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June 30, 2009

Wisconsin School funding getting precarious Budget removes option for districts to cap increases for teachers' salaries, benefits

Alan Borsuk & Amy Hetzner:

The three-legged stool is now down to one leg.

Will that leave either schools or taxpayers wobbly? Will the last leg fall, too?

In any case, Wisconsin's old order for how to fund schools is coming to an end, and what comes next remains to be decided, perhaps two years from now when the next state budget is adopted. Pressure for an overhaul is growing, even as economic realities are providing strong pressure to hold down budgets.

When Gov. Jim Doyle signed the state budget for 2009-'11 on Monday, the leg of the stool known as the qualified economic offer fell away. The QEO meant school districts had the option of capping increases in teachers' pay and benefits to 3.8% a year.

A second leg - the state's commitment to fund two-thirds of general operations of public schools - has been weakening over the past six years. It looks as if it now will be the state's commitment to fund something over 60% of school costs but not the full two-thirds.

That will leave only the third leg - revenue caps - in force. There will still be limits on how much school districts can collect in state aid and property taxes combined, a rule that will keep total spending growth restricted in general, but with widely varying impacts on property tax increases.

The three-legged stool was created in the mid-1990s, when Republican Tommy Thompson was governor. The goal was to put brakes on rapidly rising property taxes by increasing state aid, while holding down increases in overall spending through revenue caps and the threat of QEOs.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:11 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The Library of Congress on iTunes U

• Historical videos from the Library's moving-image collections such as original Edison films and a series of 1904 films from the Westinghouse Works;
  • Original videos such as author presentations from the National Book Festival, the "Books and Beyond" series, lectures from the Kluge Center, and the "Journeys and Crossings" series of discussions with curators;
  • Audio podcasts, including series such as "Music and the Brain," slave narratives from the American Folklife Center, and interviews with noted authors from the National Book Festival; and
  • Classroom and educational materials, including 14 courses from the Catalogers' Learning Workshop
Slick. Download iTunes here. MIT's open courseware, among many others is also available on iTunes U.
Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:07 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas


Lera Boroditsky:

For a long time, the idea that language might shape thought was considered at best untestable and more often simply wrong. Research in my labs at Stanford University and at MIT has helped reopen this question. We have collected data around the world: from China, Greece, Chile, Indonesia, Russia, and Aboriginal Australia. What we have learned is that people who speak different languages do indeed think differently and that even flukes of grammar can profoundly affect how we see the world. Language is a uniquely human gift, central to our experience of being human. Appreciating its role in constructing our mental lives brings us one step closer to understanding the very nature of humanity.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:12 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The 'little red schoolhouse' of legend, whatever its flaws, made more sense than the warehouse-schools of today.

Bill Kauffman:

Tacked to my wall is a lithograph of the famous Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington. For many years, it graced my mother's one-room schoolhouse in Lime Rock, N.Y. Antiquarian relic or enduringly relevant image? The same question may be asked of the "little red schoolhouse" itself, whose reality and legend are the subject of "Small Wonder." Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor at New York University, sets out to tell "how -- and why -- the little red schoolhouse became an American icon." Mr. Zimmerman proves a thoughtful and entertaining teacher.

First, the chromatic debunking: One-room schools were often white and seldom red. The teachers were usually young unmarried females, pace the most famous one-room schoolteacher in literature, Ichabod Crane. They swept the floor, stoked the stove, rang the hand-bell and taught their mixed-age students by rote and recitation. The schools could be a "cauldron of chaos," in Mr. Zimmerman's alliteration, as tyro teachers were tormented by Tom Sawyers dipping pigtails in inkwells and carving doggerel into desks.

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The Evidence on Online Education

Scott Jaschik:

Online learning has definite advantages over face-to-face instruction when it comes to teaching and learning, according to a new meta-analysis released Friday by the U.S. Department of Education.

The study found that students who took all or part of their instruction online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through face-to-face instruction. Further, those who took "blended" courses -- those that combine elements of online learning and face-to-face instruction -- appeared to do best of all. That finding could be significant as many colleges report that blended instruction is among the fastest-growing types of enrollment.

The Education Department examined all kinds of instruction, and found that the number of valid analyses of elementary and secondary education was too small to have much confidence in the results. But the positive results appeared consistent (and statistically significant) for all types of higher education, undergraduate and graduate, across a range of disciplines, the study said.

A meta-analysis is one that takes all of the existing studies and looks at them for patterns and conclusions that can be drawn from the accumulation of evidence.

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Animal House at 30: College students find new ways to channel their inner Bluto.

EE Smith:

When Animal House first came out just over 30 years ago, it dominated the cultural landscape. College students were nostalgic for the "raunchy, pre-1960s undergraduate ideal," says Peter Rollins, who has been studying pop-culture academically for over 30 years. Mr. Rollins, who attended Dartmouth in the 1960s, says that students back then tried to live "the fantasy" on their own campuses. Some still do, taking Bluto's counsel to heart: "My advice to you is to start drinking heavily."

Take Alpha Delta, the Dartmouth College fraternity that the infamous Delta house of the movie is based on. The movie, co-written by Dartmouth graduate and Alpha Delta brother Chris Miller, still inspires some of the fraternity's traditions today.

In spring 2008, a band covering Otis Day and the Knights played on Alpha Delta's front lawn to an audience of boozers, brawlers and, probably, future U.S. senators. This past spring, Alpha Delta organized an Animal House-themed party with the preppy brothers Sigma Alpha Epsilon, the inspiration for the sadomasochistic Omega house in the film. And on any given Friday night, it's not just beer making the basement floor of Alpha Delta sticky. Paying tribute to the movie that made their fraternity famous, the brothers of Alpha Delta relieve themselves in plain sight along their basement wall.

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The exit exam debate

Larry Aceves:

The proposal to scrap the exam has been called "controversial" because it has divided education leaders from their usual allies in the Legislature.

While Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg say it's not fair to ask our students to risk giving up their diplomas as a result of state budget cuts, many education leaders fear dismantling a centerpiece of California's educational accountability system that was finally implemented just three years ago after years of delay.

But the debate over the exam, a budget line item that represents less than one-third of 0.001 of a percent of the budget shortfall, distracts from the more important "test" by which the state budget should be judged: the effect it will have on our children and on California's future. By just about any measure, the budget on the table in Sacramento now receives a failing grade.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:31 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The Bard of Berkeley A former poet laureate on haiku and the responsibilities of writers.

The Bard of Berkeley:

One benefit of being a poet -- as opposed to, say, a politician or talk-show host -- is that you can be the most celebrated person in your field, a virtual rock star among those who study, read and write poetry, and still remain anonymous in just about any public setting.

The thought occurs to me as I stand outside one of this city's finer Japanese-fusion restaurants (a fancy joint called Yoshi's) chain smoking and awaiting the arrival of Robert Hass, a poetry rock star if ever there was one.

Last year alone the 68-year-old Berkeley professor won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for his collection of poems "Time and Materials." From 1995-97 he was America's poet laureate, and he used the post in innovative ways to promote literacy. From 1997-2000 he wrote the popular "Poet's Choice" column for the Washington Post, introducing readers to his favorite poets each week. His translations of Japanese haiku and the works of Czeslaw Milosz -- the late, great Polish poet, winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize in Literature -- are read the world over.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:49 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

How Should We Teach English-Language Learners?

Claudio Sanchez:

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that the state of Arizona has not violated federal laws that require schools to help students who do not speak, read or write English. Despite the federal mandates, these kids often fail to do well in school. So why haven't schools figured out the best way to teach English to non-English-speaking students?

"The research certainly has in the past shown dual language programs to be the most effective," says Nancy Rowe.

Rowe oversees instruction for English-language learners in Nebraska. She swears that building on a child's native language, rather than discarding it, has proven to be the best way to help kids make the transition to English -- but that's neither here nor there, because the actual programs that schools use have less to do with research than with politics and funding.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:39 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

My Son's Gamble

Lucy Ferriss:

ust past dawn one morning last August, I pulled myself from bed, bleary from ragged sleep. I headed downstairs to make coffee and settle at my computer. There, I booted up Firefox and accessed an online card room, Full Tilt Poker, from which I downloaded a program to play Texas Hold 'Em and other games. Once the program was open, I tried to log on with the screen name my 18-year-old son, Dan, had shown me on a different site called PokerStars. Full Tilt Poker, unsurprisingly, rejected the name.

Following the plan I outlined as I lay awake in the wee hours, I opened up Dan's college e-mail account. Weeks before, he read his e-mail via my computer and asked Firefox to save the password. I clicked "Enter." There before me were all the e-mail messages from university officials, from his tennis coach, from teachers. Most prevalent were e-mail messages from Full Tilt Poker, addressed to a screen name I did not recognize. Grimly satisfied, I read none of these. I simply returned to Full Tilt, entered the screen name from the e-mail and clicked "Forgot my password." I expected the program to ask me the name of my favorite rock band, at which point my foray into the role of Internet spy would cease. To my surprise, the window on the screen read, "We have sent your new password to the e-mail address on record." I re-entered Dan's e-mail account, fetched the new password and entered it into the Full Tilt log-in window.

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June 29, 2009

Is Wisconsin state-of-the-art for K-12 science and math education?

Anneliese Dickman:

The Public Policy Forum's latest report, released today, finds that of the 10 career clusters predicted to grow the most over the next five years, seven include occupations requiring strong backgrounds in science, math, technology, or engineering (STEM). Of the 10 specific jobs predicted to be the fastest growing in the state, eight require STEM skills or knowledge and six require a post-secondary degree.

Do Wisconsin's state educational policies reflect this growing need for STEM-savvy and skilled workers? Are Wisconsin education officials focusing on STEM in a coherent and coordinated way? Our new report probes those issues by examining state workforce development data and reviewing state-level policies and standards that impact STEM education.

We present several policy options that could be considered to build on localized STEM initiatives and establish a greater statewide imperative to prioritize STEM activities in coordination with workforce needs. Those include:

Amy Hetzner has more.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:35 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Roberts: Supreme Court not setting school rules

Sue Lindsey:

Don't look to the Supreme Court to set school rules, only to clarify them when officials have abdicated that responsibility, Chief Justice John Roberts said Saturday.

At a judicial conference, Roberts was asked how school administrators should interpret seemingly conflicting messages from the court in two recent decisions, including one Thursday that said Arizona officials conducted an unconstitutional strip-search of a teenage girl. In 2007, the justices sided with an Alaska high school principal, ruling that administrators could restrict student speech if it appears to advocate illegal drug use.

Roberts told the audience there was no conflict in the court's rulings, just clarity intended to deal with narrow issues that surface from government actions.

"You can't expect to get a whole list of regulations from the Supreme Court. That would be bad," Roberts said. "We wouldn't do a good job at it."

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A Formula for Changing Math Education

Someone always asks the math teacher, "Am I going to use calculus in real life?" And for most of us, says Arthur Benjamin, the answer is no. He offers a bold proposal on how to make math education relevant in the digital age.
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Critical Likability

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
28 June 2009

As we approach the end of the first decade of the first century of the third millennium of the Christian Era, the corporate members of the new and influential Partnership for 21st Century Skills have begun to look beyond and behind and beneath their earlier commitment to the education of our students in critical thinking, collaborative problem solving, and global awareness.

It has become obvious to industry leaders that more fundamental than all these new student skills for success in the business world is really Critical Likability. While it may be useful for new employees to know that the world is round, and that solving problems is sometimes easier if others provide help, and that real thinking is superior to not thinking at all, these all pale in importance to whether other people like you or not.

Being a great communicator is important, and reading and writing have received some support from the 21st Century leaders, but those are not of much value if no one likes you and no one wants to hear what you have to say, whether oral or written.

Critical Likability, it must be understood, goes far beyond mere popularity in school, although they share some essential tools and characteristics. Future employees must learn, while they are in school, the basic lessons of smiling, personal hygiene (including the control of bad breath and the release of hydrogen sulfide gas), grooming, table manners, the correct handshake, and at least the basics of dressing for success.

At a more advanced level students should be taught to listen, empathize, seem to agree, laugh, hug (only where clearly appropriate), tell jokes, drink (where and when culturally appropriate), play a social sport (like golf), and generally to be likable in the most efficient and effective senses of that word.

Everyone knows that while space in the curriculum must be arranged for instruction in these Critical Likability skills, that will take some time, and, at least for the immediate future, there will still be courses in history, literature, math, science, languages and all that. In fact, it is generally acknowledged that at least math and science can make a contribution to Critical Employability in our modern economy.

Some of this work is still in the planning stages, as the Seven Techniques of Critical Likability are being developed and forged into new curricula. But the work is underway.

As always there will be rearguard efforts to retard progress in teaching these Critical Likability skills to students. Teachers and conservatives educators will fight to defend the sciences and humanities as necessary to leading the good life, and to preparing students for success in college. But if a person is truly likable, "with a shoeshine and a smile," as Willy Loman used to say, they can make at least part of their way in the business world, no matter how ignorant they are of anything beyond the work of their employer. Cultural literacy may be fine for some people, but Critical Likability is what we want for all of America's future 21st Century employees.

Academic subjects and intellectual work will still be provided in our education system of course, but this is a new century, and new ideas are needed in this Post-Recession economy. Some students will probably always be willing to read nonfiction books and to write serious academic research papers, and some teachers will want to help them with that, and surely room can be found somewhere in our economy, and even in our government, for people who do that sort of thing.

Nevertheless, Americans have always been noted for their high likability skills. People in other countries have often noted that while Americans may be ignorant and thoughtless, they are at least likable, and we should be sure not to give up that important advantage, even as other countries like China, India, Korea, Singapore and Taiwan (CHIKSAT) gradually bury us economically, by means of the complete and rigorous academic schooling they are now requiring millions of their students to complete.

If the 20th century proves to be the last and only American Century, and even if other countries stop lending us their money to prop us up, at least we will slide back behind other nations and other cultures with a nice (likable) smile on our faces...

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Perfect Failure
Commencement Address to Graduating Class of the Buckley School

Paul Tudor Jones, via a kind reader's email:

When I was asked to give the commencement address to a graduating class of 9th graders, I jumped at the chance. You see, I have four teenagers of my own and I feel like this is the point in my life when I am supposed to tell them something profound. So thank you Buckley community for giving me this opportunity. I tried this speech out on them last night and am happy to report that none of them fell asleep until I was three quarters done.

When composing this message I searched my memory for my same experience back in 1969 when I was sitting right where you are. I realized that I could hardly remember one single speaker from my junior high or high school days. Now that could be my age. I'm old enough now that some days I can't remember how old I am. But it could also have been a sign of the times. Remember, I was part of the student rebellion, and we did not listen to anything that someone over 30 said because they were just too clueless. Or so we thought.

Anyway, as I sat there considering this speech further, I suddenly had a flashback of the one speaker who I actually did remember from youthful days. He was a Shakespearean actor who came to our school to extol the virtues of William Shakespeare. He started out by telling us that Shakespeare was not about poetry or romance or love, but instead, was all about battle, and fighting and death and war. Then he pulled out a huge sword which he began waving over the top of his head as he described various bloody conflicts that were all part and parcel of Shakespeare's plays. Now being a 15-year old testosterone laden student at an all boys school, I thought this was pretty cool. I remember thinking, "Yea, this guy gets it. Forget about the deep meaning and messages in the words, let's talk about who's getting the blade."

As you can see, I have a similar sword which I am going to stop waving over my head now, because A) I think you are permanently scarred, and B) the headmaster looks like he is about to tackle me and C) some of you, I can tell, are way too excited about this sword, and you're scaring me a little.

I'm here with you young men today because your parents wanted me to speak to you about service--that is, serving others and giving back to the broader community for the blessings that you have received in your life. But that is a speech for a later time in your life. Don't get me wrong, serving others is really, really important. It truly is the secret to happiness in life. I swear to God. Money won't do it. Fame won't do it. Nor will sex, drugs, homeruns or high achievement. But now I am getting preachy.

Today, I want to talk to you about the dirtiest word that any of you 9th graders know. It's a word that is so terrible that your parents won't talk about it; your teachers won't talk about it; and you certainly don't ever want to dwell on it. But this is a preparatory school, and you need to be prepared to deal with this phenomenon because you will experience it. That is a guarantee. Every single one of you will experience it not once but multiple times, and every adult in this room has had to deal with this in its many forms and manifestations. It's the "F" word.

FAILURE. Failure that is so mortifying and so devastating that it makes you try to become invisible. It makes you want to hide your face, your soul, your being from everyone else because of the shame. Trust me, boys--if you haven't already tasted that, you will. I am sure most of you here already have. AND IT IS HARD. I know this firsthand, but I also know that failure was a key element to my life's journey.

My first real failure was in 1966 in the 6th grade. I played on our basketball team, and I was the smallest and youngest kid on the team. It was the last game of the season and I was the only player on the squad that had not scored a point all season. So in the second half the coach directed all the kids to throw me the ball when I went in, and for me to shoot so that I would score. The problem was that Coach Clark said it loud enough that every person in the stands could hear it as well as every member of the opposing team. Going into the fourth quarter, our team was well ahead, Coach Clark inserted me and thus, began the worst eight minutes of my life up until that point. Every time I got the ball, the entire other team would rush towards me, and on top of that, that afternoon I was the greatest brick layer the world had ever seen. The game ended. I had missed five shots, and the other team erupted in jubilation that I had not scored. I ran out of the gym as fast as I could only to bump into two of the opposing team's players who proceeded to laugh and tease and ridicule me. I cried and hid in the bathroom. Well, that passed, and I kept trying team sports, but I was just too small to really compete. So in the 10th grade, I took up boxing where suddenly everyone was my size and weight. I nearly won the Memphis Golden Gloves my senior year in high school and did win the collegiate championship when I was 19. Standing in the middle of that ring and getting that trophy, I still remember looking around for those two little kids who had run me into that bathroom back in the 6th grade, because I was going to knock their blocks off. That's one problem with failure. It can stay with you for a very long time.

The next time the dragon of failure reared his ugly head was in 1978. I was working in New Orleans for one of the greatest cotton traders of all time, Eli Tullis. Now, New Orleans is an unbelievable city. It has the Strawberry Festival, the Jazz Festival, the Sugar Bowl, Mardi Gras, and just about every other excuse for a party that you can ever imagine. Heck, in that town, waking up was an excuse to party. I was still pretty fresh out of college, and my mentality, unfortunately, was still firmly set on fraternity row. It was a Friday morning in June, and I had been out literally all night with a bunch of my friends. My job was to man the phone all day during trading hours and call cotton prices quotes from New York into Mr. Tullis' office. Around noon, things got quiet on the New York floor, and I got overly drowsy. The next thing I remember was a ruler prying my chin off my chest, and Mr. Tullis calling to me, "Paul. Paul." My eyes fluttered opened and as I came to my senses, he said to me, "Son, you are fired." I'd never been so shocked or hurt in my life. I literally thought I was going to die for I had just been sacked by an iconic figure in my business.

My shame turned into anger. I was not angry at Mr. Tullis for he was right. I was angry at myself. But I knew I was not a failure, and I swore that I was going to prove to myself that I could be a success. I called a friend and secured a job on the floor of the New York Cotton Exchange and moved to the City. Today, I will put my work ethic up against anybody's on Wall Street. Failure will give you a tattoo that will stay with you your whole life, and sometimes it's a really good thing. One other side note, to this day, I've never told my parents that I got fired. I told them I just wanted to try something different. Shame can be a lifetime companion for which you better prepare yourself.

Now, there are two types of failure you will experience in life. The first type is what I just described and comes from things you can control. That is the worst kind. But there is another form of failure that will be equally devastating to you, and that is the kind beyond your control. This happened to me in 1982. I had met a very lovely young Harvard student from Connecticut, dated her for two years then asked her to marry me right after she graduated from college. We set a date; we sent out the invitations; and all was fantastic until one month before the wedding when her father called me. He said, "Paul, my daughter sat me down this afternoon, and she doesn't know how to tell you this, but she is really unhappy and thinks it's time for you two to take a break." At first I thought he was joking because he was a very funny guy. Then he said, "No, she is serious about this." I thought to myself, "Oh, my God, I am being dumped at the altar." I'm from Tennessee. Getting dumped at the altar was the supreme social embarrassment of that time. It was a big deal. When all my family and friends found out, they were ready to re-start the Civil War on the spot. I had to remind them that the last Civil War didn't go so well for our side, and I didn't like our chances in a rematch. The reality was that I was a 26-year old knucklehead, and since all my friends were getting married, I kind of felt it was time for me to do the same thing. And that was the worst reason in the world to get married. I actually think she understood that and to a certain extent spared me what would have been a very tough marriage. Instead, I've had an incredible marriage for twenty years to a wonderful wife, and we have four kids that I love more than anything on Earth. Some things happen to you that at the time will make you feel like the world is coming to an end, but in actuality, there is a very good reason for it. You just can't see it and don't know it. When one door closes, another will open, but standing in that hallway can be hell. You just have to persevere. Quite often that dragon of failure is really chasing you off the wrong road and on to the right one.

By now you are thinking, how much longer is this loser going to keep on talking. My kids are all teenagers, and whenever I'm telling them something I think is important, they often wonder the same thing. But the main point I want you to take away today is that some of your greatest successes are going to be the children of failure. This touches upon the original reason I was invited here today. In 1986, I adopted a class of Bedford Stuyvesant 6th graders and promised them if they graduated from high school, I would pay for their college. For those of you who don't know, Bed-Stuy is one of New York City's toughest neighborhoods. Even the rats are scared to go there at night. Statistically about 8% of the class I adopted would graduate from high school, so my intervention was designed to get them all into college. For the next six years, I did everything I could for them. I spent about $5,000 annually per student taking them on ski trips, taking them to Africa, taking them to my home in Virginia on the weekends, having report card night, hiring a counselor to help coordinate afternoon activities and doing my heartfelt best to get them ready for college. Six years later, a researcher from Harvard contacted me and asked if he could study my kids as part of an overall assessment of what then was called the "I Have a Dream" Program. I said sure. He came back to me a few months later and shared some really disturbing statistics. 86 kids that I had poured my heart and soul into for six years were statistically no different than kids from a nearby school that did not have the services our afterschool program provided. There was no difference in graduation rates, dropout rates, academic scores, teenage pregnancies, and the list went on. The only thing that we managed to do was get three times as many of our kids into college because we were offering scholarships whereas the other schools were not. But in terms of preparing these kids for college, we completely and totally failed. Boy, did this open my eyes. That was the first real-time example for me of how intellectual capital will always trump financial capital. In other words, I had the money to help these kids, but it was useless because I didn't have the brains to help them. I had tried to succeed with sheer force of will and energy and financial resources. I learned that this was not enough. What I needed were better defined goals, better metrics, and most importantly, more efficient technologies that would enable me to achieve those goals. What that whole experience taught me was that starting with kids at age 12 was 12 years too late. An afterschool program was actually putting a band-aid on a much deeper structural issue, and that was that our public education system was failing us. So in 2000, along with the greatest educator I knew, a young man named Norman Atkins, we started the Excellence Charter School in Bedford Stuyvesant for boys. We set the explicit goal of hiring the best teachers with the greatest set of skills to be the top performing school in the city. Now that was an ambitious goal but last year in 2008, Excellence ranked #1 out of 543 public schools in New York City for reading and math proficiency for any third and fourth grade cohort, and our school was 98% African American boys. We never would have done that had I not failed almost 15 years earlier.

So here is the point: you are going to meet the dragon of failure in your life. You may not get into the school you want or you may get kicked out of the school you are in. You may get your heart broken by the girl of your dreams or God forbid, get into an accident beyond your control. But the point is that everything happens for a reason. At the time it may not be clear. And certainly the pain and the shame are going to be overwhelming and devastating. But just as sure as the sun comes up, there will come a time on the next day or the next week or the next year, when you will grab that sword and point it at that dragon and tell him, "Be gone, dragon. Tarry with me and I will cut your head off. For I must find the destination God and life hold in store for me!" Young men of Buckley, good luck on your journey...

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

Note to Union: Don't Mess With Success at This High-Achieving Charter Middle School

Jay Matthews:

Sometime last year, while negotiating a teacher contract for the KIPP Ujima Village charter middle school in Baltimore, founder Jason Botel pointed out that his students, mostly from low- income families, had earned the city's highest public school test scores three years in a row. If the union insisted on increasing overtime pay, he said, the school could not afford the extra instruction time that was a key to its success, and student achievement would suffer.

Botel says a union official replied: "That's not our problem."

Such stories heat the blood of union critics. It is, they contend, a sign of how unions dumb down public education by focusing on salaries, not learning.

Baltimore Teachers Union President Marietta English, who was at the meeting, denied Botel's account. But, she added, teacher salaries and working conditions are her priority as a negotiator. I think the union leader is right.

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Off to private Brentwood School, thanks to the kindness of strangers

Carla Rivera:

New friendships bloom as an L.A. judge and his college professor wife decide to foot the bill for a talented boy to attend the private school, which his mom can't afford.

When David and Jacki Horwitz read an article in The Times about Lorelei Oliver's struggle to find a good school for her son Kamal Key, their response was immediate: Perhaps, they inquired, there was a fund to which they could contribute to help the 12-year-old, who had been admitted to a prestigious but costly private campus?

Three weeks and several phone calls and e-mails later, Kamal and his family sat in the backyard of the Horwitzes' spacious Pacific Palisades home, laughing as if they had known each other for years. The couple's initial offer of a modest donation for a little boy who was a complete stranger has led to the unexpected meeting of two families whose lives may now be intertwined for years.

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Grad Guid 2009

Washington Post:

Transitioning from full-time student to working professional is challenging enough, but in this turbulent job market, what's a student to do? Our experts have help

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School spotlight: Evansville students go far with little

Pamela Cotant:

The High Mileage Vehicle Club, which designs and builds cars to get the best fuel mileage possible, has taken on new meaning with higher gas prices.

