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May 31, 2009

An Email to Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad on Math Teacher Hiring Criteria

Thanks much for taking the time from your busy schedule to respond to our letter below.  I am delighted to note your serious interest in the topic of how to obtain middle school teachers who are highly qualified to teach mathematics to the MMSD's students so that all might succeed.  We are all in agreement with the District's laudable goal of having all students complete algebra I/geometry or integrated algebra I/geometry by the end of 10th grade.  One essential component necessary for achieving this goal is having teachers who are highly competent to teach 6th- through 8th-grade mathematics to our students so they will be well prepared for high school-level mathematics when they arrive in high school.

The primary point on which we seem to disagree is how best to obtain such highly qualified middle school math teachers.  It is my strong belief that the MMSD will never succeed in fully staffing all of our middle schools with excellent math teachers, especially in a timely manner, if the primary mechanism for doing so is to provide additional, voluntary math ed opportunities to the District's K-8 generalists who are currently teaching mathematics in our middle schools.  The District currently has a small number of math-certified middle school teachers.  It undoubtedly has some additional K-8 generalists who already are or could readily become terrific middle school math teachers with a couple of hundred hours of additional math ed training.  However, I sincerely doubt we could ever train dozens of additional K-8 generalists to the level of content knowledge necessary to be outstanding middle school math teachers so that ALL of our middle school students could be taught mathematics by such teachers.

Part of our disagreement centers around differing views regarding the math content knowledge one needs to be a highly-qualified middle school math teacher.  As a scientist married to a mathematician, I don't believe that taking a couple of math ed courses on how to teach the content of middle school mathematics provides sufficient knowledge of mathematics to be a truly effective teacher of the subject.  Our middle school foreign language teachers didn't simply take a couple of ed courses in how to teach their subject at the middle school level; rather, most of them also MAJORED or, at least, minored in the subject in college.  Why aren't we requiring the same breathe and depth of content knowledge for our middle school mathematics teachers?  Do you really believe mastery of the middle school mathematics curriculum and how to teach it is sufficient content knowledge for teachers teaching math?  What happens when students ask questions that aren't answered in the teachers' manual?  What happens when students desire to know how the material they are studying relates to higher-level mathematics and other subjects such as science and engineering?

The MMSD has been waiting a long time already to have math-qualified teachers teaching mathematics in our middle schools.   Many countries around the world whose students outperform US students in mathematics only hire teachers who majored in the  subject to teach it.  Other school districts in the US are taking advantage of the current recession with high unemployment to hire and train people who know and love mathematics, but don't yet know how to teach it to others.  For example, see

If Madison continues to wait, we will miss out on this opportunity and yet another generation of middle schoolers will be struggling to success in high school.

The MMSD has a long history of taking many, many year to resolve most issues.  For example, the issue of students receiving high school credit for non-MMSD courses has been waiting 8 years and counting!  It has taken multiple years for the District's math task force to be formed, meet, write its report, and have its recommendations discussed.  For the sake of the District's students, we need many more math-qualified middle school teachers NOW.  Please act ASAP, giving serious consideration to our proposal below.  Thanks.

Posted by Janet Mertz at 11:59 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Students surging out of Madison School District

Gayle Worland
Wisconsin State Journal

More than 600 students living in the Madison School District have applied to leave their hometown schools through open enrollment next fall -- more than any previous year.

While district officials say it's likely only about half will actually leave, the district wants to know why so many want to go.

The net number of students who left the Madison district through open enrollment jumped from 156 in 2007-08 to 288 this school year.

One explanation for the jump, district officials say, is that since 2008, the district no longer considers the effect of open enrollment on its racial balance. The district suspended that practice in February 2008, eight months after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling cast doubt on the enforceability of a state law the district cited in denying transfer requests.

Still, Madison superintendent Dan Nerad said the increasing numbers are a concern.

"There's all kinds of reasons that people make this choice," he said, "but it's not a dissimilar pattern than you'll find in other quality urban districts surrounded by quality suburban districts."

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 9:42 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

'Object' of my affection
My father's StB file reveals as much about the secret police as it does about him

Sarah Borufka:

Those who don't know their past are bound to repeat it," reads the billboard in the entry hall of the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes. When I first came here, it was for an interview with two institute researchers who co-authored the book Victims of the Occupation about the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion.

After the interview, I asked one of the researchers, Milan Bárta, to find my parents' old communist secret police (StB) file. I wanted to see if there were any pictures of their wedding Jan. 13, 1979, just days before they emigrated to West Germany. My family has no pictures of that day, but my father had always joked that the StB had taken some.

A month later, I was invited to the institute to take a look at my parents' documents.

Note: Email Newsletter visitors: This article was incorrectly link to a headline on outbound open enrollment from the Madison School Districts.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:02 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Bursting the Higher Ed Bubble

David Frum:

"Will Higher Education be the Next Bubble to Burst?" So asks a recent op-ed in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The question is powerful. Data points:
  • Over the past quarter-century, the average cost of higher education has risen at a rate four times faster than inflation--twice as fast as the cost of health care.
  • Tuition, room, and board at private colleges can cost $50,000 per year or more.
  • The market crash of 2008 inflicted terrible damage on college endowments. The Commonfund Institute reports that endowments dropped by an average of 23 percent in the five months ending Nov. 30, 2008.
Authors Joseph Cronin and Howard Horton (respectively a past Massachusetts secretary of Education and the president of the New England College of Business and Finance) comment:

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Computer Orchestration Tips and Tricks

Stephen Bennett:

his book is aimed at those with little or not understanding of music notation. It gives the reader a basic understanding or the principles of orchestration and offers tips and techniques to help get the best simulated orchestral performance out of their equipment.
  • Create realistic sounding orchestras on your computer
  • Little or no musical notation knowledge needed
  • Create scores for real players to read
  • Tips and tricks to get the best out of your software
  • All you need to orchestrate on computer
Using modern technology, composers no longer need to wait until an orchestra plays their score to hear what their music will actually sound like. Using a computer and suitable software, it's possible for anyone to produce high-quality results that can be used for music CDs, film and TV scores - or even as a basis of a recording session using orchestral players.
I reading saw an early 20's student reading a book on Logic Pro. I asked about his plans and he responsded that he intended to make "some great music".

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:51 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas


Feeding America:

One in six young children live on the brink of hunger in 26 states in the U.S., according to a new report issued today by Feeding America. The rate of food insecurity in young children is 33 percent higher than in U.S. adults, where one in eight live at risk of hunger

Child Food Insecurity in the United States: 2005 -- 2007 states that 3.5 million children, ages five and under, are food insecure.

The analysis includes the first ever state-by-state analysis of early childhood hunger, using data collected by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:52 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Which Colleges Leave Students With the Most Debt?

Kim Clark:

Seniors at for-profit colleges are more than twice as likely to have accumulated dangerous amounts of education loans as seniors at other kinds of four-year colleges, according to a new report.

Almost 30 percent of seniors at for-profit universities in 2008 owed at least $40,000 in college loans, an amount that could be excessive, according to a new analysis of the latest federal data by Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of and For comparison, only about 11 percent of seniors at private nonprofit colleges--many of which charge higher sticker prices than typical for-profits--graduate with excessive debt, Kantrowitz found. And excessive debt was a problem for only about 6 percent of seniors at public universities, which are typically comparatively lower priced. That means new graduates of for-profit schools are about five times as likely to have borrowed heavily as new graduates of public universities.

The levels of excessive debt are already overwhelming hundreds of thousands of new graduates. In March, the federal government released a preliminary report showing that almost 200,000 borrowers whose federal student loans came due in 2007 were already in default. The schools with the highest share of defaulters--11.3 percent--were the for-profit colleges. Only 6.8 percent of public university students had defaulted within two years. And just 3.9 percent of students who'd left private, nonprofit schools in 2007 had defaulted on their federal loans.

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

Recession Threatens U.S. Progress in Child Wellbeing

Julie Steenhuysen:

Decades worth of gains in health, safety and education for children in the United States are in danger as the country's economic crisis continues, according to an annual report sponsored by the Foundation for Child Development that measures economic, health, safety and social factors affecting children and teens. Based on current estimates, the report projects that the current recession will pare median annual family incomes back to $55,700 by 2010, down from $59,200 in 2007. While households run by single women will see their annual incomes fall to $23,000 in 2010, down from $24,950 in 2007, the steepest drop will be among single households headed by men, where median annual family income is expected to drop to $33,300 in 2010, from $38,100 in 2007.

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

May 30, 2009

The Music is Secondary.... But Still Beautiful

Pete Selkowe:

"Character first, ability second."
--Dr. Shinichi Suzuki

The creator of the Suzuki method of teaching music, Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, would have been proud Wednesday afternoon, as some 90 violin and viola students presented a three-school concert.

The youngsters -- just the tiniest portion of the estimated 250,000 Suzuki students worldwide -- entertained parents and each other in the theatre of the 21st Century Preparatory School. The budding violinists and cellists were from 21st Century Prep, Jefferson Lighthouse and Bull Fine Arts, directed by Teresa Hill of 21st Century and Charlene Melzer from Jefferson and Fine Arts.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:32 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Teachers to Tech Support-We are Not the Enemy

Sara Martin:

In my role at my tiny school district in the central valley of California I find myself in a rather unique position. I wear the hats of classroom teacher (computer lit) and tech support and coordinator. I am also an Adobe Education Leader and in that role I have the opportunity to travel throughout the United States as a trainer and presenter. Whenever I am out of my district training I am often engaged in a discussion about one of the most basic frustrations teachers have around the country (these are teachers trying like mad to integrate technology into their curriculum.) Their frustration source-none other than their own district and school technology administrators and tech support personnel!

Why is it that we have become enemies? Teachers all over the United States tell me that they are constantly locked out and filtered out from most, or all, of the fantastic new free web 2.0 tools that are currently available. Not only are the newest and greatest unavailable, they are frustrated because they can't even install a simple Flash or Java upgrade themselves. In their efforts to regulate and "keep safe" their networks, administrators have made decisions that often ignore many of the very reasons their networks exist-to facilitate learning and prepare our students for their future. Today's digital natives are already exploring and using Web 2.0 tools outside schools. Isolating them from these tools at school not only sends them the message that we are outdated and irrelevant, it give them further excuses to tune out, or as they tell me often, to power down, when they enter a traditional classroom.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:04 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Shake-up in Seattle schools coming soon

Danny Westneat:

Maybe it was brought on by lean times. Or maybe long-simmering angst about the state of Seattle schools is finally boiling over on its own.

But the decision this month to lay off 165 of Seattle schools' newest teachers in a "last hired, first fired" manner has got some of liberal Seattle suddenly sounding more like a conservative red state.

More than 600 school parents have signed an online petition, at, that calls out the teachers union for causing "great distress and upheaval" in the schools. At issue is the policy of choosing who gets laid off solely by seniority.

"Wake up and see how union refusal to consider merit is damaging the profession and our kids," wrote one parent.

"We want the best teachers, not the oldest, teaching our kids," wrote another.

"Teacher unions are an anachronism," said another.

The organizers of the petition are a group of parents called Community and Parents for Public Schools. They agree what they're doing is very un-Seattle.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

What Have They Got that I Haven't Got?

Suzanna Logan:

For those of you who don't know (i.e. those of you less geeky than I am), last night was the Scripps National Spelling Bee. It's the Super Bowl of the super smart. Middle-schoolers from across the country compete for the prestige of knowing how to spell words that are completely unusable in conversation, unless of course the conversation is with Noah Webster's ghost. For instance, laodicean, which apparently means lukewarm or indifferent to religion or politics, was the final word that scored the 13-year-old winner $37,500.

Because I was watching King James tear it up on the court last night, I missed the Bee, but I did watch the semi-finals on ESPN, and noticed these kids have something else that I haven't got:

Mad-crazy-hard-to-spell names. Kavya Shivashankar (winner), Anamika Veeramani, Neetu Chandak, Sidharth Chand ... the list goes on. In fact, I think it stretches all the way to India. Reminds me of the yo' momma jokes of my youth. You know: "Yo momma's so fat name is so long the phone book has to list her in two area codes."**

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:03 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Dallas council approves daytime curfew for youth

Dave Levinthal & Rudolph Bush:

The Dallas City Council voted Wednesday to enact a daytime curfew that prohibits children 16 and younger from walking city streets between 9 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on school days.

Coupled with an existing nighttime curfew, the new restrictions will prohibit children from traveling unsupervised for more than half the day on weekdays.

Supporters of the daytime curfew, which passed on a 12-2 vote, hailed it as a critical tool in combating a rash of daytime property crimes that police attribute in part to kids skipping school, particularly in southern Dallas.

"To do nothing is to turn our back on the problem," Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway said in support of the ordinance. "Kids are running rampant at this very moment. I have a problem, and my problem is that kids are not taking advantage of getting their education. ... Some are running the risk of ruining their lives."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:54 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Report: Homeschooling more widespread

Greg Toppo:

Parents who homeschool their children are increasingly white, wealthy and well-educated -- and their numbers have nearly doubled in less than a decade, according to findings out today from the federal government.

What else has nearly doubled? The percentage of girls who homeschool. They now outnumber male homeschoolers by a wide -- and growing -- margin.

As of the spring of 2007, an estimated 1.5 million, or 2.9% of all school-age children in the USA, were homeschooled, up from 850,000 (or 1.7%) in 1999.

Of the 1.5 million, just under 1.3 million are homeschooled "entirely," not attending public or private school classes of any type.

The new figures come compliments of the latest Condition of Education, a massive compilation of statistics being released today in Washington by the U.S. Education Department.

Chad Alderman has more.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:51 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Web Site Lets Parents Track Data on Students

Javier Hernandez:

After several months of delays, a Web site that offers an interactive portfolio of public school students' test scores, grades and attendance rates will be available for all parents by the end of June, the Department of Education said on Thursday.

The announcement came at a critical moment for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg: lawmakers in Albany are weighing whether to renew the law giving the mayor control over city schools, which expires June 30, and chief among their concerns has been the way the mayor and his schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, have treated parents.

Critics have said Chancellor Klein in particular has consistently turned a deaf ear to voices from the outside, including parents' complaints that the pressures to prepare for tests have supplanted quality instruction in schools.

On Thursday, Mr. Klein sought to show a sweeter side of his accountability efforts with a colorful, sometimes whimsical Web site that was created for the city school system, under a city contract. It features cartoon characters explaining the difference, for instance, between performance levels 3 and 4 on state math tests.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:40 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Detroit schools' moment? Union and school leaders rally teachers to embrace change

Amber Arellano:

You could almost feel the hunger to hope.

Thousands of teachers poured into Detroit's Cobo Center Tuesday morning, waving homemade school flags and buzzing with excitement. They were so geared up, they seemed as if they were the ones who are supposed to graduate from school this spring.

The 6,000-plus crowd came to an unprecedented rally to discuss major reforms to their teacher union contract, a move that is necessary to radically overhaul Detroit schools for the sake of the city's children.

This could not have happened even a few months ago. But things are moving forward swiftly -- and positively -- in Detroit public education for the first time in decades.

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

Wisconsin State Budget Includes Millions in Earmarks

Patrick Marley & Stacy Forster:

Facing a record $6.6 billion deficit, the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee on Friday passed a budget crafted late at night and largely behind closed doors that included tax increases, trims in state aid and millions of dollars in pork-barrel projects in Democratic districts.

Working overnight Thursday until 5:30 a.m. Friday, lawmakers included provisions that would impose a tax on oil companies, increase the cigarette tax, release prison inmates early and reduce funding for local governments and school districts.

The committee wrapped up its work after a 12-hour session with a 12-4, party-line vote to close the shortfall over two years.

Democrats, who control both houses of the Legislature, are expected to pass the package of tax and fee increases and spending cuts, with few changes. Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle praised the deal, suggesting he would use his vast veto powers sparingly.

The Assembly will take up the budget as early as June 9; it will then go to the Senate and governor, who plans to sign it before the July 1 start of the new budget year.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:29 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Teens Bring Economic Stress To School


The students at Montclair High School in Southern California are learning the three Rs, but many of them are living the lessons of a fourth R: Recession.

"Hi, my name is Brenda and what the recession means to me is stop wanting what I want and start wanting what I need," said one student in school project where students videotaped themselves.

"Hi, my name is Dulce and what the recession means to me is wearing $10 shoes," another said.

More than 80 percent of the nearly 34 million teenagers nationwide say they are concerned about the economy, reports CBS News correspondent Seth Doane.

"Hi, I'm Kristen Beltran," said Kristen, shooting herself at home. "And what the recession means to me is not being able to afford the things that I really need."

Kristen's dad, a welder, has a quarter of the work he had this time last summer. The mortgage is three months behind. Fifteen-year-old Kristen wishes her parents would let her get a job.

"Are we going to have enough money for groceries? Are my parents going to be able to pay the bills?" Kristen asked.

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

Calorie Counts Could Crowd Fast-Food Menus

Mike Hughlett:

Public health advocates and the fast-food industry are preparing to go head-to-head over proposed federal legislation that would require restaurants to post calorie counts alongside prices. A patchwork of such laws at the state level have been enacted in recent years, and the restaurant industry has countered with proposing federal legislation on the issue - but public health advocates say the industry's proposed solution is too weak.

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

May 29, 2009

The Proposed Madison School District Strategic Plan; School Board Discussion on June 15, 2009

Madison Metropolitan School District, via an Ann Wilson email.

Attached to this e-mail is the Proposed Strategic Plan and a cover memorandum to the Board of Education. We invite all of you to the June 15 Special Board of Education meeting at 6:00 p.m. The Plan, along with a way to respond, is on the district's website ( on the home page, under Hot Topics. This is the direct link:

Thanks to all of you for your hard work and willingness to participate.

Dan Nerad's memorandum to the Madison School Board [PDF] and the most recent revision of the Strategic Plan [PDF].

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

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New Push Seeks to End Need for Pre-College Remedial Classes

Sam Dillon via a kind reader's email:

After Bethany Martin graduated from high school here last June, she was surprised when the local community college told her that she had to retake classes like basic composition, for no college credit. Each remedial course costs her $350, more than a week's pay from her job at a Chick-fil-A restaurant.

Ms. Martin blames chaotic high school classes. "The kids just took over," she recalls. But her college instructors say that even well-run high school courses often fail to teach what students need to know in college. They say that Ms. Martin's senior English class, for instance, focused on literature, but little on writing.

Like Ms. Martin, more than a million college freshmen across the nation must take remedial courses each year, and many drop out before getting a degree. Poorly run public schools are a part of the problem, but so is a disconnect between high schools and colleges.

"We need to better align what we expect somebody to be able to do to graduate high school with what we expect them to do in college," said Billie A. Unger, the dean at Ms. Martin's school, Blue Ridge Community and Technical College, who oversees "developmental" classes, a nice word for remedial. "If I'm to be a pro football player, and you teach me basketball all through school, I'll end up in developmental sports," she said.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

How to Miss School Even When You're in School

Jay Matthews:

My colleague Dan de Vise's wonderful piece Tuesday about the Darnestown, Md., student who never missed a day of school has had a terrific reaction. Like me, readers appreciated Dan's tribute to old-fashioned values, such as dependability and persistence, which some of us thought had died out in the younger generations.

The research shows that absenteeism is a major educational problem, particularly in impoverished neighborhoods. The fewer days a student spends in school, the lower their level of achievement. But there is a related problem that is more difficult to measure in a way that would allow us to celebrate those students who overcome it. What do we do about students who are forced to miss school when they are in school?

Many people assume that if the kid shows up before the first bell and stays until the final bell, he has gotten a good education that day. If only that were so. Here are some bad habits of modern school administration that, when added up, significantly reduce learning time:

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

Meet the Bee Finalists

Dan Steinberg:

ABC will do a fine job tonight introducing you to the 11 remaining Spelling Bee finalists (and yes, you will watch the Bee instead of, or at worst in addition to, the Cavs-Magic game. There are more than a dozen NBA conference final games most years, but only one Spelling Bee. You know it's true.)

Anyhow, ABC will do a fine job tonight introducing you to the 11 remaining finalists, but still, I wanted to make a few points.

* All day I've been referring to Serena Skye Laine-Lobsinger as Bee Goes Punk, and she sort of was ok with that description.

"I'm kind of adventurous with what I like to wear," the 13-year old from West Palm Beach told me. "I'll wear pretty much anything."

She's particularly fond of bandanas, was sporting some sparkled-out Chuck Taylors, and had four shades of nail polish on (black and white alternating on her right hand, and silver and pink on her left). So, punk?

"You probably could say that," she said. "That's probably how a lot of people look at me."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:42 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

New CEO: Gates Foundation learns from experiments

Donna Gordon Blankinship:

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation spent billions of dollars exploring the idea that smaller high schools might result in higher graduation rates and better test scores. Instead, it found that the key to better education is not necessarily smaller schools but more effective teachers.

Some people might cringe while recounting how much money the foundation spent figuring this out. But the foundation's new CEO, Jeff Raikes, smiles and uses it as an example to explain that the charity has the money to try things that might fail.

"Almost by definition, good philanthropy means we're going to have to do some risky things, some speculative things to try and see what works and what doesn't," Raikes said Wednesday during an interview with The Associated Press.

The foundation's new "learner-in-chief" has spent the nine months since he was named CEO studying the operation, traveling around the world and figuring out how to balance the pressures of the economic downturn with the growing needs of people in developing nations.

The former Microsoft Corp. executive, who turns 51 on Friday, joined the foundation as its second CEO after Patty Stonesifer, another former Microsoft executive, announced her retirement and his friends Bill and Melinda Gates talked Raikes out of retiring.

Related: English 10 and Small Learning Communities.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:28 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

WEAC on the QEO

Christian Schneider:

For a decade and a half, the state's teachers union has been hammering away at Republican state lawmakers for failing to repeal the Qualified Economic Offer law (QEO), which essentially allowed school districts to grant a 3.8% increase in salary and benefits to teachers without going to arbitration.

In the state budget he submitted in February, Governor Jim Doyle proposed repealing the QEO. Since Democrats hold both houses of the Legislature, it seemed to be a sure thing that they would go along with Doyle's suggestion.

But then yesterday, a funny thing happened. WEAC, the state's largest teachers' union, offered up a "compromise" plan to the Legislature instead of simply doing away with the QEO.

Your first question is probably obvious: "Exactly with whom are they compromising?" They own the Wisconsin Legislature. They can get whatever they want - why would they feel the need to "compromise" with anyone, seeing as the thing they have hated most for 15 years is a couple of votes from being history? And who exactly represents the taxpayers in this "compromise?"

The "compromise" they offered essentially delays repeal of the QEO for one year. So they've been ripping on Republicans for years for not eliminating the QEO, but then when it comes time to actually do it, they want to push it off for a year - when they have the votes to eliminate it immediately.

What they've done is put into writing what most others have realized over the years - the QEO is actually a pretty good deal, especially in a bad economy. They have recognized that if you pull away the QEO now, they could end up with a lot less than a 3.8% pay and benefits increase. In tough economic times, it's a floor rather than a ceiling - ask any of the 128,000 private sector workers who have lost their jobs in Wisconsin in the past year if they'd settle for a guaranteed 3.8% increase.

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

May 28, 2009

Superintendent Dan Nerad's Response to "Action Needed, Please Sign on.... Math Teacher Hiring in the Madison School District"

Madison School District Superintendent Dan Nerad via email:

Dr. Mertz-

Thank you for sharing your thoughts regarding this critical issue in our middle schools. We will continue to follow the conversation and legislative process regarding hiring Teach for America and Math for America candidates. We have similar concerns to those laid out by UW Professors Hewson and Knuth ( In particular they stated, "Although subject-matter knowledge is essential to good teaching, the knowledge required for teaching is significantly different from that used by math and science professionals." This may mean that this will not be a cost effective or efficient solution to a more complex problem than many believe it to be. These candidates very well may need the same professional learning opportunities that we are working with the UW to create for our current staff. The leading researchers on this topic are Ball, Bass and Hill from the University of Michigan. More information on their work can be found at ( We are committed to improving the experience our students have in our mathematics class and will strive to hire the most qualified teachers and continue to strengthen our existing staff.

Dan Nerad

Posted by Janet Mertz at 12:07 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

19 Madison Area Students Earn National Merit Scholarships

Wisconsin State Journal:

Nineteen area high school seniors are among the 2,800 winners of 2009 National Merit Scholarships financed by colleges and universities. This first wave of the annual awards, valued from $500 to $2,000 for up to four years, will be followed by another group announced in July.

Madison scholarship winners include: Amy Callear (Univ. of Pittsburgh scholarship), Molly Farry-Thorn (Carleton College) and Yang He (UW-Madison) of West High School; Hannah Conley (Univ. of Minnesota) and George Otto (Univ. of Minnesota) of East High School; and Rachel Underwood (UW-Madison) of Edgewood High School.

Stelios Fourakis (Univ. of Chicago) and Annie Steiner (Carleton College) of Middleton High School also are recipients, along with Jennifer Anderson (Univ. of Oklahoma) of Sun Prairie High School, and Amanda Spencer (Washington University in St. Louis) of Verona Area High School.

Other area winners are: Kendall Schneider (Univ. of Minnesota) of DeForest Area High School; Samuel Cahill (Arizona State University) and Megan Wasley (Univ. of Minnesota) of Dodgeville High School; Barry Badeau (Univ. of Minnesota) of Evansville High School; Leah Laux (Washington University in St. Louis) of Kettle Moraine High School; Ewain Gwynne (Northwestern University) of Lodi High School; and Jonathan Means (St. Olaf College) of Watertown High School.

Nita Kopan (Case Western Reserve), of Middleton, who attends Corona Del Sol High School in Tempe, Ariz., and James Foster (Univ. of Chicago), of Verona, who attends Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., also were awarded.

Congratulations all around.

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High-School Senior: I Took the SAT Again After 41 Years

Sue Shellenbarger:

To the 1.5 million teenagers who will fret, cram and agonize over taking the most widely used college-entrance exam, the SAT, over the next 12 months, I have something to say: I'm right there with you.

On a challenge from my teenage son, I took the SAT earlier this month to see how a 57-year-old mom would do. My son says today's teens have to be smarter, faster and more competitive to succeed. I suspect he's right; I haven't been able to help my kids with their math homework since eighth grade. Moreover, in the 41 years since I took the SAT, our culture and the expectations surrounding the exam have changed drastically. To see how I'd measure up, I swallowed my fears, crammed for six weeks and took the test May 2.

Life for teens is indeed harder, my experiment taught me, but not in the way I expected. Aging took a toll on my mental abilities, to be sure, but I was able to erase most of the losses by studying. What surprised me more were the psychological hurdles. Coping with the ramped-up expectations and competitiveness that infuse the SAT process -- a reflection of our entire culture -- sent me into a tailspin of adolescent regression, procrastination and sloppy study habits, all the behaviors I've taught my children to avoid. What I learned will make me a more tolerant parent.

Some reflections from a diary I kept:

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C-O-I-N-C-I-D-E-N-C-E? Spellers united by dreams

Joseph White:

The reigning national spelling champion is a 14-year-old kid whose one-liners kept everyone laughing a year ago. His parents moved to the United States from central India, and he wants to be a neurosurgeon when he grows up.

Last year's runner-up _ and one of this year's favorites at the Scripps National Spelling Bee _ is an all-business 13-year-old Indian-American boy from Michigan. He's also set his sights on neurosurgery.

Another favorite expected to be onstage for Thursday night's nationally televised finals is a 13-year-old Kansas girl with a sweet smile and a last name that's a spelling challenge unto itself. You guessed it: Her family comes from India, and she wants to be a neurosurgeon.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:23 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

New Jersey seeks laid-off traders to teach math

Claudia Parsons:

When Scott Brooks got laid off by American Express in February he decided to turn his back on finance and revive a dream he gave up on many years ago -- to become a math teacher.

He happens to live in New Jersey, where state education authorities have long worried about a dearth of math teachers.

Last week he heard about a new program called "Traders to Teachers" being set up at Montclair State University to retrain people in the finance industry who have been laid off in the deepest crisis to hit Wall Street since the Great Depression.

"You get really comfortable with your career, and I was making six figures, and it was nice," Brooks said shortly after an interview at the university to determine his eligibility for the program, which starts classes in September.

"Sometimes the house has to be on fire before you leave its comfort and start on your journey. The credit card business and Wall Street overall is like that house on fire," he said.

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Off-Track Profs

Scott Jaschik:

Like the rest of higher education, elite universities have grown increasingly reliant on non-tenure-track faculty members. Leaders of those institutions are frequently unaware of the role played by adjuncts or how they have come to make up a larger share of the teaching force. The causes for this shift -- while related to money -- go far beyond the savings from hiring off the tenure track, and the blame may need to be shared by senior professors and graduate student unions. At the most celebrated institutions of higher education in the United States, the teaching quality of the adjuncts is many times better than that of those on the tenure tack.

These are among the conclusions of Off-Track Profs: Nontenured Teachers in Higher Education, being released this week by the MIT Press. Amid the growing literature of research about adjuncts, this book is different in some key ways that are likely to make some of it controversial, and may also make it influential. The focus of the book is on elite research universities, ten of which gave data and access to senior administrators so that the authors (themselves administrators) could examine the issues.

