the declines have been especially hard on Milwaukee's suburbs. Of the 21 Milwaukee-area private schools that have lost at least half of their enrollments since the 1998-'99 school year, 15 were located in suburban communities.

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A Textbook Case of Renting Books

Peter King:

Oh, those text charges. No, not the fees for pecking out text messages on a cellphone, but the cost of every college student's must-buy: textbooks.

Students spend about $1,000 a year on their texts, according to the College Board. And that most likely will increase: Over the past 20 years, textbook prices have increased at twice the inflation rate, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. One solution may be renting. Several companies offer textbook rentals that could save cash-poor college students more than 50% of the cost of a book.

To see how the process works, we ordered textbooks from three rental companies: Book Renter, Campus Book Rentals and Chegg; and one textbook seller,, which doesn't rent books, but offers guaranteed buybacks on some texts, making those books a quasi-rental.

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Do Good Looks Get High School Students Good Grades?

Science Daily:

Do personal traits predict success in school? If so, which dimension of one's outward appearance can tell the most about academic achievement?

The answers to these questions are found in a new study by researchers from the University of Miami Health Economics Research Group. The study is the first to demonstrate that non-cognitive traits play an important role in the assignment of grades in high school.

Economists have examined the role that beauty plays on the type of employment, earnings, productivity and the likelihood of politicians being elected to office, and have wondered if "beauty premiums" and "plainness penalties" in the labor market come from an accumulation of differences in attention and rewards received from teachers throughout the school years. Findings from this peer-reviewed study titled: "Effects of Physical Attractiveness, Personality and Grooming on Academic Performance in High School" will be published in the next issue of Labour Economics.

Clusty search.

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Don't boycott school lunch, district tells Nuestro Mundo

Mary Ellen Gabriel:
A group of fourth-graders at Nuestro Mundo Elementary School had planned to remain in their classroom through lunch and recess Friday, enjoying a meal of fresh fruit, vegetables and homemade pasta at cloth-covered tables with flower centerpieces.

The group from Joshua Forehand's class, which calls itself BCSL ("Boycott School Lunch") formed to protest what they see as unhealthy food offered in the school's cafeteria, but they scrapped their plan to host a "Good Real Food" picnic after Assistant Superintendent Sue Abplanalp called school administrators and parents to discourage it.

"There were too many obstacles," Abplanalp said in an interview, citing the possibility of allergy-causing ingredients in shared homemade food, lack of adequate supervision, and the presence of the news media as major concerns.

"We want students' voices to be heard. This just seemed to come together too fast, without various issues being addressed."

When asked if the district feared negative publicity, Abplanalp said no. Instead she cited student privacy as a major concern.

"We have strict guidelines about the media interviewing students on school grounds. The principal maintains a list of kids whose parents have given permission for media exposure."
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Brain Gain: The underground world of "neuroenhancing" drugs.

Margaret Talbot:

young man I'll call Alex recently graduated from Harvard. As a history major, Alex wrote about a dozen papers a semester. He also ran a student organization, for which he often worked more than forty hours a week; when he wasn't on the job, he had classes. Weeknights were devoted to all the schoolwork that he couldn't finish during the day, and weekend nights were spent drinking with friends and going to dance parties. "Trite as it sounds," he told me, it seemed important to "maybe appreciate my own youth." Since, in essence, this life was impossible, Alex began taking Adderall to make it possible.

Adderall, a stimulant composed of mixed amphetamine salts, is commonly prescribed for children and adults who have been given a diagnosis of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. But in recent years Adderall and Ritalin, another stimulant, have been adopted as cognitive enhancers: drugs that high-functioning, overcommitted people take to become higher-functioning and more overcommitted. (Such use is "off label," meaning that it does not have the approval of either the drug's manufacturer or the Food and Drug Administration.) College campuses have become laboratories for experimentation with neuroenhancement, and Alex was an ingenious experimenter. His brother had received a diagnosis of A.D.H.D., and in his freshman year Alex obtained an Adderall prescription for himself by describing to a doctor symptoms that he knew were typical of the disorder. During his college years, Alex took fifteen milligrams of Adderall most evenings, usually after dinner, guaranteeing that he would maintain intense focus while losing "any ability to sleep for approximately eight to ten hours." In his sophomore year, he persuaded the doctor to add a thirty-milligram "extended release" capsule to his daily regimen.

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Teach for (Some of) America

Wall Street Journal Editorial:
Here's a quiz: Which of the following rejected more than 30,000 of the nation's top college seniors this month and put hundreds more on a waitlist? a) Harvard Law School; b) Goldman Sachs; or c) Teach for America.

If you've spent time on university campuses lately, you probably know the answer. Teach for America -- the privately funded program that sends college grads into America's poorest school districts for two years -- received 35,000 applications this year, up 42% from 2008. More than 11% of Ivy League seniors applied, including 35% of African-American seniors at Harvard. Teach for America has been gaining applicants since it was founded in 1990, but its popularity has exploded this year amid a tight job market.

So poor urban and rural school districts must be rejoicing, right? Hardly. Union and bureaucratic opposition is so strong that Teach for America is allotted a mere 3,800 teaching slots nationwide, or a little more than one in 10 of this year's applicants. Districts place a cap on the number of Teach for America teachers they will accept, typically between 10% and 30% of new hires. In the Washington area, that number is about 25% to 30%, but in Chicago, former home of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, it is an embarrassing 10%.
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Minnesota House passes legislation to hold school funding flat

Tim Pugmire:

The Minnesota House has passed an education finance bill that would hold state funding for public schools flat over the next two years.

The vote Thursday night was 85-48. With the state facing a $4.6 billion budget deficit, House Democrats say the bill provides dependable funding in difficult times. But Republicans argue that schools need more.

The House K-12 bill maintains current state funding for education by using federal economic stimulus money, as well as delayed payments to school districts and property tax accounting shifts, to offset spending cuts.

DFL Rep. Mindy Greiling of Roseville, chair of the House K-12 Education Finance Division, said the bill holds the ship steady until the state reaches calmer economic waters. Greiling said the bill lays the groundwork for a new school finance system that would begin ramping up funding levels in 2014.

"Education is something that even in the hard times we should prioritize," Greiling said. "And that's what this bill does. Because building a workforce that's ready to compete in a global economy has always been and must remain a Minnesota priority.

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Staff Jobs on Campus Outpace Enrollment

Tamar Lewin:

Over the last two decades, colleges and universities doubled their full-time support staff while enrollment increased only 40 percent, according to a new analysis of government data by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, a nonprofit research center.

During the same period, the staff of full-time instructors, or equivalent personnel, rose about 50 percent, while the number of managers increased slightly more than 50 percent.

The data, based on United States Department of Education filings from more than 2,782 colleges, come from 1987 to 2007, before the current recession prompted many colleges to freeze their hiring.

Neither the report nor outside experts on college affordability went so far as to argue that the increase in support staff was directly responsible for spiraling tuition. Most experts say that the largest driver of tuition increases has been the decline in state financing for higher education.

Stephen Dubner has more.

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Charter Schools' Secret Weapon: Ivy Grads

Jay Matthews:

I am ignorant of many things, but I think I know charter schools, particularly what makes the best ones successful. I have a new book out on that subject. I discuss the issue often in this column. For instance, in a recent piece I sifted reader reaction and concluded the best name for our highest-achieving charters is No Excuses schools, because their teachers believe their students' impoverished backgrounds are no barrier to learning.

But here comes Steven F. Wilson, one of the savviest of charter school scholars, making me look dumb. He has revealed an important facet of No Excuses schools that never occurred to me. I tried to cover my embarrassment when I read his American Enterprise Institute paper, "Success at Scale in Charter Schooling."

"Oh, yeah, I knew that," I said.

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Obese primary school students are losing out when it comes to sports

Timothy Chui:

The Audit Commission did not spare the rod when it looked over the nutrition and exercise programs of primary schools and found things amiss.

Nearly a quarter of primary school children are obese - 120 percent heavier than the median weight for peers - compared with one-sixth in 1997, government statistics show.

Found wanting were better coordination and promotion from education, health and sports authorities to tackle obesity among primary school children.

According to the audit report released yesterday, students at nearly 100 primary schools were only managing 45 to 65 minutes of physical education a week, instead of the stipulated 70 minutes.

Compiled though 426 questionnaires and six school visits, the report revealed nearly one-third of 423 primary schools did not have physical activity policies compared with 42 which had undocumented polices and 28 percent with documented policies.

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The "Most Failed" College Math Course: Math 111

Shanna Woodruff:

s there any hope for college algebra?

Math 111 has been rumored throughout campus to be one of the most failed classes at Oregon State. Many students go into class with that expectation.

"I heard from everyone that I talked to about Math 111, that it was the number one failed class in the university, so I got in the mindset that I was going to fail, and I did," said Mark Stockhoff, a freshman in new media communications and business.

The issues relating to this rumor may be caused by the math placement test, poor math education before college, class size and student effort put into the class.

"We have a placement test, which we ask folks to take, and up until last year, only about 50 percent of entering freshmen placed into a college math course," said Math 111 instructor Peter Argyres.

To address the poor scores, the math department worked to create an online test that wasn't proctored to allow students to take the test in an easier environment and time frame, but the jump in scores was so significant that it was determined students had cheated on the math test.

Joanne has more.

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Big Milwaukee School Tax Hike Likely

Alan Borsuk:

Even though a proposed Milwaukee Public Schools budget released Thursday calls for no increase in overall core spending next year, the property tax levy increase might still reach double digits - a year after a 14.6% jump.

The new budget proposal answers two big questions about MPS, and leaves two others unanswered.

Unanswered: How much will property taxes go up? Michael Bonds, chair of the School Board's finance committee, said this week that he won't vote for anything over 10%. But the board may find itself debating something in that range after the state budget is set and other factors play out. Or, as the budget documents say: "Despite the district's efforts to contain costs, the budget likely will require a significant property tax increase."

Unanswered: What about the nearly $100 million in federal economic stimulus money coming to MPS over the coming two years, according to an announcement by Gov. Jim Doyle on Thursday? Stay tuned - a second budget proposal will be made by mid-May, Superintendent William Andrekopoulos said. It appears it won't call for citywide use of the "year-round" school calendar and longer days for elementary students, but it is likely to make steps in those directions, along with other initiatives that would draw on stimulus money.

But that money is not expected to help with property taxes.

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April 24, 2009

About The Dirksen Center's Editorial Cartoon Collection

The Dirksen Center, via email:

Editorial cartoonists loved Everett Dirksen (1896-1969)--his position of influence as Minority Leader in the Senate (1959-69), his way with words, and, of course, his distinctive appearance. Over the years, Senator Dirksen's staff compiled a scrapbook containing more than 300 editorial cartoons. Topics covered include Vietnam, civil rights, Republican Party politics, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, reapportionment, Taft-Hartley 14(b), school prayer, Dirksen's recording career, Senate procedures, congressional pay, presidential appointments, and Dirksen's legacy. Naturally, cartoonists also used these topics to depict Dirksen's relationship with President Lyndon Johnson, with his Democratic colleagues in the Senate, and with the Supreme Court. In addition, cartoonists sent Dirksen between 50 and 60 original sketches on equally diverse topics.

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9 Madison School District employees win grants

Wisconsin State Journal:

Nine Madison School District employees have won grants totalling $45,677 to carry out projects including having students sit on large balls, rather than chairs, and connecting Madison students with their Honduran counterparts via the Internet, the district announced.

The grants range from $462 to $9,820 and were given out by the Aristos Scholars Academy, which the district describes as a "think tank" of staff members who "explore district issues."

Of the nine funded initiatives, three are at the high school level, four are at elementary schools and one is at a middle school. One -- to connect Madison students with students in Honduras -- will be carried out at Nuestro Mundo Community School, a bilingual charter school.

The balls-for-chairs project, at Allis Elementary, will give first- and fourth-graders the chance to sit on balls during class as a way to improve their attention and the appearance of their written work, among other benefits, according to a district news release.

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On Wisconsin's State K-12 Education Budget

Bob Godfrey:

Following several hours of impassioned testimony from administrators, parents, and staff from school districts throughout the state, both large and small, at this week's School Finance Network Assembly Hearing, it ended, unfortunately, on what could be charitably characterized as a flat note. Despite the hard work of disparate leaders of education groups meeting constantly for the past couple of years to come up with a thoroughly conceptualized school finance reform plan to present to the legislature, a committee composed of organizations in the School Finance Network who have often been traditionally at odds with each other in the past (for example WEAC and WASB ), came to the hearing armed with numbers vetted by both economists at the UW-Madison and the state Legislative Fiscal Bureau, including a number of suggestions for how to pay for this reform. However, the Committee on Education made it clear they were not going to take any action on this plan for the upcoming budget legislation hearings for the 2009-2011 budget. And most discouragingly there were, was, as far as I'm aware, no newspaper coverage of this event. I saw only one Madison tv crew present. They covered some of the personal testimony at the beginning but were not around to hear the actual presentation of the plan itself, which came late in the proceedings, too late to make it into the evening broadcast.

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State schools to get $366 million in stimulus aid; Madison gets $11.7M

Gayle Worland:

The Madison School District will spend the next couple of months figuring out how best to spend a two-year, nearly $11.7 million windfall in federal stimulus money, Madison's school superintendent said Thursday.

More money for early-learning programs, possibly including 4-year-old kindergarten, is one of many ideas on the table, Superintendent Dan Nerad said.

"We have to be deliberative about our planning," he said. "If we had the benefit of more time, we could have a longer conversation. But we're going to have a good conversation, with a lot of good ideas. We've been waiting for the regulations, to make sure that we weren't putting things out there that couldn't be included in the final package."

Related: China increases gold reserves.

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Education in New York: "The Excellence Charter School"

The Economist:
THE DAY starts in a small office in downtown Manhattan with Zeke Vanderhoek, the principal of The Equity Project, a charter school set to open in the Bronx this autumn. Already the school has attracted national attention—not for its pedagogy, but for its teachers’ salaries: $125,000 annually, plus a performance-related bonus. This pay, easily double or triple what most teachers make, will come out of the school’s grant from the city’s education department—which, as is standard for charter schools, is a good deal less than it spends on its own public schools.

How will he find the money? By hiring great teachers, says Zeke, which will allow him to cut back on everything else: the school will have hardly any non-teaching staff and no assistant principals, just a principal (himself) who earns less than classroom teachers. It will pay for no educational consultants or outside courses: these super-teachers will support each other’s professional development. They will work long, hard days: 8am to 6pm, and each will fill one of the roles normally assigned to support staff, such as chasing up truants. When one is absent, colleagues will cover, rather than the school paying for peripatetic substitutes.

We talk about money and waste in public schools: the programmes started and abandoned; the consultants and other hangers-on, both public-sector and private; the expensive remediation of mistakes made earlier in a child’s education; the even more expensive failure to remediate so that many children leave school having had a small fortune spent on them—and barely able to read.
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Diversity Plans Lack Coherence, Shaft University

Ammar Al Marzouqi:

With the end of Plan 2008, which aimed to improve the diversity of our student body, we are once again facing some serious questions that demand thoughtful answers. And with a new initiative on the horizon, those answers gain an extra degree of importance, since they might very well have an effect on the futures of many prospective University of Wisconsin students.

There seems to be a consensus on the notion that Plan 2008 did not properly meet its goals. Minority student enrollment has risen by 64 percent, with only 12 percent of the current student population composed of minorities. This increase is hardly a departure from the natural increase of the enrollment of minority students. Yet are we really that superficial? One wonders what benefits this campus gains from diversity, if the only gauge of the success of initiatives such as Plan 2008 is the percentage of enrolled minority students.

Let's not forget that we're in Wisconsin -- a state that is 90 percent white. And if anything, the composition of our current student population closely resembles that of the state population. So instead of trying to create an artificial sense of diversity, we must strive to achieve the equality of opportunity for all students regardless of race. When we look at it objectively, it is almost undeniable that there are disparities in educational opportunities between white and minority students.

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New York U. Plans to Make ACT and SAT Scores Optional for Applicants

Eric Hoover:

Starting next year, New York University will no longer require applicants to submit ACT or SAT scores, the university announced today. NYU is not going "test-optional," however. The university will continue to require all applicants to send scores from standardized exams, but the students will have more options.

Currently, applicants to NYU must submit either ACT scores or scores from the SAT and two SAT subject tests. As of next fall, applicants may choose instead to send scores from the SAT and two Advanced Placement examinations; or scores from three SAT subject tests, excluding language tests; or scores from three AP exams, also excluding language tests.

Students who can demonstrate "an extraordinary accomplishment," such as publishing a book or winning a national competition, may submit only scores from the SAT, or two subject tests, or two AP exams.

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California High school exit exam hinders female and non-white students, study says

Mitchell Landsberg:

California's high school exit exam is keeping disproportionate numbers of girls and non-whites from graduating, even when they are just as capable as white boys, according to a study released Tuesday. It also found that the exam, which became a graduation requirement in 2007, has "had no positive effect on student achievement."

The study by researchers at Stanford University and UC Davis concluded that girls and non-whites were probably failing the exit exam more often than expected because of what is known as "stereotype threat," a theory in social psychology that holds, essentially, that negative stereotypes can be self-fulfilling. In this case, researcher Sean Reardon said, girls and students of color may be tripped up by the expectation that they cannot do as well as white boys.

Reardon said there was no other apparent reason why girls and non-whites fail the exam more often than white boys, who are their equals in other, lower-stress academic assessments. Reardon, an associate professor of education at Stanford, urged the state Department of Education to consider either scrapping the exit exam -- one of the reforms for which state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell has fought the hardest -- or looking at ways of intervening to help students perform optimally. Reardon said the exam is keeping as many as 22,500 students a year from graduating who would otherwise fulfill all their requirements.

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MPS juniors get school day to take free ACT college entrance exam

Alan Borsuk:

Earth Day is one thing, but for Milwaukee Public Schools high school students, Wednesday was also ACT day.

For the first time, every junior in MPS was given the opportunity to take the ACT college entrance exam for free and on a normal school day. MPS officials said indications were that a very large percentage of them did that.

Terry Falk, the School Board member who initiated the plan, said his goal was to get more students, teachers and administrators to take college-readiness more seriously.

"In the long run, it's about holding kids to higher standards," he said.

Falk said he also hoped the step would lead state and local school officials to pay more attention to the performance of students beyond the point early in 10th grade when they take the last round of state standardized tests.

Falk and other MPS officials said the testing Wednesday went smoothly.

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The roots of Thailand's tension

Charles Morrison:

The Thai political crisis reflects powerful forces that are reshaping the political landscape of parts of Southeast Asia. Increased levels of education and awareness, economic development, and new technologies are all helping to bring demanding new voices into politics, often threatening established elites and traditional power-sharing arrangements.

Although true reforms have eluded the Philippines, and Myanmar has remained mired under military rule, Indonesia has already undergone a major - and so far quite successful - democratic transformation, and Malaysia seems poised for change.

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April 23, 2009

A Visit to KIPP Schools in New York City

The Economist:

I AM in Newark, New Jersey's largest town and long a byword for urban decay. I've been invited by KIPP (the "Knowledge is Power Programme"), the biggest and best known of America's charter-school chains, which has three schools in Newark, with a fourth to open this autumn. Founded by two Teach for America alumni (how familiar that story is getting) in 1994, there are now 66 KIPP schools nationwide, mostly middle schools (ie, with students between 10 and 14 years old). Oddly, none of Newark's KIPP schools are called that: under the state's charter law "brand" names are banned, which reflects early fears that big chains would come in and take over. Those fears have dissipated, and Cory Booker, Newark's mayor since 2006, is a good friend of charters, and wants to see more of them.

I'm actually a bit nervous. KIPP has a fearsome and to my mind not entirely attractive reputation in England for a zero-tolerance approach to discipline--insisting that children keep their gaze on teachers who are speaking, and nod and say "yes" in response to teachers' requests; giving detentions for minor transgressions; and "benching"--that is, seating naughty children separately in class and forbidding other pupils to speak to them during breaks. A certain type of English politician practically drools when talking about KIPP--the ones who, like many of their compatriots, dislike and fear children, and love all talk of treating them harshly. I'm half-expecting to find dead-eyed Marine-sergeant types with crewcuts barking orders at children one-third their size. If it turns out that the only way to maintain order and calm in a tough urban school is to run it like a boot camp, it will make me very sad.

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Seattle School Board Delays New Math Program

Nick Eaton:
Divided on whether to adopt a recommended new high school textbook program Wednesday, the Seattle Public Schools Board of Directors postponed voting on the issue until next month.

The reason? The attending directors, indicating how they planned to vote, split 3-3 on Wednesday. Director Cheryl Chow, who was absent while traveling, could be the tie-breaker at the board's May 6 meeting.

"This is one of the few times when we have the opportunity to change the direction when it comes to the school district's instruction," board President Michael DeBell said.

No official vote took place, but DeBell said he planned to vote against the math-adoption motion.

Up for approval was a policy that would overhaul the Seattle school district's math program by adopting new textbooks, standardizing its curriculum and renaming its classes. The Integrated Math 2 classes, for example, would become Advanced Algebra, said Anna-Maria de la Fuente, the district's K-12 mathematics program coordinator.

A Seattle Public Schools math committee, after about six months of investigation and debate, recommended a textbook program called Discovering Mathematics for all of the district's math classes, except for statistics.
Much more on math here.
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How Members of the 111th Congress Practice Private School Choice

Lindsey Burke:
Policies that give parents the ability to exercise private-school choice continue to proliferate across the country. In 2009, 14 states and Washington, D.C., are offering school voucher or education tax-credit programs that help parents send their children to private schools. During the 2007 and 2008 legislative sessions, 44 states introduced school-choice legislation.[1] In 2008, private-school-choice policies were enacted or expanded in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and Utah[2]--made possible by increasing bipartisan support for school choice.[3]

On Capitol Hill, however, progress in expanding parental choice in education remains slow. Recent Congresses have not implemented policies to expand private-school choice. In 2009, the 111th Congress has already approved legislative action that threatens to phase out the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), a federal initiative that currently helps 1,700 disadvantaged children attend private schools in the nation's capital.

Congress's Own School Choices

At the same time, many Members of Congress who oppose private-school-choice policies for their fellow citizens exercise school choice in their own lives. Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), the chief architect of the language that threatens to end the OSP, for instance, sends his children to private school[4] and attended private school himself.[5]
Washington Post editorial: "Only for the Privileged Few?":
NEW SURVEY shows that 38 percent of members of Congress have sent their children to private school. About 20 percent themselves attended private school, nearly twice the rate of the general public. Nothing wrong with those numbers; no one should be faulted for personal decisions made in the best interests of loved ones. Wouldn't it be nice, though, if Congress extended similar consideration to low-income D.C. parents desperate to keep their sons and daughters in good schools?

The latest Heritage Foundation study of lawmakers' educational choices comes amid escalating efforts to kill the federally funded D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program that helps 1,700 disadvantaged children attend private schools. Congress cut funding beyond the 2009-10 school year unless the program, which provides vouchers of up to $7,500, gets new federal and local approvals. Education Secretary Arne Duncan cited that uncertainty as the reason for his recent decision to rescind scholarship offers to 200 new students. Senate hearings on the program's future are set for this spring, and opponents -- chiefly school union officials -- are pulling out all the stops as they lobby their Democratic allies.
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Educator offers a radical approach

Jeremy Meyer:

Michelle Rhee, a national firebrand for education reform, urged Colorado educators and lawmakers Thursday night to continue their efforts to change the state of education.

Rhee -- chancellor of Washington, D.C., schools who closed 23 schools in her first year, fired 36 principals and proposed paying more money to good teachers and firing the bad ones -- spoke at a meeting of the Democrats for Education Reform in the auditorium of the Denver Newspaper Agency building.

The standing-room-only crowd included Lt. Gov. Barbara O'Brien, state Senate President Peter Groff and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis.

"We have public schools so that every kid can have an equal shot in life," Rhee said. "That is not the reality for children in Washington, D.C., today or many children in urban cities today. That is the biggest social injustice imaginable."

Rhee said radical changes are necessary. "Unless we do something massive about this right now, unless we are willing to turn the system on its head . . . then all of the ideals of this country are actually hollow," she said.

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Charter Schools Face High Demand, but Few Seats
Obama Wants to Expand the Alternative Program, but Laws, Labor Unions Will Make That Hard to Achieve

Robert Tomsho:

The waiting lists for charter schools, already notoriously long, look like they are about to get longer.

President Barack Obama and Arne Duncan, his new education secretary, are trying to entice states into opening more of the alternative schools. But despite brisk enrollment growth and long waiting lines for many existing charter schools, states appear to be in no hurry to oblige.

With 1.4 million students in 4,600 schools, charters are by far the most significant achievement of the "choice" movement that strives to promote educational gains through school competition. Enrollment in charter schools, which are publicly funded, has more than doubled in the last six years.