In addition, the club at Evansville High School is having a good run in the three years since it started.

The club's car, which was equipped with a hydrogen booster and got nearly 170 mpg, was one of more than 20 entered in the Super High Mileage Vehicle Competition at the Dunn County Fairgrounds this spring. It took first place in mileage in the concept class and first place among all cars in the other categories as well as being the overall grand champion.

Last year, the club's car -- which had an electric motor and got 498 mpg -- took second place in the individual categories and first place overall. It also earned $1,500 in scholarships, which were distributed among four members. Scholarships were not given out to contest winners this year.

While this year's car got fewer miles per gallon, the students decided to try using a hydrogen booster, which makes fuel burn more completely, because they wanted to experiment with something different.

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In Uncertain Times, Valedictorians Look Ahead

Lizette Alvarez:

"We're that high school class that was there when Obama got elected and that's going to be there forever," said Christian Monsalve, who was chosen by his classmates at Regis High School, one of the city's most prestigious Catholic schools, to give the commencement address. "Who knows what, in the next 5, 10 years, what's going to happen. We're going to be that class that's going to make that history."

Before tossing their mortarboards into the air, all graduating seniors are spoon-fed equal parts inspiration and responsibility. But for the class of 2009, laying claim to The Future can be a disquieting proposition.

Unemployment is discouragingly high. Wall Street is downsizing. Icecaps are melting. America remains at war. And politicians are still feuding -- or in New York State's case, locking one another out of rooms.

Yet, these best and brightest flip all this negativity into opportunity: to cure, to defend, to counsel, to heal, even to make a buck. "It's not like we'll be in recession for the rest of our lives, until we die," noted Jenae Williams, the valedictorian at the Celia Cruz Bronx High School of Music.

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June 28, 2009

"It's sort of peaceful knowing that you're going to work to do nothing" $65 million a year for New York City's Rubber Room

News: Associated Press
700 NYC teachers are paid to do nothing

By KAREN MATTHEWS--3 days ago (23 June 2009)

NEW YORK (AP) -- Hundreds of New York City public school teachers accused of offenses ranging from insubordination to sexual misconduct are being paid their full salaries to sit around all day playing Scrabble, surfing the Internet or just staring at the wall, if that's what they want to do.

Because their union contract makes it extremely difficult to fire them, the teachers have been banished by the school system to its "rubber rooms"--off-campus office space where they wait months, even years, for their disciplinary hearings.

The 700 or so teachers can practice yoga, work on their novels, paint portraits of their colleagues --pretty much anything but school work. They have summer vacation just like their classroom colleagues and enjoy weekends and holidays through the school year.

"You just basically sit there for eight hours," said Orlando Ramos, who spent seven months in a rubber room, officially known as a temporary reassignment center, in 2004-2005. "I saw several near-fights. 'This is my seat.' 'I've been sitting here for six months.' That sort of thing."

Ramos was an assistant principal in East Harlem when he was accused of lying at a hearing on whether to suspend a student. Ramos denied the allegation but quit before his case was resolved and took a job in California.

Because the teachers collect their full salaries of $70,000 or more, the city Department of Education estimates the practice costs the taxpayers $65 million a year. The department blames union rules.

"It is extremely difficult to fire a tenured teacher because of the protections afforded to them in their contract," spokeswoman Ann Forte said.

City officials said that they make teachers report to a rubber room instead of sending they home because the union contract requires that they be allowed to continue in their jobs in some fashion while their cases are being heard. The contract does not permit them to be given other work.

Ron Davis, a spokesman for the United Federation of Teachers, said the union and the Department of Education reached an agreement last year to try to reduce the amount of time educators spend in reassignment centers, but progress has been slow.

"No one wants teachers who don't belong in the classroom. However, we cannot neglect the teachers' rights to due process," Davis said. The union represents more than 228,000 employees, including nearly 90,000 teachers.

Many teachers say they are being punished because they ran afoul of a vindictive boss or because they blew the whistle when somebody fudged test scores.

"The principal wants you out, you're gone," said Michael Thomas, a high school math teacher who has been in a reassignment center for 14 months after accusing an assistant principal of tinkering with test results.

City education officials deny teachers are unfairly targeted but say there has been an effort under Mayor Michael Bloomberg to get incompetents out of the classroom. "There's been a push to report anything that you see wrong," Forte said.

Some other school systems likewise pay teachers to do nothing.

The Los Angeles district, the nation's second-largest school system with 620,000 students, behind New York's 1.1 million, said it has 178 teachers and other staff members who are being "housed" while they wait for misconduct charges to be resolved.

Similarly, Mimi Shapiro, who is now retired, said she was assigned to sit in what Philadelphia calls a "cluster office." "They just sit you in a room in a hard chair," she said, "and you just sit."

Teacher advocates say New York's rubber rooms are more extensive than anything that exists elsewhere.

Teachers awaiting disciplinary hearings around the nation typically are sent home, with or without pay, Karen Horwitz, a former Chicago-area teacher who founded the National Association for the Prevention of Teacher Abuse. Some districts find non-classroom work-- office duties, for example--for teachers accused of misconduct.

New York City's reassignment centers have existed since the late 1990s, Forte said. But the number of employees assigned to them has ballooned since Bloomberg won more control over the schools in 2002. Most of those sent to rubber rooms are teachers; others are assistant principals, social workers, psychologists and secretaries.

Once their hearings are over, they are either sent back to the classroom or fired. But because their cases are heard by 23 arbitrators who work only five days a month, stints of two or three years in a rubber room are common, and some teachers have been there for five or six.

The nickname refers to the padded cells of old insane asylums. Some teachers say that is fitting, since some of the inhabitants are unstable and don't belong in the classroom. They add that being in a rubber room itself is bad for your mental health.

"Most people in that room are depressed," said Jennifer Saunders, a high school teacher who was in a reassignment center from 2005 to 2008. Saunders said she was charged with petty infractions in an effort to get rid of her: "I was charged with having a student sit in my class with a hat on, singing."

The rubber rooms are monitored, some more strictly than others, teachers said.

"There was a bar across the street," Saunders said. "Teachers would sneak out and hang out there for hours."

Judith Cohen, an art teacher who has been in a rubber room near Madison Square Garden for three years, said she passes the time by painting watercolors of her fellow detainees.

"The day just seemed to crawl by until I started painting," Cohen said, adding that others read, play dominoes or sleep. Cohen said she was charged with using abusive language when a girl cut her with scissors.

Some sell real estate, earn graduate degrees or teach each other yoga and tai chi.

David Suker, who has been in a Brooklyn reassignment center for three months, said he has used the time to plan summer trips to Alaska, Cape Cod and Costa Rica. Suker said he was falsely accused of throwing a girl's test sign-up form in the garbage during an argument.

"It's sort of peaceful knowing that you're going to work to do nothing," he said.

Philip Nobile is a journalist who has written for New York Magazine and the Village Voice and is known for his scathing criticism of public figures. A teacher at Brooklyn's Cobble Hill School of American Studies, Nobile was assigned to a rubber room in 2007, "supposedly for pushing a boy while I was breaking up a fight." He contends the school system is retaliating against him for exposing wrongdoing.

He is spending his time working on his case and writing magazine articles and a novel.

"This is what happens to political prisoners throughout history," he said, alluding to the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. "They put us in prison and we write our 'Letter From the Birmingham Jail.'"

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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Can Charter-School Execs Help Failing Public Schools?

Gilbert Cruz:

In the late '90s, software entrepreneur John Zitzner was pretty close to being bankrupt. Yet within six months -- in one of those typical "holy crap" dotcom-era stories -- Zitzner had sold his company and become "a very modest millionaire." Fantastic. And in one of those typical "What do I do with all this money?" stories, he decided to help make the world a better place -- specifically by co-founding a charter school in Cleveland. (Read TIME's report: "How to Raise the Standard in America's Schools.")

That was three summers ago. Fast-forward to last Monday, when Zitzner was in the audience in Washington as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan appealed to a gathering of charter-school operators to "adapt your educational model to turning around our lowest-performing schools." For months now, Duncan has talked about closing 5,000 -- or about 5% -- of the nation's lowest-performing public schools. By throwing down the gauntlet to charter schools, Duncan is challenging an industry that has become very proficient at opening up brand-new schools, but has very little experience in going into a preexisting school and turning those kids from low performers into high-quality students. But Zitzner, whose Entrepreneurship Preparatory has about 200 students in grades 6 to 8, can't wait to dive in. In the past three years his students have gone from fairly abysmal test results to scoring in the top quartile on the Ohio standardized test, and he doesn't see why that model can't be replicated among other underperforming students. "Charter-school people are entrepreneurs -- we like challenges, and this industry needs people who can make order out of chaos."

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: The View from Germany

Gabor Steingart via Der Spiegel:

The occupant of the White House may have changed recently. But the amount of ill-advised ideology coming from Washington has remained constant. Obama's list of economic errors is long -- and continues to grow.

The president may have changed, but the excesses of American politics have remained. Barack Obama and George W. Bush, it has become clear, are more similar than they might seem at first glance.

The crisis, Summers intoned last week at a conference of Deutsche Bank's Alfred Herrhausen Society in Washington, was caused by too much confidence, too much credit and too many debts. It was hard not to nod along in agreement.

But then Summers added that the way to bring about an end to the crisis was -- more confidence, more credit and more debt. And the nodding stopped. Experts and non-experts alike were perplexed. Even in an interview following the presentation, Summers was unable to supply an adequate explanation for how a crisis caused by frivolous lending was going to be solved through yet more frivolity.

The Obama Administration's Five Errors

Mistake number one: It's not as bad as it seems. The US amassed much more debt during World War II, it is often said. That, though, is not true. According to conservative forecasts, Obama's policies could end up being three times as expensive as US expenditures during World War II. If one calculates using today's prices, America spent $3 trillion for the war. Obama's budgetary calculations for the decade between 2010 and 2020 assume additional debt of $9 trillion.

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Charter Schools Win a High-Profile Convert: Boston Mayor

Jon Keller:

Tom Menino, the longtime Democratic mayor of this city, is not known for rocking the boat or for eloquence. But earlier this month he stunned many in the city when he gave a powerful speech about school reform.

The speech took aim at the lack of progress in dozens of low-performing, inner-city Boston public schools, many of which have not met adequate yearly progress for five years running.

"To get the results we seek -- at the speed we want -- we must make transformative changes that boost achievement for students, improve quality choices for parents, and increase opportunities for teachers," Mr. Menino said. "We need to empower our educators to quickly innovate and implement what works." With that, Mr. Menino abandoned nearly two decades of personal opposition to nonunion charter schools, which have been bitterly resisted by Massachusetts teachers unions and their political allies. "I believe that the increased flexibility that charters provide can . . . help us close the achievement gap," he declared.

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A special report on ageing populations: Suffer the little children

The Economist:

IN GERMANY a mother who neglects her children is known as a Rabenmutter (raven's mother). Many older Germans slap that label on women with small children who go out to work. Young women in Germany, as elsewhere, are torn. They enjoy their jobs but find it hard to combine them with having a family, for a host of practical reasons such as school hours and lack of child care as well as public disapproval. Faced with that dilemma, some give up work. Others give up having children. About a quarter of the current generation of German women in their 40s have remained childless. The country's fertility rate (the number of children a woman can expect to have in her lifetime) is now a rock-bottom 1.3--the same as in Japan and Italy, where similar attitudes prevail (see chart 3). The chancellor, Angela Merkel, has acknowledged that her country needs to be more child-friendly.

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Moderate Senate Democrats Embrace Education Reform

Washington--Ten moderate Senate Democrats today sent a letter to President Barack Obama voicing support for his key education goals and pledging to "lend our voices to the debate as proponents of education reform."

The letter was initiated by Senators Evan Bayh (D-IN), Tom Carper (D-DE), and Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), leaders of the Senate Moderate Dems Working Group, and signed by seven of their moderate colleagues.

"As legislators, we believe we must embrace promising new approaches to education policy if we are to prepare our children to fill the jobs of the future," they wrote to President Obama. "By 2016, four out of every 10 new American jobs will require at least some advanced education or training. To retain our global economic leadership, we share your sense of urgency in moving an education reform agenda through Congress."

Saying that "now is the time to explore new paths and reject stale thinking," the moderate Democrats commended President Obama for his focus on teacher quality and noted a recent report by McKinsey and Company that highlights the achievement gaps that persist among various economic, regional and racial backgrounds in the United States and the gaps between American students and their peers in other industrialized nations. Based on this report, the senators noted that "had the United States closed the gap in education achievement with better-performing nations like Finland, Iceland, and Poland, our GDP could have been up to $2.3 trillion higher last year."

The senators expressed support for new pay-for-performance teacher incentives and expansions of effective public charter schools. They also endorsed the Obama administration's desire to extend student learning time to stay globally competitive and called for investments in state-of-the-art data systems so school systems can track student performance across grades, schools, towns and teachers.

Other signatories on the letter include Senators Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Mark Warner (D-VA) and Herb Kohl (D-WI).

"Our nation must confront the growing challenges of an increasingly competitive global economy: an outdated health care system in need of reform, an energy policy requiring an overhaul, and an economy still on the road to recovery," the 10 senators wrote. "We will not be equal to the extraordinary task before us without a public school system that offers our children the tools needed to reach their potential."

The text of the letter to President Obama is below. Click here for a signed copy.

June 25th, 2009

The Honorable Barack Obama

President of the United States

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW

Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

There is no issue more intricately connected to the future prosperity of our nation than the quality of our public schools. While the latest data show that elementary school students have made promising gains in reading and math, academic achievement is far too low for too many students and over 1.2 million students drop out of high school every year.

As members of the Moderate Democrats Working Group in the United States Senate, we are writing to offer our cooperation in developing legislation to enact a number of ambitious, innovative proposals in your education reform agenda. We plan to lend our voices to the debate as proponents of education reform as we move through this year's appropriations process and reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

We are committed to addressing the educational achievement gaps that persist among groups of various economic, regional and racial backgrounds and between the United States and other industrialized nations. These achievement gaps have imposed "the economic equivalent of a permanent national recession" on our country, according to a recent report by McKinsey & Company. Had the United States closed the gap in education achievement with better-performing nations like Finland, Iceland, and Poland, our GDP could have been up to $2.3 trillion higher last year, the report finds.

Solving today's economic challenges means creating new jobs and investing in the growth industries of tomorrow. As legislators, we believe we must embrace promising new approaches to education policy if we are to prepare our children to fill the jobs of the future. By 2016, four out of every 10 new American jobs will require at least some advanced education or training. To retain our global economic leadership, we share your sense of urgency in moving an education reform agenda through Congress.

We support action on a number of education reform proposals put forth in your Fiscal Year 2010 budget proposal. We commend you for the emphasis you have placed on teacher quality. Every teacher touches the lives of countless children, and every adult remembers their favorite teachers and the impact they had. The research confirms what our intuition tells us: nothing has a greater impact on outcomes in the classroom than the quality of our teachers. We must do more to recruit, prepare and reward outstanding teachers, and part of that means overhauling the way we compensate them. Most professions recognize and reward better performance with better pay, but teacher compensation is based almost exclusively on degree attainment and years of service.

We therefore share your support for dedicating increased resources to the Teacher Incentive Fund, which will spur states to develop new ways to identify and retain excellent teachers and attract new talent to the profession. We believe that resources from this fund should support states and districts that recognize student achievement to be the most important indicator of an educator's performance. We look forward to working collaboratively with teachers to develop these new compensation systems--a critical ingredient to their success.

Second, we support expanding the number of effective public charter schools. Like traditional public schools, charter schools vary greatly in quality. We should encourage the replication of the highest-performing public charters and ensure real accountability measures for those who oversee them. We all have charter schools in our states that have demonstrated--through innovative and student-centered approaches--that every child can learn, regardless of socio-economic background. Conversely, charter schools that consistently fail our children should be shut down.

Third, we support your Administration's desire to extend student learning time. The American school year is based on the old agrarian calendar, which gave children two months off to help work on the family farm. Students lose an average of 2.6 months of grade-level equivalency in math skills over the summer --a phenomenon referred to as the "summer slide." While American boys and girls slide, students in China receive an additional 40 days of classroom instruction. We cannot expect to compete with emerging nations when we devote less time to educating our next generation.

Fourth, we believe our education reform agenda should be driven by accurate information, which will require the development of state-of-the-art data systems. Many schools, educators and policymakers currently lack information critical to informed decision-making. We must invest in new data systems that track individual student performance across grades, schools, towns and teachers. Such systems will allow us to examine the pedagogical background of our most successful teachers and find new ways to support that training. Our goal is to achieve the capacity to view, with the click of a button, the path every child has taken through their academic life, linking their achievements and setbacks to every school and classroom they pass through.

We have no illusions that the road to education reform will be free of obstacles. However, we pledge to work in the Senate to lead the fight for accountability and high standards for all students. Every child can learn, and expectations matter. We should endeavor to fulfill the potential of all of our young people, not merely those born to greater privilege. While there are many practical steps we can and must take to strengthen our nation's education policy, now is the time to explore new paths and reject stale thinking. Our country's economic well-being depends upon the quality of the education our children are receiving in classrooms across America today.

Our nation must confront the growing challenges of an increasingly competitive global economy: an outdated health care system in need of reform, an energy policy requiring an overhaul, and an economy still on the road to recovery. We will not be equal to the extraordinary task before us without a public school system that offers our children the tools needed to reach their potential. We thank you for leading us down the path to education reform and stand ready to contribute our ideas and energy as we work together to enact an agenda for change.


Senator Evan Bayh

Senator Tom Carper

Senator Blanche Lincoln

Senator Mary Landrieu

Senator Michael Bennet

Senator Joseph Lieberman

Senator Bill Nelson

Senator Claire McCaskill

Senator Mark Warner

Senator Herb Kohl

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Editorial: Save these charters

The Providence Journal:

The Rhode Island House Finance Committee budget unveiled last week slashed $1.5 million for two new charter schools in Central Falls and Cumberland, both of which would serve minority students.

This is a tough year, and cuts must be made. But slashing these funds -- a tiny part of a proposed $7.76 billion budget -- makes little sense, given that freezing out charter schools would put in jeopardy federal aid under the Race to the Top Program, a $5 billion Washington initiative that rewards innovation in education. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said on Monday that Rhode Island may be putting itself at "at a huge competitive disadvantage" for the money.

Innovation in education may be why the two charters, the Mayoral Academy and the Segue Institute for Learning, were spurned. Teachers unions testified against the proposed Mayoral Academy for fear that it would threaten their economic interests, since the school would be permitted to hire and fire teachers without union red tape. A similar school in Harlem has done wonders in helping minority students achieve at a level comparable with students in excellent suburban schools.

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If you want to get someone to do something, ask them in their right ear, say scientists


Italian researchers found people were better at processing information when requests were made on that side in three separate tests.

They believe this is because the left side of the brain, which is known to be better at processing requests, deals with information from the right ear.

The findings are reported online in the journal Naturwissenschaften.

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June 27, 2009

SIS Interview: University of Wisconsin Education Professor Adam Gamoran

Dr. Adam Gamoran (Dr. Gamoran's website; Clusty search) has been involved with a variety Madison School District issues, including controversial mandatory academic grouping changes (English 10, among others).

I had an opportunity to briefly visit with Dr. Gamoran during the District's Strategic Planning Process. He kindly agreed to spend some time recently discussing these and other issues (22K PDF discussion topics, one of which - outbound open enrollment growth - he was unfamiliar with).

Click here to download the 298MB .m4v (iTunes, iPhone, iPod) video file, or a 18MB audio file. A transcript is available here.

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Is AP the Only Way to Challenge Students?

Jay Matthews:

Every year, Jay Mathews compiles The Challenge Index, a ranking of schools based on a simple formula - the number of AP, IB, and other college-level tests given out at any given high school divided by the total number of graduating seniors from that school year. The index is not meant to be comprehensive but to give parents, teachers, and students an idea of how much a high school challenges its students.

This week, the blog Schools Matter featured an essay by user teacherken calling foul on Jay's index. Teacherken, who says he is a high school AP U.S. Government and Politics teacher and actually graded AP tests this year, makes a case against The Challenge Index, arguing that schools challenge students in many more ways than just through AP and IB tests:

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Germany's mediocre universities

The Economist:

THE IG FARBEN building in Frankfurt has a history. This is where Zyklon B gas, used at Auschwitz, was invented and Dwight Eisenhower later worked. Now it is part of an €1.8 billion ($2.5 billion) building project at Frankfurt's Goethe University. Not for Goethe's 35,000 students the grotty campuses of others: the "House of Finance" has a marble floor inspired by Raphael's fresco "The School of Athens."

Thousands of less coddled students recently staged protests across Germany against their conditions. "Back education, not banks", demanded protesters fed up with overcrowded lecture halls, crumbling campuses, tuition fees and a chaotic conversion from the traditional diploma to a European two-tier degree system.

German universities are underfunded by international standards (see chart). Professors juggle scores of students; at top American universities they nurture a handful. In switching to the bachelors-masters degrees prescribed by Europe's standardising "Bologna process", many universities tried to cram bachelors degrees into just six terms. Only six German universities are among the top 100 in the Shanghai rankings (Munich is highest, at 55th). Just 21% of each age cohort gets a degree; the OECD average is 37%.

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If students actually write the essay, they'll get extra credit.

Howard Blume:

To make classes more manageable, administrators have enrolled some especially challenging students in Locke 4, an academy whose Opportunities program consists of three classrooms set aside for students who are doing poorly or displaying serious behavior problems. The program also accepts students returning after being convicted of crimes.

On a recent Monday, 14 students sat in an Opportunities class with one teacher and an aide -- Green Dot wanted especially small adult-to-student ratios for these youths. The posted class rules were simple: Stay seated during class; complete all of your work; be polite and respectful.

These expectations failed to achieve traction with several students, including a recently arriving freshman.

"Do you need help?" the teacher asked him.

"You need help," he retorted, looking around for admiration from his peers. "You know, lady, I don't like you."

The group was assigned to organize an essay on juvenile justice after reviewing case studies of four young offenders. If students actually write the essay, they'll get extra credit.

One table over from the ninth-grader, a wiry boy with slicked-back hair said he had landed in Locke 4 after punching a school security guard. He considers gang membership necessary to survive: "That's almost part of life."

Then he paused and offered something close to an endorsement of the new Locke: "Other schools, you have your enemies all the time. In this school everybody gets along. People talk to Bloods and Crips."

Jerry Pournelle has more.

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Do You Know a Great 'Surplussed' Teacher?

Jay Matthews:

I'm not saying Juliet Good is the best teacher I ever saw, but she is way above average. So why did Richard Montgomery High School, a splendid institution in a wealthy Maryland suburban school system, tell her they no longer had room for her?

Of course with budgets tight, schools are nudging lots of teachers out the door. One of the favorite words for this, the one Good's supervisers used with her, is "surplussed," as in "the district reduced the number of teachers allowed at that school and so she had to be surplussed." (My dictionary says this isn't a verb, but perhaps that will change soon.)

I know Good. I have spoken to her class---a unique program called Rocket Corps for high school students interested in teaching. She is very energetic and imaginative. She invented the program in 2001. It not only brought in expert speakers but gave students significant classroom experience at the school, as tutors and sometimes presenting to full classes. But many other fine teachers are being let go, even in school systems as well-funded as Montgomery County's. It didn't strike me as news.

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The Blog of Unnecessary Quotation Marks

Bethany Keeley

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June 26, 2009

Evanston Township High School Board Stresses Rigor in School Improvement Plan

This is an interesting read (688K PDF).

Rigor Recommendation: Develop a clear, consistent operational/working definition of rigor to be used at ETHS.

Supporting Detail:

  • Communicate the definition of rigor to all ETHS stakeholders. (Means of communication to include, e.g., ETHS website/newsletters and displaying definition of rigor in every classroom and in other locations.)
  • Ensure a common understanding of rigor by other means, including providing opportunities for all ETHS stakeholders to discuss and better understand the meaning of rigor and what it entails in different ETHS departments, the different expectations associated with rigor by different ETHS stakeholders, and the varying responsibilities of ETHS stakeholders to ensure that rigor is experience by students.
  • Identify the components of a rigorous classroom and provide illustrations thereof for each ETHS department, including curriculum/assignments, instructional techniques, behavioral expectations, and classroom dynamics/interaction.
  • Ensure that rigor is provided and experienced in ETHS classrooms by means of classroom observations conducted by outside experts andlor by other appropriate means.
  • Create and utilize diagnostics to monitor/assess the extent to which rigor actually is being provided at ETHS, to enable teachers to improve the rigor of their classes, and to identify areas where other improvement(s) may be needed. Such diagnostics should include, e. g., assessments that teachers can use in their classrooms to evaluate students' experience of rigor and other questionnaires to be completed by students.

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Who Are We as Americans?

Nat Hentoff:

resident Obama, in his May 21 speech at the National Archives Museum in Washington said that "we can defeat Al Qaeda ...if we stay true to who we are...anchored in our timeless ideals." A much more somber note, however, was in a warning by retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter the day before at Georgetown University Law Center.

Deeply concerned at how little knowledge Americans have of how this republic works, Justice Souter cited as an example that the majorities of the public can't name -- according to surveys -- the three branches of government.

Who we are, Souter continued, "can be lost, it is being lost, it is lost, if it is not understood." What is needed, he said, "is the restoration of the self-identity of the American people. ... When I was a kid in the eighth and ninth grades, everybody took civics. That's no longer true. (Former Justice) Sandra Day O'Connor says 50 percent of schools teach neither history nor civics." Justice Souter continued that when he was in school, "civics was as dull as dishwater, but we knew the structure of government."

This alert to the citizenry was almost entirely ignored by the press.