While the book is consistent with many of the recent studies of adjuncts in documenting their growing use and many cases of abuse, the tone is notably different, as are some conclusions. While the book sees the treatment of adjuncts as a real issue both for the adjuncts and their institutions, it suggests that there is much blame to share -- and that this situation did not arise from the actions of administrators looking to cut costs. And while much of the research about adjuncts has come from unions or groups sympathetic to unions, this book is decidedly not.

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Providence Mayor Wants to Tax College Students


Mayor David Cicilline wants the state to allow cities to assess private colleges $150 per student.

Under his unusual proposal, it would be up to the colleges to decide whether to pay the fee or pass it on to their students.

Cicilline originally suggested cities be allowed to levy a $150-per-semester tax on full-time students at private colleges, but he amended his proposal Wednesday.

The measure is included in legislation that state lawmakers plan to consider.

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May 27, 2009

Budget Woes Prompt Some Wisconsin School Districts To Consider Consolidation


The Wisconsin Legislature's Joint Finance Committee on Wednesday night is debating the allocation of state money for schools.

With cuts in state school aid and caps on how much schools may raise taxes both on the agenda, some schools are preparing for the worst and considering drastic measures such as consolidation.

The cuts come at a time when many schools have been begging for school funding formula changes. Now they're looking at possible cuts of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Two rural school districts in Marquette County said that giving students a quality education is becoming increasingly difficult in tough budget times.

"We have been making some significant cuts over a period of time. I've been in this district for five years and during that time we've been reducing our budget by about $250,000 a year on average, and that's a significant amount of money," said Westfield District Administrator Roger Schmidt.

Westfield schools have cut back on staff, among other changes.

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WEAC's QEO Proposal & Wisconsin K-12 School Spending


he WEAC memo urges JFC members to support the governor's original recommendation to repeal the QEO. But in lieu of that, the memo offers the alternative of keeping the QEO in place until July 1, 2010, and provide a one-year "hiatus" on interest arbitration proceedings for resolving contract issues.

Administrators still have concerns that changes to arbitration proposed by the governor will lead to unmanageable compensation increases. Doyle's proposals would de-emphasize school district revenues in arbitration with employees.

The WEAC memo urges the committee members to keep these modifications intact.

WEAC lobbyist Dan Burkhalter said the alternative was offered as districts deal with a tough economic climate.

It would keep management from being able to impose arbitration in the first year without a union's consent, Burkhalter said.. If a contract would go to arbitration in the first year, the contract would be settled under the new arbitration rules under the compromise offered by WEAC.

Burkhalter said the reaction of lawmakers was positive to the compromise, but he didn't know what the committee would ultimately put forward.

See the memo here.

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School data: School Performance Reports

The School Performance Report is the annual "report card" that is required under Wisconsin law (Wi.Stat.115.38) to be compiled and published for each public school and public school district. DPI's recent announcement (noted here) that selected School Performance Report information will now be available online at the DPI web site is a step in the right direction, but this important tool for school accountability and information for parents and the public has yet to reach its full potential, due to inconsistent compliance with the requirements of the reporting law.

The School Performance Report has been required since 1991. The items that are to be included in each report are (emphases added):

(a) Indicators of academic achievement, including the performance of pupils on the tests administered under s. 121.02 (1) (r) and the performance of pupils, by subject area, on the statewide assessment examinations administered under s. 118.30.

(b) 1. Other indicators of school and school district performance, including dropout, attendance, retention in grade and graduation rates; percentage of habitual truants, as defined in s. 118.16 (1) (a); percentage of pupils participating in extracurricular and community activities and advanced placement courses; percentage of graduates enrolled in postsecondary educational programs; and percentage of graduates entering the workforce.

2. The numbers of suspensions and expulsions; the reasons for which pupils are suspended or expelled, reported according to categories specified by the state superintendent; the length of time for which pupils are expelled, reported according to categories specified by the state superintendent; whether pupils return to school after their expulsion; the educational programs and services, if any, provided to pupils during their expulsions, reported according to categories specified by the state superintendent; the schools attended by pupils who are suspended or expelled; and the grade, sex and ethnicity of pupils who are suspended or expelled and whether the pupils are children with disabilities, as defined in s. 115.76 (5).

(c) Staffing and financial data information, as determined by the state superintendent, not to exceed 10 items. The state superintendent may not request a school board to provide information solely for the purpose of including the information in the report under this paragraph.

(d) The number and percentage of resident pupils attending a course in a nonresident school district under s. 118.52, the number of nonresident pupils attending a course in the school district under s. 118.52, and the courses taken by those pupils.

(e) The method of reading instruction used in the school district and the textbook series used to teach reading in the school district.

It should be noted (and is acknowledged by DPI) that the School Performance Report information on the DPI site does not cover all of these items.

In 2005, the statute was amended to require that parents be alerted to the existence and availability of the report and given the opportunity to request a copy, and to require that each school district with a web site post the report on its web site (amended language italicized below):

Annually by January 1, each school board shall notify the parent or guardian of each pupil enrolled in the school district of the right to request a school and school district performance report under this subsection. Annually by May [amended from January] 1, each school board shall, upon request, distribute to the parent or guardian of each pupil enrolled in the school district, including pupils enrolled in charter schools located in the school district, or give to each pupil to bring home to his or her parent or guardian, a school and school district performance report that includes the information specified by the state superintendent under sub. (1). The report shall also include a comparison of the school district's performance under sub. (1) (a) and (b) with the performance of other school districts in the same athletic conference under sub. (1) (a) and (b). If the school district maintains an Internet site, the report shall be made available to the public at that site.
This information, if fully compiled and made available as intended by the statute, could be a valuable resource to parents and the public (answering, perhaps, some of the questions in this discussion). There may be parents who are unaware that this "report card" exists, and would benefit from receiving the notice that the statute requires. For parents without access to the Internet, the right to request a hard copy of the report may be their only access to this information.

Districts who do not post their School Performance Reports on their web sites may do well to follow the example of the Kenosha School District, which does a good job of highlighting its School Performance Reports (including drop-down menus by school) on the home page of its web site.

Posted by Chan Stroman at 12:45 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: China Expresses Concern over US Money Printing Strategy

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard:
Richard Fisher, president of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank, said: "Senior officials of the Chinese government grilled me about whether or not we are going to monetise the actions of our legislature."

"I must have been asked about that a hundred times in China. I was asked at every single meeting about our purchases of Treasuries. That seemed to be the principal preoccupation of those that were invested with their surpluses mostly in the United States," he told the Wall Street Journal.

His recent trip to the Far East appears to have been a stark reminder that Asia's "Confucian" culture of right action does not look kindly on the insouciant policy of printing money by Anglo-Saxons.

Mr Fisher, the Fed's leading hawk, was a fierce opponent of the original decision to buy Treasury debt, fearing that it would lead to a blurring of the line between fiscal and monetary policy – and could all too easily degenerate into Argentine-style financing of uncontrolled spending.

However, he agreed that the Fed was forced to take emergency action after the financial system "literally fell apart".

Nor, he added was there much risk of inflation taking off yet. The Dallas Fed uses a "trim mean" method based on 180 prices that excludes extreme moves and is widely admired for accuracy.
Better to support economic and tax base growth rather than try to raise tax rates, which rarely work, and mostly end up soaking the middle class. Willem Buiter has more. More here. The Financial Times: Exploding Debt Threatens the US.
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Wisconsin School District Performance Report

Wisconsin DPI:

School districts often find it challenging to provide their School District Performance Reports (SDPRs) to the public at their websites, as is legally required (under s.115.38, Wis. Stats.).

The job is easier now that the DPI has created an on-line version of (most of) the SDPR. By simply linking to this page, districts can fulfill almost all of their Internet-based data reporting obligations under the statute.

The Web report covers those SDPR categories which are reported by athletic conference, including achievement, Advanced Placement participation, graduation rates, post-secondary plans, extra-/co-curricular activities, staffing, and financial information. Districts still hold the responsibility for reporting suspension and expulsion data, which are not yet available on the SDPR webpage. The DPI is planning to add that data to the on-line report in the future.

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At-Risk Need a Mix of Good Teachers, Social Service Help

Jay Matthews:

Karen Kaldenbach, an 18-year-old high school senior in Arlington County, remembers vividly what life was like when she was 11: "I saw Social Services almost as much as I saw my mother, who was always drunk. Her best friends, alcohol and money, were always there for her. She spent so much time with them, she couldn't raise my little sister and me. Social Services always came to talk to me at school. They asked questions about my family. My response? A lie, always."

Such stories are not uncommon in the Washington area. They often end unhappily. Yet these days, Kaldenbach is thriving, with a supportive adoptive mother, plus awards, scholarships and an acceptance letter from George Mason University.

We are in the midst of a national debate, its outcome uncertain, over what should be the emphasis of efforts to fix public schools. Some say the focus should be on improving teaching. Only in the classroom, they say, is there a chance to give students -- particularly those in poverty -- the tools they need to succeed. Others say teachers cannot reach those children until their family lives, shaken by parental joblessness or mental or physical illness, are straightened out by government action.

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

Texting May Be Taking a Toll

Katie Hafner:

They do it late at night when their parents are asleep. They do it in restaurants and while crossing busy streets. They do it in the classroom with their hands behind their back. They do it so much their thumbs hurt.

Spurred by the unlimited texting plans offered by carriers like AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless, American teenagers sent and received an average of 2,272 text messages per month in the fourth quarter of 2008, according to the Nielsen Company -- almost 80 messages a day, more than double the average of a year earlier.

The phenomenon is beginning to worry physicians and psychologists, who say it is leading to anxiety, distraction in school, falling grades, repetitive stress injury and sleep deprivation.

Dr. Martin Joffe, a pediatrician in Greenbrae, Calif., recently surveyed students at two local high schools and said he found that many were routinely sending hundreds of texts every day.

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For Spellers: Dorky is the New Cool

Joseph White:

Lauren Kirk had a hamburger in hand, a new friend by her side. On Monday afternoon, she was one of the cool kids.

The 14-year-old from Bloomington, Ind., with the lime-green headband and wild shoelaces wasn't about to skip the annual Scripps National Spelling Bee barbecue to pore over lists of obscure words for the weeklong spell-off.

While a few did choose to hang out at the hotel to study _ with the hope they'll be crowned champion Thursday on prime-time network television _ the rest were in their element at a park in the Virginia suburbs, romping around, playing volleyball, trading autographs and singing karaoke. (ABBA seemed to be a favorite this year).

"It's a lot more social than I thought it would be," said Lauren said, who had a peace sign painted on her temple and yellow-and-black bee on her leg. "It's really nice to be among people who actually get your jokes."

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Statewide test for Wisconsin school children needs better grade

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

Wisconsin's statewide test given to hundreds of thousands of students each year deserves a poor grade for its own performance.

The test has some of the weakest standards in the nation.

The test takes far too long to process.

The Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination also fails to compare student proficiency at the beginning of a school year with proficiency at the end of the same academic year.

All of that needs to change, as recommended last week in reports by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, a conservative study group in Hartland.

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Lost in the Meritocracy: The Undereducation of an Overachiever

Laura Miller:

As tragedies go, not getting what you want is the straightforward kind, and getting it can be the ironic variety. But there is also the existential tragedy of not knowing what you want to begin with. That's the species of catastrophe recounted in Walter Kirn's memoir, "Lost in the Meritocracy: The Undereducation of an Overachiever," the witty, self- castigating story of the author's single-minded quest to succeed at a series of tests and competitions that took him from one of the lowest-ranked high schools in Minnesota to Princeton. As Kirn, a noted critic and novelist, tells it, in childhood he leapt onto a hamster wheel baited with "prizes, plaques, citations, stars," and kept rattling away at it until his junior year in the Ivy League, when he suffered a breakdown that left him nearly speechless.

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Onalaska Students Transform Lunch Program

Wisconsin DPI:

After channeling their complaints about school lunch into an effort to make a real difference, students at Onalaska High School are enjoying healthier, better tasting choices--not to mention some national attention for the improvements they've made.

In 2007-08, Amy Yin, then a junior at Onalaska and the student representative to the local school board, was hearing grumbling from students about the elimination of favorite food choices. According to the Onalaska Holmen Courier-Life, it was Principal Peter Woerpel who first planted the idea of starting a Student Nutrition Advisory Committee. Yin, a high-achieving Presidential Scholar semifinalist who got a perfect score on the ACT exam, ran with the concept, and it took off. The committee was a devoted group--meeting multiple hours every week, including on weekends.

Although some of the lost favorites didn't return--the chocolate chip muffins, for example, no longer met nutrition standards--the students were able to make an important impact. As they learned more about nutrition and the school lunch program, they were able to work with the school to provide choices that were both healthier and more appealing to the student body. These days, Onalaska High School serves fresh fruit instead of just canned, and offers a salad bar that became especially popular after the addition of ingredients in three different colors. Lunch participation and consumption in general is up, too.

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May 26, 2009

Wisconsin K-12 Budget Sausage Making

Follow the sausage making at the WisPolitics Budget blog. TJ Mertz comments and notes that Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad appeared on Wisconsin Public Television recently.

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Green School News

Learn at National Conference How to Create a Green Charter School

Developing Environmentally Literate Kids

Energy Fair Sparks Charter School Students (UT)

Environmental Extravaganza at Four Rivers Charter School (MA)

Education with Aloha at Kua O Ka La Charter School (HI)

Environmental and Place-Based Education at Proposed Discovery Charter School (IN) Learn Green. Live Green

Easy Being Green at Westlake Academy (TX)

Green Thinking at New Roots Charter School (NY)

US House Approves $6.4 Billion for Green Schools

Building students' skills in complex scientific reasoning with BioKids program at Academy of the Americas (MI)

Stars Aligned for Charter Schools

Proposed Green School (AZ) Focused on Green Jobs

It's Easy Being Green at Environmental Charter High School (CA)

The Urban Environment and Common Ground High School (CT -- NY Times Story)

Relying on Nature to Teach Lessons at Green Woods Charter School (PA)

Eco-Education Links

Children and Nature Network

Earth Day Network's Green Schools Campaign


NAAEE ( Environmental Education )

NEXT - Art+Design+Environment

Center for Ecoliteracy

Join the Green Charter Schools Network in supporting the development of schools with environment-focused educational programs and practices. "The Real Wealth of the Nation" by Tia Nelson, daughter of Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, describes the Network's beginnings and mission. Please complete and return the GCSNet membership form.

Thank You !

Senn Brown, Executive Director *
Green Charter Schools Network
5426 Greening Lane, Madison, WI 53705
Tel: 608-238-7491 Email:
* Founding Executive Secretary (2000 - 2007), Wisconsin Charter Schools Association

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Principals Younger and Freer, but Raise Doubts in the Schools

Elissa Gootman & Robert Gebeloff:

They are younger than their predecessors, have less experience in the classroom and are, most often, responsible for far fewer students. But their salaries are higher and they have greater freedom over hiring and budgets, handling a host of responsibilities formerly shouldered by their supervisors.

Among the most striking transformations of New York's public school system since Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg took charge in 2002 is that of the role of principal, once the province of middle-aged teachers promoted through the ranks, now often filled by young graduates of top colleges.

"I wanted to change the old system," Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein said in an interview. "New leadership is a powerful way to do that."

One of Mr. Klein's proudest achievements is luring promising candidates to the toughest schools by providing more autonomy in exchange for accountability through test scores and other data.

But an analysis by The New York Times of the city's signature report-card system shows that schools run by graduates of the celebrated New York City Leadership Academy -- which the mayor created and helped raise more than $80 million for -- have not done as well as those led by experienced principals or new principals who came through traditional routes.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:31 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

That Freshman Course Won't Be Quite the Same

N. Gregory Mankiw:

MY day job is teaching introductory economics to about 700 Harvard undergraduates a year. Lately, when people hear that, they often ask how the economic crisis is changing what's offered in a freshman course.

They're usually disappointed with my first answer: not as much as you might think. Events have been changing so quickly that we teachers are having trouble keeping up. Syllabuses are often planned months in advance, and textbooks are revised only every few years.

But there is another, more fundamental reason: Despite the enormity of recent events, the principles of economics are largely unchanged. Students still need to learn about the gains from trade, supply and demand, the efficiency properties of market outcomes, and so on. These topics will remain the bread-and-butter of introductory courses.

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MathTime: Hinsdale kids design math app for iPhone

Mick Swasko:

You might think of flash cards and work sheets when you think of grade-school math. But now, thanks to two young brothers from Hinsdale, there's an app for that.

Eleven-year-old Owen Voorhees' iPhone application, MathTime, debuted in the iTunes App Store last week. The simple program, which displays random addition, subtraction, multiplication or division problems and their solutions, has been a work in progress for nearly nine months.

"I hope it helps people practice their facts," Owen said, explaining that the application is intended for students a bit younger than himself, such as brother Finn, 9.

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May 25, 2009

Horace Mann High School

Imagine that somewhere in the United States there is a Horace Mann (American educator)">Horace Mann High School, with a student who is a first-rate softball pitcher. Let us further imagine that although she set a new record for strikeouts for the school and the district, she was never written up in the local paper. Let us suppose that even when she broke the state record for batters retired she received no recognition from the major newspapers or other media in the state.

Imagine a high school boy who had broken the high jump record for his school, district, and state, who also never saw his picture or any story about his achievement in the media. He also would not hear from any college track coaches with a desire to interest him in becoming part of their programs.

In this improbable scenario, we could suppose that the coaches of these and other fine athletes at the high school level would never hear anything from their college counterparts, and would not be able to motivate their charges with the possibility of college scholarships if they did particularly well in their respective sports.

These fine athletes could still apply to colleges and, if their academic records, test scores, personal essays, grades, and applications were sufficiently impressive, they might be accepted at the college of their choice, but, of course they would receive no special welcome as a result of their outstanding performance on the high school athletic fields.

This is all fiction, of course, in our country at present. Outstanding athletes do receive letters from interested colleges, and even visits from coaches if they are good enough, and it is then up to the athlete to decide which college sports program they will "commit to" or "sign with," as the process is actually described in the media. Full scholarships are often available to the best high school athletes, so that they may contribute to their college teams without worrying about paying for tuition or accumulating student debt.

In turn, high school coaches with very good athletes in fact do receive attention from college coaches, who keep in touch to find out the statistics on their most promising athletes, and to get recommendations for which ones are most worth pursuing and most worth offering scholarships to.

These high school coaches are an important agent in helping their promising athletes decide who to "commit to" or who to "sign with" when they are making their higher education plans.

On the other hand, if high school teachers have outstanding students of history, there are no scholarships available for them, no media recognition, and certainly no interest from college professors of history. For their work in identifying and nurturing the most diligent, the brightest, and the highest-achieving students of history, these academic coaches (teachers) are essentially ignored.

Those high school students of history, no matter whether they write first-class 15,000-word history research papers, like Colin Rhys Hill of Atlanta, Georgia (published in the Fall 2008 issue of The Concord Review), or a first-class 13,000-word history research paper, like Amalia Skilton of Tempe, Arizona (published in the Spring 2009 issue of The Concord Review), they will hear from no one offering them a full college scholarship for their outstanding high school academic work in history.

College professors of history will not write or call them, and they will not visit their homes to try to persuade them to "commit to" or "sign with" a particular college or university. The local media will ignore their academic achievements, because they limit their high school coverage to the athletes.

To anyone who believes the primary mission of the high schools is academic, and who pays their taxes mainly to promote that mission, this bizarre imbalance in the mechanics of recognition and support may seem strange, if they stop to think about it. But this is our culture when it comes to promoting academic achievement at the high school level. If we would like to see higher levels of academic achievement by our high school students, just as we like to see higher levels of athletic achievement by our students at the high school level, perhaps we might give some thought to changing this culture (soon).

"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®

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

School Reform, Through the Eyes of New York City Chancellor Joel Klein

Michael Alison Chandler:

Before D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) took over the city's public schools two years ago, he paid a visit here to learn about a school system at the center of urban education reform.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) had taken charge of the 1.1 million-student system in 2002, naming a litigator with little professional education experience to turn it around.

In seven years as schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein has emphasized accountability and school choice. He has granted principals more autonomy and money in exchange for results, piloted a performance-based teacher compensation plan and raised millions of dollars in private funds to support his initiatives, including $100 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to create smaller, more personalized high schools.

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A Look At Maryland's High School Assessment Test

Nelson Hernandez:

When Maryland's high school class of 2009 graduates next month, it will become the first in the state to prove it can solve an equation such as 12x + 84 =252. (Answer: 14.)

But state officials still don't know the value of another variable: the number of students who won't pass exams in algebra, English, biology and government for a new graduation requirement. As of March, about 4,000 of 58,000 seniors statewide hadn't passed the High School Assessments or met an alternative academic standard. This is the first year that seniors have been required to meet the testing standard.

State and local officials predict that graduation rates will remain roughly the same and that only a handful of seniors will be denied a diploma based on the HSA requirement.

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Virtual school shift concerns few

Amy Hetzner:

One of the state's oldest and largest virtual charter schools is scheduled to make big changes this year affecting hundreds of students.

Yet there have been no noticeable protests and no parental complaints as students from throughout Wisconsin prepare to attend a different school this fall without changing facilities, principal or staff.

Starting July 1, Wisconsin Virtual Academy and Honors High Online, the two online schools for students in grade school and high school now housed at the Northern Ozaukee School District, will move to the McFarland School District with mostly new employees. The schools will be run by the same company that now operates them - K12 Inc. - as one school: Wisconsin Virtual Academy (WIVA).

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:14 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

School newspaper archives go online, embarrassing student writing and shenanigans become permanent record

Cory Doctorow:

Here's the latest privacy rupture: old school newspaper archives are showing up online, getting indexed, and becoming part of the permanent googlable record for the people who wrote for them and the people who appeared in them. This is the latest installment in an ongoing story -- for example, when DejaNews (now Google Groups) put Usenet's archives online, the material we thought we'd written in a no-archive medium became part of our googlable past. Soon, face-recognition will put names on every photo on the web, and then, look out!

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Elvehjem Elementary parents lead push to upgrade classroom technology

Gayle Worland:

When the Elvehjem Elementary School parents who raised $200,000 for a playground outside the school last year started looking for a new fundraising project, they thought of the teacher on the itty-bitty chair.

She's someone like Julie Fitzpatrick, a first-grade teacher at Elvehjem who uses a nearly decade-old classroom computer to track attendance, fill out report cards and answer parents' e-mails. The bulky monitor and sluggish hard drive sit on a desk sized for the 6- and 7-year-olds who also use the terminal, one of two PCs in Fitzpatrick's room.

Even if the teacher wanted to bring more modern equipment from home, like a laptop, she couldn't access the Internet with it. There's no wireless connection.

"I go in to take my son to his first day of school, and I see these two ancient-looking computers with floppy disc drives," said Brian Johnson, vice-president of operations for a Madison high-tech firm and a parent in the group LVM Dreams Big Technology, which hopes to raise $20,000 this summer to buy the school some of the latest classroom tools: document cameras that can project computer and other images on a screen, an interactive "whiteboard" called a Smart Board, and a message board with an LCD screen at the school entrance to announce the day's activities. They hope to come up with another $5,000 for grants aimed at teachers wanting to try new technologies.

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May 24, 2009

Children Full of Life

On Youtube:

In the award-winning documentary Children Full of Life, a fourth-grade class in a primary school in Kanazawa, northwest of Tokyo, learn lessons about compassion from their homeroom teacher, Toshiro Kanamori. He instructs each to write their true inner feelings in a letter, and read it aloud in front of the class. By sharing their lives, the children begin to realize the importance of caring for their classmates.

The stories: Compassion, empathy. (1 of 5), Taking responsibility: bullying. (2 of 5),
Rafting, a challenge to the teacher, learning. (3 of 5), Just hang in there (4 of 5), One last letter (5 of 5)

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Colleges Consider 3-Year Degrees To Save Undergrads Time, Money

Valerie Strauss:

In an era when college students commonly take longer than four years to get a bachelor's degree, some U.S. schools are looking anew at an old idea: slicing a year off their undergraduate programs to save families time and money.

Advocates of a three-year undergraduate degree say it would work well for ambitious students who know what they want to study. Such a program could provide the course requirements for a major and some general courses that have long been the hallmark of American education.

The four-year bachelor's degree has been the model in the United States since the first universities began operating before the American Revolution. Four-year degrees were designed in large part to provide a broad-based education that teaches young people to analyze and think critically, considered vital preparation to participate in the civic life of American democracy.

The three-year degree is the common model at the University of Cambridge and Oxford University in England, and some U.S. schools have begun experimenting with the idea. To cram four years of study into three, some will require summer work, others will shave course lengths and some might cut the number of credit hours required.

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An Intriguing Alternative to No Child Left Behind

Jay Matthews:

If the No Child Left Behind law, focused on raising test scores, proves to be a dead end, what do we do next? I rarely read or hear intelligent discussion of this question. The Pentagon has battle plans from A to Z. Why do those of us who care about schools keep bickering over the current system, rather than expand the debate to realistic alternatives?

Thankfully, one of the most thoughtful and imaginative education scholars, Richard Rothstein, has come to the rescue. As usual, I am getting to his new book, "Grading Education: Getting Accountability Right," a few months later than I should have, making it the latest selection of my Better Late Than Never Book Club. It is a must-read for anyone who wonders, as I often have, how we might replace or augment standardized testing with measures of what is happening in the classroom beyond just the few days in spring when our kids take the state tests.

Rothstein is a research associate of the Economic Policy Institute and a former national education columnist for the New York Times. He spent much of his career as an analyst of school district spending. No one knows more than he does about the strange ways we use our education dollars. In the past few years he has become an articulate national spokesman for the view that our urban public schools cannot succeed unless health, social and employment issues are addressed in those communities with the same passion and persistence that the teachers I write about put toward classroom learning issues.

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Ten Things to Know About Public High Schools and 'Dropout Factories'

Linda Kulman:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan believes we have what amounts to a "once-in-a-couple-of-generations opportunity" to "push a very, very strong reform agenda" for the nation's schools. His view is based, in part, on the Obama administration's intention to spend billions of additional dollars on public education, though Duncan acknowledges that money alone is not the answer. He also says the country has arrived at a moment when we have the necessary political will to make tough changes.

Not least of the problems that must be addressed can be found in America's high schools, where, Duncan said in a speech last week, "Our expectations for our teenagers in this country are far too low."

In fact, change has never come easily to America's approximately 23,800 public high schools. Since the alarming report A Nation at Risk was published in 1983, we have had "wave after wave of reform"- and little progress, according to Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate

John Mauldin:

As of this week, total US debt is $11.3 trillion and rising rapidly. The Obama
Administration projects that to rise another $1.85 trillion in 2009 (13% of
GDP) and yet another $1.4 trillion in 2010. The Congressional Budget Office
projects almost $10 trillion in additional debt from 2010 through 2019. Just
last January the 2009 deficit was estimated at "only" $1.2 trillion. Things
have gone downhill fast.

But there is reason to be concerned about those estimates, too. The CBO assumes a
rather robust recovery in 2010, with growth springing back to 3.8% and then up
to 4.5% in 2011. Interestingly, they project unemployment of 8.8% for this year
(we are already at 8.9% and rising every month) and that it will rise to 9%
next year. It will be a strange recovery indeed where the economy is roaring along
at 4% and unemployment isn't falling. (You can see their spreadsheets and all
the details if you take your blood pressure medicine first, at

Just a few quick thoughts. This year the proposed administration plan is to borrow 50% of every dollar spent. The CBO projects than nominal GDP will grow by about 50% over the next 10 years (which is historically reasonable), but also that revenues will double, which suggests massive tax increases in relation to GDP. Interestingly, the International Monetary Fund says growth next year will be tepid at best (more below). The deficit in 2010 is almost 10% of GDP. The average proposed deficit is almost a $1 trillion average for the next ten years. Ten years from now, the deficit is projected to be $1.2 trillion. And that is if government costs do not go up and inflation only averages 1.1% for the next six years.

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May 23, 2009

Hiring Math Teachers...... Former Bear Stearns Trader is Now Teaching High School Math on Long Island, NY

Peter Robison pens an interesting look at the current opportunity to hire teachers with a strong math background, advocated locally by Janet Mertz & Gabi Meyer:

After Irace got his termination papers in June from JPMorgan Chase, he called "Brother K."

Brother Kenneth Hoagland, the principal at Kellenberg, a private Catholic institution, taught Irace at Chaminade High School in Mineola, New York.

Hoagland called Irace in for an interview in August, when he needed a replacement for a math instructor on leave. A month later, the former trader was teaching quadratic equations and factoring to freshmen in five 40-minute periods of algebra a day. He enrolled in refresher math classes at Nassau Community College, sometimes learning subjects a day or two ahead of the kids. This semester, he's teaching sixth-graders measurements and percentages.

Conditioning Drills

Seated at wooden desks, 21 to 39 in each class, they get excited when he flashes the animated math adventures of a robot named Moby onto a classroom projector. After school, Irace, now 198 pounds (90 kilograms), puts a whistle on a yellow cord around his neck and runs girls through conditioning drills as an assistant coach for the lacrosse team. The extra coaching stipend runs $1,000 to $2,000 for the season.