But obstacles loom to accommodating more charter-school students. The recession has intensified school districts' concerns about competing for public funds with charter schools. Some charter-school supporters say such schools need more oversight. But unions are using any missteps at charter schools, which aren't typically unionized, to oppose their expansion.

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New Unrest on Campus as Donors Rebel

John Hechinger:

Financially strapped colleges are angering their benefactors by selling school radio stations, auctioning Georgia O'Keeffe paintings and dipping into endowments for purposes their donors may not have intended.

In one previously undisclosed fight, Trinity College in Connecticut is facing government scrutiny for its plan to spend part of a $9 million endowment from Wall Street investing legend Shelby Cullom Davis.

Trinity's Davis professor of business, Gerald Gunderson, says he believed the plan, which would have funded scholarships for international students, violated the wishes of the late Mr. Davis. He alerted the Connecticut attorney general's office. Then, Mr. Gunderson said in notes submitted to the agency, Trinity's president summoned him to the school's cavernous Gothic conference room, where he called the professor a "scoundrel" and threatened not to reappoint him.

Trinity said some of Mr. Davis's family approved of the plan but it is now coming up with a new one, and declined to discuss the meeting.

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Crib Worries Spur Retailer, Agency to Act

Melanie Trottman:

Concerns about the safety of popular crib designs have led to 21 recalls of 4.2 million cribs over the past two years because of hazardous defects. Products involved in the recalls have been linked to at least five infant deaths and 16 cases in which babies were trapped by parts of a crib, said the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Drop-side cribs, popular because sliding down one side of the crib makes it easier for a parent to pick up a baby, have proved to be particularly problematic.

"There are enough concerns raised about drop-side cribs that we're moving forward and we're going to phase them out," Mr. Storch said in an interview. While Mr. Storch said he doesn't necessarily believe newer drop-side cribs are dangerous, he's concerned about the amount of time consumers are keeping their cribs, especially in this economy. "It adds in an element of risk that we don't want to take, particularly over time," he said. "It seems that the strongest cribs are ones where the four sides attach to each other and have less complicated hardware."

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Taking School Choice for Granted

Lindsey Burke & Dan Lips:

President Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and most members of Congress have never known the sense of desperation that LaTasha Bennett feels.

Bennett is one of hundreds of Washington, D.C., parents who recently opened a letter from the U.S. Department of Education with devastating news: Her child was no longer eligible to receive a private-school scholarship for the upcoming school year. This sent Bennett and other parents scrambling to find their children spots in good public schools -- a challenge in a city where few students read at grade level and barely half graduate from high school.

President and Mrs. Obama faced the same problem when they moved to the District in January, but they were able to afford a private school for their daughters. And for Secretary Duncan and his wife, finding a good school was a top concern when deciding where to live in the D.C. area. They wound up choosing Arlington, Va., a community with good public schools. Duncan recently told Science magazine: "My family has given up so much so that I could have the opportunity to serve; I didn't want to try to save the country's children and our educational system and jeopardize my own children's education."

George Will has more:
He has ladled a trillion or so dollars ("or so" is today's shorthand for "give or take a few hundreds of billions") hither and yon, but while ladling he has, or thinks he has, saved about $15 million by killing, or trying to kill, a tiny program that this year is enabling about 1,715 D.C. children (90 percent black, 9 percent Hispanic) to escape from the District's failing public schools and enroll in private schools.

The District's mayor and school superintendent support the program. But the president has vowed to kill programs that "don't work." He has looked high and low and -- lo and behold -- has found one. By uncanny coincidence, it is detested by the teachers unions that gave approximately four times $15 million to Democratic candidates and liberal causes last year.

Not content with seeing the program set to die after the 2009-10 school year, Education Secretary Arne Duncan (former head of Chicago's school system, which never enrolled an Obama child) gratuitously dashed even the limited hopes of another 200 children and their parents. Duncan, who has sensibly chosen to live with his wife and two children in Virginia rather than in the District, rescinded the scholarships already awarded to those children for the final year of the program, beginning in September. He was, you understand, thinking only of the children and their parents: He would spare them the turmoil of being forced by, well, Duncan and other Democrats to return to terrible public schools after a tantalizing one-year taste of something better. Call that compassionate liberalism.

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Open Education 2009

Vancouver, BC:

For the first time in its six year history, the international Open Education Conference is moving! After five years at the historic Utah State University campus, this year's conference will be held in beautiful British Columbia, Canada, hosted by the University of British Columbia.

The Call for Papers is now available!

Read about this year's incredible Keynote Speakers!

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A Crisis of Ethic Proportions

John Bogle:

I recently received a letter from a Vanguard shareholder who described the global financial crisis as "a crisis of ethic proportions." Substituting "ethic" for "epic" is a fine turn of phrase, and it accurately places a heavy responsibility for the meltdown on a broad deterioration in traditional ethical standards.

Commerce, business and finance have hardly been exempt from this trend. Relying on Adam Smith's "invisible hand," through which our self-interest advances the interests of society, we have depended on the marketplace and competition to create prosperity and well-being.

But self-interest got out of hand. It created a bottom-line society in which success is measured in monetary terms. Dollars became the coin of the new realm. Unchecked market forces overwhelmed traditional standards of professional conduct, developed over centuries.

The result is a shift from moral absolutism to moral relativism. We've moved from a society in which "there are some things that one simply does not do" to one in which "if everyone else is doing it, I can too." Business ethics and professional standards were lost in the shuffle.

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A Lawyer, Some Teens and a Fight Over 'Sexting'

Dionne Searcey:

The group of anxious parents crowded around District Attorney George Skumanick Jr. as he sat behind a table in a courtroom here and presented them with an ultimatum.

Photos of their semi-nude or scantily clad teenage daughters were stacked before him. Mr. Skumanick said the images had been discovered on cellphones confiscated at the local high school. They could either enlist their kids in an education program or have the teens face felony charges of child pornography. "We could have just arrested them but we didn't," said Mr. Skumanick in an interview.

View Full Image
The tactics of District Attorney George Skumanick Jr., left, in the county courthouse, prompted the family of 15-year-old Marissa Miller to sue him.
Mustafah Abdulaziz for the Wall Street Journal

The tactics of District Attorney George Skumanick Jr., left, in the county courthouse, prompted the family of 15-year-old Marissa Miller to sue him.
The tactics of District Attorney George Skumanick Jr., left, in the county courthouse, prompted the family of 15-year-old Marissa Miller to sue him.
The tactics of District Attorney George Skumanick Jr., left, in the county courthouse, prompted the family of 15-year-old Marissa Miller to sue him.

The practice of teens taking naked photos of themselves and sending them to friends via cellphones, called "sexting," has alarmed parents, school officials and prosecutors nationwide, who fear the photos could end up on the Internet or in the hands of sexual predators. In a handful of cases, authorities have resorted to what one parent here called "the nuclear weapon of sex charges" -- child pornography.

But some legal experts say that here in Wyoming County, Pa., Mr. Skumanick has expanded the definition of sexting to such an extent he could be setting a dangerous precedent. He has threatened to charge kids who appeared in photos, but who didn't send them, as well as at least one girl who was photographed wearing a bathing suit. One of the accused is 11 years old.

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April 22, 2009

Financial Manager Targets Detroit Schools

Noah Ovshinsky:

Detroit's public schools are under the microscope -- and a new state-appointed emergency financial manger is addressing a $300 million deficit. In the month Robert Bobb has been on the job, he has proposed closing up to 50 schools in the next two years.

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How to Raise the Standard in America's Schools

Walter Isaacson:

National standards have long been the third rail of education politics. The right chokes on the word national, with its implication that the feds will trample on the states' traditional authority over public schools. And the left chokes on the word standards, with the intimations of assessments and testing that accompany it. The result is a K-12 education system in the U.S. that is burdened by an incoherent jumble of state and local curriculum standards, assessment tools, tests, texts and teaching materials. Even worse, many states have bumbled into a race to the bottom as they define their local standards downward in order to pretend to satisfy federal demands by showing that their students are proficient.

It's time to take another look. Without national standards for what our students should learn, it will be hard for the U.S. to succeed in the 21st century economy. Today's wacky patchwork makes it difficult to assess which methods work best or how to hold teachers and schools accountable. Fortunately, there are glimmers of hope that the politics surrounding national standards has become a little less contentious. A growing coalition of reformers -- from civil rights activist Al Sharpton to Georgia Republican governor Sonny Perdue -- believe that some form of common standards is necessary to achieve a wide array of other education reforms, including merit pay for good teachers and the expansion of the role of public charter schools. (See pictures of inside a public boarding school.)

The idea of "common schools" that adopt the same curriculum and standards isn't new. It first arose in the 1840s, largely owing to the influence of the reformer Horace Mann. But the U.S. Constitution leaves public education to the states, and the states devolve much of the authority to local school districts, of which there are now more than 13,000 in the U.S. The Federal Government provides less than 9% of the funding for K-12 schools. That is why it has proved impossible thus far to create common curriculum standards nationwide. In 1989, President George H.W. Bush summoned the nation's governors to Charlottesville, Va., to attempt a standards-based approach to school reform. The result was only a vague endorsement of "voluntary national standards," which never gained much traction. In 1994, President Bill Clinton got federal money for standards-based reform, but the effort remained in the hands of the states, leading to a wildly varying hodgepodge of expectations for -- as well as ideological battles over -- math and English curriculums.

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Basketball Prospect Leaving High School to Play in Europe

Pete Thamel:
Jeremy Tyler, a 6-foot-11 high school junior whom some consider the best American big man since Greg Oden, says he will be taking a new path to the N.B.A. He has left San Diego High School and said this week that he would skip his senior year to play professionally in Europe.

Tyler, 17, would become the first United States-born player to leave high school early to play professionally overseas. He is expected to return in two years, when he is projected to be a top pick, if not the No. 1 pick, in the 2011 N.B.A. draft.

Tyler, who had orally committed to play for Rick Pitino at Louisville, has yet to sign with an agent or a professional team. His likely destination is Spain, though teams from other European leagues have shown interest. A spokesman for Louisville said the university could not comment about Tyler.

“Nowadays people look to college for more off-the-court stuff versus being in the gym and getting better,” Tyler said. “If you’re really focused on getting better, you go play pro somewhere. Pro guys will get you way better than playing against college guys.”
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Three Madison Students Among Presidential Scholar Finalists

Three Madison high school seniors are among 12 statewide to be named semifinalists in the 2009 Presidential Scholars program, one of the nation's highest honors for high school students.

Suvai Gunasekaran and Hannah Postel, both Memorial High School students, and Chelli Riddiough, a student at West, will compete with close to 500 other U.S. semifinalists for the Presidential Scholar title.

The Commission on Presidential Scholars makes the final selection of the 121 academic scholars -- one male and one female from each state, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and from families of U.S. citizens living abroad. Up to 20 Presidential Scholars in the Arts also are chosen.

Other Wisconsin semifinalists include: Joseph Balistreri, Fox Point; Nicholas Blecha, De Pere; Wyatt Brothers, Oshkosh; Sean Conley, Milwaukee; Anthony Hoffman, Menomonie; Elizabeth Huston, Stevens Point; Evan Liang, Oneida; Philip Streich, Platteville; and Amy Yin, Onalaska.

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Education in New York: Off to School

The Economist:

QUITE a few Economist journalists have children in private schools, and whenever I write about the astronomical fees they read my articles with keen interest. More than one has asked me, hopefully and with a certain Schadenfreude, whether the global recession means that schools finally have to start cutting their fees? In London, that's doubtful; I want to find out whether Manhattan is any different.

One reason fees in both places have been so high is limited supply: opening a new school in either of these crowded, pricey cities is difficult. So my first stop is Claremont Prep, one of the rare ones that has managed it. It opened just five years ago, in an old Bank of America building just off Wall Street. P.D. Cagliastro, the school's flack, shows me around.

It cost $28m just to open the doors, Ms Cagliastro tells me, and another $7m has been spent since--and I can easily believe it. The former banking hall, its murals carefully restored, is now a grand auditorium; in the student cafeteria the old vault door is still visible, protected behind glass. There is an indoor swimming pool, and a basketball court on the 9th floor. The rooftop garden is surreal--an adventure playground on Astroturf, surrounded by skyscrapers and overlooked by the New York Stock Exchange.

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Science the theme for all-school event at Wingra

Pamela Cotant:

Kindergartner Sylvia Bazsali and eighth-grader Ally Marckesano stood side-by-side as they learned about the formation of earthquakes and mountains by experimenting with frosting, graham crackers and fruit roll-ups.

Marckesano helped Bazsali with the lesson, which ended with a taste test -- the evidence still on Bazsali's lips.

"We've been kind of buddy-buddies lately," said Marckesano, who has four younger siblings.

The activity was part of Wingra School's annual all-school unit when students in kindergarten through eighth grade learn together. The two-week event had a science theme under a camp-like structure this year.

"It energizes the school in a way that's incredible," said Mary Campbell, director of education at the private school at 3200 Monroe St.

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Cornell '69 And What It Did

Donald Downs:

Forty years ago this week, an armed student insurrection erupted on the Cornell campus. I was a sophomore on campus at the time and later wrote a book on the events, Cornell '69: Liberalism and the Crisis of the American University. To some the drama represented a triumph of social justice, paving the way for a new model of the university based on the ideals of identity politics, diversity, and the university as a transformer of society. To others, it fatefully propelled Cornell, and later much of American higher education, away from the traditional principles of academic freedom, reason, and individual excellence. "Cornell," wrote the famous constitutional scholar Walter Berns, who resigned from Cornell during the denouement of the conflict, "was the prototype of the university as we know it today, having jettisoned every vestige of academic integrity."

In the wee hours of Friday, April 19, 1969, twenty-some members of Cornell's Afro-American Society took over the student center, Willard Straight Hall, removing parents (sometimes forcefully) from their accommodations on the eve of Parents Weekend. The takeover was the culmination of a year-long series of confrontations, during which the AAS had deployed hardball tactics to pressure the administration of President James Perkins into making concessions to their demands. The Perkins administration and many faculty members had made claims of race-based identity politics and social justice leading priorities for the university, marginalizing the traditional missions of truth-seeking and academic freedom.

Two concerns precipitated the takeover: AAS agitation for the establishment of a radical black studies program; and demands of amnesty for some AAS students, who had just been found guilty by the university judicial board of violating university rules. These concerns were linked, for, according to the students, the university lacked the moral authority to judge minority students. They declared that Cornell was no longer a university, but rather an institution divided by racial identities.

Fearing attacks by some opponents, the students smuggled several rifles into the Straight. Rumors of this astonishing act swept the campus, and soon many students and local residents took up their own arms. For several days, Cornell was riveted by escalating tensions, swirling rumors, and frayed nerves as the beleaguered administration sought to strike a resolution. Before long, the students issued another demand: amnesty for those who took over the Straight. Meanwhile, Students for a Democratic Society began rallying campus-wide student support for the AAS.

The administration ultimately agreed to a deal on Sunday that accommodated the students' demands. The students then exited the Straight and marched across campus brandishing their weapons before an audience of astonished onlookers (myself included). A UPI photographer captured the dramatic exit with a photo that made the takeover famous world-wide. The photo won him the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for "Spot News Photography."

Compelled to publicly address the crisis in some fashion, the hapless Perkins made a weak but pivotal speech on Monday afternoon to an anxious campus-wide audience at Barton Hall, the cavernous gymnasium/military training building that stands in the center of campus. The packed house of 10,000 Cornellians longed for an appropriate administrative response, but Perkins amazingly never addressed the issue at hand. According to a Newsweek account, "The president did not refer to the guns, the building seizure or the racial tensions directly; he simply asked everyone to approach the situation as 'humane men.' Many students were angry. 'I wanted to yell, 'Say something already', said one junior."

Perkins' abdication of leadership hurtled Cornell toward chaos. Central authority palpably vanished before everyone's eyes, leaving what one noted professor called a "Hobbesian state of nature" in its wake. What was once unthinkable started becoming thinkable. A revolutionary situation was at hand.

Amnesty required faculty assent; and at an extraordinary meeting on Monday following Perkins' speech, a solid majority of the faculty refused to ratify the agreement. They insisted that support of the agreement--especially under the coercive circumstances--would be contrary to the fundamental principles of the university, which included a commitment to ordered liberty, deliberative reason, and the equal application of rules.

To force the faculty to reconsider its vote, SDS led several thousand students in a takeover of Barton Hall. Meanwhile, over a hundred local sheriff deputies assembled downtown. An administrator acting on Perkins' behalf gave them the green light to enter campus in the event the "Barton Hall Community" decided to seize another building. Interviews with the deputies revealed that many were aching to charge up the hill, guns at their ready.

Late Tuesday night, an AAS leader, Tom Jones--destined later in life to be absorbed into the establishment as CEO of Smith Barney and a leading member of the Cornell Board of Trustees--announced in a speech on the university radio station that Cornell "had three hours to live" if the faculty did not budge from its intransigence. WVBR replayed Jones' speech repeatedly throughout the night, virtually everybody on campus and in town tuning in. With guns and the promise of violence already haunting the campus, Jones's speech pushed Cornell to the brink. Hotels and motels all around Ithaca filled up to "no vacancy" as citizens of Cornell's city on the hill fled the campus to avoid potential violence.

Back at Barton, the assembly decided after explosive debate to wait and see what the faculty did when it met again the next day to reconsider its Monday vote. Everything now hung on the faculty's shoulders. Would they uphold the principles they had defended on Monday? Or would the Barton Community, now reveling in its new-found power, prevail instead? At stake was what kind of university Cornell would become.

The next morning, the faculty reversed its Monday vote in what no doubt remains the most intense and momentous debate in Cornell's history. With this vote to grant the students' demands, the true power in the university was instantly transferred to Barton and the AAS. President Perkins made a humiliating trip to Barton to ritualistically congratulate the assembly. On the stage, an SDS leader took a conspicuous sip out of Perkins' can of Coke--a symbolic gesture noted and understood by all. (Perkins would be gone from Cornell by mid-summer.)

Among other things, the student victory at Barton authorized the new black studies program, as well as a significant restructuring of the university to include students in decision-making. Within a few years, however, the latter spoil of victory died of natural causes as student indifference to such matters returned. With the radicalized black studies program retreating to the outskirts of campus, Cornell eventually returned to normalcy, at least on the surface.

But the faculty surrender inevitably had profound implications. On the positive side was the further commitment of Cornell and higher education to the inclusion of students from minority and other backgrounds. On the negative side were the means by which this further opening came about, and the new philosophy of the university under which it took place: the university as an agent for social justice and identity politics (today reconfigured as "diversity") rather than as an institution dedicated primarily to free inquiry, robust intellectual diversity and debate, and common standards of justice and reason.

By surrendering authority under the circumstances that prevailed in 1969--in the face of coercion and threats of violence, and the widespread intolerance of those who disagreed with the AAS and Barton positions--Cornell leaders failed to defend the core principles that define liberal education, and which make enlightened citizenship and politics possible. Social justice unaccompanied by respect for basic order, freedom of thought, intellectual honesty, and the rights of all individuals is a recipe for tyranny of the majority (or of the activists), not justice. (Indeed, the many minority students at Cornell who opposed the AAS methods and message were targets of threatening abuse. Future Republican presidential candidate, Alan Keyes, a graduate student in political thought, fled to France to get away from death threats targeted at him because of his politics and his relationship with a white woman.).

Though they became the targets of threats and other intimidations, a few professors took courageous stands by publicly protesting the faculty reversal. This group included historians Walter LeFeber, George Kahan, Fred Somkin, James John, Joel Silbey, and Donald Kagan, and government professors Walter Berns, Allan Sindler, and Allan Bloom. (The latter three resigned on the spot.) These individuals understood the principles at stake, and grasped the existential fact that fortitude is needed to defend institutions when things get rough. Trained to embody the peaceable attributes of scholarship, most professors were unable or unwilling to take serious risks to defend academic principles in the face of intimidation---a fact that Tom Jones derisively emphasized in his haunting speech on WVBR.

Many years after the events of 1969, Tom Jones wrote a letter to James Perkins, apologizing for the pain the student rebels had caused the man who had striven to be so understanding and accommodating to their demands. Perkins wrote back, accepting the apology. Jones later wrote a similar letter to Walter Berns, who had been one of Jones' intellectual mentors before his rebel turn. Still smarting from the death threats he received and from what the revolt had wrought, Berns did not deign to reply.

To be sure, many faculty members (and even administrators) believed in these principles, but reversed their vote out of a sense of necessity. Given the potential of mass violence in the event of continued faculty resistance, concerns for life and limb might have justified concession. But given what was at stake, this group (the largest of any faction) could have followed their vote with a meaningful protest, such as resigning, going on strike, or taking leaves of absence to emphasize their disdain. Yet no such collective symbolic action took place.

Three other reasons for the faculty reversal stood out. Some faculty members simply agreed with the new mission of the university, while others had become uncertain of what the university stands for in the face of dramatic social and political upheaval. A last group simply surrendered to their own fears. At its core, Cornell '69 was about such basic matters as courage and conviction.

Since 1969, Cornell has continued to struggle with the dilemmas of a post-liberal university, witnessing threats to free speech, periodic conflicts over race-based dorms and programs, and related problems. More importantly, Cornell `69 was a harbinger of the politics of political correctness (later reconfigured as "diversity"), which involves elevating social justice claims and identity politics over the principles and practices of free inquiry and intellectual conscience. During the last twenty years, universities and colleges across the land have compromised the principles of liberal education by instituting such policies as speech codes, overly broad harassment rules, one-dimensional identity-based programs and departments, and ideologically-slanted orientation and campus life programs--all in the name of promoting social justice as defined by campus leaders who are beholden (consciously or not) to the goals represented by Cornell `69.

Unlike 1969, today's campuses seldom witness violence (or its threat), as this agenda has become part of the established order. If political correctness seems less of a problem today than it did in the 1990s, this might be only because it has metastasized. Meanwhile, many students and faculty members remain committed to the principles of liberal education, but we seldom read of meaningful faculty-led movements to resist this establishment. If the Cornell president and faculty had behaved responsibly in 1969, our campuses might be dramatically different today.


Donald Downs is a professor of political science, law, and journalism at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He specializes in issues involving law, politics, and society, as well as political thought, and has recently published Restoring Free Speech and Liberty on Campus.

Posted by Will Fitzhugh at 10:06 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

School Reform Means Doing What's Best for Kids

Arne Duncan:
As states and school districts across America begin drawing down the first $44 billion in education funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, they should bear in mind the core levers of change under the law. In order to drive reform, we will require an honest assessment by states of key issues like teacher quality, student performance, college-readiness and the number of charter schools. We'll also have a strategy to address low-performing schools and provide incentives to compel improvement.

When stakeholders -- from parents and business leaders to elected officials -- understand that standards vary dramatically across states and many high-school graduates are unprepared for college or work, they will demand change. In fact, dozens of states are already independently working toward higher standards in education. Union leaders have also signed on.

When parents recognize which schools are failing to educate their children, they will demand more effective options for their kids. They won't care whether they are charters, non-charters or some other model. As President Barack Obama has called for, states should eliminate restrictions that limit the growth of excellent charter schools, move forward in improving or restructuring chronically failing schools, and hold all schools accountable for results.
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The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America's Schools

McKinsey [772K PDF]:
McKinsey's report, The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America's Schools, examines the dimensions and economic impact of the education achievement gap. While much controversy exists on the causes of the gap and on what the nation should do to address it, the full range of the achievement gap's character and consequences has been poorly understood.

This report examines the dimensions of four distinct gaps in education: (1) between the United States and other nations, (2) between black and Latino students and white students, (3) between students of different income levels, and (4) between similar students schooled in different systems or regions.

The report finds that the underutilization of human potential as reflected in the achievement gap is extremely costly. Existing gaps impose the economic equivalent of a permanent national recession—one substantially larger than the deep recession the country is currently experiencing. For individuals, avoidable shortfalls in academic achievement impose heavy and often tragic consequences via lower earnings, poor health, and higher rates of incarceration.
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Chinese Learn English the Disney Way

James Areddy & Peter Sanders:

Mickey Mouse has a new job in China: teaching kids how to speak English at new schools owned by Walt Disney Co. popping up in this bustling city.

The company says the initiative is primarily about teaching language skills to children, not extending its brand in the world's most populous nation. But from the oversize Mickey Mouse sculpture in the foyer to diction lessons starring Lilo and Stitch, the company's flagship school here is filled with Disney references.

Classroom names recall Disney movies, such as "Andy's Bedroom," the setting of the "Toy Story" films. To hold the attention of children as young as two years old, there is the Disney Magic Theater, which combines functions of a computer, television and chalkboard and is the main teaching tool.

Disney's foray into English-language instruction in China comes as the niche industry is booming. McKinsey & Co. estimates that China's foreign-language business is worth $2.1 billion annually. More than 300 million Chinese are studying English, according to a speech delivered in January by Premier Wen Jiabao.