Admirably, O'Connor is trying to engage students in learning who they are as Americans through her Web site: Our Courts - 21st Century Civics ( The site asks students what part of government they would most want to be a part of. And she invites teachers to click and "find lesson plans that fit your classroom needs."

I complete agree with Hentoff. These words are particularly relevant when elected officials, such as Democrat Charles Schumer advocate biometric ID cards for all workers:
"I'm sure the civil libertarians will object to some kind of biometric card -- although . . . there'll be all kinds of protections -- but we're going to have to do it. It's the only way," Schumer said. "The American people will never accept immigration reform unless they truly believe their government is committed to ending future illegal immigration."
The Obama Administration is advocating easy sharing of IRS data... (not good).

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Wisconsin State K-12 Budget: "Robin Hood" for Madison Schools?

Steven Walters:

School-aid shift: Democrats added a shift in school-aid funding that would guarantee that no district loses more than 10% of state aid. The shift would give the Madison School District up to $1.8 million more, and take about that much from five Milwaukee-area suburban districts - Elmbrook, Oconomowoc, Mequon-Thiensville, Fox Point-Bayside and Nicolet.

QEO: The committee adopted a Senate-backed plan for an immediate repeal of the qualified economic offer system of limiting teachers' pay raises. Doyle and the Assembly proposed a delay of the repeal until the 2010-'11 school year. Teachers have long complained that the QEO has unfairly kept salaries low; others say it keeps property taxes in check.

It will be interesting to see how the shift of money for Madison, at the expense of others plays out as state politics inevitably change...

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The New Student Excuse?

Scott Jaschik:

Most of us have had the experience of receiving e-mail with an attachment, trying to open the attachment, and finding a corrupted file that won't open. That concept is at the root of a new Web site advertising itself (perhaps serious only in part) as the new way for students to get extra time to finish their assignments. offers a service -- recently noted by several academic bloggers who have expressed concern -- that sells students (for only $3.95, soon to go up to $5.95) intentionally corrupted files. Why buy a corrupted file? Here's what the site says: "Step 1: After purchasing a file, rename the file e.g. Mike_Final-Paper. Step 2: E-mail the file to your professor along with your 'here's my assignment' e-mail. Step 3: It will take your professor several hours if not days to notice your file is 'unfortunately' corrupted. Use the time this website just bought you wisely and finish that paper!!!"

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School of the Future: Lessons in failure

Meris Stansbury:

When it opened its doors in 2006, Philadelphia's School of the Future (SOF) was touted as a high school that would revolutionize education: It would teach at-risk students critical 21st-century skills needed for college and the work force by emphasizing project-based learning, technology, and community involvement. But three years, three superintendents, four principals, and countless problems later, experts at a May 28 panel discussion hosted by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) agreed: The Microsoft-inspired project has been a failure so far.

Microsoft points to the school's rapid turnover in leadership as the key reason for this failure, but other observers question why the company did not take a more active role in translating its vision for the school into reality. Regardless of where the responsibility lies, the project's failure to date offers several cautionary lessons in school reform--and panelists wondered if the school could use these lessons to succeed in the future.

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Recession? Valet Parking Arrives

Ben Eisen:

For some college students, "roughing it" may be a thing of the past.

When the concept of starting a valet parking service came up at a recent Florida Atlantic University Board of Trustees meeting, it seemed less out of place than one would think. With the number of students growing, and the number of convenient parking spaces on campus unchanged, the idea to charge students and faculty for such a convenience did not seem unreasonable.

Florida Atlantic is just talking about valet service. Other colleges have implemented it. Florida International University and Columbia University introduced valet programs this spring. The University of Southern California has had a program in place since 2008, and High Point University brought in valet at the behest of its president, Nido Qubein, to provide a better student experience. California State University at Sacramento has also begun a premium parking program.

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Tax Credits, Not Vouchers, Are Keeping School Choice a Viable Option

Adam Schaeffer:

Many school choice supporters are discouraged after having suffered a series of setbacks on the voucher front, ranging from the loss of Utah's nascent voucher program last year to the recent death sentence handed to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program. A rambling and inaccurate article in the normally supportive City Journal got the chorus of naysayers rolling more than a year ago with the cry "school choice isn't enough."

The bright spot for vouchers in recent years has been the success of special-needs programs. Yet the Arizona Supreme Court ruled recently that school vouchers for disabled and foster children violate the state constitution, which forbids public money from aiding private schools.

Naturally, the pessimists and opponents of choice are forecasting the death of the voucher movement. They're wrong, because there never was a voucher movement to begin with. It has always been movement for educational freedom, and it is still going strong.

Over the past several years, there has been a gradual shift in focus from vouchers to an alternative mechanism: education tax credits. Illinois, Minnesota and Iowa already provide families with tax credits to offset the cost of independent schooling for their own kids. Florida, Pennsylvania, Arizona and three other states provide tax credits for donations to nonprofit scholarship organizations that subsidize tuition for lower-income families.

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June 25, 2009

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: The Wisconsin Budget, with an Earmark Appearance by David Obey

Nathaniel Inglis Steinfeld:

After working for the federal government in Washington, DC for two years, I was excited to move back to the Midwest. Returning to study public policy and law, I specifically came to learn more about state's rights from the practical, decent state of Wisconsin. This past year I kept a close eye on state news, even more so as the biennial budget process began. How does Wisconsin make the biennial budget? What does the final budget look like?

The Legislative Reference Bureau seems like a better place to start than the federal level Schoolhouse Rock tutorial. The process of creating the Wisconsin budget is fairly simple - it follows the general legislative process, except in this case the process begins with the Governor. As the chief executive for the state, the Governor collects agencies' estimates on their expenses. Once the Governor matches budget priorities to the expected revenues, the Joint Finance Committee takes the proposal to amend, review, and debate in a small committee. Once voted on by members of the joint committee, each chamber gets a chance to amend, review, and vote on the budget.

So the process itself doesn't sound too complicated - what about the length of the timeline? Perhaps showing my age, this is the first state budget I've followed. The process is clearly not meant to proceed quickly. The purpose of going slowly no doubt comes from the size of the task, compiling all state agencies' budgets and crafting budget priorities. Why force deliberation? I would imagine (and hope) slowing the process would limit rash decisions and promote a rational and well-justified budget. The biennial budget has long-ranging impacts, so the proposal usually is given plenty of time.

Our political class at work in Washington, fighting of an earmark for a LA public school training center, named, of course, for a congresswoman.
Waters and Obey have had an ongoing dispute about an earmark for a public school employment training center in Los Angeles that was named after Waters when she was a state representative.

Obey rejected that earmark as violating policies against so-called "monuments to me." Waters revised her request to go to the school district's whole adult employment training program, so the district could decide whether the money would go to the school named after Waters.

Thursday was the committee markup of the spending bill that would include the earmark, and Obey let it be known that the earmark would be denied. She approached him and complained.

A Waters aide said that Obey had pushed her.

Locally, Lynn Welch takes a look at the Madison School District and the State budget.

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US Supreme Court Rules that Spending is Not the Only Criteria to Evaluate English Language Learner Programs

Pat Kossan:

The U.S. Supreme Court took a major step toward ending a 17-year legal battle today, deciding Arizona has done enough to help students who haven't learned to speak, read or write English.

The justices reversed the decision of the lower courts and sent the case, known as Flores vs. Arizona, back with instructions to consider improvements the state has made in the way schools teach English learners.

"This is a major step to stop federal trial judges from micromanaging state education systems," said state schools superintendent Tom Horne, who asked the Supreme Court to weigh in on the case. "This affirms that important value that we the people control our government and our elected representatives and not ruled over by an aristocracy of lifetime federal judges."

The Supreme Court decided the lower courts concentrated too narrowly on how much the state spent to help language learners and allowed that increases in overall school funding could be considered as a boost to help schools take the appropriate action called for in federal law.

The decision did not weaken Equal Education Opportunity Act of 1974, as some civil rights attorneys feared. But the justices' said simply complying with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 did help to satisfy the requirements in the 1974 law to "take appropriate action" to help students overcome language barriers.

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A Semantic Hijacking"

Charles J. Sykes, Dumbing Down Our Kids
New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995, pp. 245-247

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

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

"The conservative education reform of the 1980s wanted to focus on outcomes (i.e. knowledge gained) instead of inputs (i.e. dollars spent)," notes former Education Secretary William Bennett. "The aim was to ensure greater accountability. What the education establishment has done is to appropriate the term but change the intent." [emphasis added] Central to this semantic hijacking is OBE's shift of outcomes from cognitive knowledge to goals centering on values, beliefs, attitudes, and feelings. As an example of a rigorous cognitive outcome (the sort the original reformers had in mind), Bennett cites the Advanced Placement Examinations, which give students credit for courses based on their knowledge and proficiency in a subject area, rather than on their accumulated "seat-time" in a classroom.

In contrast, OBE programs are less interested in whether students know the origins of the Civil War or the author of The Tempest than whether students have met such outcomes as "establishing priorities to balance multiple life roles" (a goal in Pennsylvania) or "positive self-concept" (a goal in Kentucky). Where the original reformers aimed at accountability, OBE makes it difficult if not impossible to objectively measure and compare educational progress. In large part, this is because instead of clearly stated, verifiable outcomes, OBE goals are often diffuse, fuzzy, and ill-defined--loaded with educationist jargon like "holistic learning," "whole-child development," and "interpersonal competencies."

Where original reformers emphasized schools that work, OBE is experimental. Despite the enthusiasm of educationists and policymakers for OBE, researchers from the University of Minnesota concluded that "research documenting its effects is fairly rare." At the state level, it was difficult to find any documentation of whether OBE worked or not and the information that was available was largely subjective. Professor Jean King of the University of Minnesota's College of Education describes support for the implementation of OBE as being "almost like a religion--that you believe in this and if you believe in it hard enough, it will be true." And finally, where the original reformers saw an emphasis on outcomes as a way to return to educational basics, OBE has become, in Bennett's words, "a Trojan Horse for social engineering, an elementary and secondary school version of the kind of 'politically correct' thinking that has infected our colleges and universities."


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

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Rigor Reduction in Sports? An NBA Player Speaks Out!

Kevin Clark:
or some time, coaches have grumbled that the AAU's emphasis on building stars and playing games over practicing produces a lot of talented prospects who have great physical skills but limited knowledge of the fundamentals. Now some players are speaking out.

By the middle of the last NBA season, as concerns build about his dwindling playing time and rough transition to the NBA, last year's No. 2 overall pick, Michael Beasley of the Miami Heat, finally conceded a fundamental flaw: No one, at any level in his basketball career, had asked him to play defense. And especially not in AAU. "If you're playing defense in AAU, you don't need to be playing," he says. "I've honestly never seen anyone play defense in AAU."

An AAU official declined to comment for this article.

The chorus of critics ranges from AAU player Alex Oriakhi, a McDonald's All-American center who plans to play for the University of Connecticut, who says shooting guards he's seen in AAU are in for a "rude awakening" to USA Basketball officials and NBA coaches.

Founded in 1888, the AAU's first goal was to represent American sports internationally. AAU teams blossomed in many sports, and the organization became a driving force in preparing Olympic athletes. In 1978, the Amateur Sports Act established a governing body for American Olympic sports, usurping the AAU's role as an Olympic launching pad. Its most notable sport today is basketball, where it counts Magic Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal and LeBron James among its alumni.
I am no NBA fan, having attended my last game, in I think, 1972 - a Milwaukee Bucks playoff game. A one dimensional game is not all that interesting, particularly via sky high ticket prices.
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American IT grads unprepared and unemployable: Indian CEO Vineet Nayar

Richi Jennings:

Vineet Nayar is reported to have called Americans graduates "unemployable"; the CEO of IT services vendor HCL Technologies was speaking recently in New York. In IT Blogwatch, bloggers debate racism, stereotyping, sweatshops, and H1B visas.

By Richi Jennings, your humble blogwatcher, who has selected these bloggy tidbits for your enjoyment. Not to mention the best gaming toilets...

Rob Preston reports inflammatory comments with dignity:

via Lou Minatti.

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Summer School Budget Cuts

Tom Benning & Anjali Athavaley:

Last year, Joseline and Mirelyne De Leon attended free summer school in downtown Los Angeles while their parents worked. It provided more than just a haven during the day. It also gave the two girls, 13 and 10 years old, the academic help they needed to bolster their grades for the following school year.

This year, budget cuts have forced the Los Angeles Unified School District to drop summer classes for elementary- and middle-school students, leaving their father, Rudy De Leon, trying to scrape up the money to pay for a few weeks at a private program that charges $50 a week per student. He is glad his daughters will receive some teaching over the summer. But they won't receive school credit, and Mr. De Leon worries that they might fall behind.

Sierra Everett, a student at Lawrence Central High School in Indiana, had to pay for an online geometry course after her district canceled summer school .
"We'll try to do the best we can," he says.

Families across the country are facing similar dilemmas as state and local budget cuts are hitting school districts hard--forcing many of them to make cuts in summer programs that many educators consider critical to students' academic success.

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ABC's and PhD's: Towards a New Normal

Liz Stockwell:

For the past nearly two months I've been working towards some sort of new normal as I recover from and work with my doctors to figure out how to live with the illness I never dreamed would turn our family life so utterly on its head. Since then we've been taking one day at a time, each day assessing whether I need to spend extra time in bed on pain killers to get over a bad migraine and whether my husband has to once again skip his work obligations to take the children to one of their activities or take me to a doctor's appointment. Our parents have all spent time with us, each taking a one to two week shift caring for our household. It's been an unexpected silver lining for us to have so much time with them, and they give my husband a break to get some of his own work done and get back to academic life. He's taken over as principle provider of domestic services and chauffer, as well as breadwinner, and he said recently that he's looking forward to going back to work full-time so he can have a vacation -- he's exhausted! With our families here, I get many greatly appreciated offers to "just go lie down, I'll take care of this" though it makes it a little more difficult to find 'normal!'

Since my last post, my illness has been diagnosed at different times as brain stem migraine and viral encephalitis, for which I spent 12 days in hospital on a course of intra-venous anti-viral drugs. I should add that despite my tongue-and-cheek tone about the diagnoses, I've been very happy with the excellent medical care I've received and the thoughtful consideration my doctors have made for the fact that I'm the mother of two young children. When they saw how difficult it was for our family to be separated with me in hospital, they arranged for day passes and made accommodations for me to be temporarily unplugged from the IV to visit home. Yesterday was a long awaited appointment with a second neurologist who weighed in on my crazy collection of symptoms with yet a new diagnosis: syndrome of headache, neurological deficits, and cerebrospinal fluid lymphocytosis (or HaNDL, which almost sounds like it was invented as a catch-all for me and my symptoms). Along with the white blood cells in my spinal fluid, migraines, and dizziness, I also have entertaining colorful hallucinations (fairies, dragons, iridescent butterflies, and hammering cartoon characters) which have become an unlikely family source of creativity as I describe the latest over breakfast and my son later reproduces them, based on my descriptions, in his drawing journal at school. Fortunately his teacher is aware of my neurological problems, since I've not yet received any worried phone calls or visits from social workers to investigate my seven-year-old son's involvement with mind-altering drugs as the inspiration for his art.

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Pearson Gets Stakes In Indian Education, Including a Tutoring Service for US Students

Ketaki Gokhale:

Separately, Pearson said it will also buy a 17% stake in TutorVista, a Bangalore-based online tutoring company that links Indian tutors with U.S. students.

TutorVista will issue new shares to Pearson as part of its third round of fundraising. It has already received funding from Manipal Educational and Medical Group and private equity fund LightSpeed Venture Partners.

Pearson says its stake in TutorVista will strengthen its position as a supplier of education tools in the U.S., TutorVista's core market.

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Do charter schools work?

The Economist:

AMERICA'S universities are the best in the world, but the kindest verdict on its schools is "could do better". It spends enough on them--around the rich-world average of 3.8% of GDP--but its pupils do poorly in tests of reading, writing and mathematics, and too many drop out before completing school. Teaching attracts few ambitious and able graduates; school leaders have little autonomy. The solution, to free-marketeers, seems obvious. Give taxpayers' money not to a state-run monopoly, but to independent schools.

Since Minnesota started the experiment in 1991, most states have introduced independent, or charter, schools in some form. Evaluations have been broadly positive, but their enemies, including the politically powerful teachers' unions, can fairly claim that more research is needed. Do charter schools' pupils do better at tests because they have been coached intensively at the expense of a broad education? Do charters mean the most motivated students cluster in a few schools, to the detriment of the majority? Do they kick out--or coax out--the toughest to teach?

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Students Without Borders

Maria Glod:

A team of very smart teenagers has set out to discover ways that maggots might make the world a better place. Two are from Loudoun County. Two live more than 9,000 miles away in Singapore.

To many U.S. politicians, educators and business leaders, Singapore's students have become a symbol of the fierce competition the nation faces from high achievers in Asia. But these four students call themselves "international collaborators" and friends.

Even as globalization has fed worries about whether U.S. students can keep up with the rest of the world, it also has spawned classroom connections across oceans. Teachers, driven by a desire to help students navigate a world made smaller by e-mail, wikis and teleconferences, say lessons once pulled mainly from textbooks can come to life through real-world interactions.

"When we talk on Facebook," Joanne Guidry, 17, one of the researchers at Loudoun's Academy of Science, said of her Singaporean peers, "you can't tell they are halfway around the world."

Related: Credit for non-Madison School District Courses.

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June 24, 2009

The economic cost of the US education gap

Byron G. Auguste, Bryan Hancock, and Martha Laboissière:

A persistent gap in academic achievement between children in the United States and their counterparts in other countries deprived the US economy of as much as $2.3 trillion in economic output in 2008, McKinsey research finds.1 Moreover, each of the long-standing achievement gaps among US students of differing ethnic origins, income levels, and school systems represents hundreds of billions of dollars in unrealized economic gains. Together, these disturbing gaps underscore the staggering economic and social cost of underutilized human potential. Yet they also create room for hope by suggesting that the widespread application of best practices could secure a better, more equitable education for the country's children--along with substantial economic gains.

How has educational achievement changed in the United States since 1983, when the publication of the seminal US government report A Nation at Risk2 sounded the alarm about the "rising tide of mediocrity" in American schools? To learn the answer, we interviewed leading educational researchers around the world, assessed the landscape of academic research and educational-achievement data, and built an economic model that allowed us to examine the relationships among educational achievement (represented by standardized test scores), the earnings potential of workers, and GDP.

We made three noteworthy assumptions: test scores are the best available measure of educational achievement; educational achievement and attainment (including milestones such as graduation rates) are key drivers in hiring and are positively correlated with earnings; and labor markets will hire available workers with higher skills and education. While these assumptions admittedly simplify the socioeconomic complexities and uncertainties, they allowed us to draw meaningful conclusions about the economic impact of educational gaps in the United States.

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Unions seek bigger role in charter schools

Libby Quaid:

As the Obama administration pushes for more charter schools, a teachers' union is pushing for a bigger role in them.

It's a new development for the charter school movement, a small but growing -- and controversial -- effort to create new, more autonomous public schools, usually in cities where traditional schools have failed.

On Tuesday in New York, the United Federation of Teachers expects to formalize a contract with teachers at Green Dot New York Charter School in the Bronx, a high school run by Green Dot, a nonprofit group that operates charter schools. Ten other New York charter schools are unionized.

And last week in Chicago, teachers voted to unionize three Chicago International Charter School campuses run by Civitas, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan made a point of talking about unions in a speech Monday in Washington to a national charter school conference.

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The Cyber Way to Knowledge

James Glassman:

Every three years, the Program for International Student Assessment ranks the education levels of 15-year-olds around the world. The most recent test, in 2006, brought back results from 30 industrialized nations that were hardly inspiring for U.S. teachers and parents. American students' science scores lagged behind those of their counterparts in 20 countries, including Finland, Japan, Germany and Belgium. The numbers from the math test were even worse: The U.S. came in 25th. The "rising tide of mediocrity" in American schools -- famously so described in 1983 by a government report called "A Nation at Risk" -- would now appear to be about chin-high.

In response to "A Nation at Risk," Terry Moe and John Chubb in 1990 published "Politics, Markets and America's Schools," which identified special-interest groups -- mainly teachers unions -- as the culprits in preventing the reforms urged in the report. Now Messrs. Moe and Chubb have returned to the subject with "Liberating Learning," a more optimistic sequel. The authors believe there exists a magic bullet that is capable of shattering the unions' political power and, at last, bringing the sort of reform and excellence to U.S. K-12 education that might make U.S. students competitive with Finnish teenagers. The ammunition? Technology.

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Unions, charter schools, and the Arne Duncan National School System

Edward Hayes:

First the banks; then the automobile companies, and now the schools. Planet Unicorn's most entertaining experiment, the United States, has truly fallen down the rabbit hole. All three are failed industries run by weak, overpaid, and disingenuous charlatans disguised as experts. Thank goodness for the occasional Bernie Madoff, or we'd never have any fun at all. At least the phony finance guys go to jail now and then, and most of us enjoyed watching the General Motors clod get kicked off the island after flying to Washington D.C. on a private jet to beg for taxpayer money, but amazingly the man in charge of the nation's worse urban school system gets promoted and is now in charge of all of our public schools. That is Lewis B. Carroll math to be sure, but it is the only arithmetic we have.

If Arne Duncan accomplished anything in Chicago besides avoiding the potholes in Hyde Park, it was the establishment of a handful of charter schools. The core value of the charter school is its freedom from union structure and restrictions. However, just last week the teachers at the three campuses of the Chicago International Charter School (CICS), voted to unionize. There were rumors and reports of increasing teacher workloads, larger and larger class sizes, and high personnel turnover in the magic kingdom of the charter schools. Furthermore, there is a bill sitting on the governor's desk that would make it easier for charters to go union. Duncan's school reform may have the same effect on us as Chinese food; we'll be hungry again in an hour.

Curiously, the day after the CICS voted in the union, Arne was in town at the Hyatt Regency as a guest of an educational policy group. Inside the hotel they probably gave him an award for his wonderful achievements in education, while outside, C.O.R.E., Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (a really scary name), was demonstrating against his wonderfulness. The Chicago teachers in the C.O.R.E. picket line were protesting the process by which a worm public school becomes a butterfly charter institution. Apparently the larvae stage is called: TURNAROUND.

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Artificial Turf Gets a Foothold At High Schools Across Region

Daniel de Vise:

In high schools in and around Washington, artificial turf is becoming an athletic status symbol.

Synthetic ballfields can be found at 10 public high schools in the District, seven in Anne Arundel County, four in Fairfax County and three in Arlington County. They have been installed at T.C. Williams High in Alexandria, Richard Montgomery High in Rockville, North Point High in Waldorf and a host of private and parochial schools. This summer and over the next school year, several more high schools will get artificial turf: Chesapeake and Old Mill in Anne Arundel, Lee in Fairfax, Bell-Lincoln in the District, and Walter Johnson and Montgomery Blair in Montgomery.

In most communities, the prospect of replacing real grass with plastic fiber and bits of shredded tire has prevailed with support from coaches and athletic boosters and little public dissent. But debate has emerged in Montgomery over such matters as how the turf deals were structured and whether tire crumbs from the fields might contaminate property nearby.

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June 23, 2009

Court Favors Parents in Battle Over Special-Education Private School Tuition

Robert Barnes & Nelson Hernandez:

By a 6 to 3 vote, the court settled an emotional and contentious issue that has divided frustrated parents and financially strapped school officials, often ending in legal battles. In writing the opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens said Congress intended for the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act to provide an appropriate educational experience for all children, no matter whether they had ever received special-education services from a school system.

The issue has emerged as one of the fastest-growing components of local education budgets, threatening to "seriously deplete public education funds," according to a brief filed by the nation's urban school districts.

Local school systems in the Washington area spend millions of dollars each year on private school reimbursement. And the D.C. public schools allocated $7.5 million of this year's $783 million budget just for the legal costs of hearing officers or judges to decide whether the system can provide appropriate services for children with disabilities.

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Gender gap in maths driven by social factors, not biological differences

Ed Yong:

History has had no shortage of outstanding female mathematicians, from Hypatia of Alexandria to Ada Lovelace, and yet no woman has ever won the Fields medal - the Nobel prize of the maths world. The fact that men outnumber women in the highest echelons of mathematics (as in science, technology and engineering) has always been controversial, particularly for the persistent notion that this disparity is down to an innate biological advantage.

AdaLovelace.jpgNow, two professors from the University of Wisconsin - Janet Hyde and Janet Mertz - have reviewed the strong evidence that at least in maths, the gender gap is down to social and cultural factors that can help or hinder women from pursuing the skills needed to master mathematics.

The duo of Janets have published a review that tackles the issue from three different angles. They considered the presence of outstanding female mathematicians. Looking beyond individuals, they found that gender differences in maths performance don't really exist in the general population, with girls now performing as well as boys in standardised tests. Among the mathematically talented, a gender gap is more apparent but it is closing fast in many countries and non-existent in others. And tellingly, the size of the gap strongly depends on how equally the two sexes are treated.

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Girls vs. Boys at Math

Joyce Gramza:

Are men naturally better at math than women or is that just an out-dated stereotype? When former Harvard president Larry Summers said publicly in 2005 that men are innately better at math, many women were outraged. So a couple of women scientists decided to research it. This ScienCentral News video explains their report published this week.

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via email a kind reader's email:

[LFB Paper 812]

Governor/Joint Finance: Provide that a person who is a citizen of another country is exempt from nonresident tuition if that person meets all of the following requirements: (a) the person graduated from a Wisconsin high school or received a high school graduation equivalency declaration from this state; (b) the person was continuously present in this state for at least three years following the first day of attending a Wisconsin high school or immediately preceding the receipt of a declaration of equivalency of high school graduation; and (c) the person enrolls in a UW System institution and provides the institution with an affidavit that the person has filed or will file an application for a permanent resident visa with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services as soon as the person is eligible to do so. Specify that this provision would first apply to persons who enroll for the semester or session following the bill's effective date.