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Colo. promotes associate's degrees in high school

Colleen Slevin:

Colorado is making it easier for schools to offer teens a chance to earn an associate's degree while still in high school, a move backers say could help lower the dropout rate and help the state win millions in extra federal stimulus money.
Gov. Bill Ritter signed House Bill 1319 into law along with eight other education bills on Thursday at a high school called the Middle College of Denver.

It's one of a half dozen high schools around the state where students take career classes and earn college credit at nearby community colleges.

Ritter urged the students, packed into the school cafeteria along with lawmakers and education officials, to tell their siblings and friends about the program, which he said would help keep more students in school.

State education officials believe it's the first statewide program of its kind in the nation.

"None of this is really about us. This is about you," Ritter said before sitting down to sign the bills.

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The New Math: Teachers Share Recession's Pain

Winnie Hu:

Bankers, lawyers and journalists have taken pay cuts and gone without raises to stay employed in a tough economy. Now similar givebacks are spreading to education, an industry once deemed to be recession-proof.

All 95 teachers and five administrators in the Tuckahoe school district in Westchester County agreed to give $1,000 each to next year's school budget to keep the area's tax increase below 3 percent. In the Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow district, 80 percent of the 500 school employees -- including teachers, clerks, custodians and bus drivers -- have pledged more than $150,000 from their own pockets to help close a $300,000 budget gap.

And on Long Island, the 733 teachers in the William Floyd district in Mastic Beach decided to collectively give up $1 million in salary increases next year to help restore 19 teaching positions that were to be eliminated.

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Wanted: environmentally conscious students prepared to dive into the vortex

Amy Nip:

Local students can compete for a place on the world's first expedition testing how to clean up a floating patch of plastic waste more than 1,000 times bigger than Hong Kong.

The estimated 4 million tonnes of plastic waste floating on the Pacific Ocean was discovered in 1997 by boat captain Charles Moore. He caught sight of the trash while on his way home after finishing a Los Angeles-Hawaii sailing race.

Called the Plastic Vortex, the trash inspired Project Kaisei, an America-based environmental organisation that studies marine pollution, to plan an expedition in July and August - and it will look for volunteers in Asian universities.

"This is one of the top 10 man-made disasters ever, but no one knows about it," said Doug Wood- ring, ocean and conservation expert from the Hong Kong team. "It's in the ocean and no one sees it."

Project Kaisei's pilot mission aims to test technologies and evaluate the problem before a full-scale cleanup in 18 months.

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Wisconsin bill to boost math and science teachers risky for students

Peter Hewson & Eric Knuth:

While this legislation is well-intentioned, it will ultimately do more harm than good -- and it is the children in the most troubled schools who will pay the price.

Here's why: SB 175 is intended to attract math and science professionals (engineers and scientists) into teaching, based on the belief that they have the necessary subject-matter knowledge. The bill would allow them to get teaching licenses almost entirely on the basis of written tests (a math test, for example), as long as they receive some loosely specified form of mentoring during their first year on the job.

There's nothing wrong with using written tests, and mentoring new teachers is a great idea. But neither is sufficient to protect children from dangerously under-prepared teachers.

Although subject-matter knowledge is essential to good teaching, the knowledge required for teaching is significantly different from that used by math and science professionals. A well-constructed certification program gives beginning teachers a crucial knowledge base (of math or science as well as about teaching) and helps them develop the skills and practices that bring this knowledge to life.

There's a reason that so many certification programs immerse new teachers in classroom tasks gradually: It gives them a chance to make their mistakes and sharpen their skills in more controlled, lower-stakes contexts before handing them primary responsibility for a classroom of students.

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On Relocating and the Madison Public Schools

Penelope Trunk:

Three years ago, I made a decision to move from New York City to Madison, WI based purely on research. I put economic development research together with positive psychology research. Then I combed the Internet for city statistics, and I moved. (If you want to read the research I used, I linked to it all in this post.)

I had never been to Madison in my life, and you know what? It was a good decision. Except for one thing: I ignored the data about schools. I didn't believe that a city known for progressive social programs and university filled with genius faculty could have poorly performing public schools. But it ended up being true, and all economic development research says do not move to a place with crap schools—it's a sign that lots of things in the city are not right.

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May 22, 2009

Fairfax, Virginia School Board Passes a Flat Budget, With Larger Class Sizes

Michael Alison Chandler:
Fairfax County students can expect larger classes, new bell schedules and higher parking fees next year, all part of a $2.2 billion budget the School Board unanimously approved last night. The plan also freezes salaries for teachers and staff.

The spending plan for the region's largest school system accounts for 5,000 more students but is $18 million and 800 positions lighter than this year's budget.

The Fairfax Board of Supervisors froze funding for the 169,000-student system, but an infusion of $50 million in federal stimulus money helped stave off deeper cuts. More than half of that will be spent on special education or high-poverty schools.

Still, school officials said the spending plan increases burdens on teachers and reduces the quality of education that families expect from a world-class system.

"We are at a tipping point," said School Board budget chairman Phillip A. Niedzielski-Eichner (Providence). "If we are not careful we will pass it and realize we have done some permanent damage."
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Chris Woodhead on schools Still raging

The Economist:

The scourge of teachers surveys the desolation of learning

"SACK the useless teachers!" ran the headline above an interview with Chris Woodhead in 1994. And the newly appointed chief inspector of schools grew no more emollient on the job. Naming and shaming bad schools and teachers would raise standards ("I personally respond to threats"); educational research was "an irrelevance and a distraction"; schools didn't need more money, but to jettison progressive teaching methods. After becoming prime minister, Tony Blair kept the Conservative appointee on as part of the attempt to persuade middle England that New Labour was not in hock to the unions. When Mr Woodhead finally resigned in 2000, after clashing repeatedly with David Blunkett, the education secretary of the day, many schools threw staffroom parties.

Now the scourge of trendy teachers is back, and as intemperate as ever. In "A Desolation of Learning", a book published on May 22nd, Mr Woodhead surveys state schools in England and sees a wasteland. The national curriculum intended to ensure that all children learned the basics has become a "solipsistic daydream". The inspectorate he used to lead is no longer an impartial arbiter but a partisan thought-police, "arguably the most lethal part" of the system. Government oversees "bloated bureaucracies and frenzied initiatives", and the opposition Tories can be as "sanctimoniously utopian" as New Labour.

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Detroit tries to turnaround failing school system

Corey Williams:

Just like the auto companies that fuel this city, struggling Detroit schools are undergoing a painful restructuring to avoid complete failure and bankruptcy.

Next fall, 29 public schools will close, another 40 will be restructured, 900 teachers and staff will be pink-slipped and 33 principals fired. A former FBI agent also has been brought in to ferret out corruption and fraud. And a request has been made to declare the district a "special presidential emergency."

The changes were ordered by Robert Bobb, who was appointed emergency financial manager of the district in January by the governor. He has one year to correct a $300 million budget deficit, improve test scores and address a graduation rate that's among the nation's lowest.

Without his intervention, Bobb said, the district "would have gone into the abyss and the biggest losers would have been students and their parents."

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Schools Using Dangerous Discipline Methods

Talk of the Nation:

Handcuffs, tape and isolation are tools used on children with behavioral disorders in some classrooms. Restraint and isolation techniques are sometimes necessary to prevent students from harming themselves and others. But some educators argue for emphasizing prevention.

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New computer curriculum targets middle schoolers

Deb Hooker:

Poudre School District middle school students will benefit from a new computer curriculum next school year, giving them the most up-to-date technology skills to prepare them for the future.

"We are making a huge paradigm shift in what we are teaching middle school students in technology," said Kathy Hanson, PSD career education coordinator. "Previously, we were teaching a few commonly-used applications. This expands considerably on that base."

The new curriculum, developed by PSD and Colorado State University's Information Science and Technology Center, includes courses for sixth- and seventh-graders that will give them skills for a lifetime.

PSD middle school teachers and school technology coordinators recently completed two of five days of training for the new curriculum.

Timing for the implementation coincides with PSD's grade-level changes to institute middle schools.

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May 21, 2009

Teacher Professional Development Programs

In MA, teachers have state-mandated professional development points or (PDPs) that they must compile every year. Naturally, the Massachusetts Teacher's Association (MTA), the state's largest teachers' union, is also a big professional development provider. Below, is a listing of their professional development workshop offerings (link included). [From Jamie Gass, Pioneer Institute]

Top 10 Best Teacher Union Professional Development offerings:

Effective Advocacy: Grievance Processing (PDP)
This workshop will focus on how to use the grievance procedure as an orderly process for resolving contract disputes. Participants will be actively engaged in a comprehensive review of the grievance process, from the "what" and "why" to the "how" and "when." They will leave the session with an understanding of how to write and process grievances in the steps prior to arbitration. The three-hour morning session will focus on procedural and substantive concerns relative to the grievance process and will introduce the filing process. In the one-and-one-halfhour afternoon session, participants will investigate, write up and present grievances.

Lessons through Balloon Twisting (PDP)
There are life lessons to be learned when making a balloon animal, and there may be several academic ones as well. Participants in this workshop will learn to make at least two animals and learn some lessons together.

Union Response to Advanced Placement Grants (PDP)
Has your district applied for an Advanced Placement grant? Will it do so in the future? Did you know that the grants include payments for test scores? This session will provide straight talk about what the AP grants require and strategies on how to best enforce your contract rights.

Easy Tie-Dye (PDP)
Travel back in time to the 1960s and 1970s while creating a groovy tie-dyed T-shirt to awe your friends and family. Mood rings optional. Easy tie-dye methods will be tried, a lesson plan will be provided and student examples will be shared. Bring your T-shirts, socks, vests and shorts, and we will tie-dye up a storm!

Two Teacher Unions - One Cause
Two Teacher Unions - One Cause This workshop will focus on the MTA and AFT Massachusetts collaboratively working together to improve conditions for our students and our members. Come and find out what we have done so far, some issues of the day and where we will go from here to make things better. Participants are asked to bring their curiosity and a sense of humor.

Use Your Noodle (PDP & PTP)
Get inspired and learn fun new teaching approaches to motivate students to think outside the box. Participants will experience hands-on improvisational theater skills and games for the classroom, explore how the dynamic Use Your Noodle "design challenge" curriculum gets K-8 students thinking critically and take home the curriculum for free!

MTA's Lens on Beacon Hill (PDP)
MTA lobbyists will provide an update on the impact of the economic crisis on the association's legislative agenda. The presenters will discuss strategies that locals can implement to advance an agenda concerning state revenues, Chapter 70 preK-12 funding, public higher education funding and the retiree COL A. They also will talk about how to fight cuts in local aid and attacks on collective bargaining, which are affecting every constituency within the MTA as this tsunami-like budget crisis continues to unfold.

Native American Bead Weaving (PDP)
In this workshop, participants will learn something about the tradition of Native American beading. They will use math concepts to graph several designs, make simple and inexpensive wood looms suitable for classroom use and learn how to use the loom and the graphed designs to "sew" seed beads to create wristbands.

The Power of Embracing Diversity (PDP)
What is the power of embracing diversity? How does it affect professional and personal growth? The Sun Poem, with its powerful diversity message, has been introduced in schools across Massachusetts since 1987. Now it has been introduced at colleges and universities in 40 states. This interactive workshop - through a DVD presentation of the story of The Sun Poem, interactive dialogue and exercises - will empower participants with a deeper understanding of diversity.

Performance Evaluation: How the Union Can Effectively Help the Teacher in Trouble (PDP)
This workshop is geared to union officers, grievance representatives and building representatives who may find themselves working with a teacher whose performance is found wanting by a supervisor. Your job as the union representative is to be an advocate for the teacher and to protect the integrity of the evaluation procedure. You will leave this workshop with powerful tools to ensure that the negotiated evaluation system is being used fairly and that any improvement plan is constructed so that both the teacher and the evaluator are held accountable.

Online Registration.

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Students, teachers oust Calif. town's school board

Terence Chea:

Residents of a rural community near Yosemite National Park have overwhelmingly voted to recall all five members of the local school board after a group of high school students launched a campaign to unseat them, election officials said Wednesday

Unofficial results show the Big Oak Flat-Groveland Unified School District school board was recalled by more than a 2-to-1 margin, and a slate of new candidates was elected to replace them, the Tuolumne County Elections Department said.

The department had not finished counting ballots Wednesday, but it's unlikely the election results would change, an elections official said.

"It was a lot of work, but it was totally worth it. Our school district can finally get back on track," said Elise Vallotton, 18, a senior at Tioga High School who helped lead the recall effort. "We knew we needed to get people in there who could make the right decisions."
The recall of an entire school board is uncommon and possibly unprecedented in California, said Brittany McKannay, a spokeswoman for California School Boards Association.

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An Islamic College in Berkeley?

Elizabeth Redden:

The proposed Zaytuna College would be a first: a four-year, accredited, Islamic college in the United States.

"Part of the process of indigenizing Islam in America is for the community to begin to develop its own leadership from inside the country, develop its own scholars," said Hatem Bazian, chair of the management board for Zaytuna College and a senior lecturer of Near Eastern studies at the University of California at Berkeley.

"There is a growing need in the Muslim community to provide a variety of trained specialists to fulfill a growing and diverse community infrastructure and institutional framework," Bazian said -- to work as imams, as chaplains, or within the growing network of Islamic non-profit organizations. Currently, Bazian said, American students who seek a high-level Islamic education must study in the Muslim world.

The proposed college would be built out of an existing institute with significant influence in the Islamic community. The Zaytuna Institute and Academy, an Islamic educational institute founded in 1996, is transitioning into Zaytuna College; the Berkeley-based institute already offers classes, but not for university credit.

Those behind the transition from institute to college plan to seek accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges - a daunting and multi-year process, they realize. "We know what is required. We know how difficult it is in terms of maintaining solvency and making sure that the management structure is strong. Those are things that WASC is looking for - making sure that the caliber of the education is at the level it should be, making sure that the organization is solvent and will continue to be around years from now," said Farid Senzai, a member of Zaytuna's management board, director of research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding and an assistant professor of political science at Santa Clara University.

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Survey: Parents put kids' education over nest egg

Southern Florida Business Journal:

For the first time in three years, more parents are putting their children's education ahead of their own retirement, according to a new survey by Country Financial.

The survey of 1,241 Americans found 61 percent of parents are not letting the recession change their plans for their children's college education. Forty-seven percent said college plans are a higher priority than retirement savings.

Last year, 47 percent of parents favored building their nest eggs over paying.

Men are more likely to put their children's education (50 percent) ahead of their retirement than women (38 percent) .

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Report Prompts Call for Rules on Restraining Students

Maria Glod:

Citing "disturbing" reports of schoolchildren harmed when teachers physically restrained them, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called on state school chiefs yesterday to develop plans this summer to ensure that restraints are used safely and sparingly.

Virginia and Maryland have policies that call on teachers to use other means to calm students and to turn to physical restraint only when a student is in danger of hurting himself or others. D.C. law provides no guidance on the issue for public schools but restricts public money from going to private schools if they restrain students in ways that are physically dangerous.

Duncan's announcement came a day after federal investigators revealed word of hundreds of allegations that youngsters were improperly held, bound or isolated in schools over the past two decades. Investigators with the Government Accountability Office highlighted a 2002 case in Texas that involved a teacher who now works in Loudoun County. Teacher Dawn Marie Hamilton lay on a 14-year-old boy who refused to stay in his seat, and the boy died, according to the report.

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Chicago Public Schools Sex Education

Rosalind Rossi:

Although sex education is optional statewide, Chicago public schools have been teaching abstinence, contraception and the prevention of sexually-transmitted diseases for at least three years.

Chicago School Board members approved an "age-appropriate'' and "comprehensive'' sexual health education policy for grades six through 12 in 2006, and last year mandated that such classes start in fifth grade.

At the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, physical education director Ken Bringe said sex education is covered freshmen year.

"Right off the bat, they get this," Bringe said. Why? "To prevent pregnancy.''

Bringe believes the class, which uses the Family Health and Sexuality curriculum by Health Teachers, is one reason why the school at 3857 W. 111th St. has only had about two teen pregnancies in seven years.

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May 20, 2009


News from The Concord Review:

We are looking for the best history research papers we can find by secondary students from anywhere in the English-speaking world. Papers may be on any historical topic, ancient or modern, domestic or foreign, and should be 4,000-6,000 words or more [one of our Emerson Prize winners this year had 15,292 words on the Soviet-Afghan War by Colin Rhys Hill of Atlanta, Georgia...see our website], and with Chicago-style (Turabian) endnotes and bibliography. Authors should send a printed copy to the address below, and may include a Macintosh disk with the paper in Microsoft Word.

We have published 857 exemplary history papers by high school students from 44 states and 35 other countries since 1987. There is a submission form on our website and 60 examples of papers we have published. The submission fee is $40, to The Concord Review, and the author receives the next four issues of the journal. We publish about 7% of the papers we receive.

John Silber of Boston University wrote that: "The Concord Review is one of the most imaginative, creative, and supportive initiatives in public education. It is a wonderful incentive to high school students to take scholarship and writing seriously." Denis Doyle wrote that: "One of the most remarkable publications in American education sails proudly on though it is virtually unsung and almost unnoticed except among a small coterie of cognoscenti: The Concord Review. It is time once again to sing its praises and bring it to the attention of the larger audience it so richly deserves."

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SAT Coaching Found to Boost Scores - Barely

John Hechinger:
Families can spend thousands of dollars on coaching to help college-bound students boost their SAT scores. But a new report finds that these test-preparation courses aren't as beneficial as consumers are led to believe.

The report, to be released Wednesday by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, criticizes common test-prep-industry marketing practices, including promises of big score gains with no hard data to back up such claims. The report also finds fault with the frequent use of mock SAT tests because they can be devised to inflate score gains when students take the actual SAT. The association represents 11,000 college admissions officers, high-school guidance counselors and private advisors.

"It breaks my heart to see families who can't afford it spending money they desperately need on test prep when no evidence would indicate that this is money well-spent," says William Fitzsimmons, Harvard University's dean of undergraduate admissions, who led a group at the college admissions association that prompted the report.
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The Usefulness of Failure

Diana Senechal:

Today I will start out with one of my favorite topics, failure, which was treated recently in a brilliant parody by Gently Hew Stone.

With the recent release of ELA test scores in New York City, we hear, yet again, that Bloomberg and Klein regard their reforms as a great success. Beyond questioning the test scores themselves, I wonder just how helpful it is to go around proclaiming success in the first place. Is success an unequivocal good? Is it an end in itself?

With failure you learn your limits. You may or may not be able to stretch them, but you find out what they are. Failure is like the molding of a sculpture. The bronze must pour into something. If it spills all over the place in an endless gush of success, it takes no shape at all.

There are too many kinds of failure to enumerate, but here are a few of the common varieties:

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A New Approach to Gang Violence Includes a Multiple-Choice Test

Nicholas Casey:

In more than 40 years of studying this city's street gangs as a social psychologist, Malcolm Klein says his home was burglarized nine times. Now, the retired University of Southern California professor is offering the city what he hopes one day will help stem crime: A test that he says could predict if a child is destined to join a gang.

The multiple-choice screening, some 70 questions long, shows how closely Los Angeles has begun to examine the work of social scientists to tackle complex policy issues like gang violence. Last year, city officials turned to Dr. Klein and his colleagues at USC to design a test that they hope will empirically identify which children are headed toward a life on the street. This year, the test will help decide the direction of the millions of dollars the city spends annually on gang-prevention efforts.

Los Angeles is relying more on data to stop youths from joining gangs.
The screening, intended for children between 10 and 15 years old, asks a range of questions on issues ranging from past relationships to drug use to attitudes toward violence. One question asks test takers if they recently had a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend; another asks test takers if they are kind to younger children.

In order to avoid stigmatizing children with the label of potential criminal, Dr. Klein says test takers aren't told that the questions are intended to screen for future gang involvement.

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Ranking the States: Federal Education Stimulus Money and the Prospects for Reform

Marguerite Roza:

Modeling the effect of education stimulus funds on state education spending

This brief presents projections of changes in state K-12 education spending, amidst both state revenue gaps and the addition of ARRA funds. The idea is to rank order states according to how much budget gaps and stimulus funds are likely to affect state education spending.

This analysis relies on the most current state projections of budget shortfalls (as reported by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities), ARRA allocations for education by state, and 2009 state education budgets. The analysis does not take into account any of the decisions that state lawmakers are making on their budgets. Rather, it projects spending as if revenue gaps are first applied proportionately to education during 2008-09 and 2009-10, and then as if 70% of all education ARRA funds are applied to K-12 education during the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years.

The numbers don't reflect ongoing changes made in states, but rather their vulnerability to cuts as a result of these 2 changes (revenue gaps and stimulus funds).

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End Is Near in a Fight on Teaching of English

Tamar Lewin:

When Miriam Flores was in third grade at Coronado Elementary School, her mother, also named Miriam, was surprised to learn that she was getting in trouble.

"Her teacher said she was talking in class," said Mrs. Flores, who speaks limited English. "She had always been a quiet child, but she said she had to ask other students what the teacher was saying because she didn't understand."

At the time, the state provided only $150 extra for each non-English-speaking student like Miriam. Few teachers were trained to help English language learners, and many students in this small, largely Hispanic border town were floundering. So Mrs. Flores and other parents sued under a federal civil rights law, charging that non-English-speaking children were being denied equal educational opportunity.

Much has changed since then: Miriam is now a 23-year-old college student. Under a new Arizona law, Coronado Elementary provides four hours a day of intensive English, in small classes, for students struggling with the language. These days, the Nogales schools spend 10 times as much on their English language learners.

Next month, after 17 years of litigation, the United States Supreme Court will rule on the Flores case, deciding whether Arizona is complying with federal laws requiring public schools to teach children to speak English.

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Food for Thought: Building a High-Quality School Choice Market

Erin Dillon:

The neighborhoods of Southeast Washington, D.C., are among the poorest in the city. There, the grocery stores, banks, restaurants, and other institutions that suburbanites take for granted have long been in short supply. In recent years, however, government and nonprofit agencies have begun turning things for the better. A brand new, government-subsidized shopping center recently opened on Alabama Avenue, providing one of the few full-service grocery stores in the area, along with a new sit-down restaurant and mainstream bank branch.

But reformers are finding that such initiatives won't fix decades of market dysfunction overnight. Not far from the new Super Giant grocery store and Wachovia Bank are older businesses that continue to draw a steady stream of customers--corner stores that sell little fresh food, fast-food outlets that serve meals low in nutritional value, and tax preparation firms and check-cashing outlets that charge high fees. Markets are complicated, and improving them requires more than just creating incentives for new providers to set up shop.

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The disinformation campaign about U.S. schools

Walt Gardner:

Repetition doesn't make something true. The latest reminder was a piece by Financial Times columnist Clive Crook, in which he warns that America's long-term economic prospects are bleak because of a "calamitous" failure of schools to produce a high-quality workforce. This alarmist view is not limited to Crook. It has been echoed by Bill Gates and philanthropist Eli Broad, and by a host of organizations, such as the Business Roundtable.


Should job creation favor men? 05.19.09
Now is the time for right-to-repair law 05.18.09
Open forum: Journalism students lead way 05.16.09
More Open Forum »
It's easy to understand why people take at face value what reformers with impressive credentials say about education. They can be intimidating. But that's no excuse. As a wag quipped: In God we trust, all others bring evidence.

So let's look at the evidence.

In October 2007, B. Lindsay Lowell of Georgetown University and Hal Salzman of the Urban Institute concluded that the United States has a problem on the demand side of the equation - not on the supply side. This crucial distinction is lost in the heated debate, resulting in widespread misunderstanding.

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May 19, 2009

Restraint can dispirit and hurt special-ed students

Greg Toppo:

Toni Price was at work that afternoon in 2002 when she got the call from her foster son Cedric's eighth-grade teacher: Paramedics were at his middle school in Killeen, Texas. Cedric wasn't breathing.
When Price arrived at school, there he was, lying on the floor. "I'm thinking he's just laying there because he didn't want to get in trouble," she says, fighting back tears.

Actually, Cedric was dead.

A 14-year-old special-education student who'd arrived at the school with a history of abuse and neglect, Cedric had been taken from his home five years earlier with his siblings.

He'd just been smothered by his teacher, police said, after she placed him in a "therapeutic floor hold" to keep him from struggling during a disagreement over lunch.

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Tracking and Inequality: New Directions for Research and Practice Presentation by UW School of Education Professor Adam Gamoran

via a kind reader's email:
Good afternoon. We'd like to invite you to Memorial High tomorrow afternoon for a discussion hosted by our Equity Team. Professor Adam Gamoran, Interim Dean of the UW School of Education, will be presenting paper titled Tracking and Inequality: New Directions for Research and Practice. His article is attached. We will begin at 4:15pm and should end around:15pm, and we'll meet in the Wisconsin Neighborhood Center, which is in the Southwest corner of the building. Please park on the Mineral Point Rd. side of the building, and enter through the doors closest to Gammon Rd. There will signs to direct you from there. Have a good week, and we hope to see you tomorrow afternoon...Jay

Jay Affeldt
James Madison Memorial High School
Professional Development School Coordinator
Project REAL SLC Grant Coordinator
201 South Gammon Road
Madison, WI 53717
608-442-2203 fax
608-663-6182 office
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The Next Step Toward School Integration: Duncan Chooses the Suburbs

Dana Goldstein via a kind reader's email:
"Upper caucasia" is not the nicest name for one of Washington, D.C.'s "nicest" areas. Situated west of Rock Creek Park and just south of tony Bethesda, Maryland, are a number of neighborhoods -- Chevy Chase, Friendship Heights, Tenleytown -- that offer suburban- style living with an urban address. In a city that is 55 percent black and 17 percent poor, the residents here are, for the most part, white and wealthy.

Most children in this area attend private school, despite the presence of several well-regarded public options. So it was hardly a surprise last November when self-segregated Upper Caucasia erupted into turf wars as the Obamas toured elite preparatory academies, seeking a school appropriate for the first daughters. They settled, predictably, on Sidwell Friends, Chelsea Clinton's alma mater.

But a month later, another prominent family's search for a school went largely unnoticed. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan moved with his family from Chicago, where he had been chief executive officer of the city's public schools, to Arlington, Virginia. High-quality suburban public schools were "why we chose" to live in Arlington, Duncan told Science magazine in March. "It was the determining factor."
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Dan Nerad on WIBA Radio

Madison School District Superintendent Dan Nerad appeared recently on WIBA 1310 radio's "Outreach" program. Listen to the conversation via this 20MB mp3 audio file.
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Senioritis Is One Symptom Of Creative Deficit in Class

Jay Matthews:

Last year, I wrote a defense of high school senioritis as a useful break from academic drudgery. This made me, briefly, a hero to teenagers across the country. Then I returned to my usual theme that classes leading up to that last semester of the senior year should still be tougher, not easier, with less time for play, not more.

I was stuck on the fact that teenagers spend on average two hours a day watching television, compared with less than an hour a day doing homework. When Washington area parents or students complained about school stress, I acknowledged that many of them had a point in this affluent region full of kids who dream of the Ivy League. But elsewhere, the majority of high school students were not studying much at all. As a consequence, reading and math scores for 17-year-olds had seen little improvement in a generation.

Yet it is spring again, a good time to ponder the balance of hard work and fun throughout high school. In last year's piece, I wrote: "High-octane students play it safe. Textbook pages are still memorized. Old exams are mastered. Anything less than a perfect score is cause for concern. Such students need to discover that that is not the way creative and productive work is done in college, or in life. The important part of the learning process is not pounding in the material but thinking it over, talking about it, coming up with new and intriguing ways of connecting it to the rest of the world."

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Slow the Pre-K Bandwagon

Chester Finn:

President Obama has pledged to spend $10 billion more a year on "zero to five" education, and his 2010 budget makes a $2 billion "down payment" on that commitment. (Billions more are already in the "stimulus" package.) Any number of congressional leaders want more preschool, as do dozens of governors. Not to mention the National Education Association and the megabucks Pew Charitable Trusts, which is underwriting national and state-level advocacy campaigns on behalf of universal pre-kindergarten. At least three states are already on board.

Underlying all this activity and interest is the proposition that government -- state and federal -- should pay for at least a year of preschool for every American 4-year-old. One rationale is to boost overall educational achievement. Another is to close school-readiness gaps between the haves and have-nots.

Almost nobody is against it. Yet everybody should pause before embracing it.

Joanne has more.

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Children's Use Of Psychiatric Drugs Begins To Decelerate

David Armstrong:

The growth in antipsychotic-drug prescriptions for children is slowing as state Medicaid agencies heighten their scrutiny of usage and doctors grow more wary of the powerful medications.

The softening in sales for children is the first sign that litigation, reaction to improper marketing tactics, and concern about side effects may be affecting what had been a fast-growing children's drug segment.

The six so-called atypical antipsychotics that dominate the market have limited approval from the FDA to treat patients under 18 years of age. Only one is cleared for children under age 10 -- risperidone, branded by Johnson & Johnson as Risperdal -- to treat irritability associated with autism.

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Montgomery Co. Touts 'Seven Keys to College Readiness' as an Academic Pathway

Daniel de Vise:

In a region where college preparation often begins at birth, some glossy new public school brochures offer a tantalizing formula for parents who crave assurance that their children are on track: a seven-step pathway to higher education that starts as early as kindergarten.