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50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice

Geoffrey Pullum:

April 16 is the 50th anniversary of the publication of a little book that is loved and admired throughout American academe. Celebrations, readings, and toasts are being held, and a commemorative edition has been released.

I won't be celebrating.

The Elements of Style does not deserve the enormous esteem in which it is held by American college graduates. Its advice ranges from limp platitudes to inconsistent nonsense. Its enormous influence has not improved American students' grasp of English grammar; it has significantly degraded it.

The authors won't be hurt by these critical remarks. They are long dead. William Strunk was a professor of English at Cornell about a hundred years ago, and E.B. White, later the much-admired author of Charlotte's Web, took English with him in 1919, purchasing as a required text the first edition, which Strunk had published privately. After Strunk's death, White published a New Yorker article reminiscing about him and was asked by Macmillan to revise and expand Elements for commercial publication. It took off like a rocket (in 1959) and has sold millions.

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Tim Harford:

Parentonomics: An Economist Dad Looks at Parenting By Joshua Gans

What happens when Mr Spock meets Dr Spock? The answer is Parentonomics, an autobiographical account of how an economist used his professional training in game theory to bring up his three children.

Joshua Gans describes his experiences in the labour wards, changing nappies and dealing with tantrums, spousal absences and sibling rivalry - all the while explaining what he did or did not do, the economic principles involved, and whether any of it worked as a parenting strategy.

The obvious question is whether this is supposed to be good advice or some kind of joke. There is no ambiguity in Parentonomics: Gans is not joking. Thankfully, he can be very funny. Although he is an academic - a professor at Melbourne Business School - his writing has a professional snap. While the advice is intended to be useful, readers will come to their own conclusions about that. It does at least tend to be thought-provoking.

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April 21, 2009

Abolish Local School Districts?

The Economist:

Today is the conference for which I've travelled to New York. It's at the Rubin Museum, a small, new venue devoted to Himalayan art, which certainly beats the usual hotel. We see the galleries at each coffee break, and at the end of the day there is a guided tour for those inspired to learn more about the art.

The conference features a stellar cast of speakers: educators, researchers and some hard-headed business types too. Lou Gerstner, an ex-CEO of IBM, enthusiastically pitches his plan for school reform: he wants the 15,000 local school districts abolished and replaced by around 70 (the states plus a couple of dozen big cities), national standards in core subjects introduced, with all children tested against them, and teachers paid much, much more.

Jim Rohr of PNC Financial Services talks about "Grow Up Great", the bank's $100m, 10-year investment in early-childhood education, which gives grants to non-profit school-readiness programmes, and sponsors employees to volunteer their time and services. One delegate asks about the lessons learned; Mr Rohr gets a laugh of recognition when he says that the main one is that volunteers face a hideous maze of bureaucratic regulations and permissions--and all because they wanted to help.

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How the E-Book Will Change the Way We Read and Write

Steven Johnson:

Every genuinely revolutionary technology implants some kind of "aha" moment in your memory -- the moment where you flip a switch and something magical happens, something that tells you in an instant that the rules have changed forever.

I still have vivid memories of many such moments: clicking on my first Web hyperlink in 1994 and instantly transporting to a page hosted on a server in Australia; using Google Earth to zoom in from space directly to the satellite image of my house; watching my 14-month-old master the page-flipping gesture on the iPhone's touch interface.

The latest such moment came courtesy of the Kindle, Inc.'s e-book reader. A few weeks after I bought the device, I was sitting alone in a restaurant in Austin, Texas, dutifully working my way through an e-book about business and technology, when I was hit with a sudden desire to read a novel. After a few taps on the Kindle, I was browsing the Amazon store, and within a minute or two I'd bought and downloaded Zadie Smith's novel "On Beauty." By the time the check arrived, I'd finished the first chapter.

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The State of Education in New York City

The Economist:

As The Economist's education correspondent, I've been invited by Economist Conferences, one of the businesses in the Economist group, to chair a conference in New York entitled "Global Education 2020". It's just one day, but if I'm going to make the trip from London, I may as well stay longer and visit some schools. Those in the city's poor neighbourhoods have long been known for having serious problems--violence, astronomical drop-out rates and abysmal standards of achievement--but in the last few years exciting things have been happening under Joel Klein, the chancellor of the city 's department of education, and I want to see some of the success stories with my own eyes.

Monday morning, and I'm off to Starbucks on 93rd and Broadway to meet Wendy Kopp, the Princeton graduate who in 1990 founded Teach for America (TFA), a non-profit organisation that recruits top-notch graduates from elite institutions and gets them to teach for two years in struggling state schools in poor areas. I know the basics already--TFA been widely copied, including in England. But I quickly realise that I've misunderstood TFA's true purpose.

All three are tired. Their classrooms are not much like the rest of the school where they work, and their heroic efforts are only supported by Chester and each other, not by their co-workers. "The first year was unbelievably bad," one tells me. "So many years with low expectations meant a lot of resistance from the kids. Eventually they saw the power and the growth they were capable of--but during the first few months we were just butting heads every day."

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World Digital Library Home

The World Digital Library (WDL) makes available on the Internet, free of charge and in multilingual format, significant primary materials from countries and cultures around the world.
The principal objectives of the WDL are to:
  • Promote international and intercultural understanding;
  • Expand the volume and variety of cultural content on the Internet;
  • Provide resources for educators, scholars, and general audiences;
  • Build capacity in partner institutions to narrow the digital divide within and between countries.

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Schools May Pass High Stakes Tests, But Fail Low Performing Students

Jay Matthews:

Sarah Fine, a 25-year-old English teacher at Cesar Chavez Public Charter School on Capitol Hill, vividly recalls a conference with the mother of a 10th-grader who read at a third-grade level.

"Shawn is a real asset to our class because he's so well behaved," Fine told her, "but I think he might need some extra support to get him up to speed in reading."

The mother said she had heard that before. Shawn had received help in middle school through special education. "But let me tell you, it don't do no good, because the problem is that he's plain lazy," Fine quoted her as saying. "He's failing every one of his classes. You got a solution to that?"

In an essay for Teacher Magazine last month, Fine said the mother's response made her want to squirm. "Shawn's problem is not that he is lazy," she wrote. "To the contrary, when I ask him to read in class he sits quietly, moves his eyes over the words, and laboriously tries to answer whatever writing prompt follows -- despite the fact that the text makes no sense to him. The real issue is that Shawn's deficits make it impossible for him to pass the DC-CAS test given to 10th-graders in April, and so my school, consumed by the imperative to make 'adequate yearly progress,' has few resources to devote to him. He does not qualify for our English Academy program, which targets students whose reading scores indicate that a 'push' might enable them to pass the test, and we do not have a reading specialist because there is no funding for one."

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Dave Cullen: The Lessons of Columbine

Lynn Neary:

Ten years ago Monday, news started trickling out of Colorado about a shooting at a high school called Columbine. It didn't take long for the news media to descend, and reporter Dave Cullen was one of the first journalists on the story.

Cullen would go on to spend another nine years delving deeper into the massacre than perhaps any other journalist. He presents his account of the tragedy -- and examines some of the myths and mistakes surrounding the shootings -- in his new book, Columbine.

The book walks readers through the events of that day, laying out Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold's murderous plan, which left 15 people dead (including the killers) and 23 injured.

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Billions "Wasted" on Scottish Education

Lorraine Davidson:

"It is clear from the research that the extra spending is simply not delivering value for money," Geoff Mawdsley, director of Reform Scotland, said. "Put another way, billions of pounds have been spent in the last decade to little or no effect."

While spending per pupil has risen from £2,092 to £4,638 at primary level and from £3,194 to £6,326 at secondary schools, the proportion of those gaining five good grades at the end of fourth year has fallen from 47 per cent to 46 per cent.

Reform Scotland also claimed that data it had obtained showed that pupils in England who had been lagging behind Scotland in 1998 are now ahead, with the number achieving equivalent grades rising from 36 per cent to 48 per cent.

The Scottish education system has long been regarded as among the best in the world, but the report claims that this view is now a myth.

Mr Mawdsley called on the Scottish government to publish more information about pupils' performance. "Using the measure of the pupils attaining five good grades by S4, including maths and English, would be a good start," he said.

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A Proposal to Separate Fast Food and Schools

Cara Buckley:

Just in from the department of not-so-surprising news: a study has found that young teenagers tend to be fatter when there are fast-food restaurants within one block of their schools.

The report found an increased obesity rate of at least 5.2 percent among teenagers at schools where fast-food outlets were a tenth of a mile -- roughly one city block -- or less away.

To remedy that, Eric N. Gioia, a city councilman from Queens, wants to stop fast-food restaurants from opening so close to the city's schools.

"With the proliferation of fast-food restaurants directly around schools, it's a clear and present danger to our children's health," said Mr. Gioia, who proposed the ban at a news conference at a school opposite a McDonald's in TriBeCa on Sunday.

"A fast-food restaurant on the corner can have a terrible impact on a child's life," he said. "Obesity, diabetes, hypertension -- it's a step toward a less healthy life."

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April 20, 2009

Madison School Board Rejects Teaching & Learning Expansion; an Interesting Discussion

One of the most interesting things I've observed in my years of local school interaction is the extensive amount of pedagogical and content development that taxpayers fund within the Madison School District. I've always found this unusual, given the proximity of the University of Wisconsin, MATC and Edgewood College, among other, nearby Institutions of Higher Education.

The recent Math Task Force, a process set in motion by several school board elections, has succeeded in bringing more attention to the District's math curriculum. Math rigor has long been a simmering issue, as evidenced by this April, 2004 letter from West High School Math Teachers to Isthmus:
Moreover, parents of future West High students should take notice: As you read this, our department is under pressure from the administration and the math coordinator's office to phase out our "accelerated" course offerings beginning next year. Rather than addressing the problems of equity and closing the gap by identifying minority math talent earlier, and fostering minority participation in the accelerated programs, our administration wants to take the cheaper way out by forcing all kids into a one-size-fits-all curriculum.

It seems the administration and our school board have re-defined "success" as merely producing "fewer failures." Astonishingly, excellence in student achievement is visited by some school district administrators with apathy at best, and with contempt at worst. But, while raising low achievers is a laudable goal, it is woefully short-sighted and, ironically, racist in the most insidious way. Somehow, limiting opportunities for excellence has become the definition of providing equity! Could there be a greater insult to the minority community?
The fact the Madison's Teaching & Learning Department did not get what they want tonight is significant, perhaps the first time this has ever happened with respect to Math. I appreciate and am proud of the Madison School Board's willingness to consider and discuss these important issues. Each Board member offered comments on this matter including: Lucy Mathiak, who pointed out that it would be far less expensive to simply take courses at the UW-Madison (about 1000 for three credits plus books) than spend $150K annually in Teaching & Learning. Marj Passman noted that the Math Task Force report emphasized content knowledge improvement and that is where the focus should be while Maya Cole noted that teacher participation is voluntary. Voluntary participation is a problem, as we've seen with the deployment of an online grading and scheduling system for teachers, students and parents.

Much more on math here, including a 2006 Forum (audio / video).

Several years ago, the late Ted Widerski introduced himself at an event. He mentioned that he learned something every week from this site and the weekly eNewsletter. I was (and am) surprised at Ted's comments. I asked if the MMSD had an internal "Knowledge Network", like, but oriented around curriculum for teachers? "No".

It would seem that, given the tremendous local and online resources available today, Teaching & Learning's sole reason for existence should be to organize and communicate information and opportunities for our teaching staff via the web, email, sms, videoconference, blogs, newsletters and the like. There is certainly no need to spend money on curriculum creation.

"Men more frequently require to be reminded than informed."

Listen to tonight's nearly 50 minute Madison School Board math discussion via this 22MB mp3 audio file.
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Madison School District Superintendent Dan Nerad on Local Stimulus / Splurge Spending

4.6MB mp3 audio file. Roughly 11M over two years plus grant opportunities. Much more on the stimulus / splurge here.
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Gabriele Meyer on the Madison School District's Math Program

University of Wisconsin-Madison math lecturer Gabriele Meyer advocates the use of Singapore math in this 3 minute mp3 audio file. Much more on Madison's math program here.

Related: the politics (and spin) of calculator use.
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Tonight's Madison School Board Meeting at O'Keefe Middle School

The meeting, which will discuss math (TJ Mertz comments), non-SAGE schools and many other topics. The meeting begins at 6:00p.m.

O'Keeffe Middle School
510 South Thornton Ave. [Map]
Madison, WI 53703
Library Media Center

The meeting agenda can be found here.

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Android ABC's

Miwa Suzuki:

A child robot, or CB2, has been made in a laboratory at Osaka University in Japan. A scientific team is trying to teach the robot to think and act like a baby.

A bald, child-like creature dangles its legs from a chair as its shoulders rise and fall with rhythmic breathing and its black eyes follow movements across the room.

It's not human -- but it is paying attention.

Below the soft silicon skin of one of Japan's most sophisticated robots, processors record and evaluate information. The 130-centimetre humanoid is designed to learn just like a human infant.

The creators of the Child-robot with Biomimetic Body, or CB2, say it's slowly developing social skills by interacting with humans and watching their facial expressions, mimicking a mother-baby relationship.

"Babies and infants have very, very limited programs. But they have room to learn more," said Osaka University professor Minoru Asada, as his team's 33-kilogram invention kept its eyes glued to him.

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How to Raise Our IQ

Nicholas Kristof:

Poor people have I.Q.'s significantly lower than those of rich people, and the awkward conventional wisdom has been that this is in large part a function of genetics.

After all, a series of studies seemed to indicate that I.Q. is largely inherited. Identical twins raised apart, for example, have I.Q.'s that are remarkably similar. They are even closer on average than those of fraternal twins who grow up together.

If intelligence were deeply encoded in our genes, that would lead to the depressing conclusion that neither schooling nor antipoverty programs can accomplish much. Yet while this view of I.Q. as overwhelmingly inherited has been widely held, the evidence is growing that it is, at a practical level, profoundly wrong. Richard Nisbett, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, has just demolished this view in a superb new book, "Intelligence and How to Get It," which also offers terrific advice for addressing poverty and inequality in America.

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With Finance Disgraced, Which Career Will Be King?

Steve Lohr:

In the Depression, smart college students flocked into civil engineering to design the highway, bridge and dam-building projects of those days. In the Sputnik era, students poured into the sciences as America bet on technology to combat the cold war Communist challenge. Yes, the jobs beckoned and the pay was good. But those careers, in their day, had other perks: respect and self-esteem.

Big shifts in the flow of talent can ripple through the nation and the economy for decades with lasting effect. The engineers of the Depression built everything from inter-city roads to the Hoover Dam, while the Sputnik-inspired scientists would go on, often with research funding from the Pentagon, to create the building-block innovations behind modern computing and the Internet.

Today, the financial crisis and the economic downturn are likely to alter drastically the career paths of future years. The contours of the shift are still in flux, in part because there is so much uncertainty about the shape of the economic landscape and the job market ahead.

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Task to Aid Self-Esteem Lifts Grades for Some

Benedict Carey:

Some seventh graders who were struggling in class did significantly better after performing a series of brief confidence-building writing exercises, and the improvements continued through eighth grade, researchers reported Thursday.

The students who benefited most were blacks who were doing poorly, the study found; the exercises made no difference for white students, or for black ones who were already doing well.

Experts cautioned that the writing was hardly transforming. Those who benefited were still barely getting C's, on average, by the end of middle school.

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California Schools Superintendent Wants to Water Down Academic Standards in Name of "21st-Century Skills"

Bill Evers:

California State Schools Superintendent Jack O'Connell spoke to the annual EdSource Forum in Irvine today (April 17).
O'Connell, who holds a nonpartisan office, began his speech with political partisanship:
President Obama won a mandate for change that has placed him in a position to cause a massive shift in the way our government operates and in the manner in which it serves the needs of its citizens....
In just the first few months of this Administration, I can easily and confidently say that we have seen a dramatic shift in the willingness of this White House to be a partner to states -- this is a welcome difference from the previous Administration....
There was more, but you get the general idea.

O'Connell then went on to identify "four key areas" that the Obama administration wants states to concentrate on:

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Autism and extraordinary ability

The Economist:

THAT genius is unusual goes without saying. But is it so unusual that it requires the brains of those that possess it to be unusual in others ways, too? A link between artistic genius on the one hand and schizophrenia and manic-depression on the other, is widely debated. However another link, between savant syndrome and autism, is well established. It is, for example, the subject of films such as "Rain Man", illustrated above.

A study published this week by Patricia Howlin of King's College, London, reinforces this point. It suggests that as many as 30% of autistic people have some sort of savant-like capability in areas such as calculation or music. Moreover, it is widely acknowledged that some of the symptoms associated with autism, including poor communication skills and an obsession with detail, are also exhibited by many creative types, particularly in the fields of science, engineering, music, drawing and painting. Indeed, there is now a cottage industry in re-interpreting the lives of geniuses in the context of suggestions that they might belong, or have belonged, on the "autistic spectrum", as the range of syndromes that include autistic symptoms is now dubbed.

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2009 Inter-School Scrabble Championship

BroadLearning Education & Mattel:

The Sixth Inter-School Scrabble Championship 2009 is approaching! Being the organizers, Mattel and BroadLearning are delighted to invite all primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong to join our Scrabble Championship 2009.
The Scrabble Championship gives a valuable opportunity for our students to play and learn at the same time in a fun and exciting environment. The Championship has shown great success since its first launch in Hong Kong 5 years ago. Throughout these years, we really wish to see that our students can enjoy the game and develop their interest and confidence in learning the language with fun.

The championship in 2009 will be open for 2 categories: the Senior Primary students (P4-P6) and the Junior Secondary students (F1-F3). There will be the Semi-Finals and the Grand-Final. Details of date and venue will be coming up soon. We'll start to invite registration for the Scrabble Championship in early January 2009 by email and fax. You may also visit our website or for any updates.

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April 19, 2009

Expert panel says gifted students must be challenged

Wendy Owen, The Oregonian

For gifted children to succeed, they must be challenged, according to a panel of experts. Nearly 200 parents and educators filled the auditorium at Westview High School Thursday night to learn about the unique characteristics, best practices and identification methods for Talented and Gifted (TAG) students.

Gifted children lose their motivation when the work is too easy. Having never been challenged, they will lack the tools to deal with difficult work in the future, said Jean Gubbins, associate director of The National Research on the Gifted and Talented at the University of Connecticut. Beaverton, Hillsboro and Forest Grove school districts sponsored the panel as part of an ongoing review of their own TAG programs.

The panelists also stressed the importance of grouping gifted students in middle school, at least during some lessons. "They need time with like-ability peers," said Hilda Rosselli, dean of the College of Education, Western Oregon State University. Educators should also seek out TAG students among English language learners, students from poverty and other under-served children, who are often overlooked as gifted, the panel said.

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Response to the Madison School District's Math Task Force Recommendations


There are a number of points in the Summary of Administrative Response to MMSD Mathematics Task Force Recommendations which should be made. As a mathematician, let me just comment on comments on Recommendation 11. There are other comments which could be made, but I have a limited amount of time at present.

The first question I have is in the first paragraph. "One aspect of the balanced approach is represented in the four block approach to structuring mathematics lessons. The four blocks include Problem Solving, Number Work, Fluency and Maintenance and Inspecting Equations." There is a missing comma, since it is not clear whether Maintenance goes with the previous word or the last two. However, in either case, "Inspecting Equations" is a strange phrase to use. I am not sure what it means, and when a mathematician who has read extensively in school mathematics does not understand a phrase, something is wrong. You might ask Brian Sniff, who seems to have written this report based on one comment he made at the Monday meeting, what he means by this.

In the next paragraph, there are the following statements about the math program used in MMSD. "The new edition [of Connected Math Project] includes a greater emphasis on practice problems similar to those in traditional middle and high school textbooks. The new edition still remains focused on problem-centered instruction that promotes deep conceptual understanding." First, I dislike inflated language. It usually is an illustration of a lack of knowledge. We cannot hope for "deep conceptual understanding", in school mathematics, and Connected Math falls far short of what we want students to learn and understand in many ways. There are many examples which could be given and a few are mentioned in a letter I sent to the chair of a committee which gave an award to two of the developers of Connected Mathematics Project. Much of my letter to Phil Daro is given below.

The final paragraph for Recommendation 11 deals with high school mathematics. When asked about the state standards, Brian Sniff remarked that they were being rewritten, but that the changes seem to be minimal. He is on the high school rewrite committee, and I hope he is incorrect about the changes since significant changes should be made. We now have a serious report from the National Mathematics Advisory Panel which was asked to report on algebra. In addition to comments on what is needed to prepare students for algebra, which should have an impact on both elementary and middle school mathematics, there is a good description of what algebra in high school should contain. Some of the books used in MMSD do not have the needed algebra. In addition, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has published Curriculum Focal Points for grades PK-8 which should be used for further details in these grades. Neither of these reports was mentioned in the response you were sent.

I have pointed out errors and omissions in Connected Mathematics and Discovering Advanced Algebra to Sniff, and suggested that teachers be informed about these problems and given suggestions for how to work around them. You might ask him what has been sent to teachers about rational numbers and repeating decimals in Connected Math and the geometric series in Discovering Advanced Algebra. I wrote the principal author of Connected Math about their treatment of repeating decimals in the first edition, in 2000 and 2002. Nothing was changed in the second version. It is still a very poor treatment. I will send separately a paper I gave at a meeting in Lisbon last November. It deals with the help teachers should be given, and how inadequate it frequently is.

The National Mathematics Advisory Panel recommended that the geometric series should be done in first year algebra, since it is not hard to derive the sum of a finite geometric series and it has many interesting applications. In Discovering Advanced Geometry, the sum of this series is stated but not derived. What understanding is this giving students?

There never has been a serious public discussion about the direction of mathematics education in the Madison Schools. There should be. There was a committee set up to report and the part which surprised me most was the survey of elementary school teachers, who reported that most of them did not use a textbook as a primary resource. Decades ago my daughter went through a year at Cherokee with a teacher developed program in math. It was a disaster. I wonder about the results mentioned in a Capital Times article on the charter school Nuestro Mundo. Here are the result on WKCE Third Grade tests.

Percentage scoring proficient or advanced in reading

Nuestro Mundo707446
Madison School District728847

Percentage scoring proficient or advanced in math

Nuestro Mundo496315
Madison School District728752

Both the reading and math tests were given in English. In every other study I have seen about schools like Nuestro Mundo, the math score relative to the district score is much closer than the reading score is to the district average. Does the math staff at MMSD have an explanation for this dramatic difference?

Here is most of my letter to Phil Daro mentioned above. If you have any questions about what I have written, please feel free to contact me. My phone number is 233-7900.

Richard Askey

Recently I read the announcement of the prizes awarded by ISDDE. The Connected Math award singled out two of their books. The 8th grade book, "Say It With Symbols", had the following written about it:

Say It With Symbols tackles the development of robust fluency in symbolic manipulation (always a high priority) by focusing on "making sense with symbols" at every stage. Work on interpreting symbolic expressions leads on to creating equivalent expressions and thus to sense-making solution of linear and quadratic equations, and to modeling.

Let us look at a little of this book. There is some work on factoring quadratics, but clearly not enough for students to become fluent with it. The quadratic formula is stated but not proven, nor is there a proof (much less a motivated one) in the Teacher's Guide. Completing the square is never mentioned. There are a couple of problems like the following: Page 51 in Second Edition. [I can give comments on the First Edition if that is what you used, but I am giving them a break and using the Second. It has been through even more use than the first, but still has a lot of flaws.]

44. You can write quadratic expressions in factored and expanded forms. Which form would you use for each of the following? Explain. c. To find the line of symmetry for a quadratic relationship Answer: The line of symmetry is a vertical line perpendicular to the x-axis through a point with an x-coordinate half way between the x-intercepts. The factored form can be used to find this point. How about the case when the factors are not real? y=x^2+2x+2. There is still a line of symmetry, but without complex numbers, which few will treat in eighth grade, factoring does not work. Of course one can make it work by subtracting a constant, but this is a book for students who are just learning algebra. Whenever the word "Explain" is used in a question, I look to see what the explanation is. There is no reason given for why half way between the intercepts gives the line of symmetry. A explanation can be given using either form, but the authors do not do this. I can give you many examples where the "Explain" answer in the Teacher's Guide is far from an explanation, and sometimes is wrong.

Part d asks how to find the coordinates of the maximum or minimum point for a quadratic relationship. Here completing the square is clearly the better method at this stage, if one is aiming for the very important goal of fluency in symbolic manipulation, but that is not their goal. They seemingly never make the vital step of changing variables in an expression. There were many places where this could have been introduced and then used to give mathematical closure at the level they deal with, but it is not there.