Please make the call!

Please call your legislators today.

To locate your legislators online, visit:

You can also call the legislative hotline at 1-800-362-9472

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Rafael Gomez

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Two students, two schools -- 20 miles and a world apart

Mitchell Landsberg:

Meet Kyle Gosselin and Henry Ramirez. Kyle attends La Cañada High; Henry was at South L.A.'s Jefferson High before moving to Texas. Their backgrounds may be worlds apart, but their dreams are similar.

Henry Ramirez, meet Kyle Gosselin.

We thought you should be introduced, at least virtually, because you have some things in common. You're a couple of low-key, low-drama, low-maintenance 17-year-olds who have just navigated 11th grade at large public high schools. Both of you are planning to go to college. Both thinking about careers in medicine. Both willing to work hard (but not insanely hard). Both smart (but not gunning to be No. 1).

Yet how different two young lives can be.

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Joplin School Board Discusses Strategic Plan

Melissa Dunson:

The document (11MB PDF) that will guide the Joplin school district for the next five years is up for final approval during a Board of Education meeting tonight.

The plan was produced after nearly a year of work that involved hundreds of school representatives and community members.

The board earlier this year approved one change posed in the plan: staggered start times for elementary and secondary schools.

The suggested changes that the board will consider tonight include alternative schools for high school and middle school, and flagging at-risk students and tracking their progress through school electronically.

The plan also calls for the district to hire several more middle-school counselors, a public relations director and a grant writer. It outlines the creation of several new mentoring programs, including a School Within a School model that puts 25 at-risk pupils with one teacher as they move from middle school to high school.

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In Setbacks, Finding Motivation

Ralph Blumenthal:

A cane-cutter's son from Aguada, Puerto Rico, Antonio Pérez barely made it out of high school in Washington Heights in 1964. But he went on to earn a doctorate by age 27 and become a college dean by 29. Since 1995, Dr. Pérez, now 62, has been president of Borough of Manhattan Community College on Chambers Street, now the largest unit of the City University of New York, with 22,500 matriculated students plus 10,000 in continuing education.

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Justices Rule For Parents Of Special Ed Student

Larry Abramson:

The Supreme Court on Monday made it easier for parents of special education students to get reimbursement for private school tuition. School administrators fear the 6-3 ruling will lead to a jump in private school placements.

The student in the case is known simply as "T.A." The Forest Grove School District, outside of Portland, Ore., noticed that he was having problems in high school, but suspected marijuana use and refused to give him special education services. Toward the end of his junior year, T.A.'s parents pulled him out of public school and sent him to a private residential academy.

The parents then sued the school district to recover the $65,000 they spent on private tuition. The school district argued the parents stepped over the line and lost the ability to seek reimbursement when they transferred him without first giving public special education a try.

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Paternity and parental investment

The Economist:

MEN are doomed to uncertainty. Women know who their children are, but the ubiquity of sexual cheating makes it difficult for males of many species, humans included, to be sure which youngsters actually belong to them. If a male's reproductive strategy amounts to little more than "Wham, bam, thank-you ma'am", this may not matter to him much. But if, as in the human case, he takes an interest in his offspring, it matters a lot. There are few more foolish actions, from an evolutionary point of view, than raising another male's progeny.

This line of reasoning led Alexandra Alvergne and her colleagues at the University of Montpellier, in France, to wonder if human fathers recognise features of children that might give away whose offspring they really are, and use those to guide the amount of attention doled out to each putative son and daughter. To find out, they established an experiment among villagers in the Sine Saloum region of Senegal, where polygynous marriages (ie, men with multiple wives) are common. In such societies the incentives for unmarried men and the opportunities for neglected women to engage in what zoologists who study other harem-forming species refer to as "sneaking" are particularly high. It gives the men a chance to reproduce and the women a chance to spread their bets.

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June 22, 2009

Judge orders search for Milwaukee students in need of special education

Alan Borsuk:

A federal judge has ordered Milwaukee Public Schools to launch a wide search for students who didn't get special education services they should have gotten between 2000 and 2005 and to figure out what needs to be done to make that up to them.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Aaron Goodstein ordered that someone from outside the system be hired to monitor work on providing education services to compensate the students or former students involved because MPS has not shown it will adequately remedy its problems in special education on its own.

Goodstein's decision earlier this month was another step in a lawsuit that dates to 2001. In earlier decisions, he ruled that MPS had denied students their rights in the past and ordered major changes in how MPS deals with deciding whether children are entitled to special education help. The process of making those changes is under way.

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Jack Welch invests in Online University

Paul Glader:

Former General Electric Co. Chief Executive Jack Welch is putting his name and money behind a little-known educational entrepreneur, injecting some star power into the budding industry of online education.

Mr. Welch is paying more than $2 million for a 12% stake in Chancellor University System LLC, which is converting formerly bankrupt Myers University in Cleveland into Chancellor University. It plans to offer most courses online. Chancellor will name its Master of Business Administration program The Jack Welch Institute.

Chancellor's leading investor is Michael Clifford, an entrepreneur who has launched two publicly traded companies in the past year: Grand Canyon Education Inc., which operates Grand Canyon University, and Bridgepoint Education Inc., which operates Ashford University and University of the Rockies.

Investor groups led by Mr. Clifford bought those three institutions out of troubled situations and converted them to primarily online universities.

Mr. Welch's name may help add allure to for-profit, online education, which is growing rapidly despite nagging questions about quality.

Boston research firm EduVentures Inc. estimates that 11% of the roughly 18.5 million U.S. college students took most of their classes online in the fall of 2008, up from 1% a decade ago.

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British schools told to scrap 'i before e'


British elementary schools have been advised to scrap one of the most venerable rules in English spelling: "I before e except after c."

The word was given this week in a National Strategies document, "Support for Spelling." The 124-page document includes a lot of words of wisdom for teachers working with young children, like using puns to teach the distinction between pair and pear.

The document has harsh words for the "i before e" rule.

"The i before e rule is not worth teaching," it said. "It applies only to words in which the ie or ei stands for a clear ee sound. Unless this is known, words such as sufficient and veil look like exceptions. There are so few words where the ei spelling for the ee sounds follows the letter c that it is easier to learn the specific words."

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Do Schools Need More PE Time?

Nancy Armour:

The gym at Eberhart Elementary School is bright and spacious -- with high ceilings, several basketball hoops, even a large, colorful climbing wall.
But for much of the day, the gym doubles as a cafeteria where the school's 1,800-plus students are offered breakfast and lunch.

There's another gym on the fourth floor, but it's so old it has basketball hoops attached to ladders. Time and space limitations mean each class gets physical education just once a week for 40 minutes.

In the fight against childhood obesity, getting kids moving is one of the most effective ways to combat the problem. But only Illinois and Massachusetts require P.E. classes for all kids in kindergarten through 12th grade. And, as Eberhart's example shows, even those requirements sometimes are not enough.

"I understand the funding issue. I understand the space issue," said Betty Hale, one of two P.E. teachers at Eberhart. But "our children are getting shortchanged."

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Too Much Emphasis on One Test

Dan Gelber:

As a parent of three kids in public schools and as a legislator who has been fighting overreliance on the FCAT for almost a decade, I know overemphasis of the FCAT is doing more damage than good.

First, the problem is not that we have an FCAT -- but that we overemphasize it to the exclusion of other things that matter. The FCAT is the sole organizing principle of our school system. Because a school's grade is only indexed to how many students reach minimal competence in two or three subjects, minimal competence in a few subjects becomes the only metric our school system cares about.

How many parents want ''minimal competence'' as their kids' goal?

Performance in other subjects -- foreign languages, history, civics, higher-level courses -- does not raise a school's grade, so they are ignored. And forget about electives like art, music and subjects that make learning fuller. In Florida's underfunded school system, principles of triage leave those noncore subjects as mere afterthoughts -- if they are thought about at all.

Second, a June 2 Herald editorial, Schools offer a lesson in frugality, pointed to improvement in FCAT scores and Florida's ''top 10'' ranking as proof we can get by without real investment in education. That is incorrect. The editorial came close to drinking the Kool-Aid. The FCAT is no longer ''norm referenced,'' so we can no longer compare ourselves to students' performance in other states. If you do compare us to kids in other states taking SATs and ACTs, Florida's performance is almost always close to dead last -- and has gotten worse since the arrival of the heralded FCAT.

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Teach for America members arrive in Milwaukee for training

Erin Richards:

They are in their 20s, well-educated, ambitious and eager to improve the public schools in Milwaukee.

Welcome, Teach for America members. You have your work cut out for you.

On Friday, the group's inaugural Milwaukee class completed its first week of training in the program, which recruits high-achieving, recent college graduates to teach in high poverty, low-income schools. The 38 "corps members," committed to a two-year stint, met at Marquette University.

The group met teachers who already are part of MPS. They learned about the city's politics, community and educational system. And they worked on essential skills: classroom management; lesson planning; how to control but also empower; how to apologize when they make mistakes.

"Nobody is absolutely going to be the perfect teacher," Garret Bucks, the executive director for TFA in Milwaukee, told a room full of well-dressed and well-spoken young adults, all with pens at the ready.

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Where Kids Learn All About The Bulls and the Bears

Candice Lee Jones:

Long division or long stock position? Both are part of the curriculum at Chicago's Ariel Community Academy, a public school sponsored by Ariel Investments, where the kids are managing real-life portfolios.

Each first-grade class is given $20,000 to seed a portfolio. At first, the money is invested on their behalf as they study the savings-and-investment curriculum, a joint project of Ariel Investments and Nuveen Investments.

Finance classes start with counting coins. By sixth grade, students take more control of their portfolio.

Teacher Connie Moran says students usually choose to invest in names they recognize -- Nike, Target, McDonald's. And yes, their investments are down just like yours. Between March 31, 2008, and March 31, 2009, class portfolios fell an average of about 40 percent.

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New Era at Hawaiian School of Hard Knocks

Brandon O'Malley:

Hawaii conjures up images of palm-fringed beaches and tropical tranquility, but when Gail Awakuni joined James Campbell High School as principal in 2000, it was a place of gang fights, hoodlums and educational failure. The 2,000-pupil comprehensive school was bottom in the state.

"We had violence, the highest non-graduation rate of the state, the highest pregnancy rate, the highest number of dropouts," she says. "In our freshman class, 350 were being detained: they weren't being promoted from ninth to 10th grade. It was out of control."

Yet by 2007, Ms Awakuni and her staff had pushed graduation rates up from 86.4 per cent in 1999 to 98.9 per cent and the numbers going on to post-high school education from 57 per cent to 74 per cent. The amount earned by students in scholarships at colleges and universities soared from US$600,000 to US$7.3 million in the same period.

"This year has been record-breaking," says Ms Awakuni. "One pupil gained a perfect 800 out of 800 in the United States-wide colleges admissions test in maths, another got 760 and a third pupil got 750 in the verbal test."

Campbell High, which has pupils aged 15 to 18, earned Breakthrough School status in 2004 and Ms Awakuni, who reorganised the school into smaller learning communities, was awarded National Principal of the Year in 2004-5.

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June 21, 2009

"I don't believe in colleges and universities," Ray Bradbury, 88, said. "I believe in libraries."

Jennifer Steinhauer:

This is a lucky thing for the Ventura County Public Libraries -- because among Mr. Bradbury's passions, none burn quite as hot as his lifelong enthusiasm for halls of books. His most famous novel, "Fahrenheit 451," which concerns book burning, was written on a pay typewriter in the basement of the University of California, Los Angeles, library; his novel "Something Wicked This Way Comes" contains a seminal library scene.

Mr. Bradbury frequently speaks at libraries across the state, and on Saturday he will make his way here for a benefit for the H. P. Wright Library, which like many others in the state's public system is in danger of shutting its doors because of budget cuts.

"Libraries raised me," Mr. Bradbury said. "I don't believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don't have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn't go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years."

Property tax dollars, which provide most of the financing for libraries in Ventura County, have fallen precipitously, putting the library system roughly $650,000 in the hole. Almost half of that amount is attributed to the H. P. Wright Library, which serves roughly two-thirds of this coastal city about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

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She finally has a home: Harvard

Esmeralda Bermudez:

Khadijah Williams stepped into chemistry class and instantly tuned out the commotion.

She walked past students laughing, gossiping, napping and combing one another's hair. Past a cellphone blaring rap songs. And past a substitute teacher sitting in a near-daze.

Quietly, the 18-year-old settled into an empty table, flipped open her physics book and focused. Nothing mattered now except homework.

"No wonder you're going to Harvard," a girl teased her.

Around here, Khadijah is known as "Harvard girl," the "smart girl" and the girl with the contagious smile who landed at Jefferson High School only 18 months ago.

What students don't know is that she is also a homeless girl.

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Gödel, Escher, Bach: A Mental Space Odyssey

MIT Open Courseware:

What do one mathematician, one artist, and one musician all have in common? Are you interested in zen Buddhism, math, fractals, logic, paradoxes, infinities, art, language, computer science, physics, music, intelligence, consciousness and unified theories? Get ready to chase me down a rabbit hole into Douglas Hofstadter's Pulitzer Prize winning book Gödel, Escher, Bach. Lectures will be a place for crazy ideas to bounce around as we try to pace our way through this enlightening tome. You will be responsible for most of the reading as lectures will consist primarily of motivating the material and encouraging discussion. I advise everyone seriously interested to buy the book, grab on and get ready for a mind-expanding voyage into higher dimensions of recursive thinking.

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Larry Summers Vindicated? Global Study Shows Greater Male Variability in Math, Reading Scores

Mark Perry:

The tables above show selected statistics from the paper Global Sex Differences in Test Score Variability (see summary here), published by two economists, one from the London School of Economics and the other from the Helsinki School of Economics. Analyzing standardized test scores in reading and mathematics from the OECD's "Program for International Student Assessment" (PISA), a survey of 15-year olds in 41 industrialized countries, the authors found that:

Our analysis of international test score data shows a higher variance in boys' than girls' results on mathematics and reading tests in most OECD countries. Higher variability among boys is a salient feature of reading and mathematics test performance across the world. In almost all comparisons, the age 15 boy-girl variance difference in test scores is present. This difference in variance is higher in countries that have higher levels of test score performance.

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Georgia principal arrested in cheating probe

Kate Brumback:

A suburban Atlanta principal who resigned during an investigation into cheating on students' standardized tests was arrested Friday and accused of altering public documents.

The school's assistant principal also turned herself in to local police Thursday night in a case that the head of a state teacher's group described as rare. School officials allege that the two changed answers on fifth-grade standardized tests to improve scores and help their school meet federal achievement standards.

Former Dekalb County principal James Berry was arrested at his home on charges of altering public documents, a felony. His assistant principal Doretha Alexander faces the same charges.

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The Community College Placement Mess

Jay Matthews:

Newspaper reporters, a group to which I belonged until recently, usually don't write about old reports, unless of course the documents have been suppressed for years by nefarious government minions. If a reporter tells her editor she has found a neat piece of research from 2007 in the bottom of her drawer, the editor will tell her it isn't news and advise that she put a calendar in her cubicle.

We columnists, on the other hand, are free to roam the past, particularly when we stumble across something as remarkable as "Investigating the Alignment of High School and Community College Assessments in California," a 41-page report by Richard S. Brown & David N. Niemi, published by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education in June 2007.

I know. The title is sleep-inducing. But for the millions of people who care about community colleges -- including the nearly half of all U.S. college students who attend them -- it is a must-read.

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June 20, 2009

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Wisconsin Debt would balloon under Doyle's, lawmakers' budget bills

Jason Stein:

In another sign of the fiscal crisis, repaying debt will take a greater share of Wisconsin's revenue in years to come.

Like a financially strapped consumer facing higher credit card bills, the state would face unprecedented debt payments over the next four years under state budget proposals by Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle and lawmakers.

By 2012, yearly payments on state debt will likely consume at least 4.5 percent of the state's total income from taxes and fees, according to projections by the Legislature's and Doyle's budget offices. That's 13 percent higher than the 4 percent threshold state officials have long considered to be a reasonable limit.

"If you cross that threshold, that's a new development," said Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance. "We have been pushing the borrowing and debt envelope because we haven't been coming to grips with our budget problems."

The rising debt levels are one more sign of how the state's financial crisis -- the worst in at least a generation -- will linger for years to come, threatening further cuts to state services and increasing pressure to raise taxes.

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Wisconsin DPI Superintendent Chooses Staff

State schools Superintendent-elect Tony Evers has named Michael Thompson, of Sun Prairie, as his deputy state superintendent.

Thompson, currently executive assistant at the Department of Public Instruction, holds a master's degree and doctorate in educational administration from UW-Madison.

Evers will be inaugurated July 6, at Hi-Mount Elementary School in Milwaukee, which he said was a symbolic location meant to bring "a singular focus to both the successes and challenges facing public education, not only in Milwaukee, but throughout the state."

Jennifer Thayer, currently director of curriculum and instruction for the Monroe School District, has been named as assistant state superintendent in the Division for Reading and Student Achievement. Evers' other cabinet members will include Sue Grady, executive assistant; and assistant state superintendents Richard Grobschmidt, Libraries, Technology and Community Learning; Deborah Mahaffey, Academic Excellence; Brian Pahnke, Finance and Management; and Carolyn Stanford Taylor, Learning Support: Equity and Advocacy.

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The Clock is Ticking for the Milwaukee Public Schools

Bruce Murphy:

Wow, is Milwaukee Public Schools in trouble.

Back in 2004, I did a story for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that found Milwaukee Public Schools was spending 51 cents on benefits for every dollar spent on salaries in 2003. That was projected to increase to 55 cents in 2004. Recently, JS reporter Alan Borsuk did a story noting (toward the back) that MPS was now up to 60 cents on benefits for every dollar in salary and this was expected to increase to 63 cents next year.

That's a mind-blowing trend. If it continues - and it will, unless major changes are made in its benefits structure - MPS will be forced to gut its staff, impose annual double-digit tax increases or both. The heart of the problem is health care: The plan for employees has few cost controls. And the plan for retirees (many

of whom get lifetime health insurance) is funded on a "pay-as-you-go" basis. The latter is an actuarial nightmare: Each year there are more retirees covered by the health insurance and ever-higher premiums, but the system hasn't put any money aside to pay for this growth, as a government pension plan normally does. So the costs have started to mushroom.

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Should Advanced Elementary Students Be Bussed to a Middle School?

Jay Mattews:

Dear Extra Credit:

I am a former Montgomery County public schools employee, a parent of two in the system and a lifelong educator. An accelerated math program is presenting a unique challenge for the whole system.

As a parent, I addressed the issue first with the principal, then at a PTA meeting and then to the director of school performance when I thought that no satisfactory resolution was being looked into. There is still no resolution, and I do not believe the problem is unique to my small school.

Approximately 25 children in my son's fourth grade have been accelerated two grade levels in math instruction. They took what's called Math A (usually for sixth-graders) this year. They are slated to take Math B (usually for seventh-graders) next year, when they are in fifth grade.

In the past couple of years, the few students who qualified for this level of acceleration were bused to a middle school, then returned to the elementary school for the remainder of their day. This year, so many students have been found eligible that parents have requested that instead of sending them to the middle school, a Math B teacher be brought to the elementary school to teach them. This would reduce disruption and be better for their development.

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Test-optional policy now in place

Illinois College:

Joining a growing list of top schools nationwide, Illinois College now offers students a choice about whether to submit their standardized test scores as part of the admissions process.

Under the new policy, students who believe their standardized test scores strengthen their application are encouraged to submit them, but students who elect not to submit standardized test scores will not be penalized. An exception will apply to international and home-school students.

"Emerging evidence indicates that a student's academic promise can be accurately evaluated through a variety of means," Barbara Lundberg, vice president for enrollment management, remarked. "We expect that the majority of candidates will submit test scores, but by becoming test-optional, we will have the opportunity to look beyond what a student does during a four-hour period on one day in their high school career."

This change was approved by the faculty earlier this year following a yearlong study of the role of standardized tests in college admissions. Illinois College previously required all prospective students to submit official results of the ACT or SAT test scores in order to be considered for admission.

Lundberg said the new policy will apply to students who begin their freshman year studies in 2010.

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So Many Dreams, So Many Diplomas

Michael Alison Chandler:

Fifteen-year-old Simon Lhuillier wants to become a pediatrician when he grows up and buy a big house near a lake. Nila Fasihi, 17, thinks she might one day open a hair salon in Afghanistan when the war is over.

To prepare for the future, Lhuillier is signing up for honors physics and Advanced Placement English classes at Fairfax High School next year and stockpiling credits for an advanced diploma. Fasihi will take anatomy and English 12 at Fairfax High and continue refining her haircutting and skin care skills in a career academy at Chantilly High. When she graduates next spring from Fairfax High, she will earn a standard diploma and a state license in cosmetology.

The District and many states, including Maryland, offer one main high school diploma. Additional diplomas are often available for special education students.

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June 19, 2009

So Sexy So Soon

Commentary by Jean Kilbourne
Wellesley Centers for Women
Spring/Summer 2009 Research and Action Report

Thong panties and padded bras for seven-year-old girls are sold these days at major department stores. Tiny pink high-heeled shoes are advertised for babies. Risqué Halloween costumes for children (such as "Pimp Daddy" and "Child Ho") fly off the shelves. T-shirts for toddler boys proclaim "Chick Magnet" and "Pimp Squad." Little girls go to makeover parties and spas, and teenagers are encouraged to dress and behave like strippers and porn stars. F.C.U.K. is the name of an international clothing chain popular with young people.

Some of the cover stories for recent issues of magazines popular with young teenage girls include "15 Ways Sex Makes You Prettier" and "A Shocking Thing 68% of Chicks Do in Bed." "Grand Theft Auto," a video game especially popular with teenage boys, allows the gamer to have sex with a prostitute in a stolen car and then murder her. The latest version sold six million copies in its first week and grossed five hundred million dollars.1

I started talking about the sexualization of children way back in the late 1960s, when I began my work on the image of women in advertising. The first version of my film "Killing Us Softly," made in 1979, included an ad featuring a sexy little girl and the slogan "You're a Halston woman from the very beginning." I knew something was happening, but I had no idea how bad it was going to get.

Jean Kilbourne, Ed.D., senior scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women, is internationally recognized for her pioneering work on alcohol and tobacco advertising and the image of women in advertising. Her newest book, So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids, co-authored with Diane E. Levin, was published in 2008. Her book, Can't Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel, won the Distinguished Publication Award from the Association for Women in Psychology in 2000. She is also known for her award-winning documentaries Killing Us Softly, Slim Hopes, and Calling the Shots.

More at

Our family is reading Laura Sessions Stepp's "Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both," a book about the "hook-up" culture that currently prevails on our college campuses, so this commentary in a recent professional mailing caught my eye. Of course, I have long been a fan of Jean Kilbourne's work.

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Study Shows Possible Link Between Deaths and ADHD Drugs

Shankar Vedantam:

Children taking stimulant drugs such as Ritalin to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder are several times as likely to suffer sudden, unexplained death as children who are not taking such drugs, according to a study published yesterday that was funded by the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institute of Mental Health.

While the numbers involved in the study were very small and researchers stopped short of suggesting a cause and effect, the study is the first to rigorously demonstrate a rare but worrisome connection between ADHD drugs and sudden death among children. In doing so, the research adds to the evolving puzzle parents and doctors face in deciding whether to treat children with medication.

Doctors have speculated about such a connection in the past because stimulants increase heart rate and have other cardiovascular effects. Physicians are currently advised to evaluate patients for cardiac risks before prescribing the drugs, and FDA officials said yesterday that those guidelines do not need strengthening in light of the new study. About 2.5 million children in the United States take ADHD medications such as Ritalin and Adderall.

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Educators Seek Ways to Prevent Learning Losses During Vacation

Valerie Strauss:

It's called "the summer brain drain" because during those long, hot months away from school, kids supposedly forget a lot of what they had learned in class.

Research, however, tells a more nuanced story: Some learning is lost among some groups, and others gain.

Here's what experts from Johns Hopkins University, the University of Tennessee, the University of Virginia and elsewhere say happens over the summer:

-- Most students -- regardless of family income or background -- lose 2 to 2 1/2 months of the math computational skills that they learned during the school year.

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Their Parents' Keepers

Paula Span:

My father and I were waiting in the director's office for our tour to begin. With a recent haircut, he looked almost dapper despite the two hearing aids.

I admired the way he'd put together a life since my mother died. He had good friends, played cards several nights a week, faithfully attended services at his synagogue, shopped and cooked for himself. With prescriptions to keep his cholesterol and blood sugar in line, he was relatively healthy.

Yet how long could we be this fortunate? He was 83 then. Sooner or later, my sister and I knew, he'd need more help.

Nobody wants to have to face such questions. Yet we want to do the best we can for the people who did the best they could for us. Maybe this assisted-living place was where Dad would want to be, when the time came.

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2009 British Graduation Climate


It is hard to imagine a more difficult time to be a school leaver entering the world of work.

The class of '09 will be the first students in a generation to finish their studies in a recession.

With youth unemployment already at 16% and rising, what will their future be?
Greg James, 18, is revising hard. He is in the middle of his exams at the City of Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College. He is also working hard to find a job, with prospects. Greg has applied for up to ten positions so far, without any luck. His dream job is working with computers.

"That's what I really want at the end of the day, to get a job so that all the hours of hard work pay off, rather than sitting around doing nothing," he says.

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June 18, 2009

"Revolutionize Curriculum"? - Madison School's Proposed Strategic Plan

I supported use of the term "revolutionize curriculum" as part of the proposed Madison School District Strategic Plan. The words contained in the document can likely be used to support any number of initiatives.