Montgomery County educators are blitzing parents and students with information on what they call "Seven Keys to College Readiness." The initiative, also promoted on the Web (, spells out in detail the courses and tests that officials say point toward academic prosperity.

Measuring students early and often against lofty goals is part of school culture in the Washington area. School systems in Fairfax, Prince William and Calvert counties, among others, set annual targets in such areas as college entrance testing and accelerated math.

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May 18, 2009

Underdog tale sheds light on pushy parenting

Lucy Kellaway:

The son of an acquaintance of mine has recently landed a good job on a national newspaper. For the past few months I've been reading the articles written by this boy - let's call him Derek - and thinking how delightfully original they were. Last week I ran into Derek's mother and told her that her son was brilliant and that she must be proud of him. She rolled her eyes and said he hadn't always been a star. He had been expelled from his state comprehensive school at 15, failed dismally academically and had spent his teenage years off the rails. So how, I asked, did he land this most sought after of jobs, one that Oxbridge graduates kill for?

She said that Derek had decided in his early 20s that he wanted to be a journalist and simply refused to take no for an answer. He more or less took up residence outside the newspaper of his choice, bombarding it with e-mails, until eventually he was allowed in as an unpaid intern. He financed his journalism by working night shifts as a hospital porter, until eventually he was offered a job.

We all love an underdog story, and this one vastly cheered me up. All the more so because it seems to belie the conviction of every pushy parent that if a child puts one foot wrong academically they have blown it for life. Both in London and New York there is this feverish notion that the journey to success starts at around three years old. It is vital to get a child into the right nursery school that will get them into Harvard or Cambridge or wherever. And if the child does not land up with straight A grades then clearly their chances of success in life are very low indeed.

This tiresome hysteria has got worse in one generation. When I was at school and at university there was a lot of opportunity for screwing up, and most of us availed ourselves of it at one point or another. In fact, if you cruised effortlessly from one academic triumph to another you were regarded as rather dull. As a schoolgirl, not only did I fail to get straight As, I didn't get any As at all - though I did get an F and even a U (for unclassified).

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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.
Alan Borsuk has more:
But perhaps as early as the 2010-'11 school year, things will be different:
  • Changes are expected in the state standards for what students are supposed to learn in various grades and subjects. The primary goal of the WKCE is to measure how well students overall are doing in meeting those standards. But Mike Thompson, executive assistant to the state superintendent of public instruction, said new standards for English language arts and math should be ready by the end of this year.

    As the policy institute studies note, the existing standards have been criticized in several national studies for being among the weakest in the U.S.
  • The tests themselves will be altered in keeping with the new standards. Just how is not known, and one key component won't be clear until perhaps sometime in 2010, the No Child Left Behind Act could be revised. What goes into the new education law will have a big impact on testing in every state.
  • The way tests are given will change. There is wide agreement that the wave of the future is to do tests online, which would greatly speed up the process of scoring tests and making the results known. The lag of five months or more now before WKCE scores are released aggravates all involved.

    The policy institute studies called for online testing, and the DPI's Thompson agrees it is coming. Delays have largely been due to practical questions of how to give that many tests on computers in Wisconsin schools and the whole matter of dealing with the data involved.
  • Also changing will be the way performance is judged.
Now, Wisconsin and most states measure which category of proficiency each student falls into, based on their answers. Reaching the level labeled "proficient" is the central goal.
Much more on the WKCE here.
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Small school district innovates quietly

Carol Cain:

Ernando Minghine would have enjoyed having time to listen to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan talk about the U.S. school system and Detroit Public Schools during a stop last week.

But Minghine, superintendent of Westwood Community Schools, was swamped with a to-do list that included:

  • Hiring a high school principal.
  • Finishing months of work in pursuit of a New Tech high school.
  • Hiring another instructor from China to add to the three he has already teaching Mandarin in grade and middle schools.
  • Expanding the district's Cyber High School -- which started in February and has been such a hit that the school with 180 students is growing to 500 this fall.
As Duncan made stops at a school in Detroit and Cobo Center, conversing with new Mayor Dave Bing, Gov. Jennifer Granholm and others and sharing his thoughts about the state of Detroit Public Schools, Minghine wished he could have listened in and talked with the education secretary about his district.
Smart, particularly the Mandarin offering in grade and middle schools along with the cyber options.

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Mr. Know-It-All

Chris Collison:

Here's the final offering from Elvis, entitled Mister Know-it-All:
I've eaten all the fruit from the tree of knowledge

I know what's what, I know who's who

I know my onions, I know the ropes

I know a thing or two

I know the way to Amarillo

I know the way to San Jose

I know who let the dogs out

I know the time of day

I know what happened to The Likely Lads

I know what happened to Baby Jane

I know what's eating Gilbert Grape

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Va. Family Faces Hurdles In Choosing A College

All Things Considered:

In January, Catherine Johnson, a senior at Fairfax High School in Northern Virginia, was trying to decide between her dream school -- Hampton University -- and a university half as expensive and just down the street -- Old Dominion.

Rebecca Roberts catches up with Catherine and her mother, Pearl Johnson, about which path she decided to take, and how the daughter and mother talked through the decision.

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Gingrich, Sharpton Finally Teammates: Close Education Gap

Brigid Schulte:

Politics often produces strange bedfellows. But yesterday, on the 55th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision that integrated the nation's schools, when former Republican House speaker Newt Gingrich shared the stage at a boisterous rally in front of the White House with the Rev. Al Sharpton, even Gingrich called the two the "Original Odd Couple."

What unites the conservative Gingrich and the liberal Sharpton, Gingrich said, is the urgent mission to close the persistent achievement gap that divides students along racial and socioeconomic lines and to make educational equality the civil rights issue of the 21st century.

"I know it's possible to educate every child from every background," Gingrich said to loud applause from the largely African American crowd that had come to Washington in 70 buses from 22 cities. "We're not telling you what the answer is. But we're telling you to keep changing until you find a solution."

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Georgia strives to race to top in education

Kathy Cox:

eorgia is in a race to the top and, in many respects, we're leading the way.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced recently that $5 billion in grants are being made available to states that -- in his words -- adopt "college and career-ready internationally benchmarked standards" and "state of the art data collection systems, assessments and curricula to meet these higher standards."

To me, it sounds like Secretary Duncan was reading straight from our Strategic Plan. For six years, Georgia has been focused on implementing a world-class curriculum, raising expectations and using quality data to make decisions. We have received high marks for the policies and standards we've put in place from groups across the nation.

But the journey to "the top" is not always smooth and raising standards is not easy. The truth is that the material that Georgia students are learning today is more rigorous than it has ever been and, consequently, the assessments they are taking are more difficult.
Over the past few years, we've seen the pass rates on our state tests -- like the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests and End of Course Tests -- drop in the first year we've implemented our new curriculum and given the new state exams. This is to be expected: Whenever you raise the bar, there's going to be a temporary drop in the number of people that can reach that bar. That's true in any situation.

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More work needed to reach out to 'invisible parents' who feel excluded from schools

Elaine Yau:

As the founding president of the Federation of Parent-Teacher Associations of Yuen Long District, I have always paid close attention to the development of the relationship between schools and parents.

The relationship has come a long way since 1999 when both sides viewed each other with hostility and scepticism. There are a lot of troubled or single-parent families in Tin Shui Wai. Many parents are deemed "invisible parents". Coming from disadvantaged backgrounds, mostly from the mainland, they lack self-confidence and always fear people will ridicule them for their accents and unsophisticated remarks.

Afraid of suffering embarrasment, children also don't want their parents to attend school functions. So such parents seldom have connections with schools and when they do attend certain functions such as parents' day, they take umbrage easily at what teachers say.

For example, when teachers find fault with their children's performance, such "invisible parents" will think that they are making veiled criticisms of their parenting skills.

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May 17, 2009

A Madison West High School Team Won the American Rocketry Challenge

Team America Rocketry Challenge:

A team from Madison West High School in Madison, Wi., took first place at the Seventh Annual Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC) Saturday, taking on the title of national champion.

"Hard work, perseverance, teamwork, and custom electronics are the reasons our rocket performed well today," said Ben Winokur, team member.

The team, one of three from Madison West High School, logged the winning score of 20.54. The team won an opportunity to fly against the champions of UKayRoC in the Second Annual Transatlantic Rocket Fly-Off.


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Schools aim to make lunches healthy, tasty

Amy Hetzner:

Before the first lunch period begins at Oconomowoc High School, students sidle up to see what chef Brian Shoemake is cooking.

"Chicken pasta broccoli bowl," Shoemake says in answer to an inquiry. "I'll get you to eat your broccoli."

Well, maybe not that student. But in the 15 minutes that ensue, Shoemake manages to fill the bowls of at least 60 others with steaming rotini, strips of chicken breast, their choice of Alfredo sauce and, yes, freshly cooked broccoli spears.

The addition of Shoemake to the lunch lineup this school year is part of a larger effort at the school.

Like a number of schools throughout the state, Oconomowoc High School is trying to tackle that seemingly intractable barrier in the fight to improve childhood nutrition: the school lunch.

"Student tastes have changed so much in the last 10 years," said Brenda Klamert, director of child nutrition services for the Oconomowoc Area School District. "They're looking for healthy foods."

Schools have been slow to meet the demand.

Sure, many have added salad bars. But most lunches remain high in saturated fat and cholesterol and low in fiber- and nutrient-rich food, according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. The Washington-based group advocates a more vegetarian approach.

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One Step Ahead of the Train Wreck: Everyday Mathematics

Via a Barry Garelick email:

"The article describes my experience tutoring my daughter and her friend when they were in sixth grade, using Singapore Math in order to make up for the train wreck known as Everyday Math that she was getting in school. I doubt that the article will change the minds of the administrators who believe Everyday Math has merit, but it wasn't written for that purpose. It was written for and dedicated to parents to let them know they are not alone, that they aren't the only ones who have shouted at their children, that there are others who have experienced the tears and the confusion and the frustration. Lastly it offers some hope and guidance in how to go about teaching their kids what they are not learning at school."

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The Ties That Bind

Jeffrey Zaslow:

They were 11 girls growing up together in Ames, Iowa. Now they are 10 women in their mid-40s, spread all over the country. And they remain the closest of friends.

Whenever "the Ames girls" get together, it's as if they've stepped into a time machine. They feel like they are every age they ever were, because they see each other through thousands of shared memories.

As 12-year-olds, they'd sit in a circle, combing each other's hair. As 17-year-olds, they'd go to parties together deep in the cornfields outside Ames. As 30-year-olds, they'd commiserate over the challenges of marriage and motherhood.

Like the Ames girls, millions of us have nurtured decades-long friendships, and we don't always stop to recognize the power of these bonds. As we age, friendships can be crucial to our health and even our sanity. In fact, a host of scientific studies show that having a close group of friends helps people sleep better, improve their immune systems, stave off dementia and live longer.

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Teaching Arts and Sciences Together

Mae Jemison:

ae Jemison is an astronaut, a doctor, an art collector, a dancer ... Telling stories from her own education and from her time in space, she calls on educators to teach both the arts and sciences, both intuition and logic, as one -- to create bold thinker.

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Legacy enrollments offered in two top L.A.-area school districts

Seema Mehta:

Emulating a controversial practice at many colleges, two high-achieving public school districts in California are giving preference to the children of alumni.

The Beverly Hills Unified School District and the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District have adopted legacy admissions policies for children of former students who live outside their enrollment boundaries. The policies appear to be the first in the nation at public schools, education experts said.

The programs vary slightly, but leaders of both districts say they hope to raise money by forging closer ties with alumni who may be priced out of their hometowns as well as with grandparents who still live there. In each district, nonresident legacy students will make up a tiny percentage of the student population, officials said.

"I'm taking a page out of the university or college playbook," said Steve Fenton, a Beverly Hills Unified trustee. "Alumni are the lifeline for any academic institution."

Critics argue that such policies are antithetical to American public education.

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Together we learn better: inclusive schools benefit all children

Michael Shoultz, writing in MMSD Today:

Inclusive schools are places where children and young adults of all abilities, races, and cultures share learning environments that build upon their strengths while supporting their diverse needs.

Utilizing inclusive practices, school staff create flexible goals, methods, materials, and assessments that accommodate the interests and needs of all of their learners. Inclusive schools also allow for the development of authentic relationships between students with and without identified differences.

The MMSD's Dept. of Educational Services is committed to building the capacity of school district staff to provide inclusive educational practices. To address this departmental priority, school district staff have been provided with two unique opportunities to further develop their knowledge and skills in this area.

First of all, in honor of Inclusive Schools Week (December, 2008), the Department provided a year-long opportunity for schools to highlight the accomplishments of educators, families and communities in promoting inclusive schools.

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Arts Education in America

Quincy Jones:

In 1943, the United States Armed Forces Institute published a second edition of War Department Education Manual EM 603 Discovering Music: A Course in Music Appreciation by Howard D. McKinney and W.R. Anderson. The material presented in the book was a reprint of educational material taken from existing standard textbook matter used in American schools and colleges at that time and is significant to this discussion because the text included the following when discussing jazz:
Some may start with an enthusiasm for music of the jazz type, but they cannot go far there, for jazz is peculiarly of an inbred, feeble-stock race, incapable of development. In any case, the people for whom it is meant could not understand it if it did develop. Jazz is sterile. It is all right for fun, or as a mild anodyne, like tobacco. But its lack of rhythmical variety (necessitated by its special purpose), its brevity, its repetitiveness and lack of sustained development, together with the fact that commercial reasons prevent its being, as a rule, very well written, all mark it as a side issue, having next to nothing to do with serious music; and consequently it has proved itself entirely useless as a basis for developing the taste of the amateur.

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Attractiveness Enhances Income Prospects

Tom Jacobs:

Tina Fey is, as usual, ahead of us all. A recent episode of her sitcom 30 Rock titled "The Bubble" evolved around a ridiculously handsome man who had no idea he was something of an idiot. Everyone around him treated him so well that his self-esteem soared far beyond his actual capabilities.

The character was a comic exaggeration, of course, but a new study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests the episode was grounded in good science. It finds physical attractiveness has a significant positive influence on an individual's self-confidence, income and financial well-being.

"This study finds that, even accounting for intelligence, one's income prospects are enhanced by being good-looking," report authors Timothy Judge, Charlice Hurst and Lauren Simon of the University of Florida Department of Management. One reason for this, they explain, is that "people who are attractive do think more highly of their worth and capabilities," and this self-confidence "results in higher earnings and less financial stress."

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A Final Lesson: Repay Student Debt Quickly

Michelle Singletary:

The commencement speeches will soon be over. The graduation caps and gowns put away, the gift cards used.

The one thing that won't go away is the tens of thousands of dollars graduates owe in student loans. For most college graduates, the cost of their educations will finally be a reality.

So now what?

With unemployment continuing to climb and good-paying jobs hard to find, many recent graduates will be looking for refuge from their loans.

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May 16, 2009

Interactive instruction: classroom teaching enhanced with high-tech whiteboards at West High

MMSD Today:

Excitement, innovation, ingenuity, interaction, fun are ideals that teachers want to bring to their classrooms every day.

West High School teachers who work with high-tech whiteboards experience those ideals in new ways as they create novel learning environments for their students and each other.

Last year, West received a private, anonymous donation to support teaching students to think philanthropically. School staff and students established the Student Support Foundation, a student group created to find ways of using the gift that fit West's goals for improving the lives of its students.

The donors contacted members of the foundation in the spring to gauge their interest in a new kind of whiteboard technology.

Initially the students seemed puzzled: they could only imagine handheld whiteboards and dry erase makers sometimes used in classes. They soon learned about an entirely different tool - the interactive electronic whiteboard.

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State of Wisconsin to seek 5% cut in school, local aid

Steven Walters, Erin Richards & Larry Sandler:
Gov. Jim Doyle said Friday that falling tax collections will force him to propose new cuts of up to 5% in state spending for public schools and aid to local governments.

Aid to public schools has been Doyle's top priority during his 6 1/2 years as governor, and Friday was the first time he said it will have to be reduced.

"There are going to have to be cuts in school aids," Doyle said when he signed a bill rewriting state unemployment compensation laws so that the state can capture federal stimulus funds.

Aid cuts like those envisioned by Doyle could cost Milwaukee Public Schools - the state's largest district - more than $20 million. The cut would cost other districts anywhere from several thousand dollars to several million dollars.

At the same time, Doyle said his plan would include levy limits on districts, which would prevent them from recouping all of the cuts through higher property taxes.

This year, state aid for public schools totals $5.17 billion, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. A 5% cut would cost schools about $258 million, although they are getting federal stimulus money, Doyle noted.
Related, WISTAX:

However, the state pledge to provide two-thirds of schools revenues in 1996-97 changed the budget landscape. By 2006-07, state-tax support for the UW System had almost doubled during Ihe 25 years prior. However, inflation (CPI, up 115%). school aids/credits (320%). and overall slate GPR expenditures (222%) rose more.
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Community High School students debate sexting with teachers, others

Erin Richards:
It's the last class of the day Friday at Community High School, but instead of a lot of fidgeting and clock-watching, 24 teenagers are engaged in a spirited discussion about sex and "sexting" with a lawyer and a former journalist.

It is a five-year-old course that aims to prepare students to "talk about social issues at a cocktail party with their boss," according to Jason O'Brien, a co-teacher of the class at Community, a charter school in Milwaukee.

Students have a lot of questions for their professional visitors: Why is sexting, or sending sexually explicit photos of oneself over a mobile phone, a crime? Why shouldn't adults face charges as well if they take and send similar nude material of themselves to their peers?

It's a big diversion from your typical lecture environment, but O'Brien and co-teacher Roxane Mayeur believe in the value of exposing kids to multiple viewpoints on various topics through debate, essay writing and discussions with local experts.
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After tough meeting, MPS board chief to keep pushing for changes

Alan Borsuk:
New Milwaukee School Board President Michael Bonds said Friday he will continue to push for major structural changes in the central office of Milwaukee Public Schools, despite the board balking at his plans.

A meeting on the budget for next year that ended at 2:45 a.m. Friday showed Bonds is nowhere near prevailing with his ideas - and that no major change in either specific matters or the culture of the organization is likely to come quickly or easily.

Things went so poorly for 20 amendments that Bonds had submitted to the $1.2 billion budget proposal from Superintendent William Andrekopoulos that even Bonds didn't vote for one of his own proposals. On two others, his was the only vote in favor.

"We have a status quo board at this point," Bonds said afterward. "I don't think much was accomplished."

But other board members clearly believed that a lot of Bonds' ideas were wrong or counterproductive. Bonds has been calling for major change since he was elected board president April 28.
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The mythologizing of Arne Duncan

Parents United for Responsible Education (Chicago):

The mythologizing of Arne Duncan is moving along at a pretty fast past. Bernie Noven alerted me to this adulatory article from the London Economist and urged me to respond using some of the recent data about Arne's record here in Chicago, saying that people "out there" have no idea about the reaiity here in Chicago. Here's what I sent.

"Golden Boy" Arne Duncan is a pleasant fellow who held the position of Chicago Executive Officer (CEO) of the Chicago Public Schools for seven years without losing his cool.

He's so cool, in fact, that butter wouldn't melt in his mouth.

As a long-time Chicago public school parent advocate, I have had a front row seat at the Arne Duncan show. When Mayor Richard Daley appointed Mr. Duncan to replace Paul Vallas in 2001, there was a palpable sense of relief across the city. The new CEO's Opie-from-Mayberry modesty was a soothing antidote to the previous six years spent with a CEO who could suck the oxygen out of a room.

We soon discovered, however, that Mr. Duncan simply provided a more complaisant and - more importantly - a more compliant cover for City Hall's machinations.

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Detroit Public Schools will not renew contracts of 33 principals

Oralander Brand-Williams:

The contracts of 33 principals will not be renewed, Detroit Public Schools officials announced this afternoon.The district also is reassigning more than two dozen school principals.

Robert Bobb, the district's emergency financial manager, said additionally, the district will conduct a full scale national search for 10 principal positions, district officials said.

Bobb told The Detroit News Thursday that he plans to change the operation of the district's school by giving its principals more autonomy and authority over finances and school budgets.

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Monona Grove school leaders consider busing students to solve overcrowding

Gena Kittner:

The Monona Grove School District is considering busing some of Cottage Grove's youngest students to Monona to help ease space problems in the district.

District leaders are quick to say such a change isn't likely: Parents want to keep their children in their neighborhood schools, and busing students is costly.

But the possibility has been left in the mix to illustrate the breadth of options being considered to resolve crowding in Cottage Grove's two elementary schools.

"This is something I was hoping to get off the table, but I think there was enough concern of the committee that the community have an understanding that we're really looking outside the box," said Monona Grove Superintendent Craig Gerlach. "This (option) is certainly outside the box."

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Middleton High School seniors share whole treasure with nonprofit group

Gayle Worland:

The Middleton High School Class of 2009 had quite a few ways to spend the $11,000 it raised over four years at the school. It could buy, for example, a souvenir key chain for every senior graduating. Or order a plaque for the school. Or host a big party.

Instead, the students decided to give every penny away.

A few liked the idea so much, they decided to raise even more -- so far, $27,509 more.

Now totalling more than $37,509, the seniors' cash gift is heading to Middleton Outreach Ministries, or MOM, a nonprofit that serves people in need from Madison west of Midvale Boulevard to across the Middleton-Cross Plains school district.

Though students have donated to MOM or run food drives -- including helping the U.S. Postal Service's drive last week -- the largesse of the Class of 2009 is unique, executive director David Miller said.

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May 15, 2009

Third Grade Mathematics in Hong Kong and Massachusetts
Why Massachusetts Students, the Best in the U.S., Lag Behind Best-in-the-World Students of Hong Kong

Steven Leinwand, American Institutes for Research and Alan Ginsburg, US Department of Education [2.5MB PDF] via a kind reader's email:
Higher expectations for achievement and greater exposure to more difficult and complex mathematics are among the major difference between Hong Kong, home of the world’s top-performing 4th grade math students, and Massachusetts, which is the highest scoring state on the U.S. National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), according to a report by the American Institutes for Research (AIR).

While Massachusetts 4th grade students achieved a respectable fourth place when compared with countries taking the 2007 Grade 4 Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS-4), Hong Kong students outperformed the Bay State 4th graders in numerous categories.

The Hong Kong performance advantage over Massachusetts was especially large in the percentage of its students achieving at the very highest level. For example, 40 percent of Hong Kong students achieved at the advanced TIMSS level, compared with only 22 percent of Massachusetts students.

To help understand why Hong Kong students outperform Massachusetts students, the AIR study identified differences between the items on Hong Kong’s and Massachusetts’ internal mathematics assessments administered in the spring of grade 3 in 2007 to gather insight into the relative mathematical expectations in Hong Kong and Massachusetts.

The AIR report found that the Hong Kong assessment contained more difficult items, especially in the core areas of numbers and measurement, than the Massachusetts assessment.

“The more rigorous problems on the Hong Kong assessment demonstrate that, even at Grade 3, deep conceptual understanding and the capacity to apply foundational mathematical concepts in multistep, real-world situations can be taught successfully,” said Steven Leinwand, Principal Research Analyst at AIR and co-author of the report.

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AP and Honors in the Same Class

Jay Matthews:
As those of us in the newspaper business have discovered to our misfortune, productive original thinking is hard, and rare. Even after the Internet began nibble at our toes, we couldn’t come up with a way to do our jobs that would keep us from losing a leg or two, maybe more.

The same is true of original thought in education, but good ideas about schools are more common than people might imagine. My latest example is Sande Caton, a Delaware high school science teacher who has come up with a simple but smart solution to the ongoing battle between Advanced Placement and honors courses for our nation’s teenagers.

Caton revealed her method in an online comment to one of my recent columns on this blog. Her timing is good. In early June, will unveil the new Newsweek Top High Schools list, its annual ranking of the best 1,500 public high schools. Newsweek uses a rating formula I invented in the 1990s. Many readers think this method, called the Challenge Index, has helped AP push honors courses out of our schools. Here comes Caton with a way to make everyone happy.

Many high schools used to offer juniors and seniors a choice of a regular, an honors or an AP course in popular subjects like history or English. In recent years some have removed the honors options, saying they can’t staff three different courses. They feel honors students should be taking the more challenging AP courses anyway. My suggestion, offered with no hope of it ever being accepted, was to remove not the honors option, but the regular option. In my experience, regular students were capable of handling honors or even AP courses if well taught. Why confine them to a regular class taught to the lowest standard?
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When Parents Don't

The Economist:

Trying to make sure social workers are up to their thankless job

THE case of Baby P, a toddler tortured and killed by his supposed carers, shocked Britain after the conviction last year of his mother, her lover and a lodger. The grim tale now turns out to have a horrible coda. On May 1st verdicts were returned in the trial of the mother and her boyfriend for the rape of a two-year-old. The mother was acquitted of cruelty--the victim told police she had seen the rape, and failed to intervene. The boyfriend was convicted and may get a life sentence.

The case made legal history. The child, aged three at the time of the trial and cross-examined via video link, was the youngest ever to give evidence in a British court. Also unusual was the decision to use false names for the defendants, and to ban all reporting until after the verdict. The fear was that the defendants would not be tried fairly if the jury made the connection with Baby P--or Peter, as he can now be called after his father asked for him to be dignified with his name.

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Foundation backs Teach for America program

Tom Held:

A $150,000 grant from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation will help support a corps of 90 teachers recruited for Milwaukee Public Schools through the Teach for America program.

The allocation is part of the $6.2 million in grants the community foundation distributed in the first quarter of 2009. Earlier in the year, the foundation awarded $362,500 from a Basic Needs fund it created to support food pantries and shelters struggling to meet an increasing demand for services.

The foundation's education grant and support for a job training program are targeted to slow the growth of poverty that has strained the area's emergency services.

More than 150 community leaders targeted those priorities in a series of recent interviews, said Doug Jansson, president of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation.

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In Politics of School Reform, Transparency Doesn't Equal Accountability

Andrew Rotherham:

Transparency is powerful and President Obama has rightly made it a pillar of his administration's approach to policymaking. But transparency also offers the seductive promise of an easy way out for policymakers. It can trap proponents of various policy proposals in an intellectual cul de sac because it becomes easy to see information as sufficient to drive reform rather than just as a predicate for change. The risk is especially potent when proponents are convinced of the obviousness of the changes they seek.

We've seen this repeatedly with federal education policy. The Bush administration assumed the federal No Child Left Behind law would produce a tidal wave of student and school performance data that would swamp opposition to school improvement efforts. Seven years later the political resistance to education reform is as potent as ever and former Bush aides now acknowledge placing too much faith in the power of information.

In 1997, Congress tried unsuccessfully to increase accountability for colleges of education and teacher training programs by requiring them to report more data about outcomes. "Congress asked colleges of education to take stock of quality issues, but instead the colleges mostly whitewashed the problem," says Ross Weiner, a senior adviser at The Education Trust. No Child Left Behind also required states and school districts to issue better report cards about educational performance. There, too, evasion rather than aggressive efforts are the norm.

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Barrett, state, Milwaukee Public Schools play nice at meeting

Alan Borsuk:

No fireworks, lots of pledges to work together.

That summarizes a meeting Tuesday evening involving Mayor Tom Barrett, state Secretary of Administration Michael Morgan and the Milwaukee School Board on what to do in the aftermath of a consultant's report that criticized the business culture of Milwaukee Public Schools and said MPS could save up to $103 million a year by changing practices.

All the participants agreed that MPS faces daunting financial problems, getting worse over the next several years, if there are not major changes in the way money comes in and is spent. There also was agreement that everyone - the state, the city, MPS and others - needs to work together to improve the financial picture and to improve academic outcomes overall.

Gov. Jim Doyle and Barrett sought the report after becoming concerned about trends in MPS, including continuing low test scores overall and large property tax increases in recent years.

A week ago, Barrett and Doyle did not come to meet with board members and did not send representatives, causing some members, particularly budget committee chairman Terry Falk, to criticize them. But for this special meeting of the board, Barrett was there, Doyle sent Morgan, and everyone acted diplomatically.

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Drama king: Tom Hardin guides Madison Memorial's Drama, Debate & Forensics Club

David Tenenbaum:

One by one, the students who will soon compete at the state forensics championship take the stage in the small theater at Memorial High School. Their timing is flawless, their gestures are fluid, their skill level is professional. Some of the performances, which last four to 12 minutes, make audience members laugh; some make them cry; a surprising number do both.

Dressed in black, deadly serious and totally in control, forensics coach Tom Hardin, an English teacher at Memorial, announces the program, then guards the door. As at any legitimate theater, stragglers are barred from entering during each act.

Sophomore Ben Mau performs a devastating roast of Oprah Winfrey.

"Oprah saved my life," he testifies. "If not for her, I would not know about all the random crap that nobody cares about."

Sophomore Naman Siad, the daughter of Somali immigrants, likens her head scarf to the traditional attire of nuns, and asks why Americans see the one as a sign of modesty and the other as an emblem of all we don't like -- or don't understand -- about Islam.