Let us skip to the end of this book. There is an introduction to tests for divisibility in problem 9 on page 77 and problem 10 on the same page for divisibility by 2 and 4. The answers in the Teacher's Guide are reasonable. Then in problem 41 the problem of divisibility by 3 is considered. The answer pulls out the idea of changing 100a + 10b + c to 99a + a + 9b + b + c and then writes this to get the usual criteria. What is missing is an explanation for why one does this. One looks for the closest numbers to 100 and to 10 which can be divided by 3, which mimics the argument in divisibility by 2 and 4. The teachers will not know this, nor know that this can be extended to divisibility by 11 by a similar argument, although unlike the case of 3 and 9, the step from 11 to 99 to 1001 is only easy for 11 and 99. Before seeing how this extends one cannot just divide 1001 by 11, but write 1001 as 990 + 11. This extends. This is what should be in the Teacher's Guide. One recommendation from the National Mathematics Advisory Panel is that instruction should not be either entirely "student-centered" or "teacher-directed". The problem should have been given with some explanation about how divisibility by 2, 4, and 5 works, and then after remarking that divisibility by 3 cannot come from just looking at the last digit, ask the students to figure out what the closest number to 10 is which is divisible by 3, and then the closest number to 100 which is divisible by 3, and to use this information to try to find a simple test for divisibility by 3.

Let us consider the last problem. Judy thinks she knows a quick way to square any number whose last digit is 5. (Example 25) Look at the digit to the left of 5. Multiply it by the number that is one greater than this number. (example 2*3=6) Write the product followed by 25. This is the square of the number. Try this squaring method on two other numbers that end in 5. Explain why this method works. [Explanation: Students may find it easiest to explain why this method works by forming an equation [sic] to represent the value of any number ending in five, such as (10x+5), where x can be any whole number. Then a student taking the square of this value they [sic] will get (10x+5)(10x+5)=100x^2+100x+25)=100. [The 100 is only part of what should be there. It should be 100x(x+1) + 25.] This equation represents Judy's method of finding the square. [The word "equation" is wrong. They mean "expression".]

If they are going to let x be any whole number, then Judy's method is wrong, since she said to look at the digit to the left of 5, and multiply it by the number that is one greater than this number. So 125^2 would be the same as 25^2, or with careless reading, the same as 2*13 with 25 appended. This is not symbolic fluency in the textbook.

The next to the last problem dealt with divisibility by 6, and the correct statement is given in the Teacher's Guide, but the argument pulls out heavy machinery in the form of the Fundamental Theorem of Algebra when it is not needed. However, the related problem of assuming that a number is divisible by 2 and by 4 (rather than 2 and 3) does not imply it is divisible by 8 is missing. That is a mistake since students at this age will often not see the difference.

I have yet to talk to a high school teacher who thought that students who have had Connected Mathematics Project are better at symbolic calculations than those they had had earlier before CMP was introduced. Some, but not all, say the students have better conceptual understanding. Thus I find it strange that fluency in symbolic skills is singled out as a strength of CMP. Have you read the books which were mentioned?

In other areas, such as geometry, CMP has few if any of the problems which are common in East Asian countries, to help students learn how to solve multistep problems, including quite a few nice problems where auxiliary lines need to be drawn. I have books from Nigeria which have better geometry problems than CMP does. You should know this if what I found on the web is correct, that you are helping develop a middle school program based on Japanese models. Instead of giving CMP an award, it would have been much better to have read the first edition carefully and made constructive suggestions about how to improve it. It needs a lot of improvement.

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Teacher plays 'exceptional role'

Julie Smyth:

A Canadian researcher who has studied the early education of some of the smartest people in the world has uncovered a link that may confound even the most dedicated parent.

According to the research, the most important quality determining intellectual prowess is not at all connected to familiarity with the latest brainy baby toys, involves no amount of flash-card drilling and may, in fact, have little to do with parental involvement in the child's early academic development.

After examining the backgrounds of more than 50 Nobel laureates, Larisa Shavinina, a gifted-education expert from the Université du Québec en Outaouais, found that what they all had in common was at least one teacher who played "an exceptional role" and went beyond the ordinary classroom practice. "They all had at least one exceptional teacher who acted as a role model."

In a paper presented at a conference on academic excellence in Paris last summer, Prof. Shavinina said the laureates all talked about how these formative teachers taught in a way that was enthusiastic, inspiring and used "a playful spirit" that sparked their charges' enthusiasm for science.

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Why Your Taxes May Double

David Walker:

Even under the best of economic circumstances, tax season is a tense time for American households. The number of hours we collectively spend working on our returns is probably a lot more than government agencies claim.

The burden in financial terms is even greater: A recent independent survey found that the average American's total federal, state and local tax bill roughly equals his or her entire earnings from January 1 up until right before tax day.

Now imagine that tax bill doubling over time.

In recent years, the federal government has spent more money than it takes in at an increasing rate. Total federal debt almost doubled during President George W. Bush's administration and, as much as we needed some stimulus spending to boost the economy, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office now estimates total debt levels could almost double again over the next eight years based on the budget recently outlined by President Obama.

Regardless of what politicians tell you, any additional accumulations of debt are, absent dramatic reductions in the size and role of government, basically deferred tax increases. Remember the old saw? "You can pay me now or you can pay me later, with interest."

To help put things in perspective, the Peterson Foundation calculated the federal government accumulated $56.4 trillion in total liabilities and unfunded promises for Medicare and Social Security as of September 30, 2008. The numbers used to calculate this figure come directly from the audited financial statements of the U.S. government.

Editor's Note: David M. Walker served as comptroller general of the United States and head of the Government Accountability Office from 1998 to 2008. He is now president and CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation.

On a related note, the Madison School Board will be discussing an "Update on planning regarding funds that MMSD may be eligible to receive under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act".

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"New Math"

"Baked fresh every Monday".

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California faces shortage of college graduates for workforce, study finds

Gale Holland:

With college enrollment rates among the lowest in the nation, California will face a shortage of 1 million college graduates needed for the state's workforce in 2025, a report released Thursday warned.

Unless policy changes are made, only 35% of the state's working-age adults will hold a four-year degree that year, even as a college education will be required for at least 41% of job-holders, the study by the Public Policy Institute of California found.

The state's three public college systems -- the California Community Colleges, California State University and the University of California -- educate 2.3 million students annually, and an additional 360,000 students attend private colleges and universities. But the numbers mask a huge gap between the state's youth population and its college-going and graduation rates, the report found.

Only 56% of California's high school graduates, as opposed to 62% nationwide, proceed directly to college. The state also ranked comparatively low in other measures, including its share of 25- to 34-year-olds with at least a bachelor's degree and the number of college students who graduated within five years.

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April 18, 2009

Madison School District Math Program: Proposal to Increase Teacher Training and Teaching & Learning Staff

Monday evening's Madison School Board meeting will discuss a proposal to increase math teacher training and add staff to the Teaching & Learning Department. 215K PDF.

Interestingly, the latest document includes these words:
MMSD Teaching & Learning Staff and local Institute of Higher Education (IHE) Faculty work collaboratively to design a two-year professional development program aimed at deepening the mathematical content knowledge of MMSD middle school mathematics...
It is unusual to not mention the University of Wisconsin School of Education in these documents.... The UW-Madison School of Education has had a significant role in many Madison School District curriculum initiatives.

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Virginia Superintendent Thinks Small in Plan to Revamp Middle Grades

Theresa Vargas:

Alexandria Superintendent Morton Sherman was less than a week into the job, greeting parents outside an elementary school, when he was first asked how he planned to fix the middle schools.

Last night came his answer: through a massive overhaul.

Sherman, seven months into his tenure, presented a plan for restructuring the city's two middle schools, which have never met federal benchmarks and which, he said, contribute to Alexandria's dropout rate being among the highest in the area.

Locally and across the nation, middle schools have generally been regarded as the problem child for school systems, marking the turbulent teenage years in which test scores and enthusiasm drop. In response, school systems have begun getting creative and investing more resources into those grade levels. The District school system, for example, has a program that pays students for their performance, and Montgomery County schools have committed to a three-year, $10 million plan to accelerate curriculum, train teachers and improve the leadership structure.

Sherman's plan, which he presented to the Alexandria School Board last night, calls for splitting the two middle schools into five smaller ones, each with its own principal and staff. The change would not cost the school system more, he said, adding that staff would be reallocated. If the board approves the plan, the new structure will be in place in time for the next school year.

Sherman, wisely, has a blog, including comments!

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Mystery Donor Gives Universities Millions


Over the last few weeks, a mystery person or organization has been giving away millions of dollars. Universities have been receiving anonymous donations. Purdue University got $8 million. The University of Iowa got $7 million. Other schools got donations too. Nobody knows who gave away the more than $45 million.

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Leadership Institute for Superintendents: Systemic Reform in School Districts and Schools

Harvard Graduate School of Education, via email:

Superintendents today are faced with the challenge of developing quality school systems that create opportunities for success for all of their students. In the complicated environment of standards-based reform, superintendents need to be able to improve their district as a whole.

To do this, they must understand how to work with the leaders in their district to improve the whole system--and refuse to settle for just a few good schools. They must inspire a sense of urgency and convince those they work with to embrace the goal of all students graduating, ready for post secondary education, without remediation.

This is critical in order to have opportunity in the workplace, fulfill civic responsibilities, and lead a good life. How do you make this happen in an environment where resources are scarce, competing interests for resources are many, and the capacity for change is limited within the traditional approaches that are no longer applicable in a rapidly changing society?

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The Dangers Of The Drinking Age

Jeffrey Miron & Elina Tetelbaum:

For the past 20 years, the U.S. has maintained a Minimum Legal Drinking Age of 21 (MLDA21), with little public debate about the wisdom of this policy. Recently, however, more than 100 college and university presidents signed the Amethyst Initiative, a public statement calling for "an informed and dispassionate public debate over the effects of the 21-year-old drinking age."

The response to the Amethyst Initiative was predictable: Advocates of restricted access and zero tolerance decried the statement for not recognizing that the MLDA21 saves lives by preventing traffic deaths among 18- to 20-year-olds. The president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, for example, accused the university heads of "not doing their homework" on the relationship between the drinking age and traffic fatalities.

In fact, the advocates of the MLDA21 are the ones who need a refresher course. In our recently completed research, we show that the MLDA21 has little or no life-saving effect.

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University of Wisconsin junior founded group to help students like herself afford college

Todd Finkelmeyer:

When Chynna Haas was about 10 years old, her father asked if she had hopes of one day going to college.

"Yes," she answered.

"OK, then start saving," her dad told her.

Haas took that advice to heart and now is a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. But making ends meet while coming from a family of modest means has not been easy.

"I'm kind of in this bubble where I don't qualify for a lot of money, but I don't have a lot of money -- so I'm basically on my own," said Haas.

To pay for school, Haas works 35 hours per week during the school year and about 60 a week over the summer. Even so, she figures she'll be about $23,000 in debt when she graduates next May.

It is these financial struggles -- as well as an awareness of what money can buy in terms of access to power and opportunities -- that prompted her in the fall of 2007 to found a student organization that gives a voice to working-class students at UW-Madison.

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April 17, 2009

An Update on the Madison School District's Strategic Planning Process

The Madison School District's strategic planning group will meet next week and review the work to date, summarized in these documents:

Much more on the Madison School District's Strategic Planning Process here.

It is important to note that this work must be approved (and perhaps modified) by the school board, then, of course, implemented by the Administration.

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The Puzzling Politics of School Choice

George Lightbourn, via a kind reader's email:
I don’t think it would be possible to make things any more confusing for Milwaukee parents. Their children have become political pawns in a political chess match and it will surprise no one to learn that this group of poor, minority parents is being treated quite shabbily.

The politics that these people are caught up in is being run out of the State Capitol. Governor Doyle went out of his way to tuck a decidedly non-fiscal item into his budget that stands to affect all school choice children. Specifically, he added a long list of regulatory requirements that the schools participating in the Milwaukee’s school choice program would have to follow. Governor Doyle’s list of regulations is torn directly out of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association play book. After all, MTEA worked hard to deliver a totally Democrat state government and they expect a pay off for their effort. And to the glee of MTEA, Governor Doyle delivered.

Lest anyone be deceived, the aim of MTEA has always been to shut down the private school choice program. They want to get all of the kids back into public schools. Their hope is that these new regulations the Governor put in his budget will make it onerous enough for the choice schools that they will be forced to opt out of the choice program. There is logic to the MTEA reasoning given that choice schools operate on tiny budgets that are already strained.
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Are we 'Good-job!'-ing our kids to pieces?

Kate McCarthy:
On a recent soggy morning, Mark Theissen covered a lot of ground fast in his first-grade classroom at Vadnais Heights Elementary School. He sprang from station to station, encouraging students to finish and focus -- sound words out, craft Lego configurations mathematically, grip Crayolas in the correct way.

He asked questions but didn't back-pat; he prodded but didn't praise. Nor did he carry the ball, merely offering assists. That's because when Theissen, 36, began teaching in 2000, the backlash against overpraising children was in full swing.

"I try to avoid complimenting them all the time," he said. "If they get strokes for everything, they expect it, they think everything they do is great -- and they don't want to push themselves. I think they need to develop self-drive and the need to perform for personal satisfaction, not recognition from others."
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High schools rife with hazing, Maine study finds


Authors of an ambitious survey of hazing in colleges and universities have turned their attention to high schools and discovered that many freshmen arrive on campus with experience -- with 47 percent reporting getting hazed in high school.

As in college, high school hazing pervaded groups from sports teams to the yearbook staff and performing arts, according to professors Elizabeth Allan and Mary Madden of the University of Maine's College of Education and Human Development.

The hazing included activities from silly stunts to drinking games, with 8 percent of the students drinking to the point of getting sick or passing out, they said.

Just like college students, high schoolers are susceptible to getting swept up in group activities and doing things they might not otherwise do, the authors said.

"That group dynamic can lead to the escalation where you have the hazing that's been reported in the news, some horrendous incidents," Madden said.

Among them: a "powder puff" event in which several seniors at a suburban Chicago high school were suspended or charged with roughing up junior girls, and junior varsity football players being sodomized by teammates at their New York high school.

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A Gallop Toward Hope: One Family's Adventure in Fighting Autism

Motoko Rich:

When Rupert Isaacson decided to take his autistic son, Rowan, on a trip to Mongolia to ride horses and seek the help of shamans two years ago, he had a gut instinct that the adventure would have a healing effect on the boy. Mr. Isaacson's instinct was rewarded after the trip, when some of Rowan's worst behavioral issues, including wild temper tantrums, all but disappeared.

Now the publisher of Mr. Isaacson's book about the journey, "The Horse Boy," has a similar instinct about the market potential of his story, and is hoping for its own happy ending.

Little, Brown & Company, which released "The Horse Boy" on Tuesday, has a lot riding on its success: the publisher paid more than $1 million in an advance to Mr. Isaacson before he and his family had even taken their Mongolian trip.

Michael Pietsch, publisher of Little, Brown, said booksellers had already placed orders high enough to justify a first printing of 150,000 copies.

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US Education Chief to Spend Billions Transforming US Schools

Oliver Staley & Molly Peterson:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan plans to spend a record $5 billion to transform U.S. schools by rewarding states for innovation, providing merit pay to teachers and creating a national scorecard to identify failing schools.

The Education Department has already distributed $44 billion of its $100 billion in stimulus funds to stave off the firing of teachers, Duncan said yesterday in an interview in Washington. An additional $5 billion will be given as an incentive to states that are "fundamentally willing to challenge the status quo," he said.

Duncan, 44, the former head of Chicago's public schools, said the retirement of 1 million teachers in the "next couple of years" gives the U.S. an opportunity to attract and retain a new generation of educators. He said he plans to enlist President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama to help recruit teachers, and then reward the newcomers for working in struggling schools and districts.

"Talent matters tremendously," Duncan said. "If we can bring in this next generation of extraordinary talent, we can transform education, and our ability to do that over the next couple of years will shape education in this country for the next 25 or 30 years."

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1 class increases odds of college graduation for struggling students

Science Blog:

A researcher at Ohio State University has developed a course on learning and motivation strategies that actually increases the odds that struggling first-year students will graduate.

Students in academic difficulty who took the "Learning and Motivation Strategies" course in their first quarter at Ohio State were about 45 percent more likely to graduate within six years than similar students who didn't take the class.

Average-ability students who took the course were also six times more likely to stay in college for a second year and had higher grade point averages than those who didn't take the class.

"We are taking the students who are least likely to succeed in college and teaching them the skills they need to stay in school and graduate," said Bruce Tuckman, a professor of education at Ohio State, and creator of the course.

"Just taking this one class has made a big difference in how well below-average students do at Ohio State."

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April 16, 2009

The Union War on Charter Schools

Jay Greene:
On education policy, appeasement is about as ineffective as it is in foreign affairs. Many proponents of school choice, especially Democrats, have tried to appease teachers unions by limiting their support to charter schools while opposing private school vouchers. They hope that by sacrificing vouchers, the unions will spare charter schools from political destruction.

But these reformers are starting to learn that appeasement on vouchers only whets unions appetites for eliminating all meaningful types of choice. With voucher programs facing termination in Washington, D.C., and heavy regulation in Milwaukee, the teachers unions have now set their sights on charter schools. Despite their proclamations about supporting charters, the actions of unions and their allies in state and national politics belie their rhetoric.

In New York, for example, the unions have backed a new budget that effectively cuts $51.5 million from charter-school funding, even as district-school spending can continue to increase thanks to local taxes and stimulus money that the charters lack. New York charters already receive less money per pupil than their district school counterparts; now they will receive even less.

Unions are also seeking to strangle charter schools with red tape. New York already has the "card check" unionization procedure for teachers that replaces secret ballots with public arm-twisting. And the teachers unions appear to have collected enough cards to unionize the teachers at two highly successful charter schools in New York City. If unions force charters to enter into collective bargaining, one can only imagine how those schools will be able to maintain the flexible work rules that allow them to succeed.
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Severson on McKenna

Jim, thank you for posting the link to this fascinating set of rants on the MMSD school board. I STRONGLY suggest that people watch the committee meeting video that is available at:

Simply put, many of the critiques that Severson complains are not happening are in fact very much alive in school board debate, whether it comes to what needs to happen to improve the math curriculum to the reviews and changes in fiscal practice that are making it possible to close the spending gap without further trashing programs. I guess that Don was napping during the three meetings when the discussions were underway?

Or, I may be wrong. This may not be a manipulation of the truth for political purposes. You be the judge - watch the video - and see whether nothing is being done on significant issues as Severson asserts.

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Don Severson Talks with Vicki McKenna on the Madison Public Schools

25.3MB mp3 audio file. The discussion begins about four minutes into the audio clip. Topics include: spending, program/curriculum assessment, reading results, the District's strategic planning process, the QEO and possible state budget changes that could raise local property taxes.
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Colleges Ask Donors to Help Meet Demand for Aid

Stephanie Strom:
Faced with one of the most challenging fund-raising environments anyone can remember, colleges and universities are appealing to donors to help meet the swelling demand for financial aid.

Using such demand "as a fund-raising tool totally makes sense in this environment," said Richard J. Krasney, a wealth manager and philanthropy adviser. "More than ever, people want to know that their money is being used to address current needs."

Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., has increased its financial aid budget for the coming school year by 7.5 percent, to $21.5 million, a point its fund-raisers are making to donors.

"The incoming student body for the fall of 2009 will have higher financial needs than in the past," said Clay Ballantine, Hampshire's chief advancement officer. "I tell donors these are excellent students and we want to take financial concerns out of their decision-making process, and we're looking to you to provide a gift that will help us do that."
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Wisconsin law restricting teacher raises (to at least 3.8%) likely to be repealed

Amy Hetzner:
A state law used to settle contracts and restrict teacher compensation in school districts from Wauwatosa to Cedarburg to New Berlin could be repealed this year, now that Democrats control both houses of the Legislature and the governor's mansion.

The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee took the most significant step toward eliminating the qualified economic offer (QEO) law since Gov. Jim Doyle took office simply by keeping the repeal proposal in the budget that it will begin considering Thursday. Prior attempts by Doyle to repeal the QEO as part of the biennial budget process were rejected by the committee when it was under bipartisan and Republican rule.

But now that the process is controlled by Democrats, who typically are more favorable to teacher- and labor-backed issues, state Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon) called the chances the QEO will be eliminated this year "100%." Passing the measure with the budget is viewed as easier than proposing it as an individual bill.

"The teachers union has wanted to get rid of this for a long time," Olsen said. "They finally got the Democrats in power to do it. The Democrats plan to get rid of the QEO. The governor will get rid of the QEO."

In place since 1993, the QEO was implemented as part of a three-pronged approach to change how public schools are funded in the state.
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More on a Possible Mayoral Takeover of the Milwaukee Schools

Bruce Murphy:

Four weeks ago, I did a column arguing the mayor should take over Milwaukee Public Schools. I didn't get much from readers disputing my reasoning. Rather, I was told by some insiders that the issue was moot because Tom Barrett doesn't want to take over the schools.

Wrong. He's interested, and that's what last week's report on the finances of MPS was really all about. Coverage by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel went into great depth on the minutia of money that could be saved (which was less impressive than it sounds) while underplaying the real game plan: to lay the groundwork for a governance change.

Barrett is a consensus builder who never moves quickly. He has methodically traveled to Chicago and Washington, D.C., to learn about how a mayoral takeover worked there. He met with President Barack Obama's education secretary, Arne Duncan, who supports this kind of governance change. "It's no secret Barrett has met with these people," says his chief of staff, Pat Curley. "You have to look at whether the current model (for MPS) works."

There's pressure on Barrett from the business community to do something about MPS to ensure that graduates have the skills needed to function in the workplace. Last week's report by McKinsey & Co. was paid for by the Bader, Bradley, Argosy, Northwestern Mutual Life and Greater Milwaukee foundations, which range from liberal to conservative to centrist in their views, but all have businesspeople on their boards. The first paragraph of the report notes that the economic future of Milwaukee depends on the ability of the schools "to prepare well-educated, highly trained and skilled graduates."

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AT&T launches family-tracking service

Marguerite Reardon:

AT&T is offering a new service that allows parents--or potentially jealous spouses/boyfriends/girlfriends--to track loved ones using their phones.

AT&T's service called FamilyMaps allows people to track the location of any cell phone on AT&T's network from a mobile phone or PC. The person being tracked receives a text message informing him or her that he or she is being watched. The service periodically informs the tracked individual that he or she is being watched, just in case one text message reminder wasn't enough.

Users can either track someone in real time by viewing the location on a map or they can set up the service to send them text message alerts or e-mails with location information. For example, a parent may get an alert each day that his child made it home from school. Or perhaps a jealous girlfriend looking to keep tabs on her boyfriend could set up the service to notify her if her boyfriend happens to wander into a bar or over to his ex-girlfriend's apartment after work.

Users can only track phones that are part of their family plans. This means that stalkers looking to keep tabs on their old flames won't simply be able to type in their ex-lover's phone numbers and start tracking. (I suppose those people will just have to settle for stalking via Facebook and Twitter updates.)

A glimpse at the good and bad aspects of gps phones....

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Why teenagers are moody, scientists find the answer

The Telegraph:

Psychologists used to blame the unpleasant characteristics of adolescence on hormones.

However, new brain imaging scans have revealed a high number of structural changes in teenagers and those in their early 20s.

Jay Giedd, at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland, led the researchers who followed the progress of 400 children, scanning them every two years as they grew up.

They found that adolescence brings waves of so-called 'brain pruning' during which children lose about one per cent of their grey matter every year until their early 20s.

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April 15, 2009

Michigan Charter school report OK'd

Peggy Walsh-Sarnecki:

The state Board of Education approved a controversial report on charter schools Tuesday, but it agreed to search for a better comparison for next year's report.

The Free Press raised questions about the report in advance of the meeting, noting that charter schools' scores are more likely to fall short of the test scores of the districts in which they sit.

The Michigan Department of Education's annual report to the Legislature compares all charters to 20 school districts that contain 75% of the state's charter schools. By that measure, charter schools generally outperformed traditional public schools.

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Despite initial low test scores, Madison's Nuestro Mundo gains fans

Samara Kalk Derby:
It's Thursday afternoon at Madison's Nuestro Mundo Elementary School and teacher Christina Amberson, "Maestra Cristina" to her kindergarten students, speaks in rapid-fire Spanish. If you didn't know better, you would assume Spanish was Amberson's native language. But her impeccable Spanish is a product of many years of studying and teaching abroad in a number of Spanish-speaking countries.

Children respond only in Spanish. The only time they speak English is when English-speaking children are sitting together at tables. If Amberson overhears, she reminds them to use their Spanish.

Amberson's kindergartners -- a nearly even mix of native Spanish speakers and native English speakers -- seem more confident with their language than a typical student in a high school or college Spanish class.