The term "revolutionize" appealed to me because I believe the School District should get out of the curriculum creation business (generally, the "Teaching & Learning Department").

I believe, in this day and age, we should strive to hire the best teachers (with content knowledge) available and let them do their jobs. One school district employee could certainly support an online knowledge network. Madison has no shortage of curricular assets, including the UW Math Department, History, Physics, Chemistry, Engineering, Sports and Languages. MATC, Edgewood College, UW-Milwaukee, UW-Whitewater and Northern Illinois are additional nearby resources.

Finally, there are many resources available online, such as MIT's open courseware.

I support "revolutionizing" the curriculum by pursuing best practices from those who know the content. "revolutionize".

Britannica on revolution.

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California Schools' Tough Choices

Stu Woo:

Residents of some affluent cities in this broke state are banding together to make up for cuts in public education, opening rifts between rich and poor school districts.

Key to the debate are parcel taxes, flat fees on property that are used by some cities to help fund public schools.

A handful of communities, such as the tony Bay Area enclave of Piedmont, Calif., have passed new parcel taxes to compensate for proposed state cutbacks, and others are considering them. Piedmont said the emergency measures would enable it to lay off only five of its 200 teachers, rather than nine.

"We're very, very fortunate that our community is supportive of our schools," said Ray Gadbois, vice president of Piedmont's school board.

In less-affluent communities where voters are loath to approve parcel taxes, the state's funding cuts are expected to hit harder.

One is Hayward, 15 miles south of Piedmont. At the city's Tyrrell Elementary School, Principal Rosanna Mucetti said she stands to lose nine of 30 teachers.

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Student Debt, Fool's Gold?


In our discussion about the rising burden of student loans, we received numerous comments from readers who took on a lot of debt to pay for their education. Some found they simply couldn't afford to repay the loans with the jobs they found after college. Others said their debts determined their life choices. Still others wondered if the college experience was worth the financial burden they'll carry for decades afterward. Here are excerpts from their comments.

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Educrat Bingo

Your guide to understanding education in Illinois [PDF Bingo Cards], via a kind reader's email, referring to the Madison School District's proposed Strategic Plan:

You and a friend can now pass the time at a progressivist education seminar with these handy EDUCRAT BINGO cards. Decide your game beforehand, such as simple five-in-a-row for a "brown bag" lunch, all the way to a coverall for an in-service. Cover a square when you hear the matching catch-phrase. Good luck!

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Tell the Truth About Colleges

Thomas Toch:

AMERICA'S PARENTS AND politicians obsess over getting kids to go to college. But the delivery of a decent education, once the kids are on campus, is at least as large a challenge. Only about half of all college entrants earn degrees within six years. And many who do aren't learning much: one study indicates, for instance, that only 38 percent of graduating college students can successfully compare the viewpoints of two newspaper editorials.

The conventional wisdom is that you get what you pay for--that the larger the price tag, the better the product. But that's not true in higher education. Tuition has been skyrocketing for years, with little evidence that education has improved. Universities typically favor research and publishing over teaching. And influential college rankings like the one published by U.S. News & World Report measure mostly wealth and status (alumni giving rates, school reputation, incoming students' SAT scores); they reveal next to nothing about what students learn.

We need to shed more light on how well colleges are educating their students--to help prospective students make better decisions, and to exert pressure on the whole system to provide better value for money.

Reliable measures of the quality of undergraduate teaching already exist. The National Survey of Student Engagement gathers data on factors proven to correlate with learning--things like the number of books and lengthy papers assigned in courses. (The organization reports little relationship between having a prominent brand name and teaching students well.) The Collegiate Learning Assessment tests students' critical thinking and measures progress over a college career.

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All children deserve only the best teachers

Arlene C. Ackerman

Teachers are the bedrock of our schools and the single most important key to student success. To achieve great results, every student needs a great teacher, and every teacher deserves a fair and accurate evaluation that enhances their capacity to grow and improve without fear that the process will threaten their position or their professional standing.

To put the best interests of our children front and center, the School District of Philadelphia is determined to do everything in its power to recruit the best, brightest, and most dedicated teachers; to encourage, reward, and retain our highest performers; to provide meaningful assistance and support for teachers who are struggling to be successful and effective; and to create a comprehensive system that provides all instructional staff with ongoing opportunities for career and talent development.

We stand with President Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan in placing an aggressive and unrelenting focus on teacher effectiveness as a critical factor in creating better public schools. If we are committed to student success, then it is up to all of us - teachers, administrators, parents, policymakers, and legislators - to make a commitment that all of our teachers will have the skills they need to be successful educators and that all will be equitably placed where their talents are most needed.

We are morally obligated and collectively responsible to ensure that anyone entrusted with the education of our children is capable of doing a great job, is recognized for the excellence of their performance, and is justly rewarded for results. If we care about the success of our students, we must also care about the success of their teachers and treat them as the professionals they are.

Recently, the New Teacher Project released a report on "the nation's failure to assess teacher effectiveness, treating teachers as interchangeable parts." The two-year study describes a "widget effect" that has prevented schools and school districts from "recognizing excellence, providing support, or removing ineffective teachers."

The study, available at, describes a "national failure to acknowledge and act on differences in teacher effectiveness" and faults teacher-evaluation systems that codify the "widget effect" by allowing excellence to go unrecognized and the need for improvement to go unaddressed. The authors noted that less than 1 percent of 40,000 teachers in the study were ever rated unsatisfactory.

The Philadelphia story is no different. Out of a teaching force of more than 10,000 in the district, only 13 received unsatisfactory ratings, and only five were removed from the classroom. Because struggling teachers who are performing below an acceptable level of effectiveness were not identified, they could not be appropriately assisted and supported and given an opportunity to improve.

We cannot hope to close the opportunity and achievement gap that exists in our school district, help students from all backgrounds achieve at high standards, and realize the goals of our district's Imagine 2014 strategic plan without putting great teachers in the places where students need them the most. To meet the needs of children and schools fairly, our district needs greater flexibility to assign staff to schools that best match the talents of teachers with regard to subject, site, and area needs.

Some Philadelphia public school students do have access to great teachers, effective principals, and excellent programs. However, "some but not all" is not an acceptable standard. All of Philadelphia's children deserve a chance to dream and succeed, and all need skillful classroom teachers able to provide them with love and limits as they strive to learn.

As we end this school year and prepare for the next, let us commit that our school district staff, parents, and community leaders will work together to guarantee that neither students nor teachers will suffer from a "widget effect" in Philadelphia's public schools.

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FDA Says Kids Shouldn't Stop Taking ADHD Medications

Jared Favole:

The Food and Drug Administration on Monday said children shouldn't stop taking drugs that treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, despite a study showing the stimulants may be associated with sudden death.

A study released in the American Journal of Psychiatry found an association between the stimulants, which include drugs such as Ritalin, and sudden death in children who take the medicines.

The FDA, which partly funded the study, said there isn't enough evidence to conclude the drugs are dangerous and recommends people continue taking their medications. The study compared 564 healthy children who died suddenly to 564 who died in a motor vehicle accident. The study found that two patients in the motor vehicle group were taking stimulants, while 10 in the group of those who died suddenly were taking the medicines. The children died between 1985 and 1996, before certain stimulants, such as Adderall, became more commonly used.

"Given the limitations of this study's methodology, the FDA is unable to conclude that these data affect the overall risk and benefit profile of stimulant medications used to treat ADHD in children," FDA said.

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Study links breastfeeding to high grades, college entry


Breastfed babies seem more likely to do well at high school and to go on to attend college than infants raised on a bottle, according to a new U.S. study.

Professors Joseph Sabia from the American University and Daniel Rees from the University of Colorado Denver based their research on 126 children from 59 families, comparing siblings who were breastfed as infants to others who were not.

By comparing siblings, the study was able to account for the influence of a variety of difficult-to-measure factors such as maternal intelligence and the quality of the home environment.

The study, published in the Journal of Human Capital, found that an additional month of breastfeeding was associated with an increase in high school grade point averages of 0.019 points and an increase in the probability of college attendance of 0.014.

"The results of our study suggest that the cognitive and health benefits of breastfeeding may lead to important long-run educational benefits for children," Sabia, a professor of public policy who focuses on health economics, said in a statement.

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A College for History Only

Scott Jaschik:

A non-traditional and sometimes iconoclastic law school has announced plans to create a new kind of undergraduate college -- one focused on history.

The new college will offer only the junior and senior years of instruction, will operate in a no-frills manner to keep costs down, and will offer the single major of history. The American College of History and Legal Studies will start offering classes in August 2010 and has been licensed to operate in Salem, N.H. -- just seven miles from the Andover, Mass., campus of the Massachusetts School of Law. While the law school and the history college will be independent of one another in a legal sense, with their own boards, many trustees are expected to serve on both boards, and the two institutions will start with overlapping administrations.

Lawrence R. Velvel, the dean of the law school, said in an interview Friday that he saw a need to promote the study of history in a way that was affordable and might reach new groups of students. "I have been aware that this country is not only ahistorical, but because it doesn't know history and ignores history, it makes the same mistakes over and over again," he said.

Tuition is planned to start at $10,000 a year -- low in comparison to most private colleges.

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"Whoppers in Arne Duncan's Education Week Essay"

Parents United for Responsible Education:

Considering the billion of dollars and millions of children's lives that are at stake, Education Secretary Arne Duncan's claims about his record in Chicago merit special scrutiny. Mr. Duncan has made it clear that he intends to tie federal education funds to requirements that districts across the nation rapidly replicate the "Chicago model."

Advocates in Chicago have a special vantage point for this effort. We have been comparing Mr. Duncan's rhetoric with reality for several years, and finding significant factual errors and misstatements. For these inaccurate statements to be repeated on the national stage and in service to a potential orgy of spending on programs that have a questionable track record of success puts our children's educational future at serious risk. Chicagoans must speak out and share what we know.

For example, we have learned that independent research on the Duncan reforms (known collectively as Renaissance 2010) by the Rand Corporation (2008) and SRI International (2009) finds that his new schools perform only "on par" with traditional neighborhood schools. We've also found that the new schools serve fewer low-income, special education, and limited-English proficient students.

In other words, Renaissance 2010 has yet to yield academic improvement, even with less-challenging students. Yet Mr. Duncan decries "school officials (who) have been content with changes that produce nominal progress."

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June 17, 2009

Wisconsin State budget deal bought with earmarks, Including $500,000 for Madison's Proposed 4K Program

Steven Walters:

Facing a record deficit that forced them to raise taxes and fees by $2.1 billion to balance the budget, Assembly Democrats added millions for projects they can brag about back home - a $500,000 upgrade for an opera house; $50,000 for a shooting range; and $46,000 for a town's recycling bins.

As they erased a $6.6 billion, two-year deficit, Assembly Democrats added $36.7 million in regional favors, according to a Legislative Fiscal Bureau summary.

Five of the projects - including the $500,000 for the Oshkosh Opera House, $500,000 for an Aldo Leopold Climate Change Classroom and Laboratory, and $125,000 for the Phillips Library in Eau Claire - have not been recommended by the state Building Commission, which is supposed to approve construction and maintenance spending.

The shooting range is in Eau Claire, and the recycling bins are for the Town of Wrightstown.

Some of the so-called earmarks don't cost money, but get around limits on the number of liquor licenses in communities. The Assembly-passed budget would award a new liquor license in the Madison suburb of Monona, for example, and hand out three more liquor licenses in St. Francis.

Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, said Assembly Democrats behaved just like Assembly Republicans, who controlled that half of the Legislature for a 14-year period that ended in January.

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Reading skills soar in intensive, expensive MPS program

Alan Borsuk:

Let us end the school year with congratulations to Yolimar Maldonado, Lizbeth Fernandez and Nikki Hill, all finishing their sophomore year at Milwaukee Hamilton High School.

To Kenyon Turner, a freshman who went to Bay View and then Community High School; Myha Truss, an eighth-grader at Roosevelt Middle School of the Arts; and Tyrece Toliver, a seventh-grader at the Milwaukee Education Center. And to dozens of other students in Milwaukee Public Schools, of whom this can be said:

They made strong progress this year in improving their reading, jumping ahead more than a grade, and, in some cases, several grades.

It wasn't easy, either for them or for their teachers.

And it wasn't cheap - MPS spent $3.2 million for 38 teachers to work in the reading improvement program this year, and that alone comes to more than $1,500 per student.

You could have a very substantial conversation about why they each were far behind grade level in reading going into the school year. None is a special education student. And almost all of them were still behind grade level at the end of the year, even with all the progress they made.

Nonetheless, applaud their success.

A program called Read 180 was the vehicle the students rode to better reading. It offers a strongly structured program, sessions on each student's level doing computer-led exercises in spelling and vocabulary, and strong, sometimes one-on-one involvement with a teacher.

It would be interest to compare Read 180's costs with another program: Reading Recovery.

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Success at Small Schools Has a Price, a Report Says

Javier Hernandez:

Replacing large, poor-performing high schools with smaller schools in New York City has led to lower attendance and graduation rates at other large high schools, which have struggled to accommodate influxes of high-needs students, according to a report to be released on Wednesday.

Small schools, which cap enrollment at several hundred students and boast themes like environmental science and the performing arts, have emerged as a hallmark of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's education reform efforts. Over the past seven years, the city has closed more than two dozen large comprehensive high schools, which typically enroll thousands of students, and replaced them with smaller schools, which are supposed to foster more intimate relationships and higher student achievement.

The report, conducted by researchers at the New School's Center for New York City Affairs, does not dispute the success of small schools in improving graduation rates of needy students. But it argues that the city should do more to support comprehensive high schools, which have been saddled with large numbers of the high-needs students who do not enroll at small schools.

The 18-month study examined 34 large high schools and found that 14 of them had decreases in attendance and graduation rates from 2003 to 2008, when the number of small schools in the city multiplied.

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Seattle Public Schools Strategic Plan

Marie Goodloe-Johnson (Superintendent of Seattle Schools):

AT Seattle Public Schools, our primary goal is to provide an education that prepares each student to graduate from high school ready for college, careers and life.

Elliot Ransom, a National Merit scholar from Ballard High School, plans to study engineering; Kenny Setiao dropped out of Cleveland High School, but returned to receive a scholarship to South Seattle Community College; and Nicole Davis won the prestigious National Merit Scholarship. The graduation of these and thousands of other students from Seattle Public Schools is a critical measure of our success as educators.

If college-ready graduation for all students is the goal, how do we get there? First, we have to admit that what we have been doing is not working for all students. Today, almost four in 10 students in Seattle don't graduate on time. In today's world, the benefits of postsecondary education have never been greater.

Second, we must recognize that getting ready for college starts long before students enter ninth grade. When students meet critical milestones -- entering kindergarten ready to learn, reading at grade level in third grade, taking algebra in eighth grade, and passing the WASL in 10th grade -- they are more likely to make it to graduation day. Our strategic plan [636K PDF], called Excellence for All, is our guide to reach this goal.

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The Madison School District's Strategic Plan, By the Numbers

Via a kind reader's email:

Culturally Relevant/Cultural Relevance 40

Standards 24

Content 21

Measure (including measurement) 28


TAG 17

Special Education 8

ELL 2 (it comes up 45 times, but the other 43 were things like ZELLmer)

inclusion 0

differentiation 0

science 2

mathematics 0

literacy 4

reading 7 (of these, three were in the appendix with the existing 'plan')

African American 7

Hmong 1 (and not in any of the action plans)

Latino or Latina 0

Hispanic 0

Spanish speaking or Spanish speakers 0

Anyone see a problem here?????

The free Adobe Reader includes a text search field. Simply open the proposed document (773K PDF) and start searching.

The Proposed Strategic Plan, along with some comments, can be viewed here.

Interested readers might have a look at this Fall, 2005 Forum on Poverty organized by Rafael Gomez (audio/video). Former Madison School Board member Ray Allen participated. Ray mentioned that his daughter was repeatedly offered free breakfasts, even though she was fed at home prior to being dropped off at school. The event is worth checking out.

I had an opportunity to have lunch with Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad last summer. Prior to that meeting, I asked a number of teachers and principals what I should pass along. One of the comments I received is particularly relevant to Madison's proposed Strategic Plan:

  1. Curriculum: greater rigor
  2. Discipline: a higher bar, much higher bar, consistent expectations district wide, a willingness to wrestle with the negative impact of poverty on the habits of mind of our students and favor pragmatic over ideological solutions
  3. Teacher inservice: at present these are insultingly infantile
  4. Leadership: attract smart principals that are more entrepreneurial and less bureaucratic, mindful of the superintendent's "inner circle" and their closeness to or distance from the front lines (the classrooms)
I know these are general, but they are each so glaringly needy of our attention and problem solving efforts.
Notes and links on Madison's Strategic Planning Process.

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Notes and Links on Last Week's Southwest Madison Student Murder

David Blaska mentions that Madison's Mayor is holding a meeting this morning. The meeting includes Madison School District Superintendent Dan Nerad:

Several landlords have invited the mayor to take up residence on our troubled streets so that he can experience firsthand what many of our neighbors must put up with in their daily lives. Some of them extended the invitation/challenge even before -- hours before -- the murder. [Let the Mayor come to Meadowood.]

In the meantime, Mayor Dave Cieslewicz has made good on his promise to convene a meeting to deal with the "Lord of the Flies" chaos in certain sections of southwest Madison.

The mayor's meeting will be held Wednesday morning -- exactly one week after Madison woke up to the news that a 17-year-old boy had been shot to death at Leland and Balsam Roads the previous evening, June 9, on the troubled southwest side. Shortly afterward, three 16-year-olds boys were apprehended and charged in connection with his murder -- two of them as adults for first degree intentional homicide.

Some of us, including Ald. Pham-Remmele, saw the trouble coming long agI blogged on May 20, quoting a neighbor, "Unless the police are able to get a handle on the roaming gangs, this summer is going to be bloody." [Going to be a long, hot summer]

A previous post mentioned this:
Police officer Amos said the principal of Toki Middle School will not permit him to arrest children in the school, even though some of them are chronic drug users.

"These people know how to work the system," said another. Yes, they know their rights but not their responsibilities.

Nearly four years ago, Rafael Gomez organized a Gangs & School Violence forum. The conversation, which included local high school principals, police personnel and Luis Yudice, among others, is worth revisiting.

Related: Police calls near local high schools 1996-2006 and more recent police calls via a map.

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Duncan: Superintendents Need To Think Differently About Education Investments

Geoffrey Fletcher:

Are funds for education being spent wisely? Not according to United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who, in a broad-based interview with THE Journal June 12, stressed the importance of thinking differently about how we invest resources. "What [superintendents] do with the new money misses the point. What we really want to do is have folks rethink existing resources as well. And what I would argue in lots of places is that existing resources are not being spent as wisely as they could," he told THE Journal at a meeting held at the U.S. Department of Education's offices.

And this goes for technology. As "unprecedented money is being distributed to education," the Department has stressed wise investments that acknowledge the one-time nature of funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). Guidelines from the Department for all these funds point out the "funding cliff," and note, "These funds should be invested in ways that do not result in unsustainable continuing commitments after the funding expires."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:13 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

In Urban Classrooms, the Least Experienced Teach the Neediest Kids

MaryEllen McGuire:

Imagine for a moment that you are driving your child to the hospital. She has a high fever and is suffering from severe abdominal pain. It's unclear what's wrong but she is in definite need of medical attention.

Now imagine that the only doctor on call is a recently graduated medical student. It's her first day on the job and there is no experienced physician or surgeon available for consultation. Are you satisfied with this level of care for your child? I wouldn't be. I'd want to benefit from the knowledge of a more experienced physician. Wouldn't you?

Unfortunately, a similar scenario is playing out in America's urban classrooms with shocking regularity. Teachers with the least experience are educating the most disadvantaged students in the highest poverty, most challenging schools. Low-income kids are being "triaged" not by experienced teachers, but by those with fewer than three years of teaching to go on.

Does it matter? Absolutely. According to the research, teacher experience is at least a partial predictor of success in the classroom and, at present, one of the only approximations for teacher quality widely available. Experienced teachers tend to have better classroom management skills and a stronger command of curricular materials. Novice teachers on the other hand struggle during their initial years in any classroom.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:01 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

What Happens to School Choice if People Aren't Rational and Choose Bad Schools?

Daniel Willingham:

The logic of school choice seems obvious. If parents selected their children's schools, they would not choose bad ones, so bad schools would not be able to survive. Schools would have to improve or close, just as a store that offers poor service will lose business to a store that offers better service.

Here's my problem with that logic: I think it's highly likely that many parents will choose bad schools.

People often make irrational decisions. The decisions most often studied by psychologists over the last 40 years are financial, but in the last 20 years research has explored decisions made about sex, medicine, and a great many other subjects (see Dan Ariely's wonderful book, Predictably Irrational, for an account.)

Financial decisions offer a useful analogy because the success or failure of the decision seems straightforward: you make money or you don't; similarly, it would seem, schools teach kids or they don't.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:14 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

U.S. to Spend Up to $350 Million For Uniform Tests in Reading, Math


The federal government will spend up to $350 million to help states developing national standards for reading and math, Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced Sunday.

In the current patchwork of benchmarks across the nation, students and schools considered failing in one state might get passing grades in another. The Obama administration is urging states to replace their standards for student achievement with a common set.

Every state except Alaska, South Carolina, Missouri and Texas has signed on to the concept, but getting them to adopt whatever emerges as the national benchmark will be politically difficult.

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Eastern Michigan University Newest Safety Tool is Crime Mapping


One of the most important tools in crime prevention and safety is getting an accurate and timely picture of what is going on.

Eastern Michigan University and the City of Ypsilanti are taking that picture one step further.

By partnering with EMU's Institute for Geospatial Research, EMU's Department of Public Safety and the Ypsilanti Police Department have created a mapping/tracking system for area crime.

"We saw an opportunity to use EMU resources to help the campus and the community by providing timely, accurate information that enhances the safety of our campus," said Sue Martin, president of EMU.

"This is part of our commitment to having a transparent police agency," said Greg O'Dell, executive director of public safety at EMU. "With this addition to our Web site, people have total access to a lot of information."

"We want to increase the awareness of what's going on out there. If we increase awareness, people will have a better understanding of what is going on and take appropriate action," said O'Dell.

The crime mapping application is located on the DPS Web site ( and provides users with a visual representation of where crime is occurring by adding markers to a map of the campus and the city. The application uses the Google mapping Web interface to plot the points where crimes occur.

"DPS posts the data daily to its Web site and the application looks at that data and maps it," said Mike Dueweke, manager of EMU's Institute for Geospatial Research.

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New era of gene-based 'personalized medicine' dawning

Robert Boyd:

Now, many thousands more people are contributing DNA samples for a wide array of follow-on studies designed to turn the project's findings to practical use in health care, genetics and biological research.

Researchers and doctors have opened a new era of "personalized medicine" that seeks to tailor therapies to patients based on their unique genetic makeups and medical histories.

According to the National Cancer Institute, the days are passing when most cancer tumors were thought to be essentially the same and patients got the same drugs.

"We're not very good at selecting therapies for individual patients," Dr. Rick Hockett, the chief medical officer of Affymetrix, a genetics firm in Santa Clara, Calif., told a conference on personalized medicine this month in Washington. "Targeted therapy," he said, can "improve the benefit-risk ratio for patients."

For example, Hockett said that heart patients who took the popular anti-clotting drug Plavix had a greatly increased risk of serious problems, including death, if they had two tiny mutations in their genes.

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

Report: Missouri charter school students outperform peers

Mara Rose Williams:

Missouri charter school students, on average, do better in reading and math than students in their peer traditional public schools, according to a national study released today.

The report done by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University does not mention specific schools in Kansas City or St. Louis -- the only two places in the state allowed by law to operate charters.

The report's authors say they found great variation in academic achievement among each state's charters.

"An important part of the story is the variations," said Margaret Raymond, director of the Center and lead author of the report.

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

June 16, 2009

Mayoral Control and the New York City Schools

NY Times Editorial:

The New York State Assembly is expected to pass a bill this week that would extend, and improve, Mayor Michael Bloomberg's direct control of New York City's school system. The legislation extends the powers that have allowed Mr. Bloomberg to bring order to a school system that was once known mainly for patronage and gridlock. It also allows for greater transparency and more input from parents and communities.

It would preserve the mayor's right to appoint a majority of the members of the board that advises him on school matters. But it also calls for several changes that would make that board slightly more independent and give it more of a voice in the policy-making process.

Mr. Bloomberg, for example, would be required to appoint parents to at least two of the eight seats that he controls on the 13-member board. Currently, the school system's chancellor, who serves at the mayor's pleasure, leads the board. The board would instead elect its own chairman. The board also would have broader powers and responsibilities, including greater authority over some procurement contracts. It would be required to hold well-publicized meetings at least once a month. In another step for accountability, the bill gives the city comptroller and the city's Independent Budget Office the authority to examine scores, dropout rates and other data.

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New Millennium Schools: Delivering Six-Figure Teacher Salaries in Return for Outstanding Student Learning Gains

Matthew Ladner:

Despite the fact that American students enjoy higher average family incomes and per-pupil funding, they consistently rank near the bottom in international examinations of high school achievement. Many researchers point to the United States' poor practices of recruiting, training, compensating, and retaining teachers. The highest-achieving countries tend to recruit their teachers from the top 5 percent of university graduates; however, on average, American K-12 schools recruit from the bottom third.

A growing body of research in the United States demonstrates that teacher quality makes a profound difference in student learning. Judging schools on a value-added basis, by measuring academic growth over time, reveals a profound need to attract high-quality teachers into American classrooms in large numbers. Students learning from three highly effective instructors in three successive grades learn 50 percent more than students who have three consecutive ineffective instructors. These results are consistent across subjects and occur after controlling for student factors. Teacher quality is 10 to 20 times more important than variation in average class sizes, within the observable range. Unfortunately, though, poor human resource practices lead high-quality teachers to cluster in leafy suburbs, far from the children most in need.