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May 14, 2009

Action Needed, Please Sign on.... Math Teacher Hiring in the Madison School District

via a kind reader's email: Janet Mertz and Gabi Meyer have written a letter about new math hires that they would like you to sign on to. Please send your name, your school(s), and any relevant identifying information or affiliation to:
Dear Superintendent Nerad and members of the Board of Education:

To address as quickly as possible the MMSD's need for more middle school teachers with outstanding content knowledge of mathematics, we, the undersigned, urge you to consider filling any vacancies that occur in the District's middle schools for the coming academic year with applicants who majored in the mathematical sciences or related fields (e.g., statistics, computer science, physics) in college, but may be currently deficient in teaching pedagogy. You might advertise nationally in appropriate places that applications from such candidates would be welcome. In recent years, many outstanding graduates with such backgrounds went into the computing, consulting, and financial industries. However, in the current economic climate, such jobs are much less available, especially to new college graduates. Thus, jobs in the teaching profession may be viewed much more favorably now by folks trained in the mathematical sciences despite the significantly lower salary. One indication of this is the fact that applications to Teach for America were up 42% this year. Teach for America had to reject over 30,000 applicants this spring, including hundreds of graduates from UW-Madison, due to the limited numbers they can train and place. Undoubtedly, some of these applicants were math majors who would be happy to live in Madison. Math for America, a similar program that only accepts people who majored in the mathematical sciences, likely also had to turn away large numbers of outstanding applicants. Possibly, the MMSD could contact Teach for America and Math for America inquiring whether there might be a mechanism by which your advertisement for middle school math teachers could be forwarded to some of the best of their rejects. As these programs do, the MMSD could provide these new hires with a crash course in teaching pedagogy over the summer before they commence work in the fall. They could be hired conditionally subject to completing all of the requirements for state teacher certification within 2 years and a commitment to teach in the MMSD for at least 3-5 years.

While the District's proposal to provide additional content knowledge to dozens of its current middle school teachers of mathematics might gradually improve the delivery of mathematics to the District's students, it would take numerous years to implement, involve considerable additional expense, and may still not totally solve the long-term need for math-qualified teachers, especially in view of the continuing wave of retirements. The coincidence of baby boomer retirements with the current severe economic recession provides a rare opportunity to fill our middle schools now with outstanding mathematics teachers for decades to come, doing so at much lower cost to the District since one would be hiring new, B.A.-level teachers rather than retraining experienced, M.A.-level ones. Thus, we urge you to act on this proposal within the next few weeks, in possible.

Ed Hughes comments over at Madison United for Academic Excellence:
It is interesting to note that state law provides that "A school board that employs a person who holds a professional teaching permit shall ensure that no regularly licensed teacher is removed from his or her position as a result of the employment of persons holding permits."
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With Critics Quiet, Hearing Praises D.C. School Voucher Program

Bill Turque:
The Senate's most outspoken supporter of the D.C. voucher initiative orchestrated more than two hours of uniformly glowing testimony for the program at a committee hearing yesterday and said the dissenting voices he invited turned him down.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, is pushing for reauthorization of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides up to $7,500 a year in federally funded tuition to 1,700 D.C. children from low-income families to attend private schools.

Congressional Democrats, supported by teachers unions and other liberal education groups that generally oppose using public money for private education, included language in the recent omnibus spending bill that would end the program in 2010. Last week, President Obama proposed continuing the scholarships so the students currently receiving money can finish high school. The program would be closed to new students.

Lieberman wants to fully revive the program and said yesterday that he has a commitment from Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) to bring the matter to the floor for debate and a vote this year.
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New test scores promising at Madison's first dual-language immersion school

Samara Kalk Derby:
Madison's only dual-language immersion school, Nuestro Mundo, has been popular with parents and students, but initial low test scores have been a concern. New test results, however, show that students at the east side elementary school are quickly showing improvement in math and reading.

The improved scores are not only important within the confines of Nuestro Mundo, where Principal Javier Bolivar says the school's biggest challenge is to prove that its students can learn proficiently while speaking two languages, but to the school district as a whole. Two more dual-language immersion programs have been approved and are due to open in the next year.

"We are gaining," says Bolivar of the encouraging test scores. "Even if we are gaining one point, it means we are doing what we are supposed to be doing and we are closing the achievement gap."

A public charter school inside Allis Elementary School at 4201 Buckeye Road, Nuestro Mundo started with a kindergarten class in 2004 and has added one grade per year. The school's first kindergartners are now fourth-graders who took the Wisconsin Knowledge Concepts Examination for the first time last school year. Third grade is the first year for state testing.
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U.S. education chief touts mayoral control of Detroit Public Schools

Jennifer Mrozowski & Santiago Esparza:

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today advocated for Detroit's new mayor to take over the city school system, saying strong change happens when good leaders are in control.

"I am strongly advocating for mayoral control," he said at Detroit's Cody High School, where he was conducting a listening tour to hear from students on how to improve schools.

Duncan, who headed Chicago Public Schools, reiterated his stance when addressing people gathered for the United Way's national convention at Cobo Center.

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, who accompanied Duncan on his tour at Cody, said this year is the right time for mayoral control, but added that a ballot measure is preferable to legislative action.

"A lot of the leadership is perfectly aligned to make changes," he said.

Bing, later addressing his first national convention since becoming mayor, said improving the district would be a top priority and that he would rely on partnerships to help get the job done.

Duncan said he hopes Detroit Public Schools can move from being a "national disgrace" to a "national model," and he would like to commit significant federal resources to help the system.

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More black lawmakers open to school vouchers

Greg Toppo:

Back when he was on the city council for the District of Columbia, attorney Kevin Chavous would occasionally run into fellow Democrats concerned about the state of the USA's urban schools.
They were open to a lot of ideas, but most Democrats have historically rejected taxpayer-supported private-school vouchers, saying they drain precious cash from needy public schools. Chavous, who served from 1992 to 2005, openly supported vouchers. He would ask others why they didn't.

"Several of them would whisper to me, 'I'm with you, but I can't come out in front,' " Chavous says.

That was then.

While vouchers will likely never be the clarion call of Democrats, they're beginning to make inroads among a group of young black lawmakers, mayors and school officials who have split with party and teachers union orthodoxy on school reform. The group includes Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, Newark Mayor Cory Booker and former Washington, D.C., mayor Anthony Williams.

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Canadian School Performance Report

The Fraser Institute:

Our School Report Cards include detailed tables for each school that show how it has done in academics over a number of years. This helps parents select a school for their children and evaluate a school's ongoing performance.

More Informed Parents
By first studying a school's report card, as a parent, you will be better prepared to ask relevant questions when you interview the principal and teachers at the schools you are considering.

You can also use the report cards to determine whether a school is improving over time.

Teachers and administrators can use the report card to compare results for their school with those of other schools whose students share personal or family characteristics. Seeing what other schools have accomplished can help each school's ongoing improvement efforts

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L.A. high school dropout rate climbs to 34.9%

Mitchell Landsberg:

The high school dropout rate improved slightly in California last year but rose in Los Angeles, where more than one-third of students are officially classified as dropouts, state officials said Tuesday.

Statewide, 68.3% of students graduated and 20.1% dropped out, according to data released by the state Department of Education. For the Los Angeles Unified School District, the dropout rate was 34.9%. Although the state dropout rate was down 1 percentage point from the previous year, the Los Angeles Unified rate was up by more than 3 percentage points.

The dropout rate is an estimate of how many students began ninth grade four years earlier and failed to graduate last spring. The dropout rate and graduation rate do not add up to 100% because they don't count students who get high school equivalency degrees, are still in school after four years or die.

Critics of the way the state calculates the dropout rate say it significantly understates the problem by, among other things, not counting students who transfer to private schools and then drop out. It also excludes the students -- more than 10,000 in California last year -- who drop out of middle school. State officials said they would begin including middle school students in the dropout rate next year.

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Financial literacy through video games

Jessica Bruder:

Heading west into a Texas sunset, the rented RV clatters along Interstate 20, rolling past cotton fields, windmills and oil derricks that glint gold in the last of the light. Tom Davidson is at the wheel, doing 80 and fighting fatigue.

The former three-term Maine legislator has spent the past two weeks barnstorming the country: schmoozing with economic development officials and community advocates in hardscrabble Trenton; donning a tuxedo for the National Black Chamber of Commerce's inaugural ball at the French embassy in Washington, D.C.; and spending time in Alabama with families of the Tuskegee Airmen, who served in World War II as America's first black fighter pilots.

Yesterday, Davidson presented commemorative certificates to a dozen high school kids in DeSoto, Texas. Tomorrow he'll meet tribal officials at the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo reservation in El Paso. Back east, Davidson's wife is eight months pregnant with their second child; he jokes that she'll probably divorce him by the time he gets home. There's still a week and more than 1,200 miles to go before he wraps up his whistle-stop tour in Long Beach, Calif.

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Economy Spurs Demand For Literacy Programs

Matt Shafer Powell:

Since the recession began in December 2007, more than 5 million jobs have been lost.

Callers are inundating literacy agencies because they realize they can't compete in this difficult job market without a GED. At the same time, many of those callers are forced to recognize and admit their inability to read simple documents, including a job application.

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Detroit Public Schools to Close 29 Schools

Peggy Walsh-Sarnecki:

Emergency financial manager Robert Bobb said the plan takes aim at more than just the district's $305-million deficit and has the potential to boost student achievement. Many of the remaining buildings will be fixed up with federal funds.

Most of the closures were expected, although 10 buildings not on the list in April were added to the chopping block. Four schools once slated to close were spared.

Bobb made it clear that everything is on the table when it comes to fixing the 40 schools in need of restructuring. That means anything from replacing staff to changing curriculum to making them charter schools. He said some of the restructured schools could be turned over to a private school-management company.

"The students and the parents deserve better from the school district," Bobb said. "We can no longer afford to let our children linger in underperforming schools."

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May 13, 2009

They Had it Made

David Brooks:

In the late 1930s, a group of 268 promising young men, including John F. Kennedy and Ben Bradlee, entered Harvard College. By any normal measure, they had it made. They tended to be bright, polished, affluent and ambitious. They had the benefit of the world's most prestigious university. They had been selected even from among Harvard students as the most well adjusted.

And yet the categories of journalism and the stereotypes of normal conversation are paltry when it comes to predicting a life course. Their lives played out in ways that would defy any imagination save Dostoyevsky's. A third of the men would suffer at least one bout of mental illness. Alcoholism would be a running plague. The most mundane personalities often produced the most solid success. One man couldn't admit to himself that he was gay until he was in his late 70s.

The men were the subject of one of the century's most fascinating longitudinal studies. They were selected when they were sophomores, and they have been probed, poked and measured ever since. Researchers visited their homes and investigated everything from early bed-wetting episodes to their body dimensions.

The results from the study, known as the Grant Study, have surfaced periodically in the years since. But they've never been so brilliantly captured as they are in an essay called "What Makes Us Happy?" by Joshua Wolf Shenk in the forthcoming issue of The Atlantic. (The essay is available online today.)

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The Harlem Miracle

David Brooks, via a kind reader's email:

The fight against poverty produces great programs but disappointing results. You go visit an inner-city school, job-training program or community youth center and you meet incredible people doing wonderful things. Then you look at the results from the serious evaluations and you find that these inspiring places are only producing incremental gains.

That's why I was startled when I received an e-mail message from Roland Fryer, a meticulous Harvard economist. It included this sentence: "The attached study has changed my life as a scientist."

Fryer and his colleague Will Dobbie have just finished a rigorous assessment of the charter schools operated by the Harlem Children's Zone. They compared students in these schools to students in New York City as a whole and to comparable students who entered the lottery to get into the Harlem Children's Zone schools, but weren't selected.

They found that the Harlem Children's Zone schools produced "enormous" gains. The typical student entered the charter middle school, Promise Academy, in sixth grade and scored in the 39th percentile among New York City students in math. By the eighth grade, the typical student in the school was in the 74th percentile. The typical student entered the school scoring in the 39th percentile in English Language Arts (verbal ability). By eighth grade, the typical student was in the 53rd percentile.

More here.

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Caring for your Introvert

Jonathan Rauch:

Do you know someone who needs hours alone every day? Who loves quiet conversations about feelings or ideas, and can give a dynamite presentation to a big audience, but seems awkward in groups and maladroit at small talk? Who has to be dragged to parties and then needs the rest of the day to recuperate? Who growls or scowls or grunts or winces when accosted with pleasantries by people who are just trying to be nice?

If so, do you tell this person he is "too serious," or ask if he is okay? Regard him as aloof, arrogant, rude? Redouble your efforts to draw him out?

If you answered yes to these questions, chances are that you have an introvert on your hands--and that you aren't caring for him properly. Science has learned a good deal in recent years about the habits and requirements of introverts. It has even learned, by means of brain scans, that introverts process information differently from other people (I am not making this up). If you are behind the curve on this important matter, be reassured that you are not alone. Introverts may be common, but they are also among the most misunderstood and aggrieved groups in America, possibly the world.

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Why I Give My 9-year-old Pot

Marie Myung-Ok Lee:

Question: why are we giving our nine-year-old a marijuana cookie?

Answer: because he can't figure out how to use a bong. My son J has autism. He's also had two serious surgeries for a spinal cord tumor and has an inflammatory bowel condition, all of which may be causing him pain, if he could tell us. He can say words, but many of them--"duck in the water, duck in the water"--don't convey what he means. For a time, anti-inflammatory medication seemed to control his pain. But in the last year, it stopped working. He began to bite and to smack the glasses off my face. If you were in that much pain, you'd probably want to hit someone, too.

Question: why are we giving our nine-year-old a marijuana cookie?

Answer: because he can't figure out how to use a bong. My son J has autism. He's also had two serious surgeries for a spinal cord tumor and has an inflammatory bowel condition, all of which may be causing him pain, if he could tell us. He can say words, but many of them--"duck in the water, duck in the water"--don't convey what he means. For a time, anti-inflammatory medication seemed to control his pain. But in the last year, it stopped working. He began to bite and to smack the glasses off my face. If you were in that much pain, you'd probably want to hit someone, too.

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Parents are urged to demand more from L.A. schools

Howard Blume:

Green Dot charter operator Steve Barr wants to organize grass-roots power to improve public education.

Risk-taking charter school operator Steve Barr is launching an effort through which parents would wrest political control of the L.A. school system from unions, school bureaucrats and other entrenched interests.

The plan is for parents to form chapters all over town and improve schools, one by one, using the growing leverage of the charter school movement. The goal is to unite a city of overworked and isolated parents with a brash promise:

If more than half of the parents at a school sign up, Barr's organizers say they will guarantee an excellent campus within three years. They call it the Parent Revolution.

With parents, they predict, they'll have the clout to pressure the Los Angeles Unified School District to improve schools. They'll also have petitions, which Barr and his allies will keep at the ready, to start charter schools. If the district doesn't deliver, targeted neighborhoods could be flooded with charters, which aren't run by the school district. L.A. Unified would lose enrollment, and the funding would go to the charters instead of to the district.

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On Chinese Education

Jim Fallows here and here:

Recently we've had Chinese and non-Chinese perspectives on Chinese schools (background here). For balance, a Chinese and a non-Chinese view in the same post!

Reasons I'm offering such long first-hand testimony: (1) no one has to read it! (2) many things about life in China -- and yes, life in other places -- are conveyed not in theoretical summaries but in accumulations of day by day experiences, like those recounted here. Several more still in the queue. Also, bear in mind that the foreigners writing in are ones who generally came to Chinese schools to "do something good." They're not here for the big bucks or the easy life but because they thought it would be valuable as well as interesting to be part of China's development at this stage.

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Evolving Standards

Julie O'Shea:

Even teachers need a little bonding time, whether that be team-building exercises or specially designed lectures to discuss today's rapidly evolving education standards.

The Prague British School (PBS) gave its teaching staff a chance to do just that during a two-day conference held last month titled "A Changing World: Challenges for Schools." The event, held at the Prague school campus, was sponsored by the Council of British International Schools (COBIS) and attracted educators from as far away as Malaysia and Brazil. Representatives from a few other British international schools in the Czech Republic also were in attendance.

"Teaching as a whole has just changed. ... Just communication alone has changed so much," notes John Bagust, the head of primary schools at PBS and the organizer of last month's conference. "It's important for schools to look toward the future."

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Take a Walk on the Wired Side

Rob Weir:

Summer is coming, a time in which many colleges seek instructors to teach online courses. These are cash cows for campuses, a way to enhance the revenue stream without having to keep facilities open. (Or better yet, making those facilities available for outside groups to rent.) Math, business, and computer science professors have blazed the trail, but online teaching remains problematic in word-heavy disciplines such as the humanities, and it has a mixed record in hands-on laboratory-based sciences. (Biologists often complain that computer simulations are, at best, simulacra.) Teaching online can be rewarding, but be wary before you agree to tackle such a course.

There are several seemingly counterintuitive experiences I've had with online courses. In summary:

* Older students generally perform better than younger ones.
* The range of achievement is much narrower.
* Online courses work best when they mirror live classes.
* Discussion is generally more robust online.
* An online course definitely will not run itself!

Younger students love the idea of online courses, but they are often the worst students -- despite their greater facility with technology. Yahoo! runs ads for "Why online college is rocking," and that's part of the problem. Online education is being sold as if it's for everyone, when those finding real success are those who are self-motivated, highly organized, and in possession of well-developed study habits. And how many of your young undergrads fit that profile? Younger students approach online classes as if they're just another "cool" thing to do on the Web. Be prepared to badger them if you want them to get through your course.

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School bullies are going high-tech

Martina Cermakova:

The video appeared on YouTube last June. Posted by a group of ninth-graders from a school in Železný Brod, a small town in northern Bohemia, it depicted a teacher requesting that a 15-year-old student clean the mess around his desk.

"Pick it up yourself, you piece of trash," the boy snapped back. Within seconds, the teacher charged the student and slapped him in the face.

The mobile recording received widespread attention, including a snippet on BBC News. Although it wasn't the cruelest and certainly not the only case of cyber-bullying in the Czech Republic, the video highlights how fast things have evolved in the past few years.

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10 Things to Find Out Before Committing to a College

Lynn Jacobs & Jeremy Hyman:

Often we find that students, and their parents, tend to focus on bells and whistles when making their college selections. They fixate on things like the looks of the campus, the size of the library, the honors and study-abroad programs, even the quality of the football team. Hey, these are all fine and good. But we urge you to also think about some things that, while often overlooked, constitute the bread and butter of your college experience. Before you decide, here are 10 things you might not have thought to consider:

1. The number of requirements . These vary widely from school to school. And while it might look very impressive to see a long list of required courses, it's not so great to find yourself mired in courses that don't interest you, while you're unable to take electives in areas that do. It's even less great when you realize that some of these most unpleasant requirements were instituted by some legislator who insisted that everyone in the state needs to take State History 101. Or by some pushy department in 1950, which couldn't get students to take its courses in any other way.

2. How flexible those requirements are . Schools that require specific courses, with no substitutions allowed, can really put you in a bind if you'd rather take more advanced courses--or need to take more remedial courses--to fulfill that requirement. So check to see that the school allows a choice of levels to satisfy the various requirements. Also, keep in mind that anytime a school needs to route hundreds or thousands of students through Course X, Course X is going to become a sort of factory that neither the students taking the course nor the teachers teaching the course are going to like much.

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May 12, 2009

A Sixth Grader’s Take on My Life

Lisa Belkin:
One of my favorite parts of this job is being invited to speak at schools. I spent time at the Masters School earlier this year, with a group of sixth graders who were learning to interview as part of their writing curriculum. Turns out I was their interview subject for the day, and one student, Isis Bruno, wrote her final project based on that group interview.

What does this have to do with parenting? Only that it takes a village, and I am honored to have the chance to be that for other parents’ children once in a while.

Here is what Isis wrote about me for her class, just as she wrote it. (She kindly made me younger than I am; in fact I have been writing for the Times for more than 20 years.) Her guiding question was whether children her age should already know what they want to be when they grow up, and from where I sit she got the answer just right.
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Our View: Teachers' e-mails at work are public records

Wausau Daily Herald via a kind reader's email:
Sometime in the spring of 2007, Don Bubolz of Vesper didn't like what he heard at a meeting of the Wisconsin Rapids School Board.

He filed an open records request on April 16 of that year seeking the release of all e-mail messages sent to and from the accounts of five teachers in the district, for a period of about six weeks. At the time, he told the Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune that he wanted to find out -- and wanted school administrators to know -- whether the teachers were "doing their job the way it's supposed to be done."

The district superintendent indicated he would release the e-mails. The Wisconsin Education Association Council, representing the five teachers, filed an injunction to block their release.

The case made its way through trial court, and last month the Appeals Court certified it for consideration by the state Supreme Court. The appeals court said that there is no existing legal guideline in Wisconsin about whether personal e-mails constitute public records. If it chooses to rule on the case, then, the Supreme Court's decision would have far-reaching implications.
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California Senate Approves Software as an Alternative to Textbooks

Patrick McGreevy:
California teenagers may be spared having to lug back-breaking loads of textbooks to school under a proposal that would make it easier for campuses to use electronic instructional material.

Allowing high schools greater freedom to spend state money on software to put textbooks on laptops and other electronic devices was backed by the Los Angeles Unified School District and approved Monday by the state Senate.

The Assembly will consider the proposal, drafted by state Sen. Elaine Alquist (D-Santa Clara). "Today's K-12 students represent the first generation to have spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computers, video games, digital music players, video cameras, cellphones and all the other gadgets of the digital age," Alquist said after the 36-0 Senate vote.

"Today's students are no longer the students of blackboards and chalk."

California law limits how school districts can use state funds for instructional materials, requiring them to purchase enough textbooks for all students before spending money on electronic material.

As a result, some districts have purchased materials in both book form and software or have refrained from buying software, Alquist said.
I've read a number of ebooks on my iPhone while on travel. The benefit: light and easy to carry. Downside: it is still quite a different experience, but the text is certainly readable. This is certainly the future, particularly as the small devices become more powerful.
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Bullying, Thefts Persist Despite Drop in Violence

Valerie Strauss:

Even though spasms of intense violence erupt on campuses occasionally and linger in the social consciousness, violence at schools across the country has been decreasing for a number of years.

That doesn't necessarily mean schools are safe havens. Consider:

-- Eighty-six percent of public schools in 2005-06 reported that one or more violent incidents, thefts of items valued at $10 or greater or other crimes had occurred -- a rate of 46 crimes per 1,000 enrolled students.

-- Almost a third of students ages 12 to 18 reported being bullied inside school.

-- Nearly a quarter of teenagers reported the presence of gangs at their schools.

Indicators of School Crime and Safety.

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Duncan Wants Title I Dollars to Drive Reform

Education Secretary Arne Duncan today told a leading think tank that the Obama administration is changing the federal Title I program to aggressively drive reform in schools that need it the most.

Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and the proposed 2010 budget, the administration is shifting billions of dollars into the Title I School Improvement Fund (SIF), which allows for bold strategies to help turn around underperforming schools and advance other key reforms.

The $13 billion for Title I under the ARRA includes $10 billion that is distributed by formula to schools with significant low-income populations and $3 billion for the SIF. The proposed 2010 budget also includes $1.5 billion for the SIF -- almost triple the amount in the SIF in the 2009 budget, not including ARRA.

Speaking at the Brookings Institution in Washington, Duncan said, "Title I was set up to correct funding inequities -- and that is important. But it really should be more focused on correcting educational inequities."

The administration is also using the transparency requirements under the ARRA State Fiscal Stabilization Fund to challenge states and districts to turn around low-performing schools using Title I dollars. Specifically, states must identify the bottom five percent of their schools and report on how many have undergone reconstitution.

Molly Peterson has more.

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Shooting stars: Why highfliers flame out in new jobs

Don Sull:

In a downturn firms can acquire resources that would be too expensive or unavailable in a boom. This logic applies to human resources as well as brand or hard assets. A recent survey found that hiring stars is among the most effective ways to enhance a firm's talent pool during a recession.

Research has consistently found that stars outperform average employees. For highly complex tasks, the top 1% of workers are more than twice as productive as the average employee. Top research scientists and software programmers are five to ten times more productive than average. Markets recognize the value of hiring stars. A study of twenty General Electric alumni appointed as CEOs between 1989 and 2001found the hiring company's stock price increased in all but three cases when the company announced the new hire, boosting shareholder value more than $1 billion on average.

In a series of excellent studies, Professor Boris Groysberg (with colleagues including Nitin Nohria and Ashish Nanda) has demonstrated that a star's performance often suffers after switching employers. Star equity analysts (i.e., those earning the highest rankings from Institutional Investor magazine) suffer an average decline in performance of 20% when they shift firms, and do not return to their previous form for five years. Groysberg, who also conducted the study on CEOs from GE, found that several of the new CEOs, including Paolo Fresco at Fiat and Gary Wendt at Conseco, failed to create shareholder value in their new firms.

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Proposed Budget Cuts in the Milwaukee Public Schools

Alan Borsuk:

With a wad of budget amendments, Michael Bonds, the new president of the Milwaukee School Board, will push this week for what he labels "a major restructuring" of the MPS central office.

"There's a lot of fat and waste in the district - a lot," Bonds said in an interview. He said approving his budget ideas would "signal to the public that the board is serious about addressing the finance issue."

Action on Bonds' proposals is likely to provide some of a list of major moments this week in the fast-moving drama over charting the way the school system is controlled and what direction it is headed.

Gov. Jim Doyle and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett are expected to announce early in the week the members of an advisory committee that they want to get involved in MPS matters. Although the group will have no legal authority, its creation may turn out to be a significant step toward Doyle and Barrett involving themselves in school issues in ways not seen before.

And Barrett and a representative of Doyle are expected to meet with the School Board in an open session Tuesday to discuss the repercussions of a consultant's report the governor and mayor released last month that was strongly critical of the business culture of MPS. The report said as much as $103 million a year could be saved if MPS made better decisions.

Bonds has hit the ground running in less than two weeks as the board's leader. He met last week with Barrett and the incoming state superintendent of public instruction, Tony Evers, and he has said there will be big changes in the way the 85,000-student system is run, many of them in line with the consultant's report.

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'Posion gas' puts 50 Afghan schoolgirls in hospital


The students in the northern town of Charikar were rushed out of their classrooms by the headmaster when they smelt an unusual odour and started feeling nauseous and dizzy.
"I am pretty sure whoever has done this is against education for girls, but I strongly ask the parents not to be discouraged by such brutal action and send their children to school," said Noor Jahan, a ninth grader at Ura Jalili Girls' High School.

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Students campaign for a voice on Madison School Board

Gayle Worland:

Call it the "student liaison whistle-stop tour."

Four ambitious candidates will be making the rounds today at Madison high schools -- giving stump speeches, outlining their platforms and extending a teenaged handshake to anyone who's interested.

Jonathan Delgado, a sophomore at East High School, Sarah Maslin, a junior at West, and Nathan Powell, a junior at Memorial, are in a three-way race for the position of student liaison to the Madison School Board, a job that entails rounding up and representing the opinions of the district's 25,000 students.

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For Many Teachers, a Famously Fertile Market Dries Up Overnight

Javier Hernandez:

Larissa Patel dreamed of teaching English at a Brooklyn public school this fall, motivated by a desire to help low-income children. But instead, on Friday, Ms. Patel spent the day filling out applications for 30 jobs at private schools.

Ms. Patel's abrupt change in plans was precipitated by a new citywide ban on hiring teachers from outside the school system.

"Suddenly, overnight, I am rethinking my entire career," said Ms. Patel, 30, a student at St. John's University who left a job in the digital imaging industry to work as a substitute teacher and pursue an education degree. "It's a very bleak point in time. It's forced me to sort of look in a new direction."

In an effort to cut costs and avoid teacher layoffs, the Department of Education on Wednesday ordered principals to fill vacancies with internal candidates only. As a result, aspiring teachers at education schools and members of programs like Teach for America -- a corps of recent college graduates -- and the city's Teaching Fellows -- which trains career professionals to become teachers -- are scrambling for jobs.

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May 11, 2009

An Economist, an Academic Puzzle and a Lot of Promise

Steven Pearlstein, via a kind reader's email:
Early in his career, Paul Romer helped solve one of the great puzzles of economics: What makes some economies grow faster than others? His "new growth theory" might one day earn him a Nobel prize.

Then a decade ago, Romer, by then a professor at Stanford University, decided to tackle what may be an even tougher puzzle: Why were so many of his students coming to class unprepared and disengaged?

Romer's quest began with the proposition that the more time students put into their studies, the more they learn. As Malcolm Gladwell demonstrates in his new book, "Outliers," that's certainly true in many other areas of human endeavor -- the more you practice scales or swing a club, the better you are at playing piano or hitting a decent golf shot. Why should learning economics be any different?