Everything posted on the dual-language immersion school's bulletin boards or blackboards is in Spanish except for a little section of photos and articles about "El Presidente Barack Obama."
It is ironic that WKCE results are used in this way, given the Wisconsin DPI's statement: "Schools should not rely on only WKCE data to gauge progress of individual students or to determine effectiveness of programs or curriculum". Much more on the WKCE here. The Madison School District is using WKCE data for "Value Added Assessment".
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Wisconsin Education Superintendent may use power to impose major change on MPS

Alan Borsuk:
Elizabeth Burmaster, the outgoing state superintendent of public instruction, on Tuesday emphasized the need for a united effort to make quick, major changes to MPS but for the first time hinted that she could use broad powers to make improvements unilaterally if needed.

In her first interview since the release of a consultants report last week that said Milwaukee Public Schools could save as much as $103 million a year by changes in its financial practices, Burmaster said she wants to see major changes in the way MPS teaches reading and language arts; more time in schools for students; more efforts to improve the quality of teaching; and, in general, a more consistent effort to attain quality across the 80,000-student system.

She said changes in the district's business operations are also needed.

Burmaster said an MPS-improvement plan should be set by July and implemented by the start of the 2009-'10 school year. She leaves office July 6, but her successor, Tony Evers, is expected to pursue a similar course and some of what she called for is in line with relatively tough stands on MPS that Evers took during his campaign leading up to last week's election.

He could not be reached Tuesday.
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Education Standards Likely to See Toughening

Sam Dillon:

President Obama and his team have alternated praise for the goals of President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind law with criticism of its weaknesses, all the while keeping their own plans for the law a bit of a mystery.

But clues are now emerging, and they suggest that the Obama administration will use a Congressional rewriting of the federal law later this year to toughen requirements on topics like teacher quality and academic standards and to intensify its focus on helping failing schools. The law's testing requirements may evolve but will certainly not disappear. And the federal role in education policy, once a state and local matter, is likely to grow.

The administration appears to be preparing important fixes to what many see as some of the law's most serious defects. But its emerging plans are a disappointment to some critics of the No Child Left Behind law, who hoped Mr. Obama's campaign promises of change would mean a sharper break with the Bush-era law.

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Education Tuning Shows What Students Learned

Phyllis Safman & Gary Rhoades:

Sure, many students take Psych 101, but do they all actually know the same things?

A new approach at some universities, known as education tuning, will require that degrees reflect a defined set of skills, rather than a list of the courses a student took.

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Charter schools are the way to go

Jed Wallace:

President Obama recently electrified the school reform community by calling for the growth of charter schools while ensuring that they are held to the highest standards of accountability.

His announcement represented a watershed moment for the charter school movement, because it confirmed that the political establishment has finally recognized what hundreds of thousands of California parents have long known: that the charter school movement is the most important school reform effort of our time.

Charter schools also offer the greatest hope for reforming public education in Los Angeles. The data coming in is simply irrefutable: More than 70 percent of charter schools in Los Angeles outperform their nearby district public schools. This past week, 10 of Los Angeles's 12 recently recognized California Distinguished Schools were charter schools. On a statewide level, 12 of the state's 15 highest-performing public schools serving low-income students are charter schools.

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Zero-Tolerance Policies in Practice

Marc Fisher:

We don't really know what we want. That's the conclusion of a social psychologist who decided to test just how committed parents and others are to single-sanction, zero-tolerance, tough-love punishment regimens of the kind that many schools have adopted to fight drug use by teenagers.

Colgate University psychologist Kevin Carlsmith concluded that people fail to recognize that a zero-tolerance policy that seems simple and effective in theory will violate their sense of justice when they see it in practice. And that's exactly the response I've been getting to my column last week about Josh Anderson, the Fairfax high school junior who killed himself on the eve of a disciplinary hearing that was likely to have ended with his expulsion for being caught on campus with a small amount of marijuana.

I've heard from hundreds of parents whose kids -- like Josh -- have gotten caught up in a punishment system that fails to distinguish between drug users and dealers.

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April 14, 2009

Examining District Data on the Effects of PBIS

As noted in an earlier post, the school district presented data at Monday night's meeting on the effects of implementing a strategy of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support (PBIS). As the report notes, "Documenting behavior referrals is inconsistent across middle schools both in terms of what is recorded and where it is recorded." While this makes it unwise to make comparisons across middle schools, as one school may refer students who are late to class while another only makes referrals as a consequence of fighting, it is valid to make comparisons across time within the same school in order to see what effect the implementation of PBIS has made on student behavior. Unfortunately, as readers of the report will observe, not even that data is consistently presented across the 11 middle schools where PBIS has been implemented. Some schools only have data for the current academic year, others only have data from February 2008 through February 2009, and others provide more.

While the behavioral scientist in me wants to comment on the parts of the report that are incomprehensible (the self-assessment survey schoolwide system analysis from each school) or redundant (providing charts that show time saved in both minutes, in hours, and in days), I will restrict my comments to the data that documents the effects of the implementation of PBIS. While there have been some impressive successes with PBIS, e.g., Sherman, there have also been failures, e.g., Toki. One interpretation would be that some schools have been successful implementing these strategies and we need to see what they are doing that has led to their success, another interpretation would be that PBIS has by and large failed and resulted in an increase in behavioral referrals across our middle schools. At this point, I'll take the middle ground and say that this new approach to dealing with student behavior hasn't made any difference. You can look at the table below and draw your own conclusions, Keep in mind though, as noted above, there is not consistency across schools in what sorts of behavioral problems get documented. It is also true that there is considerable variability in the absolute number of referrals across the 11 middle schools and across months, such that a 30% change in the number of behavioral referrals may reflect 45 referrals at Blackhawk, 10 referrals at Wright, and 170 referrals at Toki.

MMSD Behavioral Referral Data (presented 4/13/09)
Comparison Data Provided Schools Results: Change from 07/08 to 08/09*




One month only (February)


30% decline (decrease of 40 referrals)

O'Keefe 10% decline (decrease of 10 referrals)
Spring Harbor 35% increase (increase of 8 referrals)
Wright 20% increase (increase of 7 referrals)
Six months (Sept. - Feb.)


Declines in Sept. (20%), Nov. (20%) and Dec. (10%); Increases October (40%) and Jan. (20%); No change in February


Increases every month ranging from 5% (Dec.) to 75% (Feb.), median increase in referrals - 20%


Increases every month ranging from 7% (Nov.) to 200% (Sept), median increase in referrals - 68%

Multiple years Sherman Decreases every month ranging from 30% (Feb.) to 70% (Oct., a drop of more than 250 referrals), median decrease in behavioral referrals - 42%
* Note that these percentages are approximate based on visual inspection of the charts provided by MMSD
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Stimulus, Splurge & The Status Quo

Lisa Falkenberg:
Can you still call it “stimulus” funding if it’s being used for a purpose no more stimulating that maintaining the status quo?

The obvious answer, being shouted from schoolhouse rooftops by superintendents and the Texas Democratic congressional delegation, is no.

But that’s in large part what lawmakers are in the process of doing with federal stimulus dollars meant for Texas schools.

It’s a kind of switcheroo in which state Senate budget-writers cleaned out the state’s main public school fund, and one for school technology, sprinkled the dollars elsewhere in the budget, and then replenished the state school funds with about $2 billion in federal stimulus money.

In elementary math, that would be one, minus one, plus one equals one. In terms of state schools funding, Texas schoolchildren gain zero.

The Senate, led by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Senate Finance Chair Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, approved the budget. It’s expected to be considered by the full House Friday. Some argue the maneuver is a fiscally conservative, forward-thinking method of protecting the state’s rainy day fund this session so we’ll have about $9 billion of it next session to deal with whatever budget calamities arise.
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19th Century Skills

13 April 2009

John Robert Wooden, the revered UCLA basketball coach, used to tell his players: "If you fail to prepare, you are preparing to fail." According to the Diploma to Nowhere report last summer from the Strong American Schools project, more than one million of our high school graduates are in remedial courses at college every year. Evidently we failed to prepare them to meet higher education's academic expectations.

The 21st Century Skills movement celebrates computer literacy as one remedy for this failing. Now, I love my Macintosh, and I have typeset the first seventy-seven issues of The Concord Review on the computer, but I still have to read and understand each essay, and to proofread eleven papers in each issue twice, line by line, and the computer is no help at all with that. The new Kindle (2) from Amazon is able to read books to you--great technology!--but it cannot tell you anything about what they mean.

In my view, the 19th (and prior) Century Skills of reading and writing are still a job for human beings, with little help from technology. Computers can check your grammar, and take a look at your spelling, but they can't read for you and they can't think for you, and they really cannot take the tasks of academic reading and writing off the shoulders of the students in our schools.

There appears to be a philosophical gap between those who, in their desire to make our schools more accountable, focus on the acquisition and testing of academic knowledge and skills in basic reading and math, on the one hand, and those who, from talking to business people, now argue that this is not enough. This latter group is now calling for 21st Century critical thinking, communication skills, collaborative problem solving, and global awareness.

Neither group gives much thought, in my view, to whether any of our high school students have read one complete nonfiction book or written one serious research paper before they are sent off to their college remedial courses.

Of course, reading history books and writing term papers can seem so 19th Century, but as long as higher education and good jobs require people to be able to read and understand quantities of nonfiction material, and to write fairly serious academic research papers, memos, legal opinions, status reports, legislation and the like, it might be a good idea to try to do a better job of preparing our students for those tasks.

The College Board's writing test is a joke (there are lots of prep services helping students write their essays in advance), and the colleges themselves, through their admissions offices, are asking students for 500-word personal statements about their lives and their feelings. The NAEP writing test for 2011 (I was on the Steering Committee, but couldn't influence anyone) asks students for two 25-minute responses to prompts, perhaps on the level of "What is your opinion of school uniforms?" These efforts could hardly do more to convince high schools not to prepare students for actual academic writing tasks now or in their future.

The NAEP argument is that the college, business and military worlds want people who can "write on demand." That is, sit down for 25 minutes and respond to some short shallow prompt, as this "skill" is to be tested. I was a division training manager for Polaroid, back in the day, and it is my understanding that even if a boss comes to an employee and asks on Friday for a report Monday, it is not due in 25 minutes, for a start, but also any such report will be based on lots of knowledge of the subject, coming from doing the job over a period of time and having had time to gather information and reflect on what should be in the report. An impromptu skit may be just what the Second City ordered, but it is no recipe for critical thinking or academic (or business/military) expository writing.

There are a number of problems with trying to persuade high schools to assign complete nonfiction books and serious research papers. Many teachers, if they graduated from teacher education programs, may not have read that many books and may not have been asked to do research papers themselves, so they have little idea how to coach students to do them. But even those teachers who know enough and would be willing to assign serious papers, have no time to assign, guide or assess them. While almost all high schools would say they want students to be able to do academic essays, they set aside no time for teachers to work on them. More time is available in most high schools for tackling practice on the football field and layup drills on the basketball court than for working on term papers in English and history classes.

The 21st Century Skills people and the Core Knowledge people could get together, and agree, perhaps, that students need more knowledge than can appear on multiple-choice tests, and that they need to be able to write more than 500 words about themselves. Standardized testing will not prepare students for college, even if if provides some accountability for basic reading and math skills. And mooning over technology and industry will not raise standards for academic reading and writing, nor will it prepare students to skip remedial work at the college level.

Having published 846 history research papers by high school students from 36 countries since 1987, and having received thousands more as submissions, I know that high school students will rise to the challenge of real preparation for further education. Many of our authors have even been inspired to do long serious (8,000-13,000-word) papers on their own as independent studies, much as high school basketball players and other athletes spend long hours practicing on their own, because they are aware of the high standards that are out there.

If students are willing to meet higher standards, as so many have told Achieve and the National Governors' Association and the Great City Schools that they are, we should be willing to set them, if only to leave fewer of them condemned to remedial courses when they move on.

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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Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS) Implementation in the Madison Middle Schools

3.3MB PDF File:

The attached report provides information about the PBIS model and referral information from each of the middle schools.

The data for this report comes from both information that has been entered in to Infinite Campus and school based alternate data collection system, Documenting behavior referrals is inconsistent across middle schools both in terms of what is recorded and where it is recorded.

This is an issue we will address as we move forward,

Also included in the report is a variety of "tools" recommended for use by the PBIS network and examples of how these tools are being used in the schools, One of the tools included for each school is the Self-Assessment Survey School Wide System Analysis, Each staff member at an individual school has been given the opportunity to rate if they feel that various systems in their school are in place, A fully implementing school will have scores at 80% or above on all scales, This tool is used to assist schools in future planning, pointing out areas of need as well as strength,

Another tool included is "Tier Analysis", The goal is to have the following percentages represented at an individual school:

Tier 1 - Universal systems (students receiving 0-1 behavior referral, and needing only universal supports) = 80-90% of students

Tier 2 - Secondary systems (students receiving 2-5 behavioral referrals and needing some form of secondary intervention) = 5-10% of students

Tier 3 - Tertiary systems (students receiving 6+ behavioral referrals and needing some form of tertiary intervention) = 1-5 % of students

As schools reach high fidelity implementation levels at each tier, further training and support is provided at the following tier next more intensive tier.

The report includes data from all Madison middle schools.

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The Safety Lessons of Columbine, Re-Examined

Stephanie Simon:

The carnage at Columbine High on April 20, 1999, prompted a swift and aggressive response around the U.S.

Hundreds of millions of dollars flooded into schools after two seniors stalked the halls of Columbine in trench coats, killing 12 students and a teacher before committing suicide in the school library.

The money -- federal, state and local -- bought metal detectors, security cameras and elaborate emergency-response plans. It put 6,300 police officers on campuses and trained students to handle bullying and manage anger.

Ten years later, the money is drying up. The primary pot of federal grants has been cut by a third, a loss of $145 million. The Justice Department has scrapped the cops in schools program, once budgeted at $180 million a year. States are slashing spending, too, or allowing districts to buy textbooks with funds once set aside for security measures.

Money is so tight that the Colorado district that includes Columbine High, which reopened four months after the shootings, has canceled its annual violence-prevention convention. Miami can afford to send just half as many students as it used to through anger-management training. Many educators and security consultants find the cutbacks frightening.

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School Reform must include Expulsions

Christopher Thomas:

Some kids just can't be saved.

There just isn't a place in our schools for bullies, drug dealers or those that intimidate or assault teachers. While every kid should be given an opportunity to change, we need to ask ourselves, do we need to give them a place to hang out during the day and cause problems while endangering other students? The answer is no.

If they don't want to be at school, the school shouldn't be forced to keep them. And yes, that means public schools should be able to expel these students.

There are virtual schools on the internet -- schools that provide lesson plans and opportunities for students to learn the basics but don't have the social interaction with other students. Many of the more troublesome kids may very well do fine with an internet based school. They may even thrive in that atmosphere. But then again, some will show the same lack of commitment to their own betterment that they have in the classroom.

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Commentary: Charter Schools offer hope to public education

Eugene Paslov:

Charter schools offer hope for the future of our public education system. Charter schools promise options and opportunities for students and their parents that include diverse curricula -- arts and humanities, career and vocational choices. They have unique delivery systems -- distance learning, Montessori programs, special needs, and a mix of accelerated traditional and university courses. All meet high standards; all are accountable; all are independent and are defined as public schools, although with a new, expanded concept of public schools.

There are 25 charter schools in Nevada, two in Carson City, several in Washoe, Douglas and Lyon counties. (Nationally there are over 3,000 charter schools and the movement is fast growing.) Charter school growth has not been as robust in this state as in others, but it continues to receive support from the Legislature. In this legislative session there is a bill (AB489), that if passed will create an 18th school district for charter schools and will enable this new school district to authorize new charters.

I serve on the Silver State Charter High School Board in Carson City. This charter, a public school sponsored by the State Board of Education, is a distance learning school in which students interact with their teachers online as well as meet with them in person. The state has identified the school as "exemplary." It is well managed and has a dedicated, licensed faculty and support staff. This charter school is a life-saver for over 500 kids and their parents.

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April 13, 2009

Math on the Madison School Board's Agenda this Evening

The Madison School District Board of Education will discuss this "Administrative Response" to the recent Math Task Force [452K PDF]. Links: Math Task Force, Math Forum and a letter to Isthmus from a group of West High School Math Teachers.
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Bad Parents and Proud of It: Moms and a Dad Confess

Ellen Gamerman:
When her two young sons first started walking, Lisa Moricoli-Latham, a mother in Pacific Palisades, Calif., would gently push them over. For the sake of their development, she thought it would be better for them to crawl first. A physical therapist had told her so. She kind of enjoyed it, she says. "It gave me this sort of nasty thrill..."

Ms. Moricoli-Latham is featured in a video promoting "True Mom Confessions," a compilation of admissions of imperfect parenting that arrived in bookstores last week. Landing next month are Ayelet Waldman's "Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities and Occasional Moments of Grace" and Michael Lewis's "Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood," two memoirs that focus on the parental failings of the authors. In the fall, parenting Web site will publish a compilation of essays from its most popular feature: a column called "Bad Parent."

Critiquing other people's parenting has become a sport for many mothers and fathers, aided by the Internet and the sheer volume of available expert advice. Now some parents, hoping to quiet the chorus of opinions, judgments and criticism, are defiantly confessing to their own "bad parenting" moments. They say that sharing their foibles helps relieve the pressure to be a perfect parent -- and pokes fun at a culture where arguments over sleep-training methods and organic baby foods rage on. Critics say it's the latest form of oversharing online -- the equivalent of posting your every move on Twitter or Facebook -- and only reinforces parents' worst habits.
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Facebook fans do worse in exams
Research finds the website is damaging students' academic performance

Jonathan Leake & Georgia Warren:

FACEBOOK users may feel socially successful in cyberspace but they are more likely to perform poorly in exams, according to new research into the academic impact of the social networking website.

The majority of students who use Facebook every day are underachieving by as much as an entire grade compared with those who shun the site.

Researchers have discovered how students who spend their time accumulating friends, chatting and "poking" others on the site may devote as little as one hour a week to their academic work.

The findings will confirm the worst fears of parents and teachers. They follow the ban on social networking websites in many offices, imposed to prevent workers from wasting time.

About 83% of British 16 to 24-year-olds are thought to use social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Bebo, to keep in touch with friends and organise their social lives.

"Our study shows people who spend more time on Facebook spend less time studying," said Aryn Karpinski, a researcher in the education department at Ohio State University. "Every generation has its distractions, but I think Facebook is a unique phenomenon."

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Accelerated Math Challenge, For a Student and Her Mom

Jay Matthews:

Anne McCracken Ehlers's third-grade daughter was not doing well in accelerated fourth-grade math at Whetstone Elementary School in Gaithersburg. Becca was spending far too long on her assignments. She was confused. She was unhappy. Ehlers is a teacher herself, in the English department at Rockville High School. So she was polite when she asked for a change, but nothing happened.

Finally, the 8-year-old in the drama decided that enough was enough, prompting this e-mail from her teacher to Ehlers on the afternoon of Feb. 5: "I just wanted to let you know that math bunch was held today from 1:00-1:30. Rebecca chose not to come. I asked her several times to please join us and she refused saying that she would come next week. We went over rounding, estimating, and adding decimals. We also reviewed word problems that include fractions. Please encourage Rebecca to take part in these extra math sessions. Thank you very much for your support."

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District-Wide Reform of Mathematics and Science Instruction: Case Studies of Four SCALE Partner Districts

William Clune:

This paper is a synthesis of case studies of four districts that implemented multifaceted reforms aimed at offering rigorous instruction in mathematics and science for all students as part of a National Science Foundation-supported partnership. A common theory of action aimed for a rigorous curriculum, professional development delivered close to the point of instruction, monitoring of instructional quality, and system coordination. Immersion units would offer an in-depth experience in scientific inquiry to all students. The theory of action was successful in many ways. Excellent access to top management allowed the partnership to assist with multiple aligned dimensions of instructional guidance. The biggest obstacles were turnover in district leadership, loose coupling across departments, attenuation of vertical alignment through overload of instructional guidance, and insufficient budget for adequate school site support (e.g., coaches). Greater coherence resulted from delivery of instructional guidance closer to schools and teachers, as with science immersion. The study suggests that complete, affordable packages of instructional guidance delivered to the school level district-wide might be the best model for district reform.
Related: Math Forum, Madison School District's Math Task Force and the significant role that the UW-Madison School of Education has had in Madison School District curriculum decisions (see links and notes in this post's comments)

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School Spotlight: DeForest students spread their study of genocides

Pamela Cotant:

Students in the New Reflections program of DeForest High School not only tackled the wrenching subject of genocide, they put on a symposium to let others know about the atrocities they researched.

The 20 juniors and seniors in DeForest's alternative high school program set up informational booths in the basement of the DeForest Public Library, where their classes are held. They invited parents, school staff members, School Board members and others to view their displays and multimedia presentations.

"Most high schoolers are never in that position where they are the experts," said alternative school teacher Jen McGorray. "They took this project and ran with it and made it their own."

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"Hand in Hand: Academic & Social Success"

Wisconsin Center for Education Research, via a kind reader's email:

Recent developments in social and emotional learning (SEL) have pointed to the reciprocal relations between children's academic functioning and their socio-emotional health. Professional literature in this field points to the need for including students' academic skills and competencies as part of mental health intervention research.

University of Wisconsin-Madison psychologist and professor Thomas R. Kratochwill says educators cannot afford to continue offering mental health services for K-12 students in isolation. These services need to be reframed, mainstreamed, and folded into schools' broader academic mission.

The good news is that schools already have resources, supports, and opportunities that may provide entry points for delivery of expanded mental health services. Virtually all elementary and secondary schools in the U.S. have school psychologists and provide mental health services, Kratochwill says. The bad news is that the proportion of students needing services continues to outpace supply, and mental health services often remain separate from academic programs. Knowledge about mental health programs and educational achievement have developed in isolation from each other.

To identify research directions for future studies of school-based mental health services, Tom Kratochwill and colleagues reviewed scholarly literature to identify evidence- based interventions that target a combination of students' academic-educational functioning and their mental health functioning.

They studied 2000 articles published between 1990 and 2006; only 64 studies met the methodological criteria for inclusion in this review. Of those 64 studies, 24 tested the effects of a program on both academic and mental health outcomes, while 40 examined mental health outcomes only.

Schools are increasingly held accountable for achieving academic outcomes. Given that, Kratochwill says he was surprised that most of the mental health studies did not include academically relevant outcomes. That means that the impact of school-based mental health interventions on educationally relevant behaviors is under researched and may be poorly understood.

Many children receive mental health services in school settings. Although studies of social and emotional learning have linked social and academic competence, the impacts of mental health interventions on academics, and of academic interventions on mental health, are understudied.

Kratochwill argues for a multi-tiered intervention approach in schools. Varying levels of service intensity are available over time and in different grades for students, especially during transitional periods.

Because schools and districts have tight budgets, it's important to know which students might benefit most from different types of intervention. And to streamline or adapt effective interventions for dissemination on a larger scale, it's important to understand how various interventions produce positive outcomes.

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April 12, 2009

Charter Schools Always Face a Financial Struggle

Kevin Ferris:

As I walked the halls of First Philadelphia Charter School for Literacy recently with the school's CEO Stacey Cruise-Clarke, I was struck as she reprimanded a student for "yelling." I hadn't heard a thing.

In the school's cavernous facility there are 30 classrooms, a performance art center, a gym, a literacy center, and nearly 700 students in uniform. It is an oasis in a city that witnesses thousands of assaults in its public schools each year and has engaged in a running debate over whether to arm school security guards. The charter school was founded nearly seven years ago, and is very lucky to own its facilities.

Typically, banks are reluctant to lend to charters because they have little collateral, no long-term funding, and a five-year license to operate that may not be renewed. That is the reality that will confront President Barack Obama if he tries to make good on his promise to expand charter schools. These schools serve a public good, but they are also risky borrowers.

What's more, while charters receive per-pupil funding from the state, they aren't given start-up money to buy or lease classroom space -- one of the misguided restrictions put on charters that hamper their growth. The president may want more charters -- see, for example, his March 10 speech, where he called for increasing the number of charters in states that imposed limits -- but is he willing to do more to help charters cover capital costs? At the moment, private organizations step in to fill the void in public funding for these public schools.

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Eli Broad dangles a carrot in front of Los Angeles Unified

Howard Blume:

Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad will help pay for a New York-based arts program that benefits poor and minority students -- and he said Friday that he and other donors would provide similar funding here if the Los Angeles school district can better manage its own arts programs, especially the new downtown arts high school.

The Broad Foundation has pledged to contribute $425,000 so the Juilliard School can allow dozens of public school students to receive up to four years of free musical training. Broad said he decided to make the gift after reading a newspaper article about the program canceling auditions in a tight budget year.

"It really moved me," Broad said. "I was saddened they were going to cut out these minority kids."