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Charter School Performance in 16 States

Stanford Center for Research on Education Outcomes:

As charter schools play an increasingly central role in education reform agendas across the United States, it becomes more important to have current and comprehensible analysis about how well they do educating their students. Thanks to progress in student data systems and regular student achievement testing, it is possible to examine student learning in charter schools and compare it to the experience the students would have had in the traditional public schools (TPS) they would otherwise have attended. This report presents a longitudinal student‐level analysis of charter school impacts on more than 70 percent of the students in charter schools in the United States. The scope of the study makes it the first national assessment of charter school impacts.

Charter schools are permitted to select their focus, environment and operations and wide
diversity exists across the sector. This study provides an overview that aggregates charter schools in different ways to examine different facets of their impact on student academic growth. The group portrait shows wide variation in performance. The study reveals that a decent fraction of charter schools, 17 percent, provide superior education opportunities for their students. Nearly half of the charter schools nationwide have results that are no different from the local public school options and over a third, 37 percent, deliver learning results that are significantly worse than their student would have realized had they remained in traditional public schools.

These findings underlie the parallel findings of significant state‐by‐state differences in charter school performance and in the national aggregate performance of charter schools. The policy challenge is how to deal constructively with varying

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Surprising Source of Grade Inflation

Doug Lederman:

The list of complaints about the statewide standardized exams that most states have adopted as high school accountability measures is long: professors teach to the test, the standards are pegged to the lowest common denominator, etc. But a new study suggests that a new one might be added in some states: contributing to grade inflation for college-bound students who do well on the tests.

And that finding, if borne out, could complicate the already significant problems of college admissions officers trying to decide among many seemingly highly qualified candidates.

The working paper, which was written by George Mason University's Patrick D. Marquardt and published on the Social Science Research Network, examines the impact that Virginia's Standards of Learning -- and particularly changes that the state made to encourage high school students to take the test seriously -- had on the average high school grade point average of students who attended Virginia's public colleges.

Virginia implemented its statewide high school test in 1998, but after many schools' students fared poorly on the high-stakes exam in its first years, the state, hoping to encourage more students to take it seriously, required all students to pass a certain number of SOL exams to graduate. Marquardt's paper, though, focuses on changes that school districts quietly made to encourage student participation, often involving grade-based incentives. Some, Marquardt says; among the most extreme, gave students who passed an exam an uptick (from B to B+, say), while others let students use the SOL in a particular subject as their final exam, earning an A if they passed it.

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Letters: Better Schools? Here are Some Ideas

Letters regarding Five Ways to Fix America's Schools:

Harold O. Levy suggested five disparate ways to improve the educational system in America's schools. Only one of his suggestions, however, even remotely touched on the most fundamental aspect of this daunting challenge: improving our youngest students' reading skills as a means of instilling self-confidence and an interest in learning.

This is something that can be addressed now, without the major financing and structural changes needed to truly reform the system.

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How Facebook Is Affecting School Reunions

Gilbert Cruz:

Who got fat, who got hot, and is that old crush of mine still single? Whatever happened to that weird kid with the hair? Wait, am I the one that got fat?

Such are the essential questions at the core of every high school and college reunion. For decades, the routine has remained the same: a bunch of old classmates get together and catch up, settle (or renew) grievances, and swap glory-days stories. Yet the ability to locate former classmates through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and, well, the Internet itself, has alumni organizations and other such groups wondering if the sun is setting on the traditionally organized reunion. (TIME Reports: Five Facebook No-Nos For Divorcing Couples)

Take Kim Brinegar, who in 1998 helped organize the 10-year reunion for her class at Maryland's Arundel High School. "Back then, the Internet wasn't really that reliable for finding people," she says. "I had to rely on word of mouth, advertising in the paper, and sending things to people's parents." For the 20-year reunion, however, she had a new tool: Facebook. Through the site, Brinegar was able to get in touch with tons of people she couldn't track down last time around, including an exchange student from Italy who flew across the Atlantic for the reunion last November. (See TIME's top 10 social networking apps.)

Rather than turn people off from wanting to attend ("Well, smokin' hot Sally looks just awful now -- no need for me to go"), Facebook only increased the excitement for the 20th reunion at Massachusetts' Sharon High School, says Holly Goshin, who helped plan the event. "It's enticing, it's like a little preview, seeing everyone's life online. And -- whether you're happy that someone is not doing as well as you or you're happy that they look amazing -- you get to see it all in person. Then you can move on with your life."

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'Voucher' rider stirs fight over education

Niki Kelly:

A scholarship tax credit provision inserted into Gov. Mitch Daniels' budget proposal has ignited a philosophic debate about public and private education in Indiana.

And some opponents say the timing of the move is inconvenient, as lawmakers are trying to pass a new state budget in a special legislative session amid plummeting state tax collections.

Opponents call the provision a back door to vouchers, but supporters say it simply provides an opportunity for low-income students struggling in traditional schools to attend a private school.

"It's scholarship money. Call it vouchers. Call it what you want," said Sen. Marlin Stutzman, R-Howe. "I'd call it an opportunity for a child."

During the regular season, Stutzman was the co-author of a bill authorizing the program. Even though it passed the Republican-controlled Senate on several occasions, the Democratic-led House declined to move it forward.

The idea surfaced again in late budget negotiations but ultimately was left out of a compromise between the House and Senate.

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Picture is unclear on arts instruction in schools

Greg Toppo:

Gather up a group of eighth-graders, pop in a CD of George Gershwin's seminal Rhapsody in Blue and turn up the volume. Then ask: In those first few seconds, what keening, soaring, note-bending instrument do you hear?

When the federal government put this question to thousands of eighth-graders in 1997, only about half knew it was a clarinet. When they tried again last year, the results were the same.

New data out today from the U.S. Department of Education's National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, may make America's arts instructors kind of blue: In the past decade or so, middle-schoolers have made little progress in how much they know about music and visual arts.

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Teachers asked to bring green mapmaking to schools

Desy Nurhayati:

High school teachers in Greater Jakarta participating in an environmental workshop Saturday, were encouraged to bring the Green Map system to their students, to raise their environmental awareness.

In one of the workshops, volunteers from the Green Map Indonesia community shared their experience of mapmaking toward a sustainable community development with teachers.

The teachers were expected to be able to deliver the system to their students and start mapping out their green surroundings, volunteer Elanto Wijoyono said during the session.

"Students can start by mapping out their schools before expanding to other areas."

"They can also explore many interesting things they find during the mapping activities," he said, adding the system could be a more enjoyable approach to learning, combined with other subjects in the curriculum.

Creating Green Maps would make students more responsive to preserving the environment, said Marco Kusumawijaya, another Green Map volunteer.

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June 15, 2009

Milwaukee makes gain, wants more, in school voucher funding

Alan Borsuk:

Milwaukee officials got a hit when they went to bat for a better deal for city taxpayers on how the private school voucher program is paid for, but they definitely didn't hit a home run.

That's one way to summarize state budget deliberations when it comes to fixing the so-called voucher funding flaw.

Decisions by the state Legislature's Joint Finance Committee endorsed last week by the Assembly, would give the city a better deal when it comes to paying for the program, which is costing the state and city about $130 million this year for about 20,000 students to go to about 120 private schools.

But the outcome will not make a sharp difference in the forecast for property taxes to pay for schools for next year - which is to say, there remains a definite possibility that the Milwaukee School Board will wrestle with the prospect of a double-digit increase in the tax levy this fall.

The budget now goes to the Senate, which is expected to vote this week.

Jennifer Gonda, senior legislative fiscal manager for the city, estimated that provisions in the new state budget would save a typical Milwaukee homeowner $20 next year and $38 the next year. That's based on the average home assessment in the city, $127,500.

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Rigid Athletic Tracking

The New York Times reports that the Stamford, Connecticut public schools may finally achieve the goal of eliminating academic tracking, putting students of mixed academic ability in the same classes at last. The Times reports that "this 15,000-student district just outside New York among the last bastions of rigid educational tracking more than a decade after most school districts abandoned the practice."

If that newspaper thinks Stamford has taken too long to get rid of academic tracks for K-12 students, how would they report on the complete dominance of athletic tracking in schools all over the country? Not only does such athletic tracking take place in all our schools, but there is, at present, no real movement to eliminate it, unbelievable as that may seem.

Athletes in our school sports programs are routinely tracked into groups of students with similar ability, presumably to make their success in various sports matches, games, and contests more likely. But so far no attention is paid to the damage to the self-esteem of those student athletes whose lack of ability and coordination doom them to the lower athletic tracks, and even, in many cases, may deprive them of membership on school teams altogether.

It is also an open secret that many of our school athletic teams ignore diversity entirely, and make no effort to be sure that, for example, Asians and Caucasians are included, in proportion to their numbers in the general population, in football, basketball, and track teams. Athletic ability and success are allowed to overwhelm other important measures, and this must be taken into account in any serious Athletic Untracking effort.

In Stamford, some parents are opposed to the elimination of academic tracking, and have threatened to enroll their children in private schools. This problem would no doubt also arise in any serious Athletic Untracking program which could be introduced. Parents who spend money on private coaches for their children would not stand by and see the playing time of their young athletes cut back or even lost by any program to make all school sports teams composed of mixed-ability athletes.

The New York Times reports that "Deborah Kasak, executive director of the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform, said research is showing that all students benefit from mixed-ability classes."

Perhaps it will be argued that all athletes benefit from mixed-ability teams as well, but many would predict not only plenty of losing seasons for any schools which eliminate Athletic Tracking programs, but also very poor scholarship prospects for the best athletes who are involved in them. Just as students who are capable of excellent academic work are often sacrificed to the dream of an academic (Woebegone) world in which all are equal, so student athletes will find their skills and performance severely degraded by any Athletic Untracking program.

Nevertheless, when educators are more committed to diversity and equality of outcomes in classrooms than they are in academic achievement, they have eliminated academic tracking and set up mixed-ability classrooms.

Surely athletic directors and coaches can be made to see the supreme importance of some new diversity and equity initiatives as well, and persuaded, at the risk of losing their jobs, to develop and provide non-tracked athletic programs for our mixed-ability student athletes. After all, winning games may be fun, but, in the long run, people can be led to realize that being politically correct is much more worthwhile than real achievement in any endeavor in our public schools. As the Dean of a major School of Education recently informed me: "The myth of individual greatness is a myth." [sic] The time for the elimination of Athletic Tracking has now arrived!

15 June 2009
Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review

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No Longer Letting Scores Separate Pupils (No More Tracking)

Winnie Hu via a kind reader's email:
Sixth graders at Cloonan Middle School here are assigned numbers based on their previous year’s standardized test scores — zeros indicate the highest performers, ones the middle, twos the lowest — that determine their academic classes for the next three years.

But this longstanding system for tracking children by academic ability for more effective teaching evolved into an uncomfortable caste system in which students were largely segregated by race and socioeconomic background, both inside and outside classrooms. Black and Hispanic students, for example, make up 46 percent of this year’s sixth grade, but are 78 percent of the twos and 7 percent of the zeros.

So in an unusual experiment, Cloonan mixed up its sixth-grade science and social studies classes last month, combining zeros and ones with twos. These mixed-ability classes have reported fewer behavior problems and better grades for struggling students, but have also drawn complaints of boredom from some high-performing students who say they are not learning as much.

The results illustrate the challenge facing this 15,000-student district just outside New York City, which is among the last bastions of rigid educational tracking more than a decade after most school districts abandoned the practice. In the 1960s and early 1970s, Stamford sorted students into as many as 15 different levels; the current system of three to five levels at each of four middle schools will be replaced this fall by a two-tiered model, in which the top quarter of sixth graders will be enrolled in honors classes, the rest in college-prep classes. (A fifth middle school is a magnet school and has no tracking.)
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Two Years of Hard Lessons For D.C. Schools' Agent of Change

Bill Turque:

The image of Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee on newsstands nationwide was causing an uproar among teachers, parents and other constituents. So D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray had to ask her, as she sat in his cavernous, wood-paneled office in December: "Michelle, why would you agree to be photographed with a broom on the cover of Time magazine?"

And he had a follow-up: "What does it get you, to constantly bash those you're trying to get to help you?"

Rhee explained that most of the shoot for the Dec. 8 issue involved images of her with children. The idea for the broom, which she gripped while standing stern-faced in front of a blackboard, came up near the end, she said, according to Gray's version of their meeting. She told Gray that it wasn't her first choice for the cover but that the decision wasn't hers. Gray wasn't satisfied.

"Why did you let the picture be taken in the first place?"

In her quest to upend and transform the District's long-broken school system, Rhee has acquired a sometimes-painful education of her own. The lessons, in many respects, tell the story of her tenure as her second school year draws to a close Monday: that money isn't everything; that political and corporate leaders need to be stroked, even if you don't work for them; that the best-intentioned reforms can trigger unintended consequences; and that national celebrity can create trouble at home.

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Textbook Rant

Seth Godin:

've spent the last few months looking at marketing textbooks. I'm assuming that they are fairly representative of textbooks in general, and since this is a topic I'm interested in, it seemed like a good area to focus on.

As far as I can tell, assigning a textbook to your college class is academic malpractice.

They are expensive. $50 is the low end, $200 is more typical. A textbook author in Toronto made enough money from his calculus textbook to afford a $20 million house. This is absurd on its face. There's no serious insight or leap in pedagogy involved in writing a standard textbook. That's what makes it standard. It's hard, but it shouldn't make you a millionaire.

They don't make change. Textbooks have very little narrative. They don't take you from a place of ignorance to a place of insight. Instead, even the best marketing textbooks surround you with a fairly non-connected series of vocabulary words, oversimplified problems and random examples.

They're out of date and don't match the course. The 2009-2010 edition of the MKTG textbook, which is the hippest I could find, has no entries in the index for Google, Twitter, or even Permission Marketing.

They don't sell the topic. Textbooks today are a lot more colorful and breezy than they used to be, but they are far from engaging or inspirational. No one puts down a textbook and says, "yes, this is what I want to do!"

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For Rio Vista grads, the future looks grim

Carolyn Jones:

For the Rio Vista High School class of 2009, there's not much pomp but plenty of circumstance.

Like most seniors, the 82 graduating in Rio Vista last week face the most desolate economic landscape in generations, with few jobs and rapidly evaporating college aid. Many of their parents are out of work, and no one's quite sure which way the out-of-control economy will flip next.

"I'm scared. Very, very scared," said Chantell Bodle, 18, whose father's job as a natural gas rig swabber has slowed to a crawl, forcing Chantell to opt for the cheapest possible route to her goal of becoming a nurse: live at home, work part time and commute 60 miles round trip to Delta College in Stockton.

"My parents said they're having a hard time with the bills right now," Chantell said last week as she spray-painted on a Rio Vista street as part of a senior art project. "It's going to be hard out there. There's not a lot of jobs."

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China's College Entry Test Is an Obsession

Sharon LaFraniere:

For the past year, Liu Qichao has focused on one thing, and only one thing: the gao kao, or the high test.

Some prepare for the test at a strict Tianjin boarding school.
Fourteen to 16 hours a day, he studied for the college entrance examination, which this year will determine the fate of more than 10 million Chinese students. He took one day off every three weeks.

He was still carrying his textbook from room to room last Sunday morning before leaving for the exam site, still reviewing materials during the lunch break, still hard at work Sunday night, preparing for Part 2 of the exam that Monday.

"I want to study until the last minute," he said. "I really hope to be successful."

China may be changing at head-twirling speed, but the ritual of the gao kao (pronounced gow kow) remains as immutable as chopsticks. One Chinese saying compares the exam to a stampede of "a thousand soldiers and 10 horses across a single log bridge."

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Community members learn safer ways to get to school

Kathy Chang:

bright lime-green T-shirts, groups of parents, students and teachers of the 16 elementary schools in Woodbridge Township and residents in the surrounding areas volunteered their time over the weekend to be part of making the routes to their individual schools safer.

Top and above: Teacher Beth Heagen, from Woodbine Avenue Elementary School No. 23 in Avenel, leads Bhavika Shah and her children Hetri, 8, a third-grader, and Ishika, 6, a firstgrader, as they travel through the streets that they and other students walk each day to get to school, looking for unsafe conditions as well as positive ones.
Dr. Wansoo Im, president of Vertices LLC, a GIS consulting firm, and a professor at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, led the group of a dozen or so people at Woodbine Avenue Elementary School No. 23 in Avenel to kick off the Discovering Safe Routes to School event, which was a walkability assessment, on May 30.

Each person was given a pedometer and took a map of the route, a survey and a digital camera to take photographs of what each one felt needed improvement, such as implementation of sidewalks, dangerous street crossings and overgrown shrubbery, and also what the participants felt worked well in the area.

"This event is an outgrowth of the walk we took with former Olympic racewalker [Mark Fenton] last year," said Mayor John E. McCormac. "Our job as public officials is to keep the kids safe. What is safe to us might not be what is safe to an 8-year-old kid. The kids walk these routes every day."

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Teen sacrifices fun for hard work, education

Carolyn Jones:

While her classmates were signing yearbooks and preening for the prom, Vicheka Chres was experiencing a different kind of senioritis as she approached Friday's graduation.

As she had since she started high school, Vicheka, 17, was studying six hours a night. After school and on weekends, she was making apple turnovers in her uncle's bakery - for no pay. At home, she was translating for her mother, whose English is poor and who has a sixth-grade education.

"Fun? I don't really have fun," Vicheka said recently while taking a break from swabbing tables at Rio Vista Bakery, where her mother also works. "I know American kids go see movies, concerts. Go shopping. But that's not what I do."

Vicheka has reason to be motivated. She knows that if her family had stayed in their native Cambodia, which they left in 2003, she wouldn't have had the luxury of studying trigonometry and literature six hours a night. She'd be working in a factory, sewing clothes 12 hours a day for $50 a month.

Instead, she's bound for UC Davis. She plans to study biochemistry so she can eventually be a pharmacist and support her family, those in Rio Vista as well as in Phnom Penh.

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Scholastic Programs Are Feeling the Pinch as Financing for Sports Dries Up


Tyler Peters has wrapped up his high school athletic career. Now he can only feel sympathy for his friends who are underclassmen at Coral Gables Senior High.

Across the country this spring, the recession has taken its toll on high school athletic programs. As states and school districts have tried to shore up their budgets, Florida has taken some of the most drastic steps.

The Florida High School Athletic Association is considering sweeping, two-year schedule changes with all sports except football canceling some matches, meets or games. The changes were approved earlier this year, but officials backed off the plan, saying they would take it up again at a later date.

A swimmer in high school, the 18-year-old Peters said he might have given it up if his season had been cut down.

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June 14, 2009

Student charged with keeping teachers from grading


A high school computer whiz didn't get a high grade for a recent feat: designing software to shut teachers out of the grading system.

A New York State Police spokeswoman says 16-year-old Matthew Beighey has been charged with unauthorized use of a computer and third-degree identity theft. He was ordered to return to court Wednesday.

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Our Changing World

This graphic, from Boeing's Current Market Outlook (2009-2028) provides a very useful look at the changes our children are facing. The Asia Pacific region is forecast to take delivery of more airplanes than North America, with Europe close behind. We should substantively consider whether the current systems, curriculum and organizations, largely created in the Frederick Taylor model over 100 years ago, are up to the challenge....

Locally, the Madison School District's Proposed Strategic Plan will be discussed Monday evening.

Related: China Dominates NSA Coding Contest.

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Global Academy Presentation to the Dane County Public Affairs Council Audio / Video

Watch the May 27, 2009 video here, or listen via this mp3 audio file.
Bill Reis: Coordinator, Global Academy [Former Superintendent, Middleton-Cross Plains School District]

Dean Gorrell: Superintendent, Verona Area Schools

To a significant degree talented and gifted students in our schools are under-served. These students are often left to do it on their own, particularly if that talent is in only one or two areas.  Finally, there is something being done about that.  Not only is the Global Academy going to be a reality, but surprise beyond belief, eight area school districts, including Madison, are actually cooperating and going to be part of the Global Academy.  The presentation and discussion will focus on

What is the rationale and data to support this educational experience?
What school districts are involved and how will it be financed?
What students will be served by the Academy? How will students be selected?
What will be the curriculum and methodology for instruction?
Will these students be prepared for post high school education and work?
Will there be partnerships with MATC, other colleges and universities, community persons and organizations?
How will the students relate with their home schools?
Thanks to Jeff Henriques for recording this event.

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Connecticut District Retools High School Math Instruction

Jessica Calefati:

Mathematics teachers in one coastal Connecticut school district were frustrated with students' inability to retain what they learned in Algebra I and apply it to Algebra II, so they decided to approach high school mathematics instruction in a new way. The teachers shrank the number of topics covered in each course by about half and published their custom-made curriculum online last fall, the New York Times reports.

The new curriculum's lessons were written by Westport, Conn., teachers and sent to HeyMath! of India, a company that adds graphics, animation, and sound to the lessons before posting them on the Web. But teachers say the new curriculum is as much about bringing classroom instruction into the digital age as it is about having the opportunity to teach students fewer concepts in greater depth.

Westport's decision to rewrite its math curriculum is part of a growing trend to re-evaluate "mile-wide, inch-deep" instruction. In 2006, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics pushed for more basic math skills instruction, and two years later a federal panel of investigators appointed by then President George W. Bush also urged schools to whittle down their elementary and middle school math curricula.

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Will Federal Education Standards Help US Students?

Dave Cook:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan threw his weight Wednesday behind a Text"common" education standard for all of America's schoolchildren, saying the current state-by-state system has produced uneven results in which some students "are totally, inadequately prepared to go into a competitive university, let alone graduate."

Mr. Duncan, who has been on a cross-country "listening tour" in preparation for submitting revisions for the No Child Left Behind Act, says he's encountered support for the idea of a national standard. "Teachers have been really positive on this idea of common standards," he said at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast for reporters. "That has played much better with teachers than I thought it would."

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Alaska Opts Out of US National Standards Initiative

Jessica Calefati:

Gov. Sarah Palin has opted out of an effort to develop national education standards for reading and math curricula, a decision that has riled some but satisfied other Alaskan education officials, the Anchorage Daily News reports.

Forty-six states have agreed to help create the Common Core State Standards Initiative, an effort to allow states to compare their students' academic progress at each grade level using a single rubric. Alaska joins Missouri, South Carolina, and Texas on the shortlist of states that have bowed out of the attempt to form what many believe education in the United States has lacked for too long: a common denominator.

Carol Comeau, superintendent of the Anchorage School District, said she was disappointed in Palin's decision. Alaska's pupils have a right to know how they measure up against their peers in other parts of the country, Comeau said. The Anchorage School District serves nearly half of Alaska's 120,000 public school students.

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Wisconsin high schools webcast graduations to reach wider audience

Amy Hetzner:

While iQ Academy Wisconsin can reach students statewide through lessons taught over the Internet, that doesn't mean all 128 graduates can reach the academy for Sunday's commencement at Waukesha South High School.

So, for the first time, the school is offering a webcast of its graduation, which students and their relatives can watch in streaming video as names are called out and awards are distributed.

"A lot of our students live pretty far from Waukesha," said iQ Principal Rick Nettesheim, who estimates about two-thirds of the graduating class will be at commencement this year. "Now they can participate in the graduation or, if they have friends or family that live far away, they can participate, too."

The Waukesha-based charter school is one of a growing number of high schools to broadcast their graduation ceremonies over the Internet, allowing far-flung friends or family members who couldn't travel or get tickets to participate in once-in-a-lifetime events.

Henry Holmes, 18, said the webcast will allow his grandfather in Waupun to watch as he picks up his iQ diploma.

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Teenage readers are gravitating toward even grimmer fiction; suicide notes and death matches

Katie Roiphe:

Until recently, the young-adult fiction section at your local bookstore was a sea of nubile midriffs set against pink and turquoise backgrounds. Today's landscape features haunted girls staring out from dark or washed-out covers. Current young-adult best sellers include one suicide, one deadly car wreck, one life-threatening case of anorexia and one dystopian universe in which children fight to the death. Somewhere along the line our teenagers have become connoisseurs of disaster.

Jay Asher's "Thirteen Reasons Why," which is narrated by a dead girl, came out in March 2007 and remains on the bestseller list in hardcover. The book is the account of a fragile freshman named Hannah Baker who kills herself by overdosing on pills and sends audiotapes to the 13 people she holds responsible for making her miserable in the last year of her life. There may be parents who are alarmed that their 12-year-olds are reading about suicide, or librarians who want to keep the book off the shelves, but the story is clearly connecting with its audience--the book has sold over 200,000 copies, according to Nielsen BookScan.

For those young readers who find death by pill overdose inadequately gruesome, there's Gayle Forman's "If I Stay," which takes as its subject a disfiguring car wreck. The book has sold a robust 17,000 copies in its first two months on sale, and was optioned by Catherine Hardwicke, the director of the film "Twilight." The story follows an appealing cellist named Mia who goes on a drive to a bookstore with her unusually sympathetic ex-punk-rocker parents. When a truck barrels into their Buick, Mia hovers ghost-like over the scene. She sees her family's bodies crushed, then watches on as her own mangled body is bagged and rushed to the hospital. Lingering somewhere between this world and the next, Mia must decide whether to join her parents in the afterlife or go it alone in the real world. The brilliance of the book is the simplicity with which it captures the fundamental dilemma of adolescence: How does one separate from one's parents and forge an independent identity?

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A Team's Struggle Shows Disparity in Girls' Sports

Katie Thomas:

The Cougars of Middle School 61 had a basketball game in the Bronx, but a half-hour before tipoff, six girls and Coach Bryan Mariner were still inching through traffic in Brooklyn.