It took some noodling around, but two years later, Romer raised $10 million in venture capital to start a software company he called Aplia. The idea was to develop interactive exercises that students could do in conjunction with the most widely used college economics textbooks. Students would answer questions, then get immediate feedback on what they got right and wrong, along with some explanations that might help them get it right on a second and third try. Aplia's team of young Ph.D. economists and software programmers also devised laboratory experiments in which the entire class could participate in simulated markets that give students a practical understanding of concepts like money supply and demand curves.
Locally, the Madison School Board is discussing a proposed technology plan this evening. Ideally, before any more is spent, the Infinite Campus system should be fully implemented, and used by teachers, staff and students. Once that is done, there are many possibilities, including this example.
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America's classroom equality battle

Clive Crook:

The most ambitious US presidency in living memory hardly needs to extend its list of tasks, you might think. Yet the country's long-term economic prospects turn on something that is all too easy to neglect, just as it has been neglected in the past. The US is failing calamitously in primary and secondary education. The average quality of its workforce is falling, and its schools are adding to the problem rather than mitigating it.

Much of what ails the country - including growing economic inequality - can be traced to this source. Politicians recognise the fact, and prate about it endlessly. Barack Obama puts improving the schools alongside health reform and alternative energy whenever he lays out his long-term goals.

The trouble is, fixing the schools is not something that a crisis ever forces you to do. The consequences of a third-rate education system creep up on you and, experience shows, can be tolerated indefinitely. Many vested interests prefer it that way. Talk about the issue and move on is the line of least political resistance.

Just how badly is the US school system failing? A new study by McKinsey bravely attempts to come up with some numbers - and its estimates, though arrived at conservatively, are pretty startling*.

According to the Programme for International Student Assessment, a long-term comparison project from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the US lags far behind the industrial-country average in a standardised measure of maths and science skills among 15-year-olds. It sits among low-achievers such as Portugal and Italy, and way behind the best performers, such as South Korea, Finland, Canada and the Netherlands. It scores worse than the UK, which is about average on both measures.

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A $100 Billion Question: How Best to Fix the Schools?

Jay Matthews:

If you had $100 billion to fix our schools, what would you do? A surprisingly smart list of suggestions for the education portion of the federal stimulus money is circulating in the education policy world. A group of experts claims authorship. I don't believe committees are capable of good ideas, so I doubt the alleged origins of the list. But let's put that aside for a moment and see what they've got.

Better yet, why not come up with our own ideas? My column seeking cheap ways to improve education yielded interesting results. By contrast, think of what we could do if we had enough money to buy the contract of every great quarterback: guarantee the Redskins a Super Bowl victory. Many expensive school-fixing schemes proved just as insane and just as useless. But Barack Obama is president, and we are supposed to be hopeful.

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How David Beats Goliath

Malcolm Gladwell:

The second principle was more important. Ranadivé was puzzled by the way Americans played basketball. He is from Mumbai. He grew up with cricket and soccer. He would never forget the first time he saw a basketball game. He thought it was mindless. Team A would score and then immediately retreat to its own end of the court. Team B would inbound the ball and dribble it into Team A's end, where Team A was patiently waiting. Then the process would reverse itself. A basketball court was ninety-four feet long. But most of the time a team defended only about twenty-four feet of that, conceding the other seventy feet. Occasionally, teams would play a full-court press--that is, they would contest their opponent's attempt to advance the ball up the court. But they would do it for only a few minutes at a time. It was as if there were a kind of conspiracy in the basketball world about the way the game ought to be played, and Ranadivé thought that that conspiracy had the effect of widening the gap between good teams and weak teams. Good teams, after all, had players who were tall and could dribble and shoot well; they could crisply execute their carefully prepared plays in their opponent's end. Why, then, did weak teams play in a way that made it easy for good teams to do the very things that made them so good?

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The Dreaded Grade Appeal

Shari Dinkins:

During a routine conversation about the semester, curriculum, and student population, a colleague of mine burst in with a frustrated comment about grade appeals. He thinks that we're seeing more formal grade complaints than in past years. A dozen contacts at community colleges and universities seem to agree; we're seeing more and more students going to the administration to complain about individual assignment grades, course policies, and final course grades. On a bad week, I will see more students in my office wrangling over assignment grades than those truly hoping to improve their academic performance. It's depressing. Like many of my academic friends, I want to blame the generational divide for what looks like an increase in the number of grade appeals. After watching "I Love the 80's" every night in a week, I want to wail and cry, mumbling that this new generation just doesn't understand. They have no sense of what's appropriate. They don't respect authority. And their sense of entitlement is overwhelming. That, my friend, is what's causing this increase in grade appeals across the nation.

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Kindergarten Cram

Peggy Orenstein

About a year ago, I made the circuit of kindergartens in my town. At each stop, after the pitch by the principal and the obligatory exhibit of art projects only a mother (the student's own) could love, I asked the same question: "What is your policy on homework?"

And always, whether from the apple-cheeked teacher in the public school or the earnest administrator of the "child centered" private one, I was met with an eager nod. Oh, yes, each would explain: kindergartners are assigned homework every day.

Bzzzzzzt. Wrong answer.

When I was a child, in the increasingly olden days, kindergarten was a place to play. We danced the hokey­pokey, swooned in suspense over Duck, Duck, Gray Duck (that's what Minnesotans stubbornly call Duck, Duck, Goose) and napped on our mats until the Wake-Up Fairy set us free.

No more. Instead of digging in sandboxes, today's kindergartners prepare for a life of multiple-choice boxes by plowing through standardized tests with cuddly names like Dibels (pronounced "dibbles"), a series of early-literacy measures administered to millions of kids; or toiling over reading curricula like Open Court -- which features assessments every six weeks.

According to "Crisis in the Kindergarten," a report recently released by the Alliance for Childhood, a nonprofit research and advocacy group, all that testing is wasted: it neither predicts nor improves young children's educational outcomes. More disturbing, along with other academic demands, like assigning homework to 5-year-olds, it is crowding out the one thing that truly is vital to their future success: play.

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 12:54 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

May 10, 2009

What impact do high school mathematics curricula have on college-level mathematics placement?

James Wollack & Michael Fish [280K PDF], via a kind reader's email UW Center for Placement Testing [Link to Papers]:

Major Findings:
  • CORE-Plus students performed significantly less well on math placement test and ACT-M than did traditional students
  • Change in performance was observed immediately after switch
  • Score trends throughout CORE-Plus years actually decreased slightly - Inconsistent with a teacher learning-curve hypothesis
  • CORE-AP students fared much better, but not as well as the traditional - AP students - Both sample sizes were low

Related:[280K PDF Complete Presentation]

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:32 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

China's boxed itself in
Its emphasis on math and science has certainly fueled its rapid economic growth, but its lack of creative thinking could rob it of an innovative edge.

Randy Pollock:

Which country -- the United States or China -- will make the 21st century its own?

When President Obama recently called for American young people "to be makers of things" and focus on subjects such as science and engineering, it was partly a nod to China's rapid growth. Had he lived, taught and consulted in China for the last 33 months, as I have, he might have urged American students first to follow his example and study the liberal arts. Only technical knowledge complemented by well-honed critical and creative thinking skills can help us regain our innovative edge. China's traditional lack of emphasis on teaching these skills could undermine its efforts to develop its own innovative economy.

I once challenged my Chinese MBA students to brainstorm "two-hour business plans." I divided them into six groups, gave them detailed instructions and an example: a restaurant chain. The more original their idea, the better, I stressed -- and we'd vote for a prize winner. The word "prize" energized the room. Laptops flew open. Fingers pounded. Voices roared. Packs of cookies were ripped open and shared. Not a single person text-messaged. I'd touched a nerve.

In the end, five of the six groups presented plans for, you guessed it, restaurant chains. The sixth proposed a catering service. Why risk a unique solution when the instructor has let it slip he likes the food business?

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Asia Seeks Its Own Brand of Business Schools

Moon Ihlwan:

Business major Lee Sun Kee is happy that he attended Korea University in Seoul. Lee, a senior, took four courses at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School last fall as an exchange student and feels that his university in Korea offers business programs just as good as those at Ivy League schools. "At Wharton, I met talented students and a couple of star professors whose lectures were impressive," says Lee. "But for other classes, I thought I could have learned better in Korea at one-tenth of Wharton's tuition."

Lee is one of a growing number of students appreciating a drastic makeover undertaken at business schools in Korea. Under a campaign to globalize curricula, faculty, and ways of thinking by students, top universities in the country have rebuilt their programs by modeling themselves largely on leading business schools in the U.S. "Globalization is our new mission," says Jang Hasung, dean of Korea University Business School. While Korean multinationals like Samsung Electronics and Hyundai Motor have been expanding worldwide for years, Jang says his school long had focused too much on national issues and Korean perspectives.

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Liberian president drops in on Fla. schoolchildren

Christine Armario:

Fidgety boys and girls in school uniforms gawked as the sport utility vehicles rolled up. Teachers snapped pictures, bodyguards stood watch and Liberia's female president stepped out of a car at a Tampa preparatory school.

Florida is not a hub for Liberian immigrants and most students at Berkeley Preparatory School knew little about the West African nation weeks ago. But they began studying up on the country after learning Africa's first democratically elected female head of state, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, would visit.

On Friday, a school chorus sang "Let there be peace on Earth" as the smiling leader clapped and posed for photographs in her traditional green dress and shawl.

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Neutral Milk Hotel Album Transformed For Stage

Avishay Artsy:

The scene is a restaurant. Anne Frank sits at a table.

The actress says, "We have duck a l'orange, saffron couscous and steak. Or would you like to try some of our fine wines? Helga, darling? Please? Answer me?"

This is all in Frank's imagination. In fact, she's in a death camp, dying of typhus and losing her grasp on reality. Emma Feinberg plays Anne Frank. She's a freshman at Lexington High School in Massachusetts and the play is called With the Needle That Sings in Her Heart. It's about Frank's final months at Bergen-Belsen. Faced with horror and brutality, she escapes into a world where prisoners and Nazi officers become circus performers.

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Winning the money game

Beth Kowitt:

The economic downturn has made financial aid an even more urgent concern for many families. Reporter Beth Kowitt talked with education financing expert Mark Kantrowitz, the founder of, about how the system works and how to get the most out of it.

Q: How is the recession affecting the availability of financial aid?

A: Colleges recognize that a time of economic distress is the worst time to be cutting student aid. On the other hand, there are many more people applying for aid - applications are up 20% this year. Schools are trying to protect their student aid budgets - they've been doing things like laying off faculty and freezing salaries to avoid cutting aid. Some schools that offer both merit- and need-based aid are reducing the academic scholarships and redirecting that money into need-based aid. And they are focusing on the families that need it most. If your 529 plan went down 40% last year, you're probably not going to get an increase in financial aid, because everybody's went down 40%. The schools are more likely to offer additional help to parents who lost a job.

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May 9, 2009

Unions sue governor over schools funding

Nanette Asimov:

Two of California's smaller education unions, unwilling to wait for voters to decide May 19 whether to authorize more than $9 billion in education funds, sued the governor Friday to force the state to pay money they say is owed to schools and to clarify the law so schools can count on funds in the future.

"We're filing this suit to make it clear that the state owes this money to schools and community colleges," said Marty Hittleman, president of the California Federation of Teachers, representing about 100,000 educators in schools and community colleges.

The 37,000-member Service Employees International Union local that represents janitors, clerks, bus drivers, and other school workers also joined the suit, filed in San Francisco Superior Court.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:12 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

An Education

Esther Duflo:

FOR millions of girls around the world, motherhood comes too early. Those who bear children as adolescents suffer higher maternal mortality and morbidity rates, and their children are more likely to die in infancy. One reliable way to solve this problem is through education. The more affordable it is, the longer girls will stay in school and delay pregnancy.

I advise a nonprofit foundation called Innovation for Poverty Action that focuses on keeping girls in school. (We aren't alone; lots of other terrific organizations do this, too.) In a pilot program we ran in Kenya a few years ago, around 5,000 sixth-grade girls in 163 primary schools were given a $6 school uniform free. If they stayed in school, they received a second uniform after 18 months. The dropout rate over the next three years decreased by a third, to 12 percent, and the pregnancy rate fell to 8 percent from 12 percent. Of every 50 girls given free uniforms, then, three stayed in school as a result of the uniforms alone, and two delayed pregnancy.

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Many Views on Obama and Vouchers

Washington Post:

The Post asked education and political experts to assess the president's plan for D.C. students. Below are contributions from Andrew J. Rotherham, Dick Durbin, Tom Davis, Randi Weingarten, Michelle Rhee, Michael Bennet, Lanny J. Davis, Margaret Spellings, Andrew J. Coulson, Ed Rogers, Michael J. Petrilli, Anthony A. Williams, Joseph E. Robert Jr., Harold Ford Jr. and Lisa Schiffren.

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Inflation: 1929-2009

via Bloomberg:

Much more on the stimulus/splurge here.

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Oregon, WI Schools to Consider Virtual Classroom Integration

Gena Kittner:
Fresh air and sunshine stream from large windows into the brightly painted basement of Jennifer Schmitt's two-story home where she teaches seven students ranging from first to seventh grade a geometry lesson. Later the students scatter to separate whiteboard-topped tables to work puzzles or to pillow-padded nooks to read.

"Scholars, listen up!" Schmitt said as she gathered the students back together after a break to resume their studies.

It's 8:30 a.m. and the "Schmitt Academy" is in full swing.

Schmitt's students are either home schooled or take classes online through one of the state's several "virtual schools." They go to Schmitt -- a certified teacher whose two youngest children attend a virtual school -- for lessons in math and language arts.

Her operation, now in its fifth year, demonstrates the growing popularity of classrooms that go beyond the traditional brick and mortar.
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Milwaukee teachers reject longer day for more pay

Alan Borsuk:
The Milwaukee Public Schools teachers union has rejected a proposal that would lengthen the school day and pay teachers for the extra time with federal economic stimulus money, says Superintendent William Andrekopoulos.

The MPS chief said Thursday night that the union rejected adding 25 minutes to the school day for teaching math at all elementary and kindergarten-through-eighth grade schools. The union also rejected a proposal that would give all teachers six additional hours a month to work on improving programs in their schools. In both cases, teachers would have been paid for the additional time in line with their hourly rate of pay.

Tom Morgan, executive director of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, insisted Friday that there are better ways to improve education than lengthening the school day.

"We've taken a consistent view that doing the same thing longer is going to produce the same results," said Morgan of the idea to add 25 minutes a day.

Speaking to School Board members at a budget meeting Thursday night, Andrekopoulos called the union decisions "unfortunate" and "disturbing."

Earlier this week, MPS budget officials painted a picture for School Board members that is fast getting uglier when it comes to the $1.2 billion MPS budget and in which there is a dispute over how best to spend tens of millions of dollars in stimulus money.
Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:04 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The Curse of the Class of 2009

Sara Murray:

The bad news for this spring's college graduates is that they're entering the toughest labor market in at least 25 years.

The worse news: Even those who land jobs will likely suffer lower wages for a decade or more compared to those lucky enough to graduate in better times, studies show.

Andrew Friedson graduated last year from the University of Maryland with a degree in government and politics and a stint as student-body president on his résumé. After working on Barack Obama's presidential campaign for a few months, Mr. Friedson hoped to get a position in the new administration. When that didn't pan out he looked for jobs on Capitol Hill. No luck there, either.

So now, instead of learning about policymaking and legislation, he's earning about $1,250 a month as a high-school tutor and a part-time fundraiser for Hillel, a Jewish campus organization. To save money, he's living with his parents.

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Radical idea: Ask what we get for the money

Daniel Weintraub:

No matter what happens in the special election May 19, California's government finances will remain a mess. It took years of mismanagement and economic misfortune for the state to dig itself into this hole, and it is going to take many years to climb out of it.

As the climbing begins, the state needs to make fundamental changes in the way it collects and spends the taxpayers' money. Otherwise, the next generation of lawmakers will repeat the same old mistakes as their predecessors.

Proposition 1A, with its rainy-day fund, would be one improvement, requiring lawmakers to set money aside in good times to cushion the blow of the next downturn. A bipartisan commission that has been studying the tax system will soon release its recommendations on how to make California's revenue collections fairer and more stable. That could also improve things.

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

The Next Age of Discovery

Alexandra Alter:

In a 21st-century version of the age of discovery, teams of computer scientists, conservationists and scholars are fanning out across the globe in a race to digitize crumbling literary treasures.

In the process, they're uncovering unexpected troves of new finds, including never-before-seen versions of the Christian Gospels, fragments of Greek poetry and commentaries on Aristotle. Improved technology is allowing researchers to scan ancient texts that were once unreadable -- blackened in fires or by chemical erosion, painted over or simply too fragile to unroll. Now, scholars are studying these works with X-ray fluorescence, multispectral imaging used by NASA to photograph Mars and CAT scans used by medical technicians.

A Benedictine monk from Minnesota is scouring libraries in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Georgia for rare, ancient Christian manuscripts that are threatened by wars and black-market looters; so far, more than 16,500 of his finds have been digitized. This summer, a professor of computer science at the University of Kentucky plans to test 3-D X-ray scanning on two papyrus scrolls from Pompeii that were charred by volcanic ash in 79 A.D. Scholars have never before been able to read or even open the scrolls, which now sit in the French National Institute in Paris.

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

Boring Within or Simply Boring?

Rob Weir:

In the age of computer-based learning, lecturing gets treated like Model-T Ford. Don't be deceived; lecturing remains a staple of the academy and it's likely to remain so for quite some time. University class sizes have swelled in the wake of budget cuts that have delayed (or canceled) faculty searches. A recent study of eleven Ohio four-year colleges reveals that 25 percent of introductory classes have more than 120 students and only a shortage of teaching assistants has kept the percentage that low. At the University of Massachusetts, 12 percent of all classes have enrollments of over 50 and lectures of over 200 are quite common. As long as universities operate on the assembly-line model, lecturing will remain integral to the educational process.

But even if enormous class sizes aren't the norm at your college, lecturing is still an art you should master. It doesn't matter how technologically adroit one is or how many non-instructor-directed whistles and bells get crammed into a course, at some point every professor lectures, even if it's just giving instructions or recapping a completed exercise. (I'll address online classes in the future, but let's just say that you'd be wise to incorporate lecture-like components into these as well.)

Lots of new professors harbor anxiety about lecturing, which is understandable, given that it shows up in most top-10 lists of American phobias. The ability to give an engaging lecture doesn't come shrink-wrapped with your graduate diploma. Nor does it necessarily come with experience; some of the smartest and most seasoned professors I've ever encountered are horrible lecturers. That said, lecturing is so integral to successful college teaching that it's a form of masochism and sadism to not become good at it.

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

Education Critic to Obama: Tell the Truth

Jay Matthews:

If there was any doubt that education analyst Gerald W. Bracey doesn't play favorites, that's gone now. After excoriating the Bush administration and its education officials for eight years, after canvassing his neighborhood, donating his own money and voting for Barack Obama for president, Bracey is giving the new president just what he gave the old one -- unrelenting grief.

In a speech to the American Educational Research Association in San Diego last month on "countering the fearmongers about American public schools," Bracey added to his list of non-truthtellers President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. "Obama and Duncan seem to be following the long-established line that you can get away with saying just about anything you choose about public schools and no one will call you on it," Bracey said. "People will believe anything you say about public education as long as it's bad."

Bracey and I disagree on many issues, but I have long been one of his most appreciative readers, dating back to the days when I knew him only as a sharp-witted writer whose pieces occasionally appeared in The Washington Post's Outlook section. When I came back to Washington to cover local schools, I introduced myself to Bracey, who was then living in Northern Virginia, and wrote a piece about him and his long battle to persuade policymakers, political candidates and journalists to stop exaggerating our educational problems to win themselves appropriations, votes and attention. He lost at least one job because of his writing. Instead of using his doctorate in educational psychology to get a cushy university or think tank job, he has devoted his life to setting us straight, in his less financially secure role as freelance writer, author and speaker.

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

The Instigator: Steve Barr

Douglas McGray:

Steve Barr stood in the breezeway at Alain Leroy Locke High School, at the edge of the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, on a February morning. He's more than six feet tall, with white-gray hair that's perpetually unkempt, and the bulk of an ex-jock. Beside him was Ramon Cortines--neat, in a trim suit--the Los Angeles Unified School District's new superintendent. Cortines had to be thinking about last May, when, as a senior deputy superintendent, he had visited under very different circumstances. That was when a tangle between two rival cliques near an outdoor vending machine turned into a fight that spread to every corner of the schoolyard. Police sent more than a dozen squad cars and surged across the campus in riot gear, as teachers grabbed kids on the margins and whisked them into locked classrooms.

The school's test scores had been among the worst in the state. In recent years, seventy-five per cent of incoming freshmen had dropped out. Only about three per cent graduated with enough credits to apply to a California state university. Two years ago, Barr had asked L.A.U.S.D. to give his charter-school-management organization, Green Dot Public Schools, control of Locke, and let him help the district turn it around. When the district refused, Green Dot became the first charter group in the country to seize a high school in a hostile takeover. ("He's a revolutionary," Nelson Smith, the president and C.E.O. of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said.) Locke reopened in September, four months after the riot, as a half-dozen Green Dot schools.

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May 8, 2009

So Long, Washington, DC School Choice.....

The Economist:
FOR all of the hype that preceded the Tea Parties, the first protest to win some sort of concession from Barack Obama's administration may have been the protests against the end of Washington's school-voucher programme. A month ago, the programme's funding was shamefully struck from the president's proposed budget. This prompted libertarian and liberal groups to fight back, culminating in a protest yesterday. And today comes news of a compromise of sorts:
President Obama will propose setting aside enough money for all 1,716 students in the District's voucher program to continue receiving grants for private school tuition until they graduate from high school, but he would allow no new students to join the program.
Actually, that's not much of a compromise. That's more of a cover-up. Let's remember that Mr Obama, who sends his own children to private school, made the following promise during his inaugural address:
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Is Barack Obama's education secretary too good to be true?

The Economist:

IT IS hard to find anybody with a bad word to say about Arne Duncan, Barack Obama's young education secretary. Margaret Spellings, his predecessor in the Bush administration, calls him "a visionary leader and fellow reformer". During his confirmation hearings Lamar Alexander, a senator from Tennessee and himself a former education secretary, sounded more like a lovesick schoolgirl than a member of the opposition party: "I think you're the best." Enthusiastic without being over-the-top, pragmatic without being a pushover, he is also the perfect embodiment of mens sana in corpore sano--tall and lean, clean-cut and athletic, a Thomas Arnold for the digital age.

Since moving to the Education Department a couple of months ago he has been a tireless preacher of the reform gospel. He supports charter schools and merit pay, accountability and transparency, but also litters his speeches with more unfamiliar ideas. He argues that one of the biggest problems in education is how to attract and use talent. All too often the education system allocates the best teachers to the cushiest schools rather than the toughest. Mr Duncan also stresses the importance of "replicating" success. His department, he says, should promote winning ideas (such as "Teach for America", a programme that sends high-flying university graduates to teach in underserved schools) rather than merely enforcing the status quo.

Nor is this just talk. Mr Duncan did much to consolidate his reputation as a reformer on May 6th, when the White House announced that it will try to extend Washington, DC's voucher programme until all 1,716 children taking part have graduated from high school. The Democrat-controlled Congress has been trying to smother the programme by removing funding. But Mr Duncan has vigorously argued that it does not make sense "to take kids out of a school where they're happy and safe and satisfied and learning". He and Mr Obama will now try to persuade Congress not to kill the programme.

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No choice in D.C.
Congress supports vouchers for cars but not schools

Washington Times Editorial:

Fighting to save the District's popular school-voucher program, some 1,000 parents, pupils and politicians gathered near Mayor Adrian Fenty's office on Wednesday to protest Congress' plans to end school choice in Washington.

That same day, the Senate approved a $4,500 voucher for cars, encouraging citizens to trade in their old automobiles for newer ones that burn less fuel.

So, Congress thinks that vouchers for schools are bad, but vouchers for cars are good.

Slashing school vouchers spares teachers' unions from competition. On the other hand, car vouchers are supposed to boost demand for cars built by the United Auto Workers. The obvious explanation for this schizophrenia: Congress does whatever helps unions.

A closer look reveals that Congress has it wrong in both cases - which is what happens when lawmakers let interest groups trump common sense.

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Budget Outlines Funding for Teacher Merit Pay Programs

Maria Glod:

President Obama is seeking to add hundreds of millions for teacher merit pay programs, an investment in a reform that has often drawn criticism from teachers unions.

Even as education officials have eliminated 12 programs they say are not proven to benefit students -- a savings of $550 million -- the department is seeking $517 million for performance pay grants, up from $97 million in last year's budget. In addition, the stimulus law included an additional $200 million for such programs.

Throughout his campaign, Obama repeatedly endorsed performance pay plans, so long as they are developed with the blessing of teachers. But the budget provides one of the first glimpses of the administration's commitment to dramatically expand the smattering of merit pay experiments in schools across the country.

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Cry for Freedom

Gong Yidong writing in state controlled China Daily:

He is hard of hearing and his right hand shakes. But Liu Daoyu, in his seventies, still works four hours a day, offering his thoughts on the weaknesses of higher education in China. His latest bombshell was a 7,000-word thesis in China's most influential newspaper, Southern Weekend, in which he called for an overhaul of the country's growing number of universities.

The former president of Wuhan University, or Wuda, is convinced that education should be based on mankind's ultimate values and stripped of bureaucratic interference. "China's education awaits a movement of enlightenment," he says, sitting in his humble university residence.

Born in a village in northern Hubei province, Liu studied chemistry in Wuda in 1953, aspiring to become China's Alfred Nobel. "Nobel's story implanted a seed of innovation in me when I was just 14," he recalls.

Before 1949, Wuda was ranked as one of the top five universities in China, on a par with the universities of Peking, Tsinghua, National Central (Nanjing) and Zhejiang. But a fast decline set in after 1953, in the wake of Left dominance. "Professors were caught with a sense of terror, some of them sent to the gymnasium to receive physical punishment, and nobody was in the mood to pursue research," Liu recalls.

In the next few years, Wuda became a hotbed of factionalism, "a cart pulled by an old ox", as Liu puts it. It slid to the 22nd of the 23 universities under the supervision of Ministry of Education (MoE). After graduating in 1957, Liu became a chemistry lecturer. The university sent him to pursue organic fluorine studies at the Soviet Academy of Sciences in the spring of 1962.

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May 7, 2009

Five MBA students face up to the economic realities

The Economist:

Over the course of one week, Which MBA? followed the fortunes of five MBA students from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, graduating into one of the toughest jobs markets in memory.

Day one: Daianna

Last summer, The Economist called business schools "ports in a storm," (see article) such was the surge in applications from prospective students seeking to ride out the recession. Almost a year on, students have seen an economy that looked bad when they first applied grow much, much worse. As the spring term comes to an end, rumour has it that nearly half of my fellow MBAs are still without summer internships or full-time offers. Fierce headwinds face us as we sail back out into the world.

Whatever the initial motives for enrolling, few go to business school without the belief that an MBA will put them on a fast-track to bigger and better things upon graduation. That's certainly what I had in mind when I left my job, salary and friends to move to Chicago to pursue a two-year, full-time MBA at Kellogg. I wanted to expand my business skills at a top-ranked school in order to change from a career primarily at non-profit organisations to a more traditional role at a prominent company in the private sector.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:45 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Five MBA students face up to the economic realities

The Economist:

Over the course of one week, Which MBA? followed the fortunes of five MBA students from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, graduating into one of the toughest jobs markets in memory.

Day one: Daianna

Last summer, The Economist called business schools "ports in a storm," (see article) such was the surge in applications from prospective students seeking to ride out the recession. Almost a year on, students have seen an economy that looked bad when they first applied grow much, much worse. As the spring term comes to an end, rumour has it that nearly half of my fellow MBAs are still without summer internships or full-time offers. Fierce headwinds face us as we sail back out into the world.

Whatever the initial motives for enrolling, few go to business school without the belief that an MBA will put them on a fast-track to bigger and better things upon graduation. That's certainly what I had in mind when I left my job, salary and friends to move to Chicago to pursue a two-year, full-time MBA at Kellogg. I wanted to expand my business skills at a top-ranked school in order to change from a career primarily at non-profit organisations to a more traditional role at a prominent company in the private sector.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:45 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

'Housed' Los Angeles teacher tells his side of the story

Jason Song:

The teacher whom the Los Angeles school district has spent seven years and nearly $2 million trying to fire spoke publicly for the first time Wednesday, saying he did not sexually harass students and is the target of discrimination.

Matthew Kim, a former special education teacher at Grant High School in Van Nuys, had declined to speak to The Times numerous times over the last several months. But his mother, Cecilia, contacted the newspaper Wednesday after publication of a story that highlighted her son's case. Family members were angry and charged that the article has embarrassed them, and they wanted to tell their side of the story.

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Our view paying for college: To stretch education dollars, cut out the middleman

USA Today Opinion:

Obama seeks student aid hike, falls short on cost control.

To look at higher education these days, it seems that no one cares about financially strapped students.

On the one hand, colleges have long been raising tuition at a rate faster than the cost of living. On the other, lenders have treated families' increased borrowing needs as an invitation to easy profits.

To address this, President Obama wants to expand federal Pell Grants for low- and middle-income students. The expansion would be financed by ending the private, scandal-plagued Federal Family Education Loan Program and replacing it with direct government lending.

The obvious question is: Will all this actually make college more affordable? In the past, universities have driven up costs through lavish building, money-losing sports, swelling bureaucracies and a tolerance of professors who barely teach. Simply throwing more money at them isn't going to prompt necessary belt-tightening.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:35 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

2009-2010 MMSD Budget

We passed the 2009-2010 Madison public school district budget last night. This was the second year in a row that we were able to reallocate to avoid ugly ugly cuts.