But Broad also made a point about problem-plagued Central L.A. Area High School No. 9, the high-concept arts specialty school that is scheduled to open in the fall even though it still lacks an executive director, a permanent principal, a staff and an arts curriculum.

"It's clear that if you have a quality arts high school, especially one that is educating kids from minority communities, there will be philanthropic funds forthcoming, as evidenced from our willingness to give money to Juilliard," Broad said.

Such funding will be crucial for the new campus, he said, adding that it will cost more to run than other public high schools. "It will need some philanthropic support, not only from us but from others," he said.

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Do Video Games Give Boys an Advantage in Later Life?

Chris Sweeney:

A new study conducted by researchers at Michigan State University suggests that playing video games helps foster the development of visual-spatial skills among middle school students. Cultivating the ability to think visually is crucial to excelling in fields like engineering and surgery, and the hand-eye coordination attained through gaming is increasingly important in our digital world. But the total lack of games tailored to girls could be providing boys with an academic advantage over their female counterparts.
"Girls are at a disadvantage by not having that three-dimensional experience," according to a statement by professor Linda Jackson, who led the three-year long study. "So when they get to medical school and they're doing surgery in the virtual world, they're not used to it."
It's hard to argue with Jackson's point. If you had to run out and buy a 12-year-old girl a game for Xbox 360, what title would you purchase? It can be argued that games like Halo 3 are not gender-specific, but they clearly attract a predominantly male audience, and are marketed accordingly. Phone calls to six video game retailers around the country to ask about games designed specifically for girls yielded nothing more than a handful of confused clerks.

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Teaching India's Untouchables

Wall Street Journal Video:

India's lowest castes, the Dalits, are known for their illiteracy and deep poverty. But in rural India, something remarkable is happening: Dalit children are attending elementary school. Peter Wonacott reports from India.

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In the recession, does advanced education really pay off?

Education pays. That's the lesson of study after study on the income effects of going to college and graduate school. In general, you make more money if you get a higher degree. Harvard economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz have written that since 1980, "[t]he increase in the relative earnings of college graduates and those with advanced degrees has been particularly large."
The studies that show this finding typically crunch broad swaths of data. They look at the census, or other large population samples, and show a positive correlation between income and years of education. This means that college and graduate school are generally a good bet. But it doesn't tell you that every single degree pays off financially at every single point in time.

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Advertising Campaign for the Washington, DC Schools

David Nakamura:

It's the rarest of species: a good-news advertisement about D.C. public schools.

"Did you know," the announcer intones on the ads, which aired last month on WPGC (95.5 FM) and are scheduled to run again next month, "that the only school in D.C. to earn a national ribbon for excellence last year was a D.C. public school? Go public and get a great free education!"

Those terms -- describing Key Elementary -- aren't usually associated with a system that ranks among the bottom in test scores nationwide. But the campaign, titled "Rediscover DCPS," has been launched by Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee as one step toward stemming the decline in public confidence in a system whose enrollment has plummeted from 80,000 students three decades ago to 45,000 this year.

In addition to the radio spots, the $9,000 campaign, which makes a particular push for special education students, includes a section on the school system's Web site featuring 13 elementary and middle schools, and earlier school registration dates, officials said at a news conference yesterday.

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Comments on the New SAT Policy Regarding Lower scores

Michael Birnbaum:

Legions of high school students equipped with No. 2 pencils have done battle with the SAT, but a new policy is easing the stress for college-bound teenagers. If they take the test more than once, they can send their favorite set of scores with applications and ignore the rest.

Before the policy took effect last month, students had no option: All their SAT scores were reported when they applied to college.

The first time Gabby Ubilla took the test, she said, she fared well on the verbal section but was dissatisfied with her math score. The College Board's "score choice" policy will allow her to push the reset button with most colleges. "Now that I know what I need to study and what's on the test, I can study different types of math questions" without worrying about the old score, said Ubilla, 16, an 11th-grader at Dominion High School in Sterling.

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Washington DC Schools Chancellor Rhee Works to Overhaul Teacher Evaluations

Bill Turque:

While talks between D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and the Washington Teachers' Union remain stalemated over salary and job security issues, one critical question is not even on the bargaining table: how the District's educators will be evaluated.

For months, Rhee and her chief "human capital" assistant, Jason Kamras, have been working on an overhaul of the evaluation system that would expand the ways teachers are assessed. In addition to a system of classroom observations and conferences, it is likely to include methods to track how students' standardized test scores grow over time. Several major school systems, including those in Houston, Chicago and Milwaukee, have started limited use of this new "value-added" approach.

Rhee is under no obligation to bargain with the union on evaluations, though the union wants to see it on the table and said so in the contract proposal it delivered a few weeks ago. Congress gave the school system sole authority over the issue in the mid-1990s after the WTU refused to renegotiate the then-existing evaluation system with the District.

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Which Is Epidemic -- Sexting or Worrying About It?

Carl Bialik:

It seemed like more troubling evidence that kids these days engage in behavior they wouldn't want to write home about. Researchers recently found that one in five teenagers have shared nude or semi-nude photos of themselves by cellphone or online. That statistic has become a fixture in articles about "sexting" and its social and legal implications.

But that number may be inflated, because the same teenagers who have engaged in such behavior could be the ones most likely to say they have done so in an online poll. To find out how many teenagers are sharing personal information over new media, researchers last year asked teenagers personal questions using one of those new media, skewing the sample.

"These kinds of samples select Internet cowboys and cowgirls," says David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, who has used the telephone for his studies of teens and online behavior. "These are more likely to be the kind of people who engage in this kind of activity." He guesses that online poll-takers might be two to four times more likely to send nude photos of themselves than the average teen.

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April 11, 2009

Many Skeptical That Milwaukee Public Schools Will Change

Erin Richards:

Several Milwaukee School Board members bristled at not receiving or being briefed in advance on a consultants' report that claims the city's public schools could be saving more than $100 million per year if its bureaucracy was run more efficiently.

Some said they had already pushed for reform on many of the reported problem spots: streamlining purchasing, selling unused land and curtailing large salaries.

Outside the system, many wanted to know what makes this report - another in a long line of analyses that paint a dismal picture of MPS - different from the others. What, if anything, will be done about the wasteful spending practices the report outlines? And how soon?

Tim Sheehy, president of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Association of Commerce, called the report "eye-popping, but not unexpected."

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The Money Myth in Improving Schools

Jay Matthews:

Hard battles lost long ago leave a mark. (The worst for me was the 1973 Super Bowl.) University of California at Berkeley professor W. Norton Grubb, for instance, still replays the 1971 Serrano v. Priest decision by the California Supreme Court. It threw out the state's education financing system based on property taxes. He thought the decision was going to make heroes of school financing experts like him who would, he hoped, "improve the minutiae of finance formulas, and equitable and powerful schooling would spread to all children."

Except that didn't happen. Federal courts and the property-tax-limiting ballot Proposition 13 got in the way, and Grubb eventually learned his dream was based on a misunderstanding, what he calls the money myth, which he uses as the title of a very detailed and enlightening new book.

The myth, he says, is "the idea that more money leads to improved outcomes, that the solution to any educational problem requires increased spending."

"The Money Myth," published by the Russell Sage Foundation, has a subtitle, "School Resources, Outcomes and Equity," which sounds like a really bad homework assignment. But once you get into it, it is hard to put down. Grubb makes a daring attempt to identify exactly which approaches will improve our children's academic performance, and by how much.

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Providence, RI School District to End Teacher Bumping; Plans to Fill Vacancies Based on Qualifications.


Providence schools are set to phase out so-called "bumping" by filling teaching vacancies based on instructors' qualifications instead of their senior status.

Superintendant Tom Brady said in a letter Wednesday to staff that six schools in the district will end the practice of seniority-based staffing decisions.

The change goes into effect in the next school year. The rest of the district is to use the new plan beginning in the 2010-2011 academic year.


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School of Second Chances

Kevin Houppert:
he six teenage boys, incarcerated at the District's Oak Hill juvenile detention facility in Laurel file into their classroom after lunch one late January afternoon. They are surprised to see strangers -- five women and two men -- sitting in the chairs that the boys typically occupy.

The students find some empty seats and shrug out of their matching brown coats and mismatched scarves. They are curious about the visitors in a lean-back, fold-your-arms, prove-it kind of way.

"I'm James Forman," begins a 40-something man. "I'm a professor at Georgetown Law School and -- "

"You related to the James Forman?" interrupts 17-year-old Carleto Bailey.

"I'm James Forman Jr."

"That your father? James Forman your dad?" Carleto demands.
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Student Strip Search Case Heads to US Supreme Court

Robert Barnes:
April Redding was waiting in the parking lot of the middle school when she heard news she could hardly understand: Her 13-year-old daughter, Savana, had been strip-searched by school officials in a futile hunt for drugs.

It's a story that amazes and enrages her still, more than six years later, though she has relived it many times since.

Savana Redding was forced to strip to her underwear in the school nurse's office. She was made to expose her breasts and pubic area to prove she was not hiding pills. And the drugs being sought were prescription-strength ibuprofen, equivalent to two Advils.

"I guess it's the fact that they think they were not wrong, they're not remorseful, never said they were sorry," April Redding said this week, as she and Savana talked about the legal fight over that search, which has now reached the Supreme Court.
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More on the Obama Administration's Opposition to Washington, DC Vouchers

Russ Whitehurst:

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) within U.S. Department of Education released a study on April 3 of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides up to a $7,500 annual voucher for students from low-income families in the District of Columbia to attend private schools. Notably, the study found that students who won the lottery to receive the limited number of available vouchers had significantly higher reading achievement after three years than students who lost the lottery.

Yet last month Congress voted to eliminate funding for the program. Columnists for the Wall Street Journal and the Denver Post, accompanied by the blogosphere, have alleged that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sat on the evidence of the program's success. The WSJ writes that, "... in November preliminary results were presented to a team of advisers who work with the Education Department to produce the annual evaluation. Since Education officials are intimately involved in this process, they had to know what was in this evaluation even as Democrats passed (and Mr. Obama signed) language that ends the program after next year." The Denver Post questions the Secretary's denial of having known the results of the study prior to congressional action, asserting that he was, "at best ... willfully ignorant."

As director of IES through November 2008, I was responsible for the evaluation that is at the center of the controversy. Given the established procedures of IES it is extremely unlikely that Secretary Duncan would have known the results of the study until recently.

David Harsanyi:
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan argues that we have an obligation to disregard politics to do whatever is "good for the kids."

Well then, one wonders, why did his Department of Education bury a politically inconvenient study regarding education reform? And why, now that the evidence is public, does the administration continue to ignore it and allow reform to be killed?

When Congress effectively shut down the Washington, D.C., voucher program last month, snatching $7,500 Opportunity Scholarship vouchers from disadvantaged kids, it failed to conduct substantive debate (as is rapidly becoming tradition).

Then The Wall Street Journal's editorial board reported that the Department of Education had buried a study that illustrated unquestionable and pervasive improvement among kids who won vouchers, compared with the kids who didn't. The Department of Education not only disregarded the report but also issued a gag order on any discussion about it.

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Nation's top educator warn states against taking money from their youngest students

The nation's top educator headed back to class Wednesday warning states against taking money from their youngest students.

"We're not going to balance the budget on the backs of our young children. We just can't afford to do this," said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

All but 12 states pay for pre-k programs.

The federal government also funds head start, for low-income kids.

Last year, states added more than 100,000 new preschoolers and spent a billion more on them than the year before.

But with five billion in federal stimulus money on the way at least nine states may cut their own funding so there's little if any net benefit.

Advocates say that would hurt the middle class.

"Children whose families are just above the poverty line all the way up to the median income have less chance of being in a good preschool program than children in poverty. And for children in poverty, it's less than 50 percent," said Steve Barnett of the National Institute for Early Education Research

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An Interview with US Education Secretary Arne Duncan


What do we know works to improve student achievement in K-12 STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] education?

A.D.: I'd say great teachers, who know the content.
How do we know that?
A.D.: I think that's true in any subject area. If you get outstanding teachers, kids learn.

What's the evidence for that?
A.D.: Lots of evidence points to the fact that great teachers have an impact.

What is it about effective teachers that makes a difference?
A.D.: Lots of factors. It's not one. In this area, it sounds like common sense, but still, having teachers that truly know the content is critically important. You can't teach what you don't know. So that's a starting point. Beyond that, what do great teachers look like? They are passionate, they have high expectations--this is a calling, not a job. They go way beyond the call of duty to make sure that students are getting what they need. And they are really able to differentiate instruction, to work with kids who are struggling and those who are on track to becoming the next generation of chemists and physicists.

You mentioned content. But there are studies that have found what teachers majored in in college doesn't necessarily affect their ability to improve student achievement.
A.D.: You're right. I'm not talking about what you major in. I'm saying that you can't teach physics if you don't know physics. You don't have to have majored in physics. Maybe you come out of industry, or out of some other place. I worry a lot about how many folks are teaching classes in which they are not experts in the content. To me, that's a big part of the problem. We don't have enough teachers today who are experts in math and science. This is not just high school, it's also fifth, sixth, seventh grade.

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Intel Invests in Vietnam e-Learning

Nhan Dan:

Intel has pledged to help accelerate Vietnamese Ministry of Education and Training's e-learning initiative which aims to modernise Vietnam's education system by 2011 and provide opportunities for the country's teachers and students, especially those in remote and rural areas.

An agreement to this effect was signed in Hanoi on April 9 by representatives from Intel Semiconductor Ltd. Vietnam and the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) under the witness by Prof. Dr. Nguyen Thien Nhan, Deputy Prime Minister and MOET Minister and Dr. Craig Barrett, Intel Corporation Chairman.

Under the terms of the agreement, Intel and local technology companies will make available one million affordable PCs during the next two years. The "Education PC" program's objective is to provide all Vietnamese teachers with a PC with educational software and broadband Internet connectivity.

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April 10, 2009

Nobel laureate John Nash shares with students his love of a puzzle

Albert Wong:

More than 800 students gathered yesterday to hear Nobel prize-winning mathematician, John F. Nash, Jr. (American mathematician), share stories about his early life.

Professor Nash, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in economic sciences in 1994 and whose life was dramatised in an Oscar-winning film, A Beautiful Mind, told a hall packed with students at the Polytechnic University yesterday how problem-solving fascinated him from an early age.

"From a very young age, when we would start working with addition and subtraction calculations ... when the standard kids were working with two digits, I was working with three or four digits ...

"I got some pleasure from that," the professor said.

Professor Nash is in Hong Kong for a week-long speaking tour. Yesterday's talk, organised by the university and the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups, was designed to give students an opportunity to pose questions.


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Math Performance Anxiety

Debra Saunders:

n the 1990s, the Math Wars pitted two philosophies against each other. One side argued for content-based standards - that elementary school students must memorize multiplication tables by third grade. The other side argued for students to discover math, unfettered by "drill and kill" exercises.

When the new 1994 California Learning Assessment Test trained test graders to award a higher score to a child with a wrong answer (but good essay) than to a student who successfully solved a math problem, but without a cute explanation, the battle was on. New-new math was quickly dubbed "fuzzy crap." By the end of the decade, repentant educators passed solid math standards.

Yet the Math Wars continue in California, as well as in New Jersey, Oregon and elsewhere. In Palo Alto, parent and former Bush education official Ze'ev Wurman is one of a group of parents who oppose the Palo Alto Unified School District Board's April 14 vote to use "Everyday Mathematics" in grades K-5. Wurman recognizes that the "fuzzies" aren't as fuzzy as they used to be, but also believes that state educators who approve math texts "fell asleep at the switch" when they approved the "Everyday" series in 2007.

The "Everyday" approach supports "spiraling" what students learn over as long as two or more years. As an Everyday teacher guide explained, "If we can, as a matter of principle and practice, avoid anxiety about children 'getting' something the first time around, then children will be more relaxed and pick up part or all of what they need. They may not initially remember it, but with appropriate reminders, they will very likely recall, recognize, and get a better grip on the skill or concept when it comes around again in a new format or application-as it will!" Those are my italics - to highlight the "fuzzies' " performance anxiety.

Related: Math Forum.

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US schools chief says kids need more class time

Kristen Wyatt:

American schoolchildren need to be in class more -- six days a week, at least 11 months a year -- if they are to compete with students abroad, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Tuesday.

"Go ahead and boo me," Duncan told about 400 middle and high school students at a public school in northeast Denver. "I fundamentally think that our school day is too short, our school week is too short and our school year is too short."

"You're competing for jobs with kids from India and China. I think schools should be open six, seven days a week; eleven, twelve months a year," he said.

Instead of boos, Duncan's remark drew an unsurprising response from the teenage assembly: bored stares.

The former Chicago schools superintendent praised Denver schools for allowing schools to apply for almost complete autonomy, which allows them to waive union contracts so teachers can stay for after-school tutoring or Saturday school.

It is indeed, time to move away from the current, 19th century agrarian model.

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Do Study Sites Make the Grade?

Anne Marie Chaker:

At 10 p.m. on a recent night, high-school senior Scott Landers was having trouble figuring out differential calculus in order to compare rates of change.

With his professor unreachable and the exam set for the next day, he sent a shot in the dark to Cramster, an "online study community" recommended by classmates.

Within two hours, Mr. Landers was surprised to find his answer pop up in his email, followed by a few more responses the next morning, all pointing in the same direction. "I thought it was cool that there were people out there actually willing to help me," he says.

Web sites such as Cramster aim to revolutionize the way students study, much the way that networking sites like Facebook have changed the way people socialize.

Course Hero, launched last year primarily for college students, already holds a library of more than two million course documents, including homework, class notes and graded essays, uploaded by students enrolled at 3,000 different colleges. Koofers (a nickname at Virginia Tech for old tests passed around at fraternities) allows students from about 25 state universities to submit posts about the difficulty of courses taught by different instructors at their schools. It also offers average semester grades from instructors. Enotes, geared mainly to high-school students, allows peers to form discussion groups and pose questions to experts -- usually teachers -- who are paid by the Web site.

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Online charter school rings bell with parents, students

Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah:

Learning at home in her pajamas before a computer screen, Emily Brown's youngest daughter is picking up things in 6th grade that her older daughter is attempting as a freshman at a Catholic school.

For the former teacher, that's evidence enough that Chicago Virtual Charter School is working.

"The curriculum is better here," Brown said. "It's a grade level higher."

The school, the city's only online program for kindergarten through high school, has become an alternative to traditional public schools for parents such as Brown who believe regular schools often don't challenge children enough or don't give slow learners the extra time they need.

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Almost 1 of 2 new Americans in 2008 was Latino

Suzanne Gamboa:

Hispanics made up nearly half of the more than 1 million people who became U.S. citizens last year, according to a Hispanic advocacy group.

The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials said the number of Latinos who became Americans in fiscal year 2008 more than doubled over the previous year, to 461,317. That's nearly half of the record 1,046,539 new citizens overall in 2008, a 58 percent increase from 2007.

"Latinos who naturalize are eager to demonstrate their commitment to America by becoming full participants in our nation's civic life," said NALEO president Arturo Vargas, whose nonpartisan group works to improve the citizenship process and increase Latino participation in civic activities.

NALEO based its findings on Homeland Security Department data on the number of new citizens last year who immigrated from predominantly Spanish-speaking countries.

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Newark schools, Rutgers unveil research collaboration

Steve Chambers:

s one of the state's poorest school districts, Newark has long known it has some severe problems. Quantifying them has been another matter.

Now, the district may be one step closer to getting some answers as Superintendent Clifford Janey joined officials at Rutgers University in Newark today to announce an ambitious research collaboration.

Modeled after a 20-year relationship between the University of Chicago and that city's public schools, the project seeks to join a growing trend of universities helping public schools use technology to better track student performance. The relationships are particularly prevalent in cities where impoverished students have long struggled and are the focus of growing national concern.

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April 9, 2009

Study Finds Millions in Waste in the Milwaukee Public Schools

Alan Borsuk:

Milwaukee Public Schools could save as much as $103 million a year if it operated like a well-run business, according to a much-anticipated report that has Gov. Jim Doyle and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett taking steps that could lead to a takeover of the system.

The report, released Thursday, concludes that MPS does not have a culture aimed at achieving good results, and is in tenuous financial shape that will worsen without systemic changes.

The report mostly sidesteps the academic side of MPS, concentrating instead on business operations, from busing to lunch programs to purchasing practices to health insurance policies. It found waste in every area - inefficient payroll processing, overqualified maintenance teams, even pencil sharpeners that cost more than $100. The report also found more than five dozen central office jobs with six-figure salaries.

Spending outside the classroom is about a third of total MPS spending.

"To free up funds needed to close its worrisome academic achievement gaps, MPS must first get its financial house in order," the report says.

Invoking powers granted the state by federal law, Doyle and Barrett said they will move within several weeks to create a council of community leaders to pursue major changes in the way MPS conducts business - and, ultimately, how well it educates children.

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Playing Nice: Teachers Learn to Help Kids Behave in School

Sue Shellenbarger:

When teacher Deena Randle took over a Portland, Ore., preschool class three years ago, behavior problems were so bad that "kids were bouncing off the walls, pushing and shoving, not listening -- it was wild," she says.

You'd never know it now. When Ms. Randle calls out, "Eyes up here! I need your attention," one recent day, all 16 pairs of eyes in her class of 3- to 5-year-olds turn toward her. Beyond Ms. Randle's considerable teaching skill, she and school officials credit a fast-growing curriculum that builds deliberate training in self-control right into the daily routine.

Behavior problems among small children are a growing issue. The possible causes are many: pressure on teachers to stress math and reading over emotional skills; family instability; a decline in playtime; heavy use of child care; or a rise in learning problems such as attention-deficit disorder. Based on preliminary findings from a federal child-care study, discussed last week at a conference for the Society for Research in Child Development in Denver, the slight increase in behavior problems found in children who spent lots of early time in child care persists all the way to age 15, in the form of more impulsivity and risk-taking.

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Triumphing Over Long Odds to Succeed at School

Sharon Otterman:

Before the economy collapsed and thrift became a national watchword, a high school senior named Wei Huang was already scouring New York City for bargains, determined to support herself on the $10 a month she had left after she paid her rent.

Ms. Huang, 20, one of 12 high school seniors named New York Times Scholars this year, immigrated to New York from China with her parents in 2007. But when her parents found the transition to American life too hard and returned to China last year, she decided to stay here alone, entranced by the city's streetscapes and the thought of attending college here one day.

She found a job at a florist paying $560 a month, and a house to share in Ridgewood, Queens, for $550. That leaves $10 a month, which she spends carefully on large bags of rice, chicken leg quarters at 49 cents a pound, and whatever vegetables are cheapest. Throw in the two free meals a day at school, a student MetroCard and the unexpected kind act -- her English teacher, for instance, gave her $100 -- and she manages to get by.

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High School Dropouts: A Scandal More Shameful than AIG and Just as Costly for Taxpayers

Keli Goff:

They say there are two things you should never discuss on a first date or at a dinner party: religion and politics. But there has always been another subject that is so taboo that most people would rather arm wrestle over the other two than dare mention it.

That subject is class.

Americans have never liked discussing class status. Unlike our founding cousins over in England where your status is something bestowed upon you by birth, here we believe in a little something called the American Dream; the idea that any person regardless of race, religion or socio-economic background can become anything they want to be, including president.

But unfortunately that Dream is becoming increasingly out of reach for millions of Americans.

Though Madoff and the Wall Street meltdown have forced some of us to finally become more aware of the world beyond our comfortable middle and upper-middle class bubbles, another issue has been lurking for years that threatens to bring about even greater financial Armageddon for our country down the road: America's burgeoning dropout epidemic. Before you decide that this issue has nothing to do with you (and therefore decide to move on from this blog post) consider these facts for a moment:

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Big Tax Jumps Loom in 10 States, including Wisconsin

Leslie Eaton:

A free fall in tax revenue is driving more state lawmakers to turn to broad-based tax increases in a bid to close widening budget gaps.

At least 10 states are considering some kind of major increase in sales or income taxes: Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin. California and New York lawmakers already have agreed on multibillion-dollar tax increases that went into effect earlier this year.

Fiscal experts say more states are likely to try to raise tax revenue in coming months, especially once they tally the latest shortfalls from April 15 income-tax filings, often the biggest single source of funds for the 43 states that levy them.

The squeeze is especially severe in states hit hardest by the recession, such as Arizona, where sales-tax revenue has fallen by 10.5%, income-tax collections are down 15.7% this fiscal year, and the government faces a $3.4 billion budget gap next year. But such shortfalls are likely to be widespread; federal income-tax receipts from individuals have dropped more than 15% in the past six months, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates.

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Juilliard Curtails Program That Serves Poor Children

Daniel Wakin:

The Juilliard School's music-training program for poor minority schoolchildren -- a rigorous curriculum that the conservatory holds up as a national model -- has been slashed, disappointing dozens of children preparing to audition.