A cellphone rang. It belonged to forward Tiffany Fields-Binning, who passed the phone to Mr. Mariner.

"You don't want her to go?" he said. He peered up at a street sign. "We're on Atlantic and Flatbush." He paused. "O.K. O.K. We'll wait here."

Mr. Mariner turned off the ignition. "Tiff-a-ny." He said her name slowly, like a sigh. "You didn't set this straight with your pop?"

Tiffany stared out a window.

Mr. Mariner turned and assessed the situation: "We've got five."

Five players. No substitutes.

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Marketplace' will help rein in college costs: Duncan

Lynn Sweet:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the former Chicago Public Schools chief and basketball buddy of President Obama, says the "marketplace" will work to keep university costs down.

And he seems intrigued with the notion of developing "no-frills" campus options for financially strapped students.

Duncan has moved his family from Hyde Park in Chicago to the northern Virginia suburbs, where his kids go to a public school. I caught up with Duncan at a breakfast with reporters last week.

He has been on his own "listening tour" of the nation to figure out what needs to be changed in the No Child Left Behind law. He said he has no timetable for asking Congress to rewrite the controversial Bush-era program.

The economic stimulus measure has given Duncan $10 billion in discretionary spending. By comparison, President George W. Bush's first education secretary, Rod Paige, had only $17 million in the cash drawer to pass around.

Duncan said he wants to use some of the federal money as an incentive to "change behavior" when it comes to college expenses.

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June 13, 2009

Leopold Elementary does it bilingually

Darlinne Kambwa:

In a classroom with walls lined with bright pictures, Erin Conway's third- and fourth-grade students are working on mathematical word problems. For the first time in their relatively short educational careers, the problems are in English.

"I think I know the answer," a student tells Conway. But then he gives her the wrong answer.

"It's not that hard," Conway says, repeating the question to him in Spanish. The second time the student tells Conway the right answer.

The classroom looks the same as other third-grade classrooms. The top of the black chalkboard is bordered with the alphabet in cursive. Each number on the clock has its handwritten digital equivalent next to it. The student desks with attached chairs open up to reveal school supplies.

But the population of Conway's classroom makes it different. All of her 16 students are native Spanish speakers, in what's called a transitional education program.

As kindergartners at Leopold Elementary, on Madison's west side, the students were placed in classrooms where 90% of their academic instruction was given in Spanish and 10% in English. In second grade, 80% of their instruction was in Spanish and 20% in English.

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Wisconsin Math Standards

From a recent post on the Madison United for Academic Excellence (MUAE) listserve:

There is an effort under way to rewrite the Wisconsin math state standards. Comments from the public are invited until this coming Monday (June 15).

Some math professors at UW-Madison believe the draft could use some improvement and encourage folks to review the standards and submit comments via a survey all of which can found at:

Another website with standards that can be used for comparison is: Achieve is one of the organizations that are involved in drafting the
national standards-to-be. The governor has agreed to enroll in the group of States that will align the standards of the state with the national standards the Obama administration is pushing for.

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Which States Have the Best High School Graduation Rates

Jessica Calefiti:

President Obama expects all Americans to complete at least one year of postsecondary education, and a report released this week by Education Week highlights both the obstacles to attaining that goal and the hopeful signs that--at least in some states--success appears to be within reach.

"Diploma Count 2009" places the national graduation rate at about 70 percent for the class of 2006 and notes that this rate has increased nearly 3 percentage points since 1996. According to the report, New Jersey has the highest rate, 82.1 percent; Nevada has the lowest, 47.3 percent. But with about 30 percent of American students failing to graduate high school, and many other qualified students opting out of the college application process, the report states, Obama's goal can easily seem unrealistic

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Trying to Turn Around Washington, DC's Webb/Wheatley

Daniel Charles' four part audio series on Webb/Wheatley Elementary.

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College in Need Closes a Door to Needy Students

Jonathan Glater:

The admissions team at Reed College, known for its free-spirited students, learned in March that the prospective freshman class it had so carefully composed after weeks of reviewing essays, scores and recommendations was unworkable.

Money was the problem. Too many of the students needed financial aid, and the college did not have enough. So the director of financial aid gave the team another task: drop more than 100 needy students before sending out acceptances, and substitute those who could pay full freight.

The whole idea of excluding a student simply because of money clashed with the college's ideals, Leslie Limper, the aid director, acknowledged. "None of us are very happy," she said, adding that Reed did not strike anyone from its list last year and that never before had it needed to weed out so many worthy students. "Sometimes I wonder why I'm still doing this."

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: The US Fiscal Black Hole

Willem Bueter:

It does not yet include price tag for the laudable ambition of the Obama administration to ensure that no American is without health insurance. Nor does it include planned government outlays for updating America's clapped-out infrastructure or the pursuit of the environmental agenda. Bringing American secondary education (numeracy, literacy, foreign language skills etc.) up to the levels of the most successful emerging markets will also be very expensive, although more government money is only a necessary condition for significant progress in this area; a major change in the governance arrangements for schools in the incentives faced by teachers, heads, pupils and parents are also necessary. And I cannot really envisage Obama confronting the American Federation of Teachers. Without reform in governance and incentives, even vastly increased public spending on health and education will achieve in the US what it achieved the UK under Labour in the past six years: very little indeed.

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The Genius Index: One Scientist's Crusade to Rewrite Reputation Rules

Guy Gugliotta:

Jorge Hirsch had been getting screwed. For years. At a scientific conference in 1989, he presented a paper arguing that the generally accepted theory of low-temperature superconductors--the BCS theory--was wrong. Most researchers at the time held that under certain low-temperature conditions, vibrations in a metal's crystal lattice can allow electrons to become attracted to one another, which drops electrical resistance to zero--a superconducting state. Hirsch said this "electron-phonon interaction" in fact had nothing to do with superconductivity. He was a youngish up-and-comer then, but physics rarely forgives apostasy. After his fateful presentation, similar conferences stopped inviting him to speak. Colleagues no longer sought him out for collaboration. Grants dried up. High-visibility journals shunned his papers.

It's not that Hirsch wasn't getting his work published. He was. And other physicists were still citing his research, implying some acceptance of his views. Hirsch just wasn't able to get his papers into the really high-visibility journals--places like Science, Nature, and, for a solid-state physicist, Physical Review Letters. There's a clear pecking order, established and reinforced by several independent rating systems. Chief among them: the Journal Impact Factor.

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Shocker! Some Teachers Like AP for All

Jay Matthews:

When I got to work Monday, I was certain I was about to be pummeled by e-mails telling me what an idiotic column I had written that day praising high schools that were trying to get everyone, even struggling students, to take Advanced Placement courses and tests.

The first e-mail had arrived at 7:56 a.m. I opened it gingerly, expecting harsh language. It was from a teacher -- not a good sign. Many of them find my AP obsession an outrage, particularly since I have never taught a class and would not be competent to do so.

So what did the e-mailer, Michael Willis, a physics teacher at Glen Burnie High School in Anne Arundel County, have to say? He said he liked the column. Hmmm. Maybe he was being sarcastic? Nope. He said he retired from a career in nuclear engineering to teach physics at all levels, including AP, and said "having such low performers in a class does them a world of good." He even offered a rationale for low performers in AP I hadn't thought of: "In these days of economic woe, schools with a historically large percentage of low performance may more easily rationalize the targeting of such classes for cutting due to low enrollments. This would have the effect of locking out the 'smart' kids from classes they need to be competitive with students from districts and schools that are more affluent."

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June 12, 2009

Obama's Charter Stimulus

Wall Street Journal Editorial:
The Obama Administration's $100 billion in "stimulus" for schools has mostly been a free lunch -- the cash dispensed by formula in return for vague promises of reform. So we were glad to hear that Education Secretary Arne Duncan is now planning to spend some of that money to press states on charter schools.

"States that don't have charter school laws, or put artificial caps on the growth of charter schools, will jeopardize their application" for some $5 billion in federal grant money, Mr. Duncan said in a conference call with reporters this week. "Simply put, they put themselves at a competitive disadvantage for the largest pool of discretionary dollars states have ever had access to."

Charter schools improve public education by giving parents options and forcing schools to compete for students and resources. For low-income minority families, these schools are often the only chance at a decent education. Charters are nonetheless opposed by teachers unions and others who like the status quo, no matter how badly it's serving students. As a result, 10 states lack laws that allow charter schools (see nearby table), and 26 others cap charter enrollment.

To his credit, Mr. Duncan singled out some of the worst anticharter states. "Maine is one of 10 states without a charter schools law, but the state legislature has tabled a bill to create one," he said. "Tennessee has not moved on a bill to lift enrollment restrictions. Indiana's legislature is considering putting a moratorium on new charter schools. These actions are restricting reform, not encouraging it."
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Public Debt: The biggest bill in history

The Economist:

THE worst global economic storm since the 1930s may be beginning to clear, but another cloud already looms on the financial horizon: massive public debt. Across the rich world governments are borrowing vast amounts as the recession reduces tax revenue and spending mounts--on bail-outs, unemployment benefits and stimulus plans. New figures from economists at the IMF suggest that the public debt of the ten leading rich countries will rise from 78% of GDP in 2007 to 114% by 2014. These governments will then owe around $50,000 for every one of their citizens (see article).

Not since the second world war have so many governments borrowed so much so quickly or, collectively, been so heavily in hock. And today's debt surge, unlike the wartime one, will not be temporary. Even after the recession ends few rich countries will be running budgets tight enough to stop their debt from rising further. Worse, today's borrowing binge is taking place just before a slow-motion budget-bust caused by the pension and health-care costs of a greying population. By 2050 a third of the rich world's population will be over 60. The demographic bill is likely to be ten times bigger than the fiscal cost of the financial crisis.

Will they default, inflate or manage their way out?

Related: earmarks, K-12 Tax & Spending Climate.

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Summer Fun

June means the end of high school and the start of summer. Perhaps there will be jobs or other chores, but, as James Russell Lowell wrote in The Vision of Sir Launfal, "what is so rare as a day in June? Then, if ever, come perfect days..."

Those rare June days are full of mild air, sunshine, leisure, and time, at last, for student to pick up that absorbing nonfiction book for which there has been no place in their high school curriculum.

Why is it that so many, if not most, of our high school graduates arrive in college without ever having read a single complete nonfiction book in high school, so that when they confront their college reading lists, full of such books, they are somewhat at sea?

The main reason is that the English department controls reading in most schools, and for most of them the only reading of interest is fiction, so that is all that students are asked to read.

For the boys, and now the girls too, who may soon serve in the military, and are interested in military history, they have to read the military history books they will enjoy on their own, after school or, better, in the summer. All the students who would love history books on any topic would do well to pick them up in the summer, when their other assignments, of fiction books and the like, cannot interfere.

The story of the world's work and the issues that trouble the world now (and in the past) can only be found in nonfiction books, and for students who can see the time coming when they will be responsible for the work of the world, those are the books which they should read, and have time to read, mainly in the summer months.

Summer reading of nonfiction books also means that when they return to their history, economics, sociology, and even their science and English classes in the fall, they will bring a more substantial and more nuanced understanding of the world they will be studying, with the benefit of the knowledge and appreciation they have gained in their nonfiction reading over the summer.

For those who are concerned with "Summer Loss"--the observed decline in student knowledge and skill over the summer months--the reading of nonfiction books brings a double benefit. The habit and the skill of reading significant material are refreshed and reinforced in that way, and knowledge is gained rather than drained away over the summer. And in addition, engagement with serious topics confirms young people in their primary role as students rather than "just kids" as they read over the summer.

Adults still buy and read a lot of nonfiction books, even in these days of the Internet/Web and Television, and students will have a much better chance of taking part in adult conversations over the summer if they are reading books too.

The objection will surely be raised in some quarters that reading nonfiction books in the summer is too much like work. One answer that could be offered is that, as reported in Diploma to Nowhere, more than a million of our high school graduates every year, who are accepted at colleges, are required to take remedial courses because they have not worked hard enough to be ready for regular courses. The problem then may actually be that our high schools are too much fun and not enough work and we give our diplomas to far too many "fools" as a result.

Malcolm Gladwell, in Outliers, cites K. Anders Ericsson's research on the difference between amateur and professional pianists, and writes: "Their research suggests that once a musician has enough ability to get into a top musical school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That's it. And what's more, the people at the very top don't just work harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder."

We see those who labor constantly to relieve our students from working too hard academically. They worry about stress, strain, overwork, joyless lives, etc. But that only seems to apply to academics. When it comes to sports, there is nearly universal satisfaction with young athletes who dedicate themselves to their fitness and the skills needed for their sport(s) not only after school, but during the summer as well.

While reading nonfiction books in the summer has not yet been widely accepted or required, high school athletes are expected to run, lift weights, stretch, and shoot hoops (or whatever it takes for their sports) as often in the summer as they can find the time. Perhaps if we applied the seriousness with which we take sports for young people to their pursuit of academic achievement, we would find more students reading complete nonfiction books in the summer and fewer needing remedial courses later.

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

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Data-Driven Schools See Rising Scores

John Hechinger:

Last fall, high-school senior Duane Wilson started getting Ds on assignments in his Advanced Placement history, psychology and literature classes. Like a smoke detector sensing fire, a school computer sounded an alarm.

The Edline system used by the Montgomery County, Md., Public Schools emailed each poor grade to his mother as soon as teachers logged it in. Coretta Brunton, Duane's mother, sat her son down for a stern talk. Duane hit the books and began earning Bs. He is headed to Atlanta's Morehouse College in the fall.

If it hadn't been for the tracking system, says the 17-year-old, "I might have failed and I wouldn't be going to college next year."

Montgomery County has made progress in improving the lagging academic performance of African-American and Hispanic students. See data.

Montgomery spends $47 million a year on technology like Edline. It is at the vanguard of what is known as the "data-driven" movement in U.S. education -- an approach that builds on the heavy testing of President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind law. Using district-issued Palm Pilots, for instance, teachers can pull up detailed snapshots of each student's progress on tests and other measures of proficiency.

The high-tech strategy, which uses intensified assessments and the real-time collection of test scores, grades and other data to identify problems and speed up interventions, has just received a huge boost from President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Related notes and links: Wisconsin Knowledge & Concepts (WKCE) Exam, Value Added Assessments, Standards Based Report Cards and Infinite Campus.

Tools such as Edline, if used pervasively, can be very powerful. They can also save a great deal of time and money.

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Wisconsin Democrats vote for student cap in Milwaukee's school-choice program

Steve Walters, Stacy Forster & Patrick Marley:

Democrats who control the state Assembly voted Thursday to cap participation in Milwaukee's parental choice program at 19,500 students for the next two years - about the same number of students who now attend private schools at state expense.

If it becomes law, the change would reverse a 2006 compromise that would have allowed participation to grow to 22,500.

The 19,500 cap was added to the state budget, which the full Assembly was scheduled to debate at 10 a.m. Friday, by state Rep. Fred Kessler (D-Milwaukee). It was one of the final decisions made by the 52 Democrats, who ended four days of closed-door caucus meetings that resulted in dozens of proposed changes to the 2010-'11 budget.

Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan (D-Janesville) said Democrats will have enough votes to pass the budget Friday.

"When you look at the document, it's well-balanced, and I think we did a lot of good things," Sheridan said.

An opponent of the choice program, Kessler said it would be the first major reduction in the number of choice students - a number that had been expected to grow next year.

The two-year budget includes $2 billion in tax and fee increases, cuts aid to local governments and schools and would force 6% across-the-board spending cuts by state agencies.

But choice supporters said the cap would be fought in both the Assembly and Senate.

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Gifted education audit in Waukesha

Amy Hetzner via a kind reader's email:

In the year that the Waukesha School District laid off all but one staff member devoted to gifted and talented education, identification of students for the gifted program dropped 29%, according to an audit by the state Department of Public Instruction.

Nominations of students for the gifted program dropped even more -- by 65% -- in the 2007-'08 school year. This followed a school year in which nominations and identifications already were down from the year before.

At the time they made the GT staff cuts, Waukesha school board members said they hoped that regular classroom teachers would take on the task of providing special programming for gifted students, as required by state law.

But district officials acknowledge difficulty without speciality staff.

"Any time you have budget reductions it is going to have an effect," Ben Hunsanger, Waukesha's new GT coordinator, said in an e-mail. "There was a drop in GT identifications because we lost GT resource teachers. The GT student population also lost direct resources as a result of the staffing reductions."

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Video Interviews with Harvard's Drew Gilpin Faust

Chrystia Freeland @ The Financial Times.

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So much hinges on that high school education

Bill Foy:

Volunteering as a GED program tutor continues to be one of my most gratifying experiences, but it also has been sobering to realize how many in our community lack basic - high school - education. (GED is the acronym for general equivalency degree, a recognized substitute for a high school diploma.)

Students in GED programs range in age from the mid-20s to the late 40s; many are minorities. They say they've recommitted themselves to furthering their education in order to enhance job skills, to help their children succeed with their education or simply, but profoundly, to regain some self-esteem. GED programs are a lifeline to those who have the courage to "go back" later in life to achieve these goals, but the programs currently serve just a fraction of those who lack a high school education.

You get a sense of the magnitude of the problem by reading a 2008 publication of the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center called "Cities in Crisis." The study, which was funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, looks at the 50 largest cities in the United States (Milwaukee is No. 25) and the number of kids enrolled in high school in the "focal" district of each city (in our case Milwaukee Public Schools). In the year studied - 2006 - MPS's high school population (grades nine through 12) was estimated to be 25,000.

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Physical Stress and Academic Performance

Sara Goldrick-Rab:

I've been preoccupied by sleep lately. Not sleeping -- though as I approach the end of my first trimester I sure could use some -- but sleep itself. What it means to sleep a little or a lot, how it affects your daily interactions with others, etc. This is something I know a tiny bit about, having spent a solid year sleep-deprived after the birth of my first child, but not something I've devoted my academic time to.

Until now. I just spent two full days at the Cells to Society (C2S) Summer Biomarker Institute. C2S is also known as the Center on Social Disparities and Health at Northwestern University. It's directed by developmental psychologist Lindsay Chase-Lansdale, and has additional star power in folks like Thom McDade, Emma Adam, and Chris Kuzawa. These are social science researchers who have mastered the hard sciences as well, and are using medical tools to get at how social practices and environments "get under the skin."

What does that mean? Well, to explain I'll tell you why I'm thinking about sleep. It all begins with an attempt to understand the reasons why so many low-income kids drop out of college. A big problem, to be sure -- and one that we still don't know enough about. I'm thinking that has to do with the limited number of ways in which we've approached the problem. It's primarily treated as an educational issue, one we tackle with a combination of college practices and individual-level incentives like money.

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Alternative Testing on the Rise

Michael Alison Chandler:

hese were not multiple-choice tests that computers grade in seconds. They were thick "portfolio" tests representing a year's worth of student worksheets, quizzes and activities. The time-intensive evaluations have proliferated in recent years in response to the testing requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The District and many states, including Maryland and Virginia, use portfolios for students with serious cognitive disabilities. But Virginia has gone much further, expanding their use for students with learning disabilities or beginning English skills. Statewide, the number of math and reading portfolios submitted for such students nearly doubled in a year, from 15,400 in 2006-07 to more than 30,000 in 2007-08, and state officials predict another jump this school year.

Portfolios have long been used for in-depth evaluations because they can gauge more skills and higher-order thinking. Many educators say the year-long portfolios are a fairer way to measure what some students know than a one-day snapshot.

"We all learn differently," said Patrick K. Murphy, assistant superintendent for accountability in Fairfax schools and Arlington County's incoming superintendent. "We also have to recognize there are different ways people can show proficiency beyond a multiple-choice test."

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Schwarzenegger seeks online revolution in schools

Juliet Williams:

In the state that gave the world Facebook, Google and the iPod, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says forcing California's students to rely on printed textbooks is so yesterday.

The governor recently launched an initiative to see if the state's 6 million public school students can use more online learning materials, perhaps saving millions of dollars a year in textbook purchases.

"California is home to software giants, bioscience research pioneers and first-class university systems known around the world. But our students still learn from instructional materials in formats made possible by Gutenberg's printing press," Schwarzenegger wrote in a recent op-ed in the San Jose Mercury News.

In a state with a projected $24 billion budget deficit, Schwarzenegger has asked education officials to review a wealth of sources that already are on the Internet, many of which are free, and determine whether they meet curriculum standards.

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Microsoft Anti-Trust Settlement Generates Some Cash for Wisconsin Schools

Erin Richards:

In a sea of otherwise bleak budget news, 850 schools in Wisconsin are looking at an unexpected windfall: a share of at least $75 million from Microsoft Corp. for new technology purchases.

According to estimates released this week by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, schools where at least 33.3% of the students qualify as low-income will split about $75 million to $80 million in vouchers that can be redeemed for cash after the schools purchase new hardware or software.

The money for eligible schools is part of a settlement from a class-action antitrust lawsuit that Microsoft reached with Wisconsin residents in 2006. Other states have reached similar settlements with Microsoft. Plaintiffs claimed that Microsoft stifled competition and harmed consumers.

Eligible schools may redeem their vouchers for cash after buying new desktop computers, laptops, printers, scanners, faxes and software, none of which has to be from Microsoft, said Stephen Sanders, director of instructional media and technology for the DPI.

It would be interesting to compare these amounts with the royalties districts have paid to Microsoft......

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June 11, 2009

Is AP for All A Formula For Failure?

Jay Matthews:

pend much time with aggressive Advanced Placement teachers. They tell me, quite often, that students must be stretched beyond their assumed capabilities. Whenever I try to pass on this advice, however, I become a target for ridicule and disbelief from readers.

Here comes more of that stuff. Newsweek unveils this week my annual rankings of America's Top High Schools, with a new twist that skeptics will find even less congenial.

The latest list, to appear on, will include about 1,500 schools that have reached a high standard of participation on college-level AP, International Baccalaureate or Cambridge tests. The bad news is they represent less than 6 percent of U.S. public high schools. The good news is that 73 percent of Washington area schools are on the list. The interesting news is that some of those schools have begun to require AP courses and tests for all students, even those who struggle in class.

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2 Madison Elementary Schools Fail No Child Left Behind Standards

Gayle Worland:

For the first time, two Madison elementary schools will face sanctions for failing to meet federal No Child Left Behind standards.

Leopold and Lincoln fell short of the federal law's criteria for "adequate yearly progress" for the second year in a row, marking them as "schools identified for improvement," or SIFI. The SIFI list targets schools that miss the same testing benchmark, such as reading scores among economically disadvantaged students, for two or more consecutive years.

Under the sanctions, the schools will have to review their school improvement plans, offer more academic services outside of the regular school day and allow parents to transfer their child to any public school within the School District where space allows. Students performing poorly on statewide tests would get first preference to transfer.

Former Madison Mayor Paul Soglin comments.

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Wisconsin Assembly Democrats Approve a $500,000 Earmark for the Madison School District's 4K Program

Jason Stein:

The hope of four-year-old kindergarten in Madison schools stayed alive early Thursday as Assembly Democrats pushed through a $500,000 start-up grant for the district as part of the state budget bill.

But even with that money, the challenges to offering the program remain great as the district could face an $8 million cut in its state aid, or 13 percent, under one new estimate of the effect of state budget cuts on Madison schools.

And Republicans criticized the grant money to the district as an earmark that comes at a time when schools statewide are having their funding cut.

"Any funding that can help mitigate the (four-year-old kindergarten) costs in the first two years is very helpful," said Madison Schools superintendent Dan Nerad. "We're very pleased with the proposal that's been advanced."


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Underworked American Children

The Economist:

ut when it comes to the young the situation is reversed. American children have it easier than most other children in the world, including the supposedly lazy Europeans. They have one of the shortest school years anywhere, a mere 180 days compared with an average of 195 for OECD countries and more than 200 for East Asian countries. German children spend 20 more days in school than American ones, and South Koreans over a month more. Over 12 years, a 15-day deficit means American children lose out on 180 days of school, equivalent to an entire year.

American children also have one of the shortest school days, six-and-a-half hours, adding up to 32 hours a week. By contrast, the school week is 37 hours in Luxembourg, 44 in Belgium, 53 in Denmark and 60 in Sweden. On top of that, American children do only about an hour's-worth of homework a day, a figure that stuns the Japanese and Chinese.

Americans also divide up their school time oddly. They cram the school day into the morning and early afternoon, and close their schools for three months in the summer. The country that tut-tuts at Europe's mega-holidays thinks nothing of giving its children such a lazy summer. But the long summer vacation acts like a mental eraser, with the average child reportedly forgetting about a month's-worth of instruction in many subjects and almost three times that in mathematics. American academics have even invented a term for this phenomenon, "summer learning loss". This pedagogical understretch is exacerbating social inequalities. Poorer children frequently have no one to look after them in the long hours between the end of the school day and the end of the average working day. They are also particularly prone to learning loss. They fall behind by an average of over two months in their reading. Richer children actually improve their performance.

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Gifted education audit in Waukesha

Amy Hetzner
Journal Sentinel
June 4, 2009

In the year that the Waukesha School District laid off all but one staff member devoted to gifted and talented education, identification of students for the gifted program dropped 29%, according to an audit by the state Department of Public Instruction.

Nominations of students for the gifted program dropped even more -- by 65% -- in the 2007-'08 school year. This followed a school year in which nominations and identifications already were down from the year before.

At the time they made the GT staff cuts, Waukesha school board members said they hoped that regular classroom teachers would take on the task of providing special programming for gifted students, as required by state law.

But district officials acknowledge difficulty without specialty staff.

"Any time you have budget reductions it is going to have an effect," Ben Hunsanger, Waukesha's new GT coordinator, said in an e-mail. "There was a drop in GT identifications because we lost GT resource teachers. The GT student population also lost direct resources as a result of the staffing reductions."