This was the first year that we moved to undo damage by reallocating money to put back beginning of the year "Ready Set Goal" parent-teacher conferences AND stop doubling up our art, music, gym, and computer classes through "class and a half." Both items were cuts from past years that were absolute disasters for elementary students.

We expect to receive the strategic planning report in June, and it will inform planning for the 2010-11 budget as we move forward this coming year. In the meantime, we are waiting to hear how the state budget will impact school finance. And we are continuing work to modernize and refine the ways that we work with resources to find additional ways to strengthen our schools.

Posted by Lucy Mathiak at 9:02 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Writing in Trouble

For many years, Lucy Calkins, described once in Education Week as "the Moses of reading and writing in American education" has made her major contributions to the dumbing down of writing in our schools. She once wrote to me that: "I teach writing, I don't get into content that much." This dedication to contentless writing has spread, in part through her influence, into thousands and thousands of classrooms, where "personal" writing has been blended with images, photos, and emails to become one of the very most anti-academic and anti-intellectual elements of the education we now offer our children, K-12.

In 2004, the College Board's National Commission on Writing in the Schools issued a call for more attention to writing in the schools, and it offered an example of the sort of high school writing "that shows how powerfully our students can express their emotions":

"The time has come to fight back and we are. By supporting our leaders and each other, we are stronger than ever. We will never forget those who died, nor will we forgive those who took them from us."

Or look at the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the supposed gold standard for evaluating academic achievement in U.S. schools, as measured and reported by the National Center for Education Statistics. In its 2002 writing assessment, in which 77 percent of 12th graders scored "Basic" or "Below Basic," NAEP scored the following student response "Excellent." The prompt called for a brief review of a book worth preserving. In a discussion of Herman Hesse's Demian, in which the main character grows up, the student wrote,

"High school is a wonderful time of self-discovery, where teens bond with several groups of friends, try different foods, fashions, classes and experiences, both good and bad. The end result in May of senior year is a mature and confident adult, ready to enter the next stage of life."

It is obvious that this "Excellent" high school writer is expressing more of his views on his own high school experience than on anything Herman Hesse might have had in mind, but that still allows this American student writer to score very high on the NAEP assessment of writing.

This year, the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) has released a breakthrough report on writing called "Writing in the 21st Century," which informs us, among other things, that:

"Writing has never been accorded the cultural respect or the support that reading has enjoyed, in part because through reading, society could control its citizens, whereas through writing, citizens might exercise their own control."

So it has become clear to NCTE that Milton's Areopagitica, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and all those other arguments for free speech and free access to information, failed to warn us that, while it is all right for a society to provide protection for writing, reading is only a dangerous means of social control, and should be avoided at all costs. As Houston Baker warned more broadly when he was head of the Modern Language Association, "reading and writing are tools of oppression."

The 2009 NCTE report goes on to inform us, somewhat inconsistently, that:

"Reading--in part because of its central location in family and church life--tended to produce feelings of intimacy and warmth, while writing, by way of contrast, was associated with unpleasantness--with unsatisfying work and episodes of despair--and thus evoked a good deal of ambivalence."

So while, on the one hand, reading is a dangerous method for social control, and on the other hand, in contrast with writing, it is said to produce feelings of intimacy and warmth, writing is associated with unpleasantness, which would, naturally, be news to Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, William Makepeace Thackery, George Eliot, and countless other authors who made it their life's work to provide feelings of intimacy and warmth, among other things, to countless readers over the centuries.

But the NCTE report has more to teach us:

"Writing has historically and inexorably been linked to testing."

Testing, the way to determine whether one has learned the tasks to be mastered, is, needless to say, not a good thing in the NCTE world. This odd and narrow "link to testing" might seem a bit far-fetched to all the historians and others whose writing has enriched our lives.

So, how does NCTE propose to free writing from its unhappy association with testing, episodes of despair, and so on? By encouraging students to do what they are doing already: texting, twitting, emailing, sending notes, sending photos, and the like--only this time it will be part of the high school "writing" curriculum. In other words, instead of NCTE encouraging educators to lift kids out of the crib, it wants them to jump in with them.

NCTE goes on to lament that: "In school and out, writing required a good deal of labor." NCTE has no doubt skipped over the advice: Labor Omnia Vincit, and has apparently come to believe that hard work and enjoyment are somehow incompatible.

To relieve our writing students of the necessity of doing the kind of hard work that is essential for success in all other human occupations, "in school and out," NCTE wants to develop "new models of composing" that will change our students from mere writers to "Citizen Composers."

This recipe for damage only adds to the harm already done, for example in high school English departments, by a truncated focus on personal and creative writing and the five-paragraph essay, which for most students guarantees that they will move on to college or work unable to write a serious research paper or even a good strong informative memo that makes sense and can be read by others.

Many high school English department focus on preparing their students for the 500-word "essays" about their personal lives that most college admissions departments ask for these days.

According to a survey done by the Chronicle of Higher Education, 90% of college professors think that most high school students who come to them are not well prepared in reading, research or academic writing. That may possibly be because far too few of our high schools challenge their students to do any nonfiction reading or academic expository writing, including the sort of research papers which require, after all, research.

While we do challenge many high school students to take AP Chemistry, AP Biology, AP European History, and Calculus, Chinese and Physics, when it comes to the sort of writing controlled by the English department, and recommended as "21st Century Writing" by the National Council for Teachers of English, the standards are as low as they would be if the Math department limited its students to decimals and fractions and never let them try Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, or Calculus.

Even a program for gifted students, for instance the grandaddy of them all, the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, which has very challenging summer programs in the sciences for students, when it comes to writing, it sponsors a contest for "Creative Nonfiction," which turns out to be only short diary entries by these very able students. They could challenge students to produce good history or literature research papers, but they don't.

Writing is the most dumbed-down subject in our public high schools today.

There are some exceptions. Since 1987, I have published 846 exemplary history research papers by high school students from 44 states and 35 other countries. Their average length has been about 5,500 words, although in the most recent issue (#77), the average length of the papers, including endnotes and bibliography, was 7,297 words.

Many of the American authors come from independent schools like Andover, Atlanta International School, Deerfield, Exeter, Groton, National Cathedral School, Polytechnic, St. Albans, Sidwell Friends School and the like. But many have also come from public high school students. Some of these students have done independent studies, hoping to be published in The Concord Review, but some very good papers have been IB Extended Essays and some have come even from students of AP teachers who do assign serious research papers, even though the College Board has no interest in them.

The Diploma to Nowhere report from Strong American Schools last summer says that more than one million U.S. high school graduates are in remedial courses in colleges each year, and if a student needs a remedial course or two, they are less likely to graduate from college.

The poor academic reading and writing skills of entering freshmen at our colleges and universities are acknowledged to be commonplace, but no one seems to have been able to increase the importance of serious writing or nonfiction reading in the high schools. The English department and the professional organizations are satisfied with preventing high school students from learning how to do research papers, so they continue to graduate students who are incompetent in academic expository writing, and unprepared for college work.

Not one of the new state academic standards asks whether students have read a single nonfiction book in high school or written a single serious research paper. All the attention is on what can be easily tested and quantified, so the skills of academic reading and writing are left out, and our students pay the price for this neglect.

In 1776, Edward Gibbon, in the first volume of his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, wrote about the importance of academic reading and writing:

"...But all this well-laboured system of German antiquities is annihilated by a single fact, too well attested to admit of any doubt, and of too decisive a nature to leave room for any reply. The Germans, in the age of Tacitus [56-120AD], were unacquainted with the use of letters; and the use of letters is the principal circumstance that distinguishes a civilised people from a herd of savages incapable of knowledge and reflection. Without that artificial help, the human memory soon dissipates or corrupts the ideas intrusted to her charge; and the nobler faculties of mind, no longer supplied with models or with materials, gradually forget their powers; the judgment becomes feeble and lethargic, the imagination languid or irregular. Fully to apprehend this important truth, let us attempt, in an improved society, to calculate the immense distance between the man of learning and the illiterate peasant. The former, by reading and reflection, multiplies his own experience, and lives in distant ages and remote countries; whilst the latter, rooted to a single spot, and confined to a few years of existence, surpasses, but very little, his fellow-labourer the ox in the exercise of his mental faculties. The same, and even a greater difference will be found between nations than between individuals; and we may safely pronounce that, without some species of writing, no people has ever preserved the faithful annals of their history, ever made any considerable progress in the abstract sciences, or ever possessed, in any tolerable degree of perfection, the useful and agreeable arts of life...."

No doubt he would be as appalled as our college professors are now to see the incompetence of our high school graduates who have not been asked to read and write before college.

Surely if we can raise our academic standards for math and science, then, with a little attention and effort, we can restore the importance of literacy in our public high schools. Reading is the path to knowledge and writing is the way to make knowledge one's own. If we continue to ignore them as we do now, it will not be good for our economy, or for any of the "useful and agreeable arts of life" for our students.


Will Fitzhugh is Editor of The Concord Review and has written and lectured extensively on the assessment of writing and writing skills. He can be reached at: 730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24, Sudbury, Massachusetts USA, by phone at 978-443-0022; 800-331-5007, and his website and e-mail are:;

New Mexico Journal of Reading
Spring 2009 Volume XIX, No. 3

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LA teachers banned from class still getting paid


As the nation's second-largest school district considers mass layoffs to deal with a budget deficit, it continues to pay about $10 million a year to about 160 instructors and others who are forbidden to enter a classroom.

The Los Angeles Unified School District employees earn salaries while misconduct complaints against them are reviewed.

Last month, the school board voted to lay off as many as 2,400 teachers and 2,000 other personnel to deal with a $596 million budget shortfall for the upcoming school year.

Matthew Kim, a special education teacher, was removed from Grant High School in Van Nuys in 2002 amid allegations that he improperly touched female students. The board voted to fire him in 2003 but he has challenged the decision in both administrative hearings and court.

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Charter Schools: Experiment or Solution

Valerie Visconti, Tania McKeown and David Wald:

Is a change in management enough to transform some of the worst schools in the country? Paul Vallas seems to think so, which might explain why the New Orleans superintendent is one of the biggest cheerleaders for charter schools. Because charter schools are free from district control and often from teacher unions, they have the power to hire and fire, choose the curriculum, and set student rules.

Over half of Vallas' schools are now charters, and most of them are outperforming traditionally-run schools in New Orleans. But Vallas wants to 'charterize' the entire district, even though there's evidence that charters may be abusing their freedom.

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Don't let ideology block education reforms that work

Torrey Jaeckle:

A report last week from the National Assessment of Educational Progress -- widely known as the "Nation's Report Card" -- shows that total education spending per pupil has doubled since 1971.

Yet overall test results for our high school seniors remain unchanged.

In effect, we're spending twice as much money to achieve the same results as more than 35 years ago.

If that isn't sad enough, consider these additional facts gleaned from various news stories over the past few weeks:

• A headline from the Wall Street Journal on April 23: "Demand for Charter Schools is High, Seats are Few."

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Obama to Eliminate New Washington, DC Voucher Students, Continue Current Students

Bill Turque & Shailagh Murray:

President Obama will propose setting aside enough money for all 1,716 students in the District's voucher program to continue receiving grants for private school tuition until they graduate from high school, but he would allow no new students to join the program, administration officials said yesterday.

The proposal, to be released in budget documents today, is an attempt to navigate a middle way on a contentious issue. School choice advocates, including Republicans and many low-income families, say the program gives poor children better access to quality education. Teachers unions and other education groups active in the Democratic Party regard vouchers as a drain on public education that benefits relatively few students, and they say the students don't achieve at appreciably higher levels at their new schools.

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May 6, 2009

Holding College Chiefs to Their Words

Ellen Gamerman:

Reed College President Colin Diver suffered writer's block. Debora Spar, president of Barnard College, wrote quickly but then toiled for hours to cut an essay that was twice as long as it was supposed to be. The assignment loomed over Wesleyan University President Michael Roth's family vacation to Disney World.

The university presidents were struggling with a task that tortures high-school seniors around the country every year: writing the college admissions essay. In a particularly competitive year for college admissions, The Wall Street Journal turned the tables on the presidents of 10 top colleges and universities with an unusual assignment: answer an essay question from their own school's application.

The "applicants" were told not to exceed 500 words (though most did), and to accept no help from public-relations people or speechwriters. Friends and family could advise but not rewrite. The Journal selected the question from each application so presidents wouldn't pick the easy ones. They had about three weeks to write their essays.

The exercise showed just how challenging it is to write a college essay that stands out from the pack, yet doesn't sound overly self-promotional or phony. Even some presidents say they grappled with the challenge and had second thoughts about the topics they chose. Several shared tips about writing a good essay: Stop trying to come up with the perfect topic, write about personally meaningful themes rather than flashy ones, and don't force a subject to be dramatic when it isn't.

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Jolly Madison: Why life is still good for business school students ... in Wisconsin.

Daniel Gross:

Living and working in the New York region's financial-media complex in 2009 means daily, compulsory attendance at a gathering of the glum. The economy may be shrinking at a 6 percent annual rate, but finance and media have contracted by about 30 percent. For the past year, the daily routine has meant sitting in a depopulated office (assuming you still have a job); following the latest grim news of magazine closings, buyouts, and layoffs; and commiserating with friends, family, and neighbors. And, of course, the angst extends far beyond directly affected companies. Finance dominates the area's economy to such a degree that everybody--lawyers, accountants, real estate brokers, waiters, retailers, and cab drivers--have all been affected.

Of course, one can try to get away to sunnier, more mellow climes. But the usual havens aren't offering much succor. Florida--like New York, except the catastrophe is real estate. Mexico? Um, not now. But last month, I found an unexpected haven: the Midwest. Each semester, the University of Wisconsin School of Business brings in a journalist-in-residence for a week, usually from New York. The theory: Students and professors benefit from the perspective of someone who is chronicling the workings of the world they are studying remotely.

But the benefit was greater for me than for the students. The four days in Madison functioned as a kind of detox. I left thinking the university should turn the Fluno Center for Executive Education into a sort of clinic. It could do for stressed-out financial and media types what Minneapolis' Hazelden does for the drugged-out: offer a safe, friendly (if chilly) place to escape the toxic influence of New York.

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Five Money Lessons for New College Grads

Karen Blumenthal:

This spring's college grads are heading out into a world where jobs are tough to come by. The economic outlook is uncertain and all the older people they know are feeling the pain of stock-market losses.

Worse, there are all kinds of nitty-gritty details to deal with: opening bank accounts, choosing health insurance, finding an apartment, lining up transportation and figuring out how to invest. How is a young person supposed to get ahead in this environment?

It's not easy to master money management during the best times and it's especially hard to navigate the challenges of a recession. Still, many of the same basic principles apply in good times and bad. And getting a taste of a downturn at the start may make current graduates smarter and more thoughtful than those who graduate during boom times.

Here are five broad financial lessons that can pay dividends for a lifetime:

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Reason Foundation's New Weighted Student Formula Yearbook

Lisa Snell:

Much of our education funding is wasted on bureaucracy. The money never actually makes it into the classroom in the form of books, computers, supplies, or even salaries for better teachers. Weighted student formula changes that. Using weighted student formula's decentralized system, education funds are attached to each student and the students can take that money directly to the public school of their choice.

At least 15 major school districts have moved to this system of backpack funding. Reason Foundation's new Weighted Student Formula Yearbook examines how the budgeting system is being implemented in each of these places and, based on the real-world data, offers a series of "best practices" that other districts and states can follow to improve the quality of their schools.

In places where parents have school choice and districts empower their principals and teachers we are seeing increased learning and better test scores. The results from districts using student-based funding are very promising. Prior to 2008, less than half of Hartford, Connecticut's education money made it to the classroom. Now, over 70 percent makes it there. As a result, the district's schools posted the largest gains, over three times the average increase, on the state's Mastery Tests in 2007-08.

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Rare Alliance May Signal Ebb In Union's Charter Opposition

Jay Matthews:

I didn't see many other reporters Tuesday in the narrow, second-floor meeting room of the Phoenix Park Hotel in the District. A U.S. senator's party switch and new National Assessment of Educational Progress data were a bigger draw. But in the long term, the news conference at the hotel might prove a milestone in public education. It isn't often you see a leading teachers union announce it is taking money from what many of its members consider the enemy: corporate billionaires who have been bankrolling the largely nonunion charter school movement.

Of course, it might turn out to be just another publicity stunt. But the people gathered, and what they said, impressed me.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, unveiled the first union-led, private foundation-supported effort to provide grants to AFT unions nationwide to develop and implement what she called "bold education innovations in public schools." The advisory board of the AFT Innovation Fund includes celebrities of my education wonk world: former Cleveland schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett, Stanford professor Linda Darling-Hammond, Harvard professor Susan Moore Johnson and even Caroline Kennedy, well known for other reasons but identified at the conference as an important fundraiser for New York schools.

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World-Class Knowledge
Annual Geography Bee Tests Students' Grasp of the Globe

Maria Glod:

Politicians fret these days about how U.S. students stack up in math and science compared with peers in India, China, Singapore and elsewhere. Some of them wonder how many American children could find those countries on a globe. Such talk is driving an effort in Congress to ensure that students learn more about other countries and cultures.

Critics of the No Child Left Behind law, which requires annual math and reading tests in grades three through eight and once in high school, say it has pushed subjects including geography, history and art to the side.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and other lawmakers are trying to change that with a bill called the Teaching Geography is Fundamental Act. The legislation would provide funds for teacher training, research and development of instructional materials.

Van Hollen said he has been distressed by surveys showing that students in the United States have a poor grasp of geography. He said the bill has bipartisan support and 70 co-sponsors.

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Arne Duncan tells Education Writers Association: NCLB has to go (the name, not the law)

Dale Mezzacappa:

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan addressed the annual convention of the Education Writers Association in Washington, DC Thursday night, and he said that the name "No Child Left Behind" has to go.

"The name 'No Child Left Behind' is toxic," he said.

Duncan doesn't want to scrap NCLB by a long shot, but he wants to see some changes, especially in how schools are evaluated. He called himself a big fan of value-added methods of judging school progress -- in other words, looking at growth in test scores -- rather than relying on a basic proficiency rate.

On testing, Duncan said he realizes the limits of standardized tests, but doesn't want to get rid of them. "Test scores don't tell us everything, but they tell us some things. We must use what we have until we come up with something better."

One other indicator he wants to add to NCLB -- or whatever it will be called -- is a measure for high schools of how well they keep ninth graders on track.

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May 5, 2009

Easy grades equate to failing grads

Heather Vogell:

Some metro Atlanta public high schools that don't grade rigorously produce more graduates lacking the basic English and math skills needed for college, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has found.

Many graduates of those high schools are sent to freshmen remedial classes to learn what high school didn't teach them. As many as a third or more college-bound graduates from some high schools need the extra instruction.

Problems with classroom grading came to light in a February state study that showed some high schools regularly awarded good marks to students who failed state tests in the same subject.

The AJC found that metro high schools where classroom grading appeared lax or out-of-step with state standards tended to have higher rates of students who took remedial classes. And at dozens of high schools, most graduates who received the B average needed for a state HOPE scholarship lost it in college after a few years.

Unprepared high-school graduates are a growing problem for the public university system, where remedial students are concentrated in two-year colleges.

Statewide, the remedial rate has climbed to 1 in 4 first-year students after dropping in the 1990s, said Chancellor Erroll Davis Jr. of the University System of Georgia. The cost to the system: $25 million a year.

Students such as Brandon Curry, 20, a graduate of Redan High in DeKalb County, said they were surprised to learn decent high school grades don't always translate into college success.

Georgia remedial class database - very useful.

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Arne Duncan's Choice

Wall Street Journal Editorial:
Washington, D.C.'s school voucher program for low-income kids isn't dead yet. But the Obama Administration seems awfully eager to expedite its demise.

About 1,700 kids currently receive $7,500 vouchers to attend private schools under the Opportunity Scholarship Program, and 99% of them are black or Hispanic. The program is a huge hit with parents -- there are four applicants for every available scholarship -- and the latest Department of Education evaluation showed significant academic gains.

Nevertheless, Congress voted in March to phase out the program after the 2009-10 school year unless it is reauthorized by Congress and the D.C. City Council. The Senate is scheduled to hold hearings on the program this month, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has promised proponents floor time to make their case. So why is Education Secretary Arne Duncan proceeding as if the program's demise is a fait accompli?

Mr. Duncan is not only preventing new scholarships from being awarded but also rescinding scholarship offers that were made to children admitted for next year. In effect, he wants to end a successful program before Congress has an opportunity to consider reauthorizing it. This is not what you'd expect from an education reformer, and several Democrats in Congress have written him to protest.
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In Favor of Everyday Math; Middleton Cross Plains Math Scores Soar

Angela Bettis:
The most recent research from the U.S. Department of Education shows that American 15-year-olds are behind their International counterparts when it comes to problem solving and math literacy.

The report showed the U.S. ranks 24th out of 29 nations.

But a math program, gaining in popularity, is trying to change that. The program is called Everyday Math.

Lori Rusch is a fourth grade teacher at Middleton's Elm Lawn Elementary. This year she teaches an advanced math class.

On Monday, students in Rusch's class were mastering fractions and percentages.

But her students began learning fractions and percentages in first grade.

"We've been incredibly successful with it," said Middleton's curriculum director George Marvoulis. "Our students on all of our comparative assessments like WKCE, Explorer Plan, ACT, our students score higher in math than any other subject area so we've been very pleased."

According to Marvoulis, Middleton was one of the first school districts in the nation to use the Everyday Math program in 1994.

"The concept is kind of a toolbox of different tools they can use to solve a problem," explained Marvoulis.
Related: Math Forum and Clusty Search on Everyday Math.
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The Politics of Education and the Perils of Preferment

The Economist:

PLEDGES are shrinking to aspirations; aspirations are quietly evaporating; no more hoodies are being hugged or huskies stroked (or was it the other way around?). The sunny Californian Conservatism that David Cameron once espoused has been darkened by the crunch. His promise of a happier tomorrow now hangs on a few upbeat policies. Chief among them is education reform--which could make Michael Gove, the shadow schools secretary, among the most privileged and pressured members of a future Tory government.

Ed Balls, his counterpart in the cabinet, is an equally important figure for Labour, before and after the next general election. Ire over public services often focuses on bad hospitals: death is more heart-wrenching than illiteracy. But pound for pound (and there have been a lot of them), Labour's education spending has been less rewarding than its health splurge. It falls to Mr Balls to defend its record on what Tony Blair proclaimed his main priority--and to soften the recession's impact on teenagers and soothe a rumbling moral panic about harm done by and to children.

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10 Tips for Prepping for Final Exams

Lynn Jacobs & Jeremy Hyman:

Well, it's just about showtime. Soon you will face that grueling week of finals on which the fate of this semester's GPA rests. Sorry, we can't make final's week into a piece of cake. Only your professors can, and we wouldn't be counting on it. But how well you prepare will, in no small measure, determine how well you'll do. So here are our 10 best suggestions on how to prepare for those all-important final exams (together with a brief glance into the professor's mind that will show you why the tips work):

1. Spend a week. Start studying for each exam a week before you are due to take it. This will give you time to divide the material into manageable portions that you can digest over a number of study sessions. This is especially important in the case of a cumulative final in a course with tons of material. Whatever you do, don't try to swallow the whole elephant--the whole course, we mean--in one cram session. (Works because, in most courses, the prof is expecting you to have processed and digested the material--something you can't do in one fell swoop).

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Harford County should get the elected school board it wants

Baltimore Sun:

Under the measure, the school board would gradually transition from seven appointed members to six elected and three appointed members. The current school board believes the bill is too vague and that the transition will be difficult. But the bill clearly outlines the proposed changes, and only a couple of minor details need to be worked out.

Contrary to the board's objection, the difficulty of the transition would likely be minimal. In order for three board members' terms to end on June 30, 2011, one board member's term would be lengthened by a year, and another's would be shortened. On July 1, 2011, three elected board members would take office along with two appointed members. The board members in office on July 1, 2011 would serve for four years, and in the next election cycle six members would be elected.

So the school board's vocal opposition is misleading. Why should these minor issues prevent Harford County's constituents from influencing how their tax dollars are spent on their children's education? Despite prior bills, Harford County is one of the last counties in which voters cannot elect school board members.

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E-Books: Publishers Nurture Rivals to Kindle

Shira Ovide & Geoffrey Fowler:

Some newspaper and magazine companies, feeling let down by the Kindle electronic reader from Inc., are pushing for alternatives.

A few publishers are forging alliances with consumer-electronics firms to support e-readers that meet their needs. Chief among their complaints about the Amazon portable reading gadget is the way Amazon acts as a middleman with subscribers and controls pricing. In addition, the layout isn't conducive to advertising.

Hearst Corp., which publishes the San Francisco Chronicle and Houston Chronicle as well as magazines including Cosmopolitan, is backing a venture with FirstPaper LLC to create a software platform that will support digital downloads of newspapers and magazines. The startup venture is expected to result in devices that will have a bigger screen and have the ability to show ads.

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May 4, 2009

Rare Alliance May Signal Ebb In Union's Charter Opposition

Jay Matthews:

I didn't see many other reporters Tuesday in the narrow, second-floor meeting room of the Phoenix Park Hotel in the District. A U.S. senator's party switch and new National Assessment of Educational Progress data were a bigger draw. But in the long term, the news conference at the hotel might prove a milestone in public education. It isn't often you see a leading teachers union announce it is taking money from what many of its members consider the enemy: corporate billionaires who have been bankrolling the largely nonunion charter school movement.

Of course, it might turn out to be just another publicity stunt. But the people gathered, and what they said, impressed me.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, unveiled the first union-led, private foundation-supported effort to provide grants to AFT unions nationwide to develop and implement what she called "bold education innovations in public schools." The advisory board of the AFT Innovation Fund includes celebrities of my education wonk world: former Cleveland schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett, Stanford professor Linda Darling-Hammond, Harvard professor Susan Moore Johnson and even Caroline Kennedy, well known for other reasons but identified at the conference as an important fundraiser for New York schools.

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Muscular Mediocrity

It is excusable for people to think of Mediocrity as too little of something, or a weak approximation of what would be best, and this is not entirely wrong. However, in education circles, it is important to remember, Mediocrity is the Strong Force, as the physicists would say, not the Weak Force.

For most of the 20th century, as Diane Ravitch reports in her excellent history, Left Back, Americans achieved remarkably high levels of Mediocrity in education, making sure that our students do not know too much and cannot read and write very well, so that even of those who have gone on to college, between 50% and 75% never received any sort of degree.

In the 21st century, there is a new push to offer global awareness, critical thinking, and collaborative problem solving to our students, as a way of getting them away from reading nonfiction books and writing any sort of serious research paper, and that effort, so similar to several of the recurring anti-academic and anti-intellectual programs of the prior century, will also help to preserve the Mediocrity we have so painstakingly forged in our schools.

Research generally has discovered that while Americans acknowledge there may be Mediocrity in our education generally, they feel that their own children's schools are good. It should be understood that this is in part the result of a very systematic and deliberate campaign of disinformation by educrats. When I was teaching in the high school in Concord, Massachusetts, the superintendent at the time met with the teachers at the start of the year and told us that we were the best high school faculty in the country. That sounds nice, but what evidence did he have? Was there a study of the quality of high school faculties around the country? No, it was just public relations.

The "Lake Woebegone" effect, so widely found in our education system, is the result of parents continually being "informed" that their schools are the best in the country. I remember meeting with an old friend in Tucson once, who informed that "Tucson High School is one of the ten best in the country." How did she know that? What was the evidence for that claim at the time? None.

Mediocrity and its adherents have really done a first-class job of leading people to believe that all is well with our high schools. After all, when parents ask their own children about their high school, the students usually say they like it, meaning, in most cases, that they enjoy being with their friends there, and are not too bothered by a demanding academic curriculum.

With No Child Left Behind, there has been a large effort to discover and report information about the actual academic performance of students in our schools, but the defenders of Mediocrity have been as active, and almost as successful, as they have ever been in preserving a false image of the academic quality of our schools. They have established state standards that, except in Massachusetts and a couple of other states, are designed to show that all the students are "above the national average" in reading and math, even though they are not.

It is important for anyone serious about raising academic standards in our schools to remember that Mediocrity is the Hundred-Eyed Argus who never sleeps, and never relaxes its relentless diligence in opposition to academic quality for our schools and educational achievement for our students.

There is a long list of outside helpers, from Walter Annenberg to the Gates Foundation, who have ventured into American education with the idea that it makes sense that educators would support higher standards and better education for our students. Certainly that is what they hear from educators. But when the money is allocated and the "reform" is begun, the Mediocrity Special Forces move into action, making sure that very little happens, and that the money, even billions of dollars, disappears into the Great Lake of Mediocrity with barely a ripple, so that no good effect is ever seen.

If this seems unduly pessimistic, notice that a recent survey of college professors conducted by the Chronicle of Higher Education found that 90% of them reported that the students who came to them were not very well prepared, for example, in reading, doing research, and writing, and that the Diploma to Nowhere report from the Strong American Schools program last summer said that more than 1,000,000 of our high school graduates are now placed in remedial courses when they arrive at the colleges to which they have been "admitted." It seems clear that without Muscular Mediocrity in our schools, we could never have hoped to achieve such a shameful set of academic results.