The Music Advancement Program will take back about 50 children in the fall to finish the second year of their two-year course. But it has canceled auditions next month for the incoming class, said Joseph W. Polisi, Juilliard's president. About 50 are admitted each year.

Mr. Polisi said that the school could not raise the $400,000 necessary to finance the whole program, and that across-the-board budget cuts meant there was no money elsewhere for it. "I was the guy who started it 20 years ago, and I believe deeply in it," Mr. Polisi said. "It's an extremely important part of me and Juilliard." But the likelihood of raising enough money was "exceedingly low," he said. Mr. Polisi said he hoped to raise money to restart the program, on a smaller scale, in two years.

"It's like cutting down the bush, but it's going to bloom with fresh growth in a few years," he said. "It's not going out of business by any stretch."

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April 8, 2009

A Look at Textbook Prices in Hong Kong

The cost of textbooks under the new senior academic structure has risen, with some publishers nearly doubling the prices for certain subjects. The fewer subjects required to qualify for the future Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education examination, which will replace the HKCEE, meant longer lesson times per subject, which would translate into thicker textbooks, the Educational Publishers Association said.

Compulsory Form Four subjects under the new system, including Chinese, English language and mathematics, registered an average increase of 8 per cent - with prices for English-language textbooks rising 12.3 per cent.

The average prices in elective subjects such as geography (HK$401), physics (HK$510) and economics (HK$414) have also gone up. Biology textbooks will cost an average of HK$476 - an increase of 87 per cent on last year's HK$255.

The Education Bureau released the prices of books for senior secondary subjects yesterday after assessing 152 sets of textbooks submitted by publishers.
The Hong Kong dollar is worth .129025 US Dollars at this writing.
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Teachers union sent scripted questions to New York City Council members

Elizabeth Green:

At today's education committee hearing, City Council members took turns questioning Department of Education officials on the rise of charters schools. Their questions were passionate, specific, and universally accusatory. They may have also been scripted.

Just before the hearing began, a representative of the city teachers union, which describes itself as in favor of charter schools, discreetly passed out a set of index cards to Council members, each printed with a pre-written question.

One batch of cards offered questions for the Department of Education, all of them challenging the proliferation of charter schools. "Doesn't the Department have a clear legal and moral responsibility to provide every family in the city guaranteed seats for their children in a neighborhood elementary school?" one card suggested members ask school officials. "Isn't the fundamental problem here the Department's abdication of its most important responsibility to provide quality district public schools in all parts of the city?" another card said. (View more of the cards in the slideshow above.)

Several council members picked up on the line of thought. "Shouldn't we aspire to have every school in the city good enough for parents to feel comfortable sending their children?" Melinda Katz, a Council member from Queens, said in questioning school officials. "I remember when Joel Klein became the chancellor," the committee chair, Robert Jackson, said. "Back then, he used to talk about making every neighborhood school a good school where every parent would want to send their children. I don't hear him talk about that anymore."

Asked about the cards, union president Randi Weingarten provided a statement saying that she regretted the tactic. "We are often asked by the council for information and ideas about various issues. Additionally, when I am available, I often respond to what others testify to. In this instance, I was in Washington and couldn't be at City Hall," she said in the statement. "I am proud of the testimony we gave today, but I regret the manner in which our other concerns were shared."

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Evers Wins Wisconsin Education Post

Amy Hetzner:
Staving off a spirited run by a political newcomer, Tony Evers went from understudy to Wisconsin's next schools chief Tuesday with the backing of the state's largest teachers union and other professional educators throughout the state.

In doing so, he beat back a challenge from Rose Fernandez, a parent advocate and former pediatric trauma nurse who tried to capitalize on discontent with the educational status quo.

Evers won with the significant help of the Wisconsin Education Association Council and its affiliates throughout the state, which contributed nearly $700,000 toward his campaign.

Evers credited his victory to people's trust in his ability to help improve state schools.

"People recognize that in order to make the changes necessary, we need a candidate with a broad base of support behind him, and we need a candidate with experience behind him," he said.

Evers, 57, was considered the front-runner in the race ever since he declared his candidacy in October.
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UC Berkeley professor takes on school spending
In his book, "The Money Myth: School Resources, Outcomes, and Equity," W. Norton Grubb argues that how much is spent is less important than how it is spent

Mitchell Landsberg:

SDo we spend enough on public education? What does it mean that California has fallen from near the top of per-pupil spending in the United States to very near the bottom?

Money has long been at the center of debates over education. Now a book from a UC Berkeley professor argues that the entire debate is wrongheaded.

In "The Money Myth: School Resources, Outcomes, and Equity" (Russell Sage Foundation, 2009), W. Norton Grubb argues that how much we spend is less important than how we spend it. For decades, Grubb says, school spending has inexorably risen, while student achievement has stayed relatively stagnant. Maybe it's time to look at which expenditures actually improve education, he argues, and which are a waste. The Times' Mitchell Landsberg spoke to Grubb about his book.

Let me try to boil down the message in your book: Money matters, but only if it's spent well. Is that right?

That's certainly one of the conclusions, absolutely. And again, this phrase that I use constantly in the book is, "It's often necessary, but it's not sufficient." So it's finding what the necessary resources are in the school and then directing money and other resources -- like leadership, vision, cooperation, collaboration -- to them that makes a difference. And part of the point is an attempt to move the debates away from money to resources, because a lot of the debates in school finance have just been about money.

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Serve America Lets Congress Take Another Bow

Gene Healy:

Last week, the House passed the Serve America Act (SAA), which will triple the number of federally funded "volunteer" positions, create a "Clean Energy Corps" to weatherize homes, and make September 11th a "National Day of Service."

Like many federal assaults on the taxpayer, the SAA is a bipartisan offense: It passed by huge margins in both houses. Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-MA, the primary sponsor, got a standing ovation after the vote was in, and co-sponsor Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican, gushed that "the whole Kennedy family has been a service family."

Hatch's statement neatly captures the fallacy behind the act - the notion that service to America is principally service to the American state.

The SAA is more carrot than stick, subsidizing volunteerism rather than mandating it. But the Obama administration prefers a more coercive approach if and when they can get away with it. Obama's campaign-trail plan would have forced schools to require 50 hours of community service a year, making charity as popular among teens as study hall and mandatory pep rallies.

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Denver Public Schools' eager to prove its renewal

Jeremy Meyer:

By taking the nation's education secretary to visit two Denver schools undertaking significant reforms, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet aims to demonstrate why Colorado's innovation should be rewarded with government cash.

But while Denver schools showed some encouraging improvement when Bennet was superintendent, there remains a question whether there is substance behind the buzz at Denver Public Schools.

The two schools Secretary Arne Duncan will visit today -- Montclair Elementary and Bruce Randolph schools -- have made intentional moves to free themselves from district and union rules. Duncan will be watching that kind of innovation as his department decides how to divide $5 billion in stimulus funds nationwide through a program called "Race to the Top."

"This allows the secretary to point to something tangible that should be rewarded in this new world order," said Joe Williams, director of Democrats for Education Reform. "People watched (President Barack) Obama run on a campaign of change. This is kind of an attempt to show people what that looks like on the ground."

But at both schools, the reforms are in their infancy. One has had some modest success, but scores are still low.

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Alternative British exam details released


A group of Catholic grammar schools has released details of an alternative to the 11-plus transfer test.

Pupils will sit the tests in English and mathematics on Saturday 21 November at 28 schools across Northern Ireland.

Many state-run schools have already signed up to tests in November run by the Association of Quality Education.

Catholic Heads Association chairman Dermot Mullan said it was not just Catholic schools which had signed up for the exam.

"The schools involved are right across Northern Ireland - we are in discussion with a number of other schools as well," he said.

The tests will be set and marked by the England-based National Foundation for Education Research. Children will receive their results at the end of January.

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April 7, 2009

What is Discovery Learning?

Barry Garelick, via email:

By way of introduction, I am neither mathematician nor mathematics teacher, but I majored in math and have used it throughout my career, especially in the last 17 years as an analyst for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. My love of and facility with math is due to good teaching and good textbooks. The teachers I had in primary and secondary school provided explicit instruction and answered students' questions; they also posed challenging problems that required us to apply what we had learned. The textbooks I used also contained explanations of the material with examples that showed every step of the problem solving process.
I fully expected the same for my daughter, but after seeing what passed for mathematics in her elementary school, I became increasingly distressed over how math is currently taught in many schools.

Optimistically believing that I could make a difference in at least a few students' lives, I decided to teach math when I retire. I enrolled in education school about two years ago, and have one class and a 15-week student teaching requirement to go. Although I had a fairly good idea of what I was in for with respect to educational theories, I was still dismayed at what I found in my mathematics education courses.

In class after class, I have heard that when students discover material for themselves, they supposedly learn it more deeply than when it is taught directly. Similarly, I have heard that although direct instruction is effective in helping students learn and use algorithms, it is allegedly ineffective in helping students develop mathematical thinking. Throughout these courses, a general belief has prevailed that answering students' questions and providing explicit instruction are "handing it to the student" and preventing them from "constructing their own knowledge"--to use the appropriate terminology. Overall, however, I have found that there is general confusion about what "discovery learning" actually means. I hope to make clear in this article what it means, and to identify effective and ineffective methods to foster learning through discovery.

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Democrats and Poor Kids

Wall Street Journal Editorial:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan did a public service last week when he visited New York City and spoke up for charter schools and mayoral control of education. That was the reformer talking. The status quo Mr. Duncan was on display last month when he let Congress kill a District of Columbia voucher program even as he was sitting on evidence of its success.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, left, and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, read to first graders at Doswell Brooks Elementary School in Capitol Heights, Md. on Wednesday, April 1, 2009.
In New York City with its 1.1 million students, mayoral control has resulted in better test scores and graduation rates, while expanding charter schools, which means more and better education choices for low-income families. But mayoral control expires in June unless state lawmakers renew it, and the United Federation of Teachers is working with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to weaken or kill it.

President Obama's stimulus is sending some $100 billion to the nation's school districts. What will he demand in return? The state budget passed by the New York legislature last week freezes funding for charters but increases it by more that $400 million for other public schools. Perhaps a visit to a charter school in Harlem would help Mr. Obama honor his reform pledge. "I'm looking at the data here in front of me," Mr. Duncan told the New York Post. "Graduation rates are up. Test scores are up. Teacher salaries are up. Social promotion was eliminated. Dramatically increasing parental choice. That's real progress."

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A Kentucky View of the "Nation's Report Card" (NAEP)

Freedom Kentucky, via a kind reader's email:

The NAEP is a federally administered academic testing program for school systems throughout the nation. NAEP documents often refer to the assessments as "The Nation's Report Card".

The NAEP has been of considerable interest in many states, including Kentucky, as it generally offers the only state-to-state comparisions available for fourth and eighth grade academic performance. However, there are often considerable problems involved with making these comparisons, as discussed below.

The NAEP is operated by the US Department of Education at the direction of the Congress. It is administered by the National Center for Education Statistics. Since 1988, NAEP policy has been determined by the congressionally created non-partisan National Assessment Governing Board.

Over the years the NAEP has periodically assessed various academic areas.
The NAEP began in 1969 as a strictly nation-wide test, prohibited by law from producing scores for either individual states or local school jurisdictions. The testing samples were drawn from across the entire nation in such a way that the results would actually provide invalid scores even if the students from each state could be separately identified. In succeeding years, more testing has been added to cover both state level results and, most recently, results for some of the nation's largest urban school districts.

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Wikipedia's Old-Fashioned Revolution

Grodon Crovitz:

In 1993, Microsoft launched an innovative multimedia encyclopedia, Encarta, delivered through CD-ROM. It nearly put the Encyclopaedia Britannica out of business. Last week, Microsoft announced that it will close Encarta down.

Encarta could not compete with Wikipedia, which plays by different rules, using the online medium to beat earlier encyclopedias at their own mission. Created and maintained by anonymous people around the world, Wikipedia is by far the biggest and most popular encyclopedia ever. Despite being created by amateurs, it has the potential to become the most professional.

This may be a startling claim. There are infamous inaccuracies, such as the mischief-maker who edited the profile of a well-known journalist to say he'd been accused of assassinating the Kennedys. There have been drawn-out battles about whether the city is Gdansk or Danzig. (And whoever created the entry about me incorrectly listed my ex-wife as my current wife. My actual wife was not amused.)

But Wikipedia is quietly transforming itself into a hybrid of amateurs and professionals. Anyone can create entries -- it has 10 million articles in 253 languages -- but the ultimate editing is increasingly done by well-trained researchers. This trend is important because by some measures Wikipedia is in the top five Web sites, it is often the top result on Google searches, and it gets 97% of traffic to online encyclopedias.

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April 6, 2009

An Update on the Madison School Board Election

Royston Sim:
One of the most striking things about Tuesday's contested Madison School Board race is that challenger Donald Gors does not cite any policy differences he has with incumbent Arlene Silveira, who is the board's president.

"I don't disagree with anything," Gors said in an interview after a candidate forum Saturday morning. "It's just that there are differences in people and what they offer."

That sentiment showed at the forum attended by about 10 people at the Lakeview Branch of the Madison Public Library, where the candidates presented their positions on a range of issues. For the most part, Gors did not disagree with Silveira, although he did emphasize different things.

"School safety is job one," said Gors, 58, reiterating a theme that he has raised in what has been limited coverage of a quiet race. He runs two businesses out of his home. He is a distributor for Eco Friendly Indoor Solutions and owns ClearViewCleanWindows.

Gors, who has a daughter at Memorial High School, said schools could install automatic sensors and door locks for security. More importantly, he added, all staff in school buildings should develop a culture of promoting a safe environment at all times.

Silveira, meanwhile, called for a multi-faceted approach toward safety, encompassing facilities, school programs and students.
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Waitlisted? Here's What You Do

Jay Matthews:
Are you stuck on a college waiting list? Frustrating, isn't it? You feel disrespected, unlucky. But you are not alone. Some selective schools send more wait-list letters than acceptance letters. This year's economic uncertainties might produce the largest number of wait-listed applicants ever.

What can you do about it? I have some ideas. There is only one job other than newspapering that I would be even remotely qualified for: college admissions consultant. I have written a lot on the subject, including a guidebook. My clients would be careerist, overinvolved parents just like me. In truth, I couldn't take the pressure, but for fun, let's pretend that you are paying me $300 an hour to get you off that waiting list. Here's the plan:

Winning the wait-list game, like getting to the Final Four, is all about commitment. You must decide if a college that wait-listed you is still your first choice. If so, then go after it. (Pick just one school. No others allowed. Otherwise, someone will tell on you, and you will be dead.)
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Discord builds over new downtown Los Angeles arts school

Mitchell Landsberg:
A tug of war erupted last week over L.A.'s new downtown arts high school, with some of its biggest supporters declaring that they had given up on the Los Angeles Unified School District and wanted the $242-million campus turned over to a charter school organization. In response to the critics, who included philanthropist Eli Broad, Supt. Ramon C. Cortines shot back: "There is not a for-sale sign on it."

The tension had been building for months, fueled in part by the district's plan to reserve most of the school's seats for students from the surrounding neighborhood rather than open it up to the most talented students districtwide. It bubbled over after two star principals from the East Coast turned down offers to take charge, leaving the school leaderless less than six months before it opens in September.

"This pace is so slow that we have lost total confidence that the district could open this school in September as a really excellent place for students," said Maria Casillas, president of Families in Schools, a nonprofit organization that encourages parental involvement in education. She is on the board of Discovering the Arts, an organization created to support the downtown arts school, and was on a design team for the school until she recently resigned in frustration.

Casillas and others have reached out to Judy Burton, the president and chief executive of the Alliance for College Ready Public Schools, a successful charter organization, in hopes that she could run the arts school with Board of Education approval. Burton, a former top official at L.A. Unified, said she would do so only in partnership with the district, and with the blessing of Cortines and board President Monica Garcia.
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The Orwellian language of Wall Street finds its way to the Treasury Department.

Daniel Gross:

In his timeless 1946 essay "Politics and the English Language," George Orwell condemned political rhetoric as a tool used "to make lies sound truthful" and "to give an appear­ance of solidity to pure wind." Were he alive today, Orwell might well be moved to pen a com­panion piece on the use of financial lingo. Remember those toxic assets? The poorly performing mortgages and collateralized debt obligations festering on the books of banks that made truly exe­crable lending decisions? In the latest federal bank rescue plan, they've been transformed into "legacy loans" and "lega­cy securities"--safe for professional in­vestors to purchase, provided, of course, they get lots of cheap government credit.

It's as if some thoughtful person had amassed, through decades of careful hus­bandry, a valuable collection that's now being left as a blessing for posterity. Using the word legacy to describe phenomena that are causing financial car­nage is "crazy," according to George Lakoff, a Berkeley professor of cognitive science and linguistics, because "legacy typically suggests something positive." More insidiously, the word is frequently deployed to deflect blame. Legacy finan­cial issues are, by definition, holdovers from prior regimes. Word sleuths advise me that legacy derives from an ancient In­do-Aryan root meaning, "It wasn't my fault, and I should still get a bonus this year even though we lost billions of dollars."

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Boston Teacher's Union vs. Teach for America

James Vaznis:

But the Boston Teachers Union has a message for those eager Teach for America recruits: Thanks, but no thanks.

With the first batch of 20 corps members scheduled to arrive in the fall, just months after probable teacher layoffs, the union has sent a letter to the popular program objecting to its help.

"We already have hundreds of good, 'surplus' teachers; we don't need [Teach for America] to provide us any additional help," Richard Stutman, the union's president, wrote in a letter sent this week. "By coming here, you will only make matters worse."

While public service is a key mission of Teach for America, the program does not provide free help. Participating school districts must pay the recruits the same salary as a beginning teacher in the district, which in Boston would be $46,291.

Recruits must make a two-year commitment and are allowed to run their own classrooms after completing a five-week training program.

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April 5, 2009

Class Trip

A rite of spring, perhaps.

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School districts have nearly $1 billion in reserve

Tim Pugmire:

At a time when many Minnesota school boards have been cutting programs and laying off teachers, school districts as a whole are sitting on record budget reserves.

Total general fund reserves for the state's 340 school districts and 153 charter schools grew last year to nearly $1 billion.

Some state lawmakers have noticed the money. And they say schools are well positioned to absorb a financial hit to help erase the state's $4.6 billion budget deficit.

St. Paul, Minn. -- Gov. Tim Pawlenty and House Democrats want to delay payments to school districts as part of their budget plans. Lawmakers have used the accounting shift before to help balance the books.

Holding back some of the promised funding until the second year of the two-year budget cycle comes at a cost.

Some school districts would be forced to take out loans to pay their bills. But some lawmakers say many districts could handle the shift by tapping into budget reserves.

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The Sudden Charm of Public School

Terry Karush Rogers:

FOR some young families who bought during the housing boom, having it all meant an affordable brood-sized apartment in possession of a good public school zone. But other parents in pursuit of real estate never even thought about schools. They assumed they would send their children to private school, often because they too had followed that route.

That was before the economic crisis. Now, as many would-be private school parents scramble for a good public school, there is a despairing recognition that in this respect, geography is destiny: With odds of being accepted into a popular school in another zone slimmer than ever, they either live in a neighborhood with a decent elementary or they don't.

Renters and first-time buyers are in the best position to light out for better school zones with their young offspring. Meanwhile, landlocked owners -- unable or unwilling to sell in a down market or to spend around $33,000 a year to send their child to private school -- are panicking.

Trapped by their real estate, these parents are swallowing a bitter pill: had they sold their apartments a year ago, their profits might have financed an entire private school education.

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On Music Education

Bob Lefsetz:

First we met Seth Godin at Maison du Chocolat. It was fascinating to hear him riff on music education, Felice's world. He lamented teachers married to excellence, performance of material that most people were not enamored of. He boiled it down to a sense of mastery. That by learning how to play an instrument, a child experienced a sense of accomplishment. That's the message of music education, not exposing people to the classics or some extrapolation about IQ improvement. That's Seth's gift, the ability to execute an insightful surgical strike, right to the heart of the matter.

Are people ready for it?

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Social Media Course Defended on Twitter

Jessica Shepherd, via a kind reader's email:
Lecturers criticised for setting up £4,000 social media degree are fighting back on Twitter

Academics criticised for offering a masters degree covering Twitter and other social networking websites are defending themselves against the media onslaught – where else, but on Twitter.

Students on the £4,000 one-year Social Media degree, offered by Birmingham City University, will explore how we communicate on the websites and how they can be used for marketing.

Other modules on the course will teach students how to start a blog and podcasting techniques. The course is being advertised through a video on the university's website.

The course convenor, Jon Hickman, who is posting regularly today on his Twitter feed, responded to media coverage of the course, saying it was not for "IT geeks".
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Study Supports Washington, DC School Vouchers

Maria Glod:
A U.S. Education Department study released yesterday found that District students who were given vouchers to attend private schools outperformed public school peers on reading tests, findings likely to reignite debate over the fate of the controversial program.

The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, the first federal initiative to spend taxpayer dollars on private school tuition, was created by a Republican-led Congress in 2004 to help students from low-income families. Congress has cut off federal funding after the 2009-10 school year unless lawmakers vote to reauthorize it.

Overall, the study found that students who used the vouchers received reading scores that placed them nearly four months ahead of peers who remained in public school. However, as a group, students who had been in the lowest-performing public schools did not show those gains. There was no difference in math performance between the groups.
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April 4, 2009

An Update on the April 7, 2009 Madison School Board Race

Royston Sim:
Mathiak said the district needs to restructure how it approaches school funding.

"We will not cut something for another," Mathiak said. "We need to change the way we use resources and find other ways to manage them without hurting people. We have to make things more efficient."

The candidates agreed that schools need to reach out to parents of minorities and form more community partnerships with businesses and groups.

Silveira said schools need to cultivate trust, understand what works for parents and how to make them comfortable. She cited south-side Franklin Elementary, which has parent engagement groups, as a positive example that other schools should emulate.

"It's very important to remember there isn't one model, we have to develop trust and understanding between schools and parents," Silveira said.

One area where Gors and Silveira differed greatly was on the need for continuity in leadership.
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Adolescent Literacy Flim-Flam

The Concord Review
3 April 2009

There is no question that lots of people around the nation are concerned about the literacy of American adolescents. They must be worried about the ability of our students to read and write, one would assume. It might also seem reasonable to take for granted that professionals interested in teen skills in reading books and writing papers would give close attention to those students who are now reading a fair amount of nonfiction and writing really exemplary research papers at the high school level.

At this point, expectations need to be altered a bit. Surely coaches of Adolescent Sports have a tremendous fascination with the best teen athletes in the country. There are lots of prizes and even scholarships for high school students who perform very well in football, soccer, basketball, baseball, etc., and there are even college scholarships for good teen cheerleaders. We might think it odd if all high school coaches cared about was physical education classes and even in those, only those student/athletes who were most un-coordinated and incompetent. Not that it is unimportant to worry about teens who are overweight and cannot take part in sports, but nevertheless, coaches tend to focus on the best athletes, and colleges and the society at large seem to think that is fine for them to do, and is even their job, some would say.

But when it comes to students who read well and write good term papers, the Literacy Community has no interest in them. It is only able to focus on the illiterate and incompetent among Adolescents, and their professional peers seem to think that is fine for them to do, and is even their real job. And it surely is important for them to help those who need help. They should do research and develop curricula and programs to help teens become more literate. They have been doing this for many decades, and yet more than a million of our high school graduates each and every year are in remedial (non-credit) courses when they are "admitted" (conditionally) to colleges around the country.

Perhaps the current approach to literacy training for young people might deserve a second look. The Chronicle of Higher Education surveyed college professors, 90% of whom reported that they thought the freshmen in their classes were not well prepared in reading, doing research, or writing term papers. Their high school teachers had thought they were well prepared, but college professors didn't see it that way.

No doubt many of those students had the benefit of the Adolescent Literacy Initiatives of, National Council of Teachers of English, National Writing Project, Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), Alliance for Excellent Education, Partnership for Reading, National Adolescent Literacy Coalition, Learning Point Associates, Education Development Center, Council of Chief State School Officers, Scholastic, Adolescent Literacy Coaching Project (ALCP), National Governors' Association, Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, Adolescent Literacy Research Network, Adolescent Literacy Support Project, WGBH Adolescent Literacy website, and the International Reading Association, not to mention the many state and local literacy programs, and yet our students' literacy still leaves a lot to be desired, even if they can graduate from high school.

To me it seems that, unlike coaches, the literacy pros are almost allergic to good academic work in reading and writing by our teens. I am not really sure why that would be the case, but in the last 20 years of working with exemplary secondary students of history from 44 states and 35 other countries, I have not found one single Literacy Organization or Literacy Program which had the slightest interest in their first-rate work, which I have been privileged to publish in 77 issues of The Concord Review so far. They have heard about it, but they don't want to know about it, as far as I can tell.