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

Posted by Will Fitzhugh at 11:32 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Federal education money goes to all the wrong places

Dan Thomasson:

A funny thing has been happening to some of that widely heralded federal education money. It has fallen off the bus on the way to school. At least a few cash-strapped local governments upon notification of the federal input have eliminated an equal amount from their own budgets, hardly what the Obama administration had in mind for the $100 billion aimed at vastly improving the nation's schools.
While the practice is not general and there are strict rules about the use of the federal bucks as part of the economic recovery effort, local and state officials are being forced to reduce manpower in vital services like fire and police. The temptation to relieve some of that pressure and to prevent teacher layoffs seems overwhelming and likely to grow.

For instance, the local press here recently reported that Loudon County in the nearby Virginia suburbs was a case in point. Upon hearing that the county would receive more than $11 million in new school money from Uncle Sam, the county's supervisors slashed $7.3 million from the regular school budget. According to the reports, the board also has made it clear that schools might have to give more local money back if there were other federal contributions. Similar actions have been taken elsewhere and Arne Duncan, the new secretary of Education, has warned of strong reprisals if this abuse of the president's intentions is not stopped.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Failure Gets a Pass: Firing tenured teachers can be a costly and tortuous task

Jason Song:

A Times investigation finds the process so arduous that many principals don't even try, except in the very worst cases. Jettisoning a teacher solely because he or she can't teach is rare.

The eighth-grade boy held out his wrists for teacher Carlos Polanco to see.

He had just explained to Polanco and his history classmates at Virgil Middle School in Koreatown why he had been absent: He had been in the hospital after an attempt at suicide.

Polanco looked at the cuts and said they "were weak," according to witness accounts in documents filed with the state. "Carve deeper next time," he was said to have told the boy.

"Look," Polanco allegedly said, "you can't even kill yourself."

The boy's classmates joined in, with one advising how to cut a main artery, according to the witnesses.

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Madison School District's Technology Plan

1.4MB PDF:

Extensive planning and feedback was conducted during the development of the plan involving many different stakeholders - teachers, library media specialists, counselors, psychologists, social workers, nurses, secretaries, computer tech support staff, principals and administrators, parents, students, community agencies, local businesses and business groups, higher education faculty and staff - in order to create the most comprehensive plan possible that meets all of the community's needs.

Key Issues

Access for All - There is compelling evidence that technology access - especially in regard to Internet access - is not currently equitably distributed within the community (and the nation as a whole) particularly as it relates to the socio-economic status of households. In order to be competitive in a global economy all students (and their parents) must have equitable access to technology in their public schools. The issue extends beyond the school into student's homes and neighborhoods and must be addressed in that context.

Recommendations: Acquire and deploy technology using a strategy that recognizes the socio-economic access divide so that all students can be assured of contemporary technology-based learning environments. Increase public access to District technology resources outside the regularly scheduled school day so that it is open to parents, students and the community. Implement very specific actions to collaborate with all stakeholders within the community to address these issues. Explore options for families to gain access to computers for use in their homes.

Professional Development - Without an understanding of what technology can do, the hardware simply won't be used. The feedback is overwhelming that the teacher is key to any technology strategy. Their learning - and access to technology - must be a high priority.

Recommendations: Create four staff positions that provide technology integration professional development support. Create part-time instructional support roles within each school as coaches for teachers and staff. Embed technology within all content-based professional development. Focus on high leverage, low cost options technology tools such as Moodle, Google Apps, Drupal, wikis, and blogs. Create an offering of basic technology professional development courses - both online and face-to-face for staff to access. Create an annual showcase conference opportunity for teachers to share their learning with each other.

Attending to Basics - The MMSD technology infrastructure has been slow to keep up with changes in network issues such as Internet capacity and bandwidth. Fiber-based Internet access was just completed this school year. Emerging technologies include wireless, which opens many more flexible learning opportunities for students. While the number of computers in Madison schools is not significantly behind volumes in other school districts, the age of the computers is significantly older with a current nine-year replacement rate. The District needs to ensure that the basic infrastructure for the core systems are up-to- date and stable, e.g., email, printing, copying, faxing, and telephony.

Recommendations: Investigate network upgrade options, especially wireless. Deploy these technologies across all schools as rapidly as possible. Implement a personal computing plan that replaces all student instructional computing devices every four years and three years for administrative and instructional staff computers. Explore lower cost mobile netbook and hand held devices to supplement any desktop computers.

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School reform must have urban focus

Rochester Democrat & Chronicle Editorial:

he state Board of Regents, which oversees public schools in the state among its duties, has a lot on its plate at the moment. There is the problem of the crippled state finances and their impact on local schools. There is the arrival of a new education secretary, Arne Duncan, who not only is handing out stimulus money but is looking for national school reform.

And then there is the regents' task of choosing a commissioner to replace Richard Mills, who is leaving the job this summer, a leader who changed the conversation about public school performance by championing consistent, measurable standards in academic fundamentals.

The value of a measuring process based almost entirely on standardized tests was often questioned, but test scores did show with great clarity the disparity between urban and suburban schools.

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May 3, 2009


The entry The Madison School District on WKCE Data is not accepting comments, so this entry will make a quick note.

The last pages of the MMSD document is a copy of the agenda for a workshop entitled "WKCE DATA ANALYSIS WORKSHOP" for principals and IRT Professional Development, held on May 1 at Olson Elementary School. In this half day workshop, a couple of hours is spent introducing the software package from Turnleaf which allows detailed analysis of student data -- according to their site.

This is promising, I would hope. Maybe we will finally be seeing some real analysis of student data and begin to answer the "whys" of the WKCE results. See WKCE Scores Document Decline in the Percentage of Madison's Advanced Students

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Madison School District 2009-2010 Budget Discussion

44MB mp3 audio file. The April 30, 2009 meeting discussed:

  1. undo class and a half for SAGE schools
  2. not extend class and a half for non-SAGE schools
  3. restore funding for Ready Set Go conferences
The board also discussed member compensation, future proposals from task forces such as the fine arts and math along with the strategic plan.

Via a kind reader's email.

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An Update on the Madison School District's 4 year old Kindergarten Plans

Dan Nerad 100K PDF:

The 4K steering committee had four meetings reviewing prior history, leaming from other districts, and looking at what needs to be accomplished prior to start up. At the last meeting we came to consensus on a time-line. As a result, the steering committee is recommending that the Board of Education make a commitment in May to begin 4K no later than fall, 2010.

The next 4K meeting is tentatively scheduled for Monday, May 11, from 9:30 to 11:30, site to be determined. At this meeting we will divide into working subcommittees focused around the Tasks Ahead piece developed in previous meetings. Attached is a list of the tasks.

The steering committee is a terrific group of individuals to work with and there is no lack of enthusiasm and passion for this initiative.

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The Madison School District on WKCE Data

Madison School District 1.5MB PDF:
The 2008-09 school year marked the fourth consecutive year in which testing in grades 3 through 8 and 10 was conducted in fulfillment of the federal No Child left Behind law. The Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exams (WKCE) is a criterion-referenced test (CRT) where a student's performance is compared to a specific set of learning standard outcomes. The WKCE-CRT includes testing in all seven grade levels reading and math and in grades 4, 8 and 10 additional testing in language arts, science and social studies. Just under 12,400 MMSD students participated in this year's WKCE-CRT.

Under NClB, schools are required to test 95% of their full academic year (FAY) students in reading and math. Madison's test participation rates exceeded 95% in all grade levels. Grades 3 through 8 achieved 99% test participation or higher while the District's 10th graders reached 98% in test participation.

In general, performance was relatively unchanged in the two academic areas tested across the seven grade levels. In reading, across the seven grades tested four grade levels had an increase in the percentage of students scoring at the proficient or higher performance categories compared with the previous year while three grades showed a decline in the percentage. In math, three grades increased proficient or higher performance, three grades declined, and one remained the same.

The changing demographics of the district affect the overall aggregate achievement data. As the district has experienced a greater proportion of students from subgroups which are at a disadvantage in testing, e.g., non-native English speakers, or English language learners (Ells), the overall district averages have correspondingly declined. Other subgroups which traditionally perform well on student achievement tests, i.e., non-low income students and white students, continue to perform very high relative to statewide peer groups. Therefore, it is important disaggregate the data to interpret and understand the district results.
Jeff Henriques recently took a look at math performance in the Madison School District.

"Schools should not rely on only WKCE data to gauge progress of individual students or to determine effectiveness of programs or curriculum"
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California High school students weigh in on Prop. 1A

San Francisco Chronicle:

The nonpartisan California Budget Challenge is a free online educational tool from the public-policy group Next 10 that lets users try to balance California's books and see how their choices would affect the state five years into the future.

Users set their own priorities and make tough decisions about what is best for the people of the state. This allows everyday people the chance to consider the effects of important policy choices. This year, Next 10 is taking the challenge on the road, visiting classrooms and diverse communities throughout the state. Staff members teach audiences about the workings of California's finances and give them a flavor for what it takes to balance the state's budget. Here are reactions to Proposition 1A from six Bay Area high school students:

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Boise State professors live alongside students

Jessie Bonner:

On the west end of the Boise State University campus, Professor Michael Humphrey lives on the third floor of a residence hall with his wife, 2-year-old daughter, their Labrador retriever Booba - and nearly 30 college students.

Humphrey, a 35-year-old with a doctorate in special education, has lived at the university for the past year as part of a campus housing program created in 2004 to help retain students and enhance their college experience.

The basic premise: If students feel as if they belong, they'll be more likely to stick around.

Nationwide, about 200 colleges have developed more than 600 living-learning residential programs in an attempt to further engage students outside the classroom and allow them to live on campus with others who have similar interests. In some cases, faculty and academic advisers have offices in the same residence hall.

But an analysis of these programs in 2007 found only 7 percent in the United States integrate faculty into the living arrangements, said Karen Kurotsuchi Inkelas, principal investigator for the National Study of Living-Learning Programs at the Center for Student Studies in Ann Arbor, Mich.

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Keep the Wisconsin QEO

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

Wisconsin's three-legged stool of school finance is wobbling and about to fall over.

The Legislature needs to prevent a terrible crash by rejecting the governor's attempt to kick out the sturdiest leg of the system -- the QEO, or "qualified economic offer," which limits increases in teacher compensation.

Wisconsin's system of paying for public schools has long been described as a three-legged stool. It's designed to protect property taxpayers and the quality of K-12 education.

The three legs are:

Much more on the QEO and Wisconsin school revenue limits here.

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School districts brace for economic hard times

Amy Hetzner & Erin Richards:

Flat state funding, dropping enrollments and fears about overburdening local taxpayers are helping to shape some of the most difficult financial decisions that school districts have faced in years.

In response, school officials have proposed staff reductions, maintenance cutbacks, energy efficiencies and other ways to curb costs. What's absent is a reliance on the record levels of new federal funding flowing to the state - already anticipated at $857 million and climbing - for the next two years.

Thus far into school districts' planning for their 2009-'10 budgets:

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Despite Dangers, Afghan Girls Determined To Learn

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson:

Public education is among the many casualties of the growing war in Afghanistan, and the threat of violence is especially acute for Afghan girls. Parents, who in the past did not allow their daughters to go to school because of societal taboos, are once again keeping them at home because of the threat of attacks by militants wielding acid or worse.

But many girls are refusing to give up their schooling -- no matter what the cost.

The Afghan government, aid groups and defiant teachers are operating public schools as well as secret, in-home classes in a risky effort to ensure that Afghan girls get an education.

Nearly half of the country's children do not attend classes, most of them in the Taliban-rife south, says Afghanistan's education minister, Farouq Wardak. Hundreds of schools have closed in Kandahar and neighboring provinces because of militant attacks and threats.

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Judge rules Galveston public schools desegregated


A federal judge has ruled that the Galveston public school system is racially desegregated, ending a civil rights lawsuit dating back to 1959.

The Galveston Independent School District had implemented a desegregation plan in 1969, requiring all students to attend the school nearest to where they lived. Despite that plan, the courts ruled several times since that the district was not fully integrated.
That ended Friday with the ruling by U.S. District Judge Sim Lake of Houston.

In his ruling, Lake wrote that he found no segregation on the district's part in faculty and staff assignments, pupil transportation, extracurricular activities, facilities, resource allocation, student achievement or special programs.

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Putting Students on the Same High-Performance Page

Lydia Gensheimer:

What happens when you have a law that's supposed to improve performance among the nation's school children but instead it creates confusion, lowers expectations and can result in a "dummying down" of state standards?

That's what a panel of educational experts is trying to address with a plan to incorporate common academic standards. They are urging Congress to support a state-led initiative to develop more-uniform, clear and integrated standards that reflect both the global marketplace and Americans' mobility within the country.

Under the 2002 No Child Left Behind law (PL 107-110), states set their own standards -- resulting in what Education Secretary Arne Duncan calls a "dummying down" of state standards in order to meet benchmarks set by the law.

Those who advocate for common standards contend that a system of variable expectations -- ones that are often too low -- leads American students to underperform when compared with their peers in Finland or China. President Obama called for common standards in a March 10 speech, and Duncan has said he would use a portion of a $5 billion "Race to the Top" fund under his discretion to reward states working toward that goal.

The panel -- which included Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers; former North Carolina Gov. James B. Hunt Jr.; and Dave Levin, founder of the KIPP charter schools -- testified April 29 at a House Education and Labor Committee hearing.

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University of Washington to borrow from private financial model

Nick Eaton:

For several months, University of Washington officials had been mum about it. As the state Legislature got closer to slashing UW funding by one quarter, administrators started dropping hints.

UW President Mark Emmert and members of the Board of Regents had been asking themselves, "Is this the privatization of the university?"

This week, Emmert finally said it publicly, in a letter he sent to the UW community: The University of Washington will need to "change its fundamental financial model."

So, what does that mean?

"When the education is less subsidized by the state, then universities have to be more market-oriented," Emmert told "The university will have to shift to a much more market-driven model than it has in the past."

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May 2, 2009

Inside the Box

Teachers, students, employees, employers, everyone these days, it seems, is being exhorted to think, act, imagine and perform "Outside the Box."

However, for students, there is still quite a bit that may be found Inside the Box for them to learn and get good at before they wander off into OutBoxLand.

Inside the Box there still await grammar, the multiplication tables, the periodic table, Boyle's Law, the Glorious Revolution, the Federalist Papers, Shakespeare, Isaac Newton, Bach, Mozart, Giovanni Bellini, recombinant DNA, Albrecht Durer, Edward Gibbon, Jan van Eyck, and a few other matters worth their attention.

Before the Mission Control people in Houston could solve the unique, immediate, and potentially fatal "Out of the Box" problems with the recovery of Apollo 13 and its crew, they had to draw heavily on their own InBox training and knowledge of mechanics, gases, temperatures, pressures, azimuth, velocity and lots of other math, science, and engineering stuff they had studied before. They may have been educated sitting in rows, and been seen in the halls at Mission Control wearing plastic pocket protectors, but in a very short time in that emergency they came up with novel solutions to several difficult and unexpected problems in saving that crew.

It seems clear to me that a group of ignorant but freethinking folks given that same set of novel tasks would either have had to watch Apollo 13 veer off into fatal space or crash into our planet with a dead crew on board, in a creative way, of course.

Many situations are less dramatic demonstrations of the clear necessity of lots of InBox education as preparation for any creative endeavor, but even high school students facing their first complete nonfiction book and a first history research paper when they arrive in college would have been much better off if they had been assigned a couple of complete nonfiction books and research papers before they left high school.

Basketball coach John Wooden of UCLA was of course happy with players who could adapt to unexpected defenses on the court during games, but according to Bill Walton, when he met with a set of new freshmen trying to make his team, the first thing he taught them was how to put on their socks...Perhaps some of his (and their) success came because he was not above going back into the Old Box to lay the groundwork for the winning fundamentals in college basketball.

Many teachers and edupundits decry the insufficiency of novelty, creativity and freethinking-out-of-the-box in our schools, but I have to wonder how many have realized the overriding importance of the education equivalent of having students put on their socks the right way?

Basic knowledge in history, English, physics, Latin, biology, math, and so on is essential for students in school before they can do much more than fool around with genuine and useful creativity in those fields.

True, they can write about themselves creatively, but if the teacher has read Marcel Proust, and would share a bit of his writing with the students, they might come to see that there is creativity in writing about oneself and there is also fooling around in writing about oneself.

Samuel Johnson once pointed out that: "The irregular combinations of fanciful invention may delight a-while, by that novelty of which the common satiety of life sends us all in quest, but the pleasures of sudden wonder are soon exhausted..."

The pleasures of foolish playacting Outside of the Box of knowledge and skill by students (and their teachers: witness the damage shown in Dead Poets Society) may delight them for a time because they are tired of the hard work involved in learning and thinking about new knowledge in school, but the more they indulge and are indulged in it, the lower our educational standards will be, and the worse the education provided students in our schools.

Novelty and innovation have their place and there they are sorely needed, but the quality of that innovation depends, to a great extent, on the quality of the knowledge and skill acquired while students were still working hard Back in the Box.

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

Genius: The Modern View

David Brooks:

Some people live in romantic ages. They tend to believe that genius is the product of a divine spark. They believe that there have been, throughout the ages, certain paragons of greatness -- Dante, Mozart, Einstein -- whose talents far exceeded normal comprehension, who had an other-worldly access to transcendent truth, and who are best approached with reverential awe.

We, of course, live in a scientific age, and modern research pierces hocus-pocus. In the view that is now dominant, even Mozart's early abilities were not the product of some innate spiritual gift. His early compositions were nothing special. They were pastiches of other people's work. Mozart was a good musician at an early age, but he would not stand out among today's top child-performers.

What Mozart had, we now believe, was the same thing Tiger Woods had -- the ability to focus for long periods of time and a father intent on improving his skills. Mozart played a lot of piano at a very young age, so he got his 10,000 hours of practice in early and then he built from there.

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

Bad Rap on Schools

Jay Matthews:

Oh, look. There's a new film that portrays American teenagers as distracted slackers who don't stand a chance against the zealous young strivers in China and India. It must be an election year, when American politicians, egged on by corporate leaders, suddenly become indignant about the state of America's public schools. If we don't do something, they thunder, our children will wind up working as bellhops in resorts owned by those Asian go- getters.

The one-hour documentary, conceived and financed by Robert A. Compton, a high-tech entrepreneur, follows two teenagers in Carmel, Indiana, as they sporadically apply themselves to their studies in their spare time between after school jobs and sports. The film, called Two Million Minutes, cuts to similar pairs of high schoolers in India and China who do little but attend classes, labor over homework, and work with their tutors. Two Million Minutes has become a key part of the ED in '08 campaign, a $60 million effort by Bill Gates and other wealthy worriers to convince the presidential candidates to get serious about fixing our schools.

Most of the time, I cheer such well-intentioned and powerful promoters of academic achievement. I have been writing about the lack of challenge in American high schools for 25 years. It astonishes me that we treat many high schoolers as if they were intellectual infants, actively discouraging them from taking the college-level Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses that would prepare them for higher education and add some challenge to their bland high school curricula. I share what I imagine is Bill Gates's distress at seeing Carmel High's Brittany Brechbuhl watching Grey's Anatomy on television with her friends while they make half hearted stabs at their math homework.

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

U.S. Colleges Bask in Surge Of Interest Among Chinese

Susan Kinzie:

It's an admissions officer's dream: ever-growing stacks of applications from students with outstanding test scores, terrific grades and rigorous academic preparation. That's the pleasant prospect faced by the University of Virginia and some other U.S. colleges, which are receiving a surging number of applications from China.

"It's this perfect, beautiful island of people who are immensely motivated, going to great high schools," marveled Parke Muth, director of international admission at U-Va.

A decade ago, 17 Chinese students applied to U-Va. Three years ago, 117 did. This year, the number was more than 800 out of almost 22,000 candidates -- so many that admissions officers had to devise new ways to select from the pool of strong applicants.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:43 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The Outlier Finds His Element

Nancy Duarte:

I read Outliers and The Element back to back last week.

Net-net is that people aren't successful from passion alone, usually there are other factors or "flukes" that lead to them living in their element. You may have heard successful people say that what made them great is that they were at the right place at the right time. There is some truth to that but they also had enormous passion, put in many hours and were in their "element".

In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell contends that passion alone doesn't equate success; the environment, innovation and generational culture shape our success. Below is an Outlier story of my own.

I have two kids. When Rachel started school, she was like a fish to water. She started kindergarten in an accelerated classroom, worked very hard, loved school and recently finished her teaching credential for the sciences. She's planning to spend her adult life in the classroom teaching.

Anthony on the other hand didn't like school enough to even pull his completed homework out of his backpack. In middle school he was a strong D-student,and an exceptional pianist. We contacted the school to see if he could remove Orchestra and PE classes from his schedule so he could devote 4 to 6 hours towards piano practice, they said they'd check with the School District because they "do that kind of thing for athletes". They said, " No," so I pulled him out of public school that very day.

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May 1, 2009

AP More Open, But Not Dumbed Down

Jay Matthews:
More than a decade ago, when I began investigating the odd uses of Advanced Placement courses and tests in our high schools, I tried to find out why AP participation was so much lower than I expected in my neighborhood public school, Walt Whitman High of Bethesda. At least one high school in neighboring D.C., and many more in suburban Maryland, had higher participation rates than Whitman, even though it was often called the best school in the state.

That is how I stumbled on what I call the Mt. Olympus syndrome. There were, I discovered from talking to students, a few AP teachers at that school who didn’t want to deal with average students. One of them actively discouraged juniors who were getting less than an A in a prerequisite course from taking his AP course when they were seniors. He only wanted students who were going to get a 5, the equivalent of an A on the three-hour college-level AP exam, where a score of 3 and above could earn college credit. That test, like all AP exams, was written and graded by outside experts, mostly high school and college instructors. The only way that teacher thought he could control the number of 5s was to make sure only top quality students--the academic gods of the Whitman High pantheon--were allowed into his course.
Related: Growing Pains in the Advanced Placement Program: Do Tough Tradeoffs Lie Ahead?
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Universities and the Recession

The Economist:

THE class of 2009 will be almost the largest in America's history. More than 3m students are getting their high-school diplomas in late spring. Those who plan to go on to university have been told for years to expect a rough time: with so many students applying, winning admission to their college of choice will be a challenge. But those who clear that hurdle will find that their problems are just beginning.

College life is an enviable set-up given the job market at the moment. It comes at a price, though: an average of roughly $25,000 per year at a private university, and $6,600 at a state one. That was this year, and next year it will in most cases cost a bit more. That is ominous for students and the people who fund them. Parents have lost jobs, and seen their savings wither. "I think more parents are being emboldened to ask for more money, or to ask for financial aid, period," says James Boyle, the president of College Parents of America.

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Kindergarten Waiting Lists Put Manhattan Parents on Edge

Elissa Gootman:

As a growing collection of Manhattan's most celebrated public elementary schools notify neighborhood parents that their children have been placed on waiting lists for kindergarten slots, middle-class vitriol against the school system -- and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg -- is mounting.

Parents are venting their frustrations in e-mail messages and phone calls to the mayor, local politicians and the schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein ("You have unleashed the fury of parents throughout this city with your complete lack of preparedness," read one father's recent missive, which he shared with The New York Times). Some are planning a rally on the steps of City Hall for next Wednesday afternoon ("Kindergartners Are Not Refugees!" proclaims a flier), and some are taking it upon themselves to scour the city for potential classroom space.

The outpouring of anger comes as state lawmakers consider whether to renew mayoral control of the city school system, which expires at the end of June, and Mr. Bloomberg is seeking a third term in part on his education record.

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Is new board president Bonds a 'clean slate' for the Milwaukee Public Schools?

Alan Borsuk:

New Milwaukee School Board President Michael Bonds took a stand Wednesday in support of major changes in the direction of Milwaukee Public Schools, calling for a hiring freeze in the central office, more school closings and less busing.

Bonds said MPS could save millions of dollars by taking a series of steps, including some similar to what was in a stinging consultant's report done for Gov. Jim Doyle and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Bonds said he was sending letters to Doyle and Barrett, asking for weekly meetings with them or their representatives to develop a unified effort to improve education in Milwaukee. He also held out the prospect of involvement by city and state representatives in MPS decision-making.

He said MPS should not seek or expect more money from the state, both because it is not realistic and because the district needs to do more to control its own spending.

"I still think we have millions in unrealized efficiencies," he said.

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Giving Kids a Jump on Technology Innovative Mitchellville Shows Off Its Success

Ovetta Wiggins:

You could see the pride in third-grader Kuron Anderson's eyes as he jumped from his tiny chair to talk about his technology project. He called it "The Many Faces of the Man," a digital photo mosaic that he created to celebrate the election of President Obama.

"I worked hard on it, and I did my best," Kuron said.

He then methodically explained how he used about 1,000 pictures to create his project for the first science and technology fair last month at the Mitchellville School of Math, Science and Technology in Bowie.

"This is the before picture," the 8-year-old said, pointing to the cutout on the cardboard display. "And if you step back, you will see his face on the computer. It is made up of cell images."

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A Primer on Wisconsin School Revenue Limits

The Wisconsin Taxpayer 3.4MB PDF:

Since 1994, Wisconsin school districts have operated under state-imposed revenue limits and the associated qualified economic offer (QEO) law.
  • Revenue limits have helped reduce school property tax increases to less than 5% per year from more than 9% annually prior to the caps.
  • The limits have had \aried impacts on school districts, with growing districts experiencing the largest revenue gains. Low-spending districts prior to the caps have seen the largest per student gains.
  • The QEO law has helped school districts keep compensation costs somewhat in line with revenue limits. However, since benefits are given more weight, teacher salary increases have slowed.

Since 1994. Wisconsin school districts have operated under slate-imposed revenue limits, which arc tied to inflation and enrollments. The associated qualified economic offer (QEO) law limits staff compensation increases to about 4% annually. With declining student counts, fluctuations in stale school aid. and various concerns over teacher pay. revenue limits and the QEO have attracted increasing debate.

The governor, in his proposed 2009-11 state budget, recommends eliminating the QEO. I le has also talked about providing ways for school districts to move away from revenue limits. This report does not address these specific proposals. Rather, it seeks to help inform discussions by examining the history of revenue limits and the QEO, legislative attempts to fix various issues, and the impacts of limits on schools, educators, and taxpayers.

School districts collect revenue from a variety of sources. The two largest sources are the property tax and state general (or equalization) aid, General aid is distributed based on district property wealth and spending. Combined, these two revenue sources account for about 75% of an average district's funding. The remainder is a combination of student fees, federal aid. and state categorical aids. such as those for special education and transportation.

The revenue limit law was implemented in 1994 (1993-94 school year) and caps the amount districts can collect from property taxes and general aid combined. It does not restrict student fees, federal aid. or state categorical aid. A district's revenue limit is determined by its prior-year cap, an inflation factor, and enrollments. There is an exception to the limit law for districts defined as "low-revenue." Currently, districts with per student revenues less than S9.000 are allowed to increase their revenues to that level.

While Wisconsin's revenue limit law began in 1994. its roots date back to several teacher strikes in the early 1970s, culminating with the 1974 Hortonville strike during which 86 teachers were fired. That strike gained national attention.

Related: K-12 tax & spending climate. A number of links on local school spending and tax increases before the implementation of State limits on annual expenditure growth. The Madison School District spent $180,400,000 during the 1992-1993 school year. In 2006, the District spent $331,000,000. The 2009/2010 preliminary Citizen's Budget proposes spending $367,912,077 [Financial Summary 2.1MB pdf], slightly down from 2008/2009's $368,012,286.

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Californians want schools to spend more wisely

Nanette Asimov:

Californians care deeply about public education - and most want school funding protected in the state budget - but they are feeling less generous than in past years about giving schools more money, a new statewide survey reveals.

People feeling the recession's bite want schools do a better job with the money already allocated, according to the survey of education attitudes by the Public Policy Institute of California.

At the same time, people are far less willing than in past years to pay higher taxes even to maintain existing levels of school funding.

"Californians are concerned about school quality and they're concerned about school funding. But that hasn't translated into more support for taxes and spending," Mark Baldassare, president of the independent research firm, said in a statement. "They're looking for reform and innovation that can lead to gains in school performance and student achievement."

Mitchell Landsberg has more.

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Gambling Sponsor to pay for Aristotle school roof


The remains of the ancient school where philosopher Aristotle (Greek philosopher) taught his pupils nearly 2,500 years ago are to be turned into an outdoor museum, thanks to a donation from a betting company, Greece's Culture Ministry says.

The project in central Athens is slated for completion next year at a cost of euro4.5 million ($5.9 million). But it will not use funds from the government, which has promised spending cuts amid the global financial crisis.

Aristotle, who lived from 384 to 322 B.C., studied under Plato and tutored Alexander the Great. Later, in Athens, he taught in the grounds of the Lyceum, a public sports complex frequented by the city's young men.

The outdoor museum will involve building a translucent roof over the site, Culture Minister Antonis Samaras said Wednesday.

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