It does seem foolish to me, that if they truly want to improve the reading and writing of adolescents, they don't take a tiny bit of interest in exemplary reading and writing at the high school level, not only in the students' work, but even perhaps in the work of the teachers who guided them to that level of excellence, just as high school coaches are interested in the best athletes and perhaps their coaches as well.

They could still spend the bulk of their time on grants given them to do "meta-analyses" of Literacy Strategies and the like, but it seems really stupid not to glance once or twice at very good written work by our most diligent teens (the Literate Adolescents).

Of course, I am biased. I believe that showing teachers and students the best term papers I can find will inspire them to try to reach for more success in literacy, and some of my authors agree with me: e.g. "When a former history teacher first lent me a copy of The Concord Review, I was inspired by the careful scholarship crafted by other young people. Although I have always loved history passionately, I was used to writing history papers that were essentially glorified book reports...As I began to research the Ladies' Land League, I looked to The Concord Review for guidance on how to approach my task...In short, I would like to thank you not only for publishing my essay, but for motivating me to develop a deeper understanding of history. I hope that The Concord Review will continue to fascinate, challenge and inspire young historians for years to come." Emma Curran Donnelly Hulse, Columbia Class of 2009; North Central High School (IN) Class of 2005......"The opportunity that The Concord Review presented drove me to rewrite and revise my paper to emulate its high standards. Your journal truly provides an extraordinary opportunity and positive motivation for high school students to undertake extensive research and academic writing, experiences that ease the transition from high school to college." Pamela Ban, Harvard Class of 2012; Thomas Worthington High School (OH) Class of 2008...

But what do they know? They are just some of those literate adolescents in whom the professional adolescent literacy community seems to have no interest.

"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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More Intelligent Life:

The commute is just long enough to be useful. Over the speakers comes the reflective voice of Harold Bloom, telling the businessman as he sits in traffic about the "The Art of Reading a Poem". Across town on the subway, a student spends the first day of spring break on a visit to the Guggenheim. And overhead, as a plane clears the skyline, a woman unpacks her Oprah edition of "Light in August".

As a still life, the "Age of Mass Intelligence" is compelling. No one doubts that reality TV and gossip journalism increasingly share mental space with Joyce and Ravel. But intelligence is not a matter of pressing more pieces of culture into the great jigsaw puzzle of the mind. Unless operas and concerts are prophylactics against a churlish existence, we are not wising up. We are merely trying to buy wisdom.

This is an Age of Commodified Intelligence, a time of conspicuously consumed high culture in which intellectual life is meticulously measured and branded.

Equal measures success and hubris are to blame. By the end of the last century, exponential gains in science and in living standards made advancement seem inevitable, progress a matter of putting one scientific foot in front of the other. The intellectual horizon felt flatter, more intelligible, more accessible. A rise in intellectual exuberance is therefore unsurprising. Enrichment has certainly been on the march.

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Nothing to Think About

Intelligent Life:

There is a priceless exchange in the 20th episode of "The Sopranos"--the soap-opera about a New Jersey mobster whose stressful career brings him to the couch of a psychotherapist, Jennifer Melfi. Tony Soprano is annoyed with his teenage son, who has been moaning about the ultimate absurdity of life:

Melfii: Sounds to me like Anthony junior may have stumbled onto existentialism.
Tony: F____' internet!
Melfi: No, no, no. It's a European philosophy.

Quite so; one cannot blame the internet for everything. Existentialism has roots in the 19th-century thought of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, but it is most famously linked with restless French students in the 1960s and the writings of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. Sure enough, Anthony junior has been assigned Camus's novel "L'Etranger" in class. It also doesn't help his precarious state of mind when his grandmother bitterly tells him "in the end, you die in your own arms... It's all a big Nothing."

Well, plus ça change. It is not only on television that nihilist strains of existentialism continue to tempt young minds, and no doubt the minds of some grandmothers. Last autumn I taught a seminar about ideas of nothingness at the New School, a university in New York. Most of the students were already keen on Sartre and Camus, and among the many facets of nothingness that we looked at in science, literature, art and philosophy, it was death and the pointlessness of life that most gripped them. They showed a polite interest in the role of vacuum in 17th-century physics and in the development of the concept of zero. But existentialist angst was the real draw.

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April 3, 2009

An Interview with Eli Broad

Steve Pearlstein interviews Eli Broad on Education:

Broad discusses school choice, differential pay for math, science and Michelle Rhee.
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A Discussion of New York City School Reforms

Jennifer Medina:
This week brought their latest display of strange bedfellows, as the couple, Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein and the Rev. Al Sharpton, co-sponsored a conference of the Education Equality Project, at which the audience included the left-leaning mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio R. Villaraigosa, and Newt Gingrich, the Republican former House speaker.

The pair is not lacking for shtick — rarely do they conclude a public performance without referring to themselves as looking something akin to a before-and-after advertisement for hair transplants. (Mr. Klein has a rather sparse scalp next to Mr. Sharpton’s signature bouffant.)

Since forming the alliance nearly a year ago, Mr. Klein and Mr. Sharpton have raised more than $1 million to promote school improvement across the country.

With a coalition that includes several black and Hispanic elected Democratic officials at all levels, the group has embraced many policies once anathema to the Democratic Party — including increasing the number of charter schools, providing performance pay for teachers and expanding the use of data to measure performance at every level of the schools.
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Treating Autism as if Vaccines Caused ItThe theory may be dead, but the treatments live on.

Arthur Allen:
A federal court may have changed the public discourse about the safety of vaccines in February, when it dismissed the theory that they cause autism. But vaccine damage is still the reigning paradigm for a rump caucus of thousands of parents who turn to physicians with a remarkable set of beliefs and practices in hope of finding recourse for their children's ills.

To sift through the 15,000-page record of the Autism Omnibus hearings and the decisions by the three special masters who considered the evidence is to peek into a medical universe where autism is considered a disease of environmental toxicity, rather than an inherited disorder, and where doctors expose children to hundreds of tests simply to justify the decision to "detoxify" them. In some cases, the judges found, doctors simply ignored data that didn't fit the diagnosis.

The court came down hard on the alternative medical practitioners who tailor their treatments to fit theories of vaccine damage. Among the doctors criticized was Jeff Bradstreet, a former Christian preacher in Melbourne, Fla., who has treated 4,000 children with neurological disorders. Among the children was Colten Snyder, whose case was one of those considered by the court.
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The Peter Principle Lives On

Leigh Buchanan & Robert Sutton:

Forty years ago, Laurence Peter and Raymond Hull invented business satire with the publication of The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong. The principle posits that employees are rewarded for competence by being shoved up hierarchies until they reach a position that overwhelms their skills. At that point, they stick. Consequently, "In time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out its duties," the authors wrote. Inc. editor-at-large Leigh Buchanan discussed the idea's enduring relevance with Stanford management professor Robert Sutton, who wrote an introduction to the 40th-anniversary edition. (Peter and Hull died in 1990 and 1985, respectively.)

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Get Smart: INTELLIGENCE AND HOW TO GET IT Why Schools and Culture Count

Jim Holt:

Success in life depends on intelligence, which is measured by I.Q. tests. Intelligence is mostly a matter of heredity, as we know from studies of identical twins reared apart. Since I.Q. differences between individuals are mainly genetic, the same must be true for I.Q. differences between groups. So the I.Q. ranking of racial/ethnic groups -- Ashkenazi Jews on top, followed by East Asians, whites in general, and then blacks -- is fixed by nature, not culture. Social programs that seek to raise I.Q. are bound to be futile. Cognitive inequalities, being written in the genes, are here to stay, and so are the social inequalities that arise from them.

What I have just summarized, with only a hint of caricature, is the hereditarian view of intelligence. This is the view endorsed, for instance, by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray in "The Bell Curve" (1994), and by Arthur R. Jensen in "The g Factor" (1998). Although hereditarianism has been widely denounced as racism wrapped in pseudoscience, these books drew on a large body of research and were carefully reasoned. Critics often found it easier to impugn the authors' motives than to refute their conclusions.

Intelligence and How to Get It.

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Religious education in Germany

The Economist:

BY AMERICAN standards, German culture wars are mild affairs. A spat in Berlin over teaching religion in schools may be an exception. Next month the city will vote on whether schools should teach the subject as an alternative to an ethics course. The debate is only partly about how God fits into the classroom; it is also about how Muslims fit into Berlin.

In most of Germany, the constitution already makes religious instruction part of the curriculum (secular students can opt out). But Berlin and two other states are exempt. The city's godlessness was shaken in 2005 by the "honour killing" of a young Turkish woman. As an antidote, Berlin's government brought in a non-religious ethics course a year later.
Click here!

For Berlin's beleaguered believers, this was both threat and opportunity. Enrolment in (voluntary) religious classes outside school hours dropped. But some religious folk spotted a chance to sneak in more traditional teaching. Thus was born Pro-Reli, a movement that has festooned Berlin with red-and-white posters demanding "free choice between ethics and religion" and collected 270,000 signatures to force a referendum.

The debate is over whether religious teaching fosters or hinders tolerance. Pro-Reli's critics fear that separating schoolchildren by religion may undermine social peace. Supporters retort that people with strong religious convictions respect faith, whatever its form. Christoph Lehmann, Pro-Reli's leader, defines tolerance as "accepting everyone as he is". The left, he says, belittles religious differences and calls that tolerance.

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Eleminate the Education Major at UDC?

Susan Kinzie:

The University of the District of Columbia plans to shut down its struggling undergraduate education department, which, officials say, is out of touch with current thinking on how to train teachers and fails to graduate the vast majority of its students.

Usually, 7 or 8 percent of the students who enroll in the department have graduated from it within six years, according to UDC data. Professors said that is primarily because many cannot pass a national standardized test of basic high school-level reading, writing and math skills.

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Michigan State Test Scores Released

Michigan Department of Education:

Scores on the statewide math tests have risen for the fourth consecutive year, the Michigan Department of Education announced today. Students' scores in social studies and writing rose overall, as well.

Over 75 percent of students in grades 3-8 tested as "proficient or above" on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) math tests given in the Fall of 2008, including 91 percent of third graders. The greatest improvement was among seventh graders, where 83 percent scored proficient or above, compared to 73 percent the year before.

"There is a direct connection between our kids learning more in the classroom and getting the jobs we need in Michigan's economy," said Governor Jennifer M. Granholm. "We are glad to see these signs of success but we know we have a lot of work to do to give Michigan the best educated workforce in the nation and that must be our goal."

Michigan students were tested in October 2008 on skills learned through the end of the previous year. Students' MEAP scores are divided into four performance levels: Not Proficient, Partially Proficient, Proficient, and Advanced. Students who place in either the Proficient or Advanced levels are considered to be "proficient or above" in that subject.

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April 2, 2009

Academic March Madness

Lindsey Luebchow:
There haven't been many upsets in this year's NCAA men's basketball tournament, as big name basketball powerhouses have dominated the hardwood. But evaluate the Sweet Sixteen based on the most important academic competition of studying for and obtaining a meaningful degree and you'll find that most of the top teams wouldn't even come close to cutting down the nets in Detroit early next month.

Higher Ed Watch's third annual Academic Sweet Sixteen examines the remaining teams in the NCAA men's basketball tournament to see which squads are matching their on-court success with academic achievement in the classroom. And for the third consecutive year, academic indicators produce a championship game match-up that isn't on anyone's radar: Purdue versus Villanova, with Purdue's 80 percent graduation rate trumping Villanova's 67 percent. The University of North Carolina and Michigan State, meanwhile, round out the Final Four with graduation rates of 60 percent.
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On Milwaukee's Voucher Schools

Eugene Kane:
Over the years, I've often expressed my reluctance to join Howard Fuller in embracing the private school voucher program.

Fuller is a longtime Milwaukee educator and a nationally known leader of the school choice movement. He's been involved in efforts to improve the education of black children since long before the program's inception in 1990.

I have tremendous respect for Fuller but never really agreed with his advocacy of this particular educational policy due to my suspicions of where it would ultimately lead. There are a handful of solid private voucher schools in town, but I've seen too many examples of failed schools run by well-meaning adults - and in some cases by charlatans and hustlers - that eventually have left students with their studies temporarily interrupted.

There's also the corrosive political atmosphere that has turned support for school choice into a partisan litmus test - Republicans for, Democrats against. I've often wondered why this community spends millions of dollars in taxpayer money to fund two separate school systems when it's clear there's not enough money to fund one properly.

Fuller always had a ready answer. For him, the main issue was giving low-income children a quality education. If the public schools couldn't do that, he reasoned, why not give voucher schools a chance?

Last week, the debate over school choice reached another level after a long-awaited report - based on several studies of Milwaukee's parental choice program and Milwaukee public schools - found essentially no major difference in the academic success of students in both systems. Fuller said those conclusions, along with recent proposals by Gov. Jim Doyle to increase accountability of choice schools, represented a significant moment for his movement.
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Walter Payton Prep publishes Cabrini-Green issue

Michael Miner:

To their credit, it occurred to the student journalists of Walter Payton College Prep that an important question to ask about nearby Cabrini-Green was whether their own fancy new school sticks in the residents' craw.

For as the Payton student paper, the Pawprint, reports in its most recent issue, the story of Cabrini-Green is now about demolition, gentrification, and displacement. "The people and the culture of Cabrini-Green are slowly being phased out," write Julian Antos and Danielle Bennon, "leaving the few thousand remaining residents struggling to make do with what's left of their homes. . . . The poster child of the transition from a ghetto to a Gold Coast neighborhood is inarguably Walter Payton College Prep, a school filled with good intentions . . . but a school that Edna Morris, a security guard at Schiller [Elementary], thinks of as an outfit that sits in the community but doesn't make an effort to be a part of it."

Antos (a junior) and Bennon (a senior) draw a contrast between Payton, just northeast of Cabrini at 1034 N. Wells, and Schiller, in the heart of the project. "CPS thinks of a school with 35 kids to a classroom, no library or special ed. classes, and no art programs as a well-run institution," Schiller vice principal Brian Billings is quoted as saying. Payton is another world. Someone from the Department of Children and Family Services comments, "You should see the look on a kid's face when he sees a new school going up in his neighborhood and he realizes that they won't let him in"; and Antos and Bennon add, on their own authority, "For better or worse, Payton is part of a movement to phase Cabrini-Green out, making the building all the more frightening to local students."

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High School Debate Lacking in Madison

Nick Bubb, via Isthmus:

ast week's Isthmus reminded me that school board elections are happening this April. The lack of discussion this time around stands in stark contrast to the amount of discussion that occurred in 2007. Some of the 2007 issues stick out in my memory, because many of the candidates chose to highlight the value of speech and debate. Two year's later, I wonder if the rhetoric of praising the value of speech and debate has translated into supporting the activity.

In the Spring of 2007, as an assistant forensics coach preparing for the state championship, it was nice to hear that members of the community had taken notice of James Madison Memorial's success. (Memorial won state forensics championships in 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2006. JMM also won last year and they've taken individual championships each year). Back then, we were just about the only game in town. Since then, Madison West, Sun Prairie, and Middleton have developed quality forensic teams. At last year's state forensics tournament, Memorial went home with the championship, West placed eighth, and Sun Praire placed fourth.

Debate, however, is a different story. Madison West has lost most of their debate team; while Middleton has developed one. Madison East and LaFollette, are no where to be found for either debate or forensics. Sure, they have teams. But their teams do not compete in the same way that Memorial/West/Sun Prairie/Middleton do.

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Education Secretary Says Aid Hinges on New Data

Sam Dillon:

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told the nation's governors on Wednesday that in exchange for billions of dollars in federal education aid provided under the economic stimulus law, he wants new information about the performance of their public schools, much of which could be embarrassing.

In a "Dear Governor" letter to the 50 states, Mr. Duncan said $44 billion in stimulus money was being made available to states immediately. To qualify for a second phase of financing later this year, however, governors will need to provide reams of detailed educational information.

The data is likely to reveal that in many states, tests have been dumbed down so that students score far higher than on tests administered by the federal Department of Education.

It will also probably show that many local teacher-evaluation systems are so perfunctory that they rate 99 of every 100 teachers as excellent and that diplomas often mean so little that millions of high school graduates each year must enroll in remediation classes upon entering college.

Wisconsin's academic standards have been criticized by the Fordham foundation, among others.
aSam Dillon:
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told the nation's governors on Wednesday that in exchange for billions of dollars in federal education aid provided under the economic stimulus law, he wants new information about the performance of their public schools, much of which could be embarrassing.

In a "Dear Governor" letter to the 50 states, Mr. Duncan said $44 billion in stimulus money was being made available to states immediately. To qualify for a second phase of financing later this year, however, governors will need to provide reams of detailed educational information.

The data is likely to reveal that in many states, tests have been dumbed down so that students score far higher than on tests administered by the federal Department of Education.

It will also probably show that many local teacher-evaluation systems are so perfunctory that they rate 99 of every 100 teachers as excellent and that diplomas often mean so little that millions of high school graduates each year must enroll in remediation classes upon entering college.

Wisconsin's academic standards have been criticized by the Fordham foundation, among others.

Robert Tomsho has more.
Robert Tomsho has more.

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Cynicism We Can Believe In

Simon Critchley:

SOME 2,300 years after his death, Diogenes the Cynic dramatically interrupted a recent New York State Senate committee meeting. Wearing a long, white beard and carrying his trademark lamp in broad daylight, the ancient philosopher -- who once described himself as "a Socrates gone mad" -- claimed to be looking for an honest man in politics. Considering the never-ending allegations of financial corruption that flow from the sump of Albany, it's no surprise that he was unsuccessful.

This resurrected Diogenes was, in fact, Randy Credico, a comedian who says he is considering challenging Senator Charles Schumer in the 2010 Democratic primary. Whatever boost Mr. Credico's prank provides his campaign, it might also cause us to reflect a little on the meaning of cynicism -- and how greatly we still need Diogenes.

Cynicism is actually not at all cynical in the modern sense of the word. It bears no real resemblance to that attitude of negativity and jaded scornfulness that sees the worst of intentions behind the apparent good motives of others.

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April 1, 2009

Oprah Winfrey school in South Africa faces second sex scandal

Caroline Hedley:

The girls were suspended last week for the alleged sexual harassment of fellow pupils at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy School For Girls in Henley-on-Clip, near Johannesburg.
According to the Afrikaans on Sunday newspaper, one 15-year-old "preyed" on a schoolmate and coerced others into lying to officials investigating the alleged incidents.

Six other pupils have been excluded from the $46 million (£32 million) girls-only boarding school after being alleged to have touched each other intimately, or "intimidating others into partaking of inappropriate behaviours".

A letter sent to one of the suspended girls' parents is said to have read: "You have been found guilty of physical contact of a sexual nature with another pupil on campus, harassment, bullying other girls on campus and of being dishonest by not telling investigators the whole truth".

The girl claims the accusations are false and has blamed other girls.

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Wisconsin Lags in Closing the Education Gap - Education Trust

Alan Borsuk:
Wisconsin is not making as much progress raising student achievement and closing the gaps between have and have-not students as the nation as a whole, according to a report released Tuesday by the Education Trust, an influential, Washington-based nonprofit group.

As with other reports in recent years, the analysis showed the achievement of African-American students remains a major issue overall and that the gaps between black students and white students in Wisconsin are among the largest in the United States.

But it also analyzed the progress made in recent years and found Wisconsin lagging when it came to all racial and ethnic groups - and the news was generally not good across a wide range of measures.

Daria Hall, director of kindergarten through 12th-grade policy for the Education Trust, said, "What you see is when you look at any of the critical milestones in education - fourth-grade reading, eighth-grade math, high school graduation, collegiate graduation - Wisconsin and African-American students in particular are far below their peers in other states. This shows that while there has been some improvement, it is not nearly fast enough for the state's young people, communities or the economy as a whole."

For example, consider reading scores for fourth-graders in 1998 and in 2007 in the testing program known as the National Assessment of Education Progress. White students nationwide improved their scores seven points over the nine-year period (on a scale where average scores were in the low 200s), while in Wisconsin, the improvement was one point. For black fourth-graders, the nationwide gain was 11 points, while in Wisconsin it was four. And for low-income students in general, the national gain was 10 points, while in Wisconsin it was two points.

Wisconsin lagged the nation when it came to similar comparisons involving the graduation rate for black students, the percentages of black and Hispanic students graduating college within six years of finishing high school and the degree to which there had been improvements in recent years in the size of black/white achievement gaps.
This pdf chart compares the 50 States and the District of Columbia.

Related: Tony Evers and Rose Fernandez are running for Wisconsin DPI Superintendent in the April 7, 2009 spring election. Capital Newspapers' Capital Times Editorial Board endorsed Tony Evers today.

Watch or listen to a recent debate here. SIS links on the race.
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Milwaukee's Howard Fuller & School Vouchers

Bruce Murphy:
c Schools, he was seen by some liberal critics as a right wing-toady who had betrayed his old ideology by getting in bed with conservative school choice supporters. That view was always simplistic, as his bold call for reform of school choice, announced last week, proved once again. His new position – which could greatly alter the politics of school choice – raises many questions.

For starters, why the seeming flip-flop by Fuller? The answer is that he’s never been an ideologue. The old Fuller, after all, was a Democrat. He worked to get Democrat Tony Earl elected in 1982 and was rewarded with a position running the state’s Department of Employment Relations. And his commitment to public schools was personified by his work as MPS superintendent from 1991-1995, which included championing an über-liberal referendum to spend some $400 million to construct new schools, which was defeated by the taxpayers.

But Fuller was more often a critic of MPS, among other things proposing (in the late 1980s) to create an all-black school district that would be carved out of MPS. (That idea, too, went down in flames.) Fuller was always a supporter of alternative schools – or any schools, really – that would provide a good education for minority and low-income students. And he was always willing to work with business leaders and politicians of either party to accomplish his ends. For at least the last 10 years, that has meant mostly Republicans, as he embraced school choice as the solution to urban education in Milwaukee.

But the latest results of the five-year study on school choice, reported last week in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, showed there is no statistically significant difference in achievement between MPS and voucher schools. The schools are cheaper, but because of the partisan legislation battles over voucher funding, the program’s complicated funding formula awards most of the savings (some $82 million a year) to every place in the state but Milwaukee. This city’s property taxpayers are paying $45 million more annually for a program that appears to be having little positive impact on education.
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Some schools are cutting back on homework

Seema Mehta:

Rachel Bennett, 12, loves playing soccer, spending time with her grandparents and making jewelry with beads. But since she entered a magnet middle school in the fall -- and began receiving two to four hours of homework a night -- those activities have fallen by the wayside.

"She's only a kid for so long," said her father, Alex Bennett, of Silverado Canyon. "There's been tears and frustration and family arguments. Everyone gets burned out and tired."

Bennett is part of a vocal movement of parents and educators who contend that homework overload is robbing children of needed sleep and playtime, chipping into family dinners and vacations and overly stressing young minds. The objections have been raised for years but increasingly, school districts are listening. They are banning busywork, setting time limits on homework and barring it on weekends and over vacations.

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Reforming Education in America

Jay MacDonough:

According to a 2005 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) study, the United States is tied for first place with Switzerland when it comes to annual spending per student in public schooling. Each of the two countries spends more than $11,000 per student per year, while the average spending in developed countries at $7343. The United States spends 7% of it's GDP on education, second in the world.
Sadly, that doesn't mean U.S. students are roughly 50% better educated than the students in these other countries. In fact, (given the topic it seems appropriate to award it with a grade) American education would most likely earn a sold "C".
The 2007 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) showed U.S. student's science and mathematics scores in the middle of the pack:

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Lead on Education

Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

Just how desperate must public schools get before Texas lawmakers find the gumption to fix the flawed system they created in the first place?

From the perspective of new House Speaker Joe Straus, it isn't enough that superintendents across the state are pleading that their districts will have to deplete savings, slash programs or increase local tax rates substantially -- all of which some have already done -- if the Legislature doesn't repair the funding mechanism adopted in a 2006 special session.

"We tend not to address situations until we absolutely have to, and we don't have to this session," Straus said during a wide-ranging meeting with the Star-Telegram Editorial Board last week.

"The political will doesn't exist to do anything major" on school finance this session, he said.

Straus brings a welcome open-mindedness to the speaker's chair, something missing during the autocratic reign of his predecessor, Tom Craddick.

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Jay Cross Wants No More Learners

David Gurteen:

Take a look and see what you think of this three-and-a-half minute rant about leveling the preacher-and-congregation model of learning from Jay Cross. I of course love it as you will recognize that is what my knowledge cafes are about. You can hear the story here of how I started the knowledge cafes in response to death-by-powerpoint presentations.

But also read the comments on Jays post. Some people do not agree with him. But note Jay is not saying that we need to get totally away from the teacher-student model of learning more that we need to shift the balance. Jay himself is in preach mode in delivering the rant and I am sure he was well aware of it. My Knowledge cafes also have a chalk-and-talk component.

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