In an April letter to Waukesha's superintendent, the DPI recommended the district refine its methods for identifying students as gifted and talented and provide professional development for staff on providing special services for such students.

The state audit was performed after a group of district parents filed a complaint last year alleging numerous deficiencies in Waukesha's program for gifted students.

One of those parents, Amy Gilgenbach, said she wishes the audit had focused less on policy corrections and more with what was going on in the program itself. She said the state agency should have looked into what happened to instruction due to the loss in staffing.

"At the elementary level, when you have already overburdened teachers with 28 or more kids in their classes and then expect them to take on added responsibilities without additional training or instruction, obviously you're not creating a good situation for GT students in those classes," she wrote in an e-mail.

"At the middle and high school levels, not having appropriate guidance and course selections and potential college and career paths is a huge pitfall for GT students."

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Report From China: "Novels are not taught in class, and teachers encourage outside reading of histories rather than fiction."

Annie Osborn in the Boston Globe:

Teen's lessons from China. I am a product of an American private elementary school and public high school, and I am accustomed to classrooms so boisterous that it can be considered an accomplishment for a teacher to make it through a 45-minute class period without handing out a misdemeanor mark. It's no wonder that the atmosphere at Yanqing No. 1 Middle School ("middle school" is the translation of the Chinese term for high school), for students in grades 10-12, seems stifling to me. Discipline problems are virtually nonexistent, and punishments like lowered test scores are better deterrents for rule breaking than detentions you can sleep through.

But what does surprise me is that, despite the barely controlled chaos that simmers just below the surface during my classes at Boston Latin School, I feel as though I have learned much, much more under the tutelage of Latin's teachers than I ever could at a place like Yanqing Middle School, which is located in a suburb of Beijing called Yanqing.

Students spend their days memorizing and doing individual, silent written drills or oral drills in total unison. Their entire education is geared toward memorizing every single bit of information that could possibly materialize on, first, their high school entrance exams, and next, their college entrance exams. This makes sense, because admission to public high schools and universities in China is based entirely on test scores (although very occasionally a rich family can buy an admission spot for their child), and competition in the world's most populous country to go to the top schools makes the American East Coast's Harvard-or-die mentality look puny.

Chinese students, especially those in large cities or prosperous suburbs and counties and even some in impoverished rural areas, have a more rigorous curriculum than any American student, whether at Charlestown High, Boston Latin, or Exeter. These students work under pressure greater than the vast majority of US students could imagine.

And yet, to an American student used to the freedom of debate during history or English class, to free discussion of possible methods for solving different math problems, the work seems hollow and too directed. The average class size is about 45 students (compared with the limit of 28 in Boston that is exceeded by three or four students at most), which severely limits the amount of attention a teacher can give a student.

It isn't that the curriculum is blatant propaganda, or that the answer to every math problem is Mao Zedong. It's more that there is very little room to maneuver: There is one good way to solve a math problem, or one way to program a computer, or one good way to do homework. Every class has the same homework, a worksheet printed on wafer paper, and essays are rare.• Novels are not taught in class, and teachers encourage outside reading of histories rather than fiction. The only fiction texts read in class are excerpts from the four classics (Imperial texts that are not considered novels) and Imperial poetry. The point of class is to cram as much information into the students in as little time as possible, all in preparation for entrance exams.

Students lack the opportunity to discuss and digest what they learn. Most rarely participate in political discussions outside class. During a weekend dinner at a classmate's house, I brought up the issue of Tibet and heard my classmate's father complain first about how Tibet wanted independence and second about how his daughter didn't know anything about it. The recent Tiananmen anniversary was a nonissue; the students say they are too busy with work to talk much about politics. Chinese high school students therefore have little practice in the decision-making and circumspection that Americans consider an integral part of education.

Chinese schools have many strengths, but they do not foster many broadly philosophical thinkers.

Annie Osborn is a Boston Latin School student. She recently completed her junior year at School Year Abroad in Beijing.

© Copyright 2009 Globe Newspaper Company.

• [Boston Latin School no longer assigns "traditional" history research papers, they told any case, they have never sent me any...Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review]

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Truth In Teaching

NY Times Editorial:

Education reform will go nowhere until the states are forced to revamp corrupt teacher evaluation systems that rate a vast majority of teachers as "excellent," even in schools where children learn nothing. Education Secretary Arne Duncan was right to require the states that participate in the school stabilization fund, which is part of the federal education stimulus program, to show -- finally -- how student achievement is weighted in teacher evaluations. The states have long resisted such accountability, and Mr. Duncan will need to press them hard to ensure they live up to their commitment.

A startling new report from a nonpartisan New York research group known as The New Teacher Project lays out the scope of the problem. The study, titled "The Widget Effect," is based on surveys of more than 16,000 teachers and administrators in four states: Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois and Ohio.

The first problem it identifies is that evaluation sessions are often short, infrequent and pro forma -- typically two or fewer classroom observations totaling 60 minutes or less. The administrators who perform them are rarely trained to do the evaluations and are under intense pressure from colleagues not to be critical. Not surprisingly, nearly every teacher passes, and an overwhelming majority receives top ratings.

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Math & Science: China dominates NSA-backed coding contest

Patrick Thibodeau:

Programmers from China and Russia have dominated an international competition on everything from writing algorithms to designing components.

Whether the outcome of this competition is another sign that math and science education in the U.S. needs improvement may spur debate. But the fact remains: Of 70 finalists, 20 were from China, 10 from Russia and two from the U.S.

TopCoder Inc., which runs software competitions as part of its software development service, operates TopCoder Open, an annual contest.

About 4,200 people participated in the U.S. National Security Agency-supported challenge. The NSA has been sponsoring the program for a number of years because of its interest in hiring people with advanced skills.

Participants in the contest, which was open to anyone -- from student to professional -- and finished with 120 competitors from around the world, went through a process of elimination that finished this month in Las Vegas.

China's showing in the finals was also helped by the sheer volume of its numbers, 894. India followed at 705, but none of its programmers were finalists. Russia had 380 participants; the United States, 234; Poland, 214; Egypt, 145; and Ukraine, 128, among others.

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June 10, 2009

Learn from three success stories

Rising above IQ
Nicholas Kristoff

In the mosaic of America, three groups that have been unusually successful are Asian-Americans, Jews and West Indian blacks -- and in that there may be some lessons for the rest of us. Asian-Americans are renowned -- or notorious -- for ruining grade curves in schools across the land, and as a result they constitute about 20 percent of students at Harvard College. As for Jews, they have received about one-third of all Nobel Prizes in science received by Americans. One survey found that a quarter of Jewish adults in the United States have earned a graduate degree, compared with 6 percent of the population as a whole. West Indian blacks, those like Colin Powell whose roots are in the Caribbean, are one-third more likely to graduate from college than African-Americans as a whole, and their median household income is almost one-third higher.

These three groups may help debunk the myth of success as a simple product of intrinsic intellect, for they represent three different races and histories. In the debate over nature and nurture, they suggest the importance of improved nurture -- which, from a public policy perspective, means a focus on education. Their success may also offer some lessons for you, me, our children -- and for the broader effort to chip away at poverty in this country.

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America's Top Public High Schools


Public schools are ranked according to a ratio devised by Jay Mathews: the number of Advanced Placement, Intl. Baccalaureate and/or Cambridge tests taken by all students at a school in 2008 divided by the number of graduating seniors. All of the schools on the list have an index of at least 1.000; they are in the top 6 percent of public schools measured this way.

If you have questions about the list, please contact Note: Subs. Lunch % is the percentage of students receiving federally subsidized meals. E and E % stands for equity and excellence percentage: the portion of all graduating seniors at a school that had at least one passing grade on one AP or IB test. For more information on methodology, see our FAQ; please leave your comments on the list in the comments box below.

26 Wisconsin high schools made the list with Milwaukee's Rufus King on top at #271 and, locally, Verona High School at #1021 the only Madison area institution on the list.

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US Education Secretary Duncan Shares His Plans

NPR's Talk of The Nation:

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan knows there are dire problems with the U.S. school system. He sees no other issue as more pressing, and calls it "the civil rights issue of our generation."

Duncan shares his plan for a complete overhaul of the public schools.

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Samuel Beer

The Economist:

HIS hair turned no whiter than a pale auburn, and he was never caught standing on his head, but even in his advanced years Sam Beer continued to surprise--by playing the harmonica in bravura style, for example, or by coming 13th in a skydiving competition among 250 contestants half his age. The vitality that sparkled most brightly, though, was that of the mind. When Harvard's grandest political scientists gathered last year to brief alumni on their activities, the former chairman of the department, then a mere 96, was asked to make a few comments about the study of government during his tenure from 1946 to 1982. "He completely stole the show," said one. Speaking without notes, remembering everyone and everything, he upstaged all the incumbent professors.

Mr Beer was a formidable scholar, the author of countless articles and several books. The best of these, "British Politics in the Collectivist Age", picked apart the country in which he had studied before the war and established him as the foremost authority on modern British politics (which was the title of the British edition). He wrote two other books on Britain, one on the Treasury and one on what he called "the decline of civic culture" or, more politely, "the rise of the new populism". He also analysed his own country, notably in a book that examined the creation of the American nation through the twin lenses of history and political theory.

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On California's Hard Copy Textbook Purchase Ban

Rupert Neate:

"Textbooks are outdated, in my opinion," said the film-star-turned-politician. "For so many years, we've been trying to teach exactly the same way. Our children get their information from the internet, downloaded on to their iPods, and in Twitter feeds to their phones. Basically, kids feel as comfortable with their electronic devices as I was with my pencils and crayons

"So why are California's school students still forced to lug around antiquated, heavy, expensive textbooks?"

State officials said textbooks typically cost between $75 (£46) and $100, far more than their digital equivalents.

A spokesman for Pearson said it has been planning for the switch from printed text to digital for a decade, but conceded that the company will collect less money per unit from digital sales. The company added the move would allow it to save money on printing and distribution costs.

I have been a slow, but generally pleased user of electronic books (stanza, kindle and open source) on my iphone. It is time to transition and save money....

Matthew Garrahan & Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson have more:

"But our students still learn from instructional materials in formats made possible by Gutenberg's printing press. It's nonsensical - and expensive - to look to traditional hard-bound books when information is so readily available in electronic form."

However, with California facing a record $24bn budget deficit the state could struggle with high start-up costs - particularly as Mr Schwarzenegger has pledged to make digital text books available to each of the state's 2m students.

"The main practicality is that until students have full and equal access to computers, this would be very difficult to phase in," wrote Citigroup analysts in a research note.

The state is one of the biggest purchasers of school textbooks in the world so the transition to digital learning could have big implications for publishers, such as Pearson, owner of the Financial Times.

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Eight Tuition-Free Colleges

Scott Allen:

During difficult economic times, the cost of higher education leaves many students wondering if they can afford to go to college. For those who want to avoid being saddled with huge loans, the U.S. government offers one of the best deals around: Enroll at one of the five service academies tuition-free and receive free room and board. (And you thought the Grand Slam promotion at Denny's was cool.) But if military service isn't for you, here are eight other schools that offer tuition-free educations:

1. College of the Ozarks
Several schools share the "Linebacker U" and "Quarterback U" monikers in reference to the NFL talent that their college football programs produce, but the only "Hard Work U" is located in Point Lookout, Missouri. In 1973, a Wall Street Journal reporter bestowed that title on the College of the Ozarks, where students pay no tuition and work at least 15 hours a week at a campus work station. Jobs are taken seriously at the school of 1,400; students are graded on their work performance in addition to their academics.

History: In 1906, Presbyterian missionary James Forsythe helped open the School of the Ozarks to provide a Christian high school education to children in the Ozarks region, which spans parts of Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. The school added a two-year junior college 50 years later and completed its transition to a four-year college program in 1965. The school was renamed College of the Ozarks in 1990 and has established itself as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the Midwest.

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LEAP scores improve in New Orleans for third straight year

Sarah Carr:

New Orleans test scores jumped this year across most grade levels and school types, with both charter and traditional schools celebrating gains.

The boost in scores, the third consecutive year of improvement, helped narrow a still-sizable gap in student achievement between the city and the rest of Louisiana.

"In some cases, the gap is closing dramatically, " said Recovery School District Superintendent Paul Vallas.

Vallas' district includes 33 traditional and 33 charter schools. Overall, both types of schools saw some growth, although the charters still outperformed the noncharters, echoing last year's scores. The directly run RSD schools, however, must accept students enrolling throughout the year, while charters can cap their enrollment, giving them a more stable student population.

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June 9, 2009

Madison School Board OK's 1 More Year of Infinite Campus, with More Oversite

Monday evening's Madison School Board meeting included approval of another year of Infinite Campus along with (and this is quite important) a motion requiring that within six months, administration document use of IC and identify barriers to use where they exist, with the purpose of achieving 100% implementation by the end of 2012 or sooner.

Successful implementation of this student and parent information portal across all schools and teachers should be job one before any additional initiatives are attempted.

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The Examined Working Life

Lauren Mechling:

The Swiss essayist Alain de Botton has cultivated a following by unpacking the psychological and philosophical underpinnings of our everyday lives.

His 1997 breakout book "How Proust Can Change Your Life" imparted practical lessons to be found in Marcel Proust's classic "In Search of Lost Time."

He has also written books and hosted television programs on travel, love, and architecture. In his latest book, "The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work," he examines of the activity we spend most of our waking hours doing: our jobs.

To research this project, Mr. de Botton, who lives in London, shadowed members of various professions including an accountant, a rocket scientist, a cookie manufacturer, and an inventor. He answered our questions by email.

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Is AP for All a Formula for Failure

Jay Matthews:

I spend much time with aggressive Advanced Placement teachers. They tell me, quite often, that students must be stretched beyond their assumed capabilities. Whenever I try to pass on this advice, however, I become a target for ridicule and disbelief from readers.

Here comes more of that stuff. Newsweek unveils this week my annual rankings of America's Top High Schools, with a new twist that skeptics will find even less congenial.

The latest list, to appear on, will include about 1,500 schools that have reached a high standard of participation on college-level AP, International Baccalaureate or Cambridge tests. The bad news is they represent less than 6 percent of U.S. public high schools. The good news is that 73 percent of Washington area schools are on the list. The interesting news is that some of those schools have begun to require AP courses and tests for all students, even those who struggle in class.

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State law, attitudes slow charter school movement in Iowa

Staci Hupp:

The nation's 4,500 charter schools, free to bend tradition in the name of innovation, are credited with some of the biggest leaps in education reform.

Waiting lists are getting longer. Enrollment has doubled. President Barack Obama wants more of the taxpayer-supported alternative schools as a way to restore America's worldwide education standing.

But in Iowa, charter schools have drawn attention for what's missing. The movement never took off, despite a $4.2 million infusion of federal money and a special law.

Of 10 schools that opened in the past five years, two have dropped their charters. Eight schools are left. Some resemble their traditional public school counterparts, despite their license to break the mold.

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Falling flat-screen TVs a growing threat for kids

Alex Johnson:

Samara Brinkley dozed off just for a moment as she was watching cartoons on TV with her 4-year-old daughter.

Then "I heard the boom, and I woke up and I [saw] my child laying on the floor, and I [saw] a pool of blood coming out in the back of her head," said Brinkley, 26, of Jacksonville, Fla.

Dymounique Wilson, one of Brinkley's two daughters, died last Wednesday when the family's 27-inch television fell over on her.

Nearly 17,000 children were rushed to emergency rooms in 2007, the last year for which complete figures were available, after heavy or unstable furniture fell over on them, a new study reported this month. The study, published in the journal Clinical Pediatrics by researchers at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, found that the such injuries had risen 41 percent since 1990.

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History of US Children's Policy-1900 to present

Andrew Yarrow:

uring the last century--since the Progressive Era and the first White House Conference on Children in 1909--the federal government has vastly expanded its role in promoting the welfare of America's children and youth. While families remain the bulwark for successful child development, and states, localities, and a host of private entities provide services to infants, children, youth, and their families, the federal government has long supported and provided services ranging from health care to education and enforces a wide range of laws and regulations to protect and enhance the well-being and rights of Americans under age 21.3

This essay offers a brief survey of the development of federal policies affecting children and families from the early 20th century to the early 21st century. The focus is on federal legislation and important federal court decisions; state policy developments largely are excluded.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: After the Crisis: Macro Imbalance, Credibility and Reserve-Currency

Dr. André Lara Resende:

High rates of growth, based on the increase in consumption of the mature economies of first-world countries, cannot be sustained for a prolonged period. First-world countries have low or zero demographic growth, an inverted demographic pyramid and already very high standards of living. The maintenance of a high rate of consumption growth depends, both on the creation of new consumption needs and on the permanent expansion of credit to families with ever higher levels of debt. The rich central countries consume, financed by ever higher levels of debt, in order to satisfy ever more artificial needs, with products made in China, which controls its labor costs and buys raw materials from emerging countries. No need of a profound analysis to conclude that in the long run this model is unsustainable.

There are two currents of interpretation of the present crisis. The first emphasizes a deficiency of the regulatory framework. It argues that it was such deficiency that ultimately led to the excess of leverage in the financial system. The explosion of ingenuity that followed the development of contingent contracts, the so called "derivatives", and the securitization of credits transformed the financial system from a relationship oriented system into a market transaction oriented system. It should have been more and better regulated in order to avoid the resulting excesses. The second current emphasizes the presence of large international macroeconomic imbalances. Obviously both interpretations are at least partially correct, but they are above all complementary. The macroeconomic imbalance would not have been so deep and persistent without the extraordinary development of the financial market. Indebtedness and leverage would not have reached such extremes in the world without the international macroeconomic imbalance. To accept that both interpretations are complementary does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that to redesign the regulatory framework is as important as to find a way to reverse the international macroeconomic imbalance. If promoted in a hurry and under the emotional impact provoked by the need to inject public money to limit the damage of recent excesses, a new regulatory framework carries the risk of being too repressive, geared to avoid errors of the past and not necessarily able to cope with the challenges of the future. It is easier to restrict and to prohibit than to adapt the regulatory framework to the impending challenges.[2] The design of a new financial regulatory framework, as important as it is, at this present moment, would not be able either to unlock the financial system, or to help the recovery of the world economy. The central question today is how to give a new dynamism to the world economy based on factors different from those that lead to the imbalances or the last decades. Which would be the institutional framework capable to guarantee a sustainable dynamism to the world economy without resuming and deepening the imbalances of the last decade?

Related: Top Chinese banker calls for US to issue Yuan debt instruments.

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School Spotlight: Decorated student bassoonist stands out in Mount Horeb

Pamela Cotant:

When David Richards tried out instruments during sixth-grade orientation, he was drawn to the bassoon because it was one of the pieces from which he could coax a sound.

He wound up playing the woodwind instrument as a student in Austin, Texas. Now a senior at Mount Horeb High School, Richards is an accomplished musician in a district known for its music.

"The bassoon requires constant vigilance to play cleanly, as David does," said John Widdicombe, who plays bass with the Piper Road Spring Band and whose daughter played with Richards in high school. "One really must hear David play to appreciate the gentle voice he offers through his instrument."

Richards has performed in Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras since eighth grade and started playing in Winds of Wisconsin as a sophomore and the experiences have propelled his interest in the bassoon.

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June 8, 2009

Extensive Cheating found at an Ohio High School

Andrew Welsh-Huggins:

An Ohio school district says it uncovered a cheating scheme so pervasive that it had to cancel graduation ceremonies for its 60 seniors -- but will still mail their diplomas.

A senior at Centerburg High School accessed teachers' computers, found tests, printed them and distributed them to classmates, administrators said.

Graduation was canceled because so many seniors either cheated or knew about the cheating but failed to report it, said officials of the Centerburg School District.

Superintendent Dorothy Holden said the district had to take a stand and let students know that cheating can't be tolerated.

"I am alarmed that our kids can think that in society it's OK to cheat, it's a big prank, it's OK to turn away and not be a whistle-blower, not come forth," Holden said.

Related: Cringely on Cyber Warfare.

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Strong correlation found between school rankings and parental education

Deanie Wimmer:

State education leaders have come up with their own analysis in response to our KSL Schools high school rankings. In April, KSL unveiled a comprehensive database on Utah high schools. The state's findings pertain to every parent.

Our KSL Schools research project ranked the top Utah high schools as Park City, Davis, Skyline, Viewmont, Lone Peak and Timpview. State Education leaders compared our rankings to census data showing communities ranked with the percentage of adults who have college degrees.

Superintendent Larry Shumway said, "I thought there would be some correlation, but what I was surprised to see was almost perfect correlation."

The State Office of Education found Park City had the most college educated adults, with 52 percent. The communities that follow virtually mirror our list.

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Male lecturers pass the test

Siu Sai-wo:

City University president Way Kuo came from a science background, but has a keen interest in educational work. When he was in the United States, he spent a lot of time on educational research despite his busy school administrative duties.

Professor Kuo recently published Clarifying Some Myths of Teaching and Research (Clusty), which he jointly penned with education psychologist Mark E Troy, detailing the results of a study on 10,000 students and 400 teachers.

The study explores the relationship between research work and quality of teaching, and explodes - or confirms - certain myths within education circles, as the book title suggests.

Kuo was invited by the Hong Kong University Graduates Association to give a speech on his new book, and many interesting education- related issues were raised during the talk.

One of the questions concerned whether scholars who engage in research work perform worse in teaching, and whether class size affects teaching performance.

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Five Ways to Fix America's Schools

Harold Levy:

AMERICAN education was once the best in the world. But today, our private and public universities are losing their competitive edge to foreign institutions, they are losing the advertising wars to for-profit colleges and they are losing control over their own admissions because of an ill-conceived ranking system. With the recession causing big state budget cuts, the situation in higher education has turned critical. Here are a few radical ideas to improve matters.

Raise the age of compulsory education. Twenty-six states require children to attend school until age 16, the rest until 17 or 18, but we should ensure that all children stay in school until age 19. Simply completing high school no longer provides students with an education sufficient for them to compete in the 21st-century economy. So every child should receive a year of post-secondary education.

The benefits of an extra year of schooling are beyond question: high school graduates can earn more than dropouts, have better health, more stable lives and a longer life expectancy. College graduates do even better. Just as we are moving toward a longer school day (where is it written that learning should end at 3 p.m.?) and a longer school year (does anyone really believe pupils need a three-month summer vacation?), so we should move to a longer school career.

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Coaches struggle to find balance between work and family

Tom Wyrich:

Keith Hennig has a 3-year-old boy named Trevor and a 1-year-old named Brady. He wants to watch them grow up. Not in the brief moments between school and basketball practice. Not in the late-night hours when he would get home from a game or an open gym.

"I hate it during the winter season because I leave when it's dark out, and when I come home it's dark out," Hennig says. "It's almost depressing."

Long before he led the Kentwood High girls basketball team to the state championship in March, Hennig, only 32, had decided that it would be his last season. But Hennig discovered that, as with any addiction, it's one thing to decide to quit. It's quite another to go through with it.

For two weeks after the championship game, he walked past the state championship trophy every day and saw his girls in the halls at Kentwood, where he is a history teacher. He remembered all those moments that made the late nights and early mornings worth it. He was going through withdrawal.

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Steamboat Springs School Board Settles Open Meeting Lawsuit with Newspaper

Jack Weinstein:

The Steamboat Springs School Board formally accepted a lawsuit settlement offer from the Pilot & Today on Monday.

The settlement was tentatively approved by board members last month on the heels of a March ruling by the Colorado Court of Appeals that the previous School Board violated the state's Open Meetings Law by not properly announcing the intention of its executive session at a Jan. 8, 2007, meeting. As a result of the ruling and settlement offer, the district will pay $50,000 of the newspaper's attorney fees and release the transcripts from the illegal meeting.

The motion to accept the settlement offer was approved 4-1 on Monday, with a couple of board members expressing satisfaction that the lawsuit is now behind them. Board member John DeVincentis was the only dissenting vote, but he wasn't the only one displeased with the outcome.

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June 7, 2009

The 2009 HUES Row of Excellence

The Capital City HUES is proud to present the fourth annual HUES Row of Excellence. This honor is bestowed on seniors of color graduating with a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or above.


Congratulations to these fine young scholars!!! We wish you well as you follow your dreams.

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Peanut Butter Politics & The Widget Effect

Jonathan Alter:

"education is the dullest of subjects," Jacques Barzun wrote in the very first sentence of his astonishingly fresh 1945 classic, Teacher in America. Barzun de- spised the idea of "professional educators" who focus on "methods" instead of subject matter. He loved teachers, but knew they "are born, not made," and that most teachers' colleges teach the wrong stuff.

Cut to 2009, when Barack Obama thinks education is the most exciting of subjects. Even so, Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, get Barzun. They understand that the key to fixing education is better teaching, and the key to better teaching is figuring out who can teach and who can't.

Just as Obama has leverage over the auto industry to impose tough fuel--economy standards, he now has at least some leverage over the education industry to impose teacher-effectiveness standards. The question is whether he will be able to use it, or will he get swallowed by what's known as the Blob, the collection of educrats and politicians who claim to support reform but remain fiercely committed to the status quo.

Teacher effectiveness-say it three times. Last week a group called the New Teacher Project released a report titled "The Widget Effect" that argues that teachers are viewed as indistinguishable widgets-states and districts are "indifferent to variations in teacher performance"-and notes that more than 99 percent of teachers are rated satisfactory. The whole country is like Garrison Keillor's Lake Woebegon, except all the teachers are above average, too.

Related: teacher hiring criteria in Madison.

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The Numbers Guy: Statistics Used and Abused

Carl Bialik via a kind reader's email:

Even when stats are reliable, they may not tell the whole picture. Aldritt pointed to the example of testing results, which may indicate more about success in teaching to a test than in overall education.

The irony of the poor survey results is that, at least according to Mr. Aldritt and independent statisticians, U.K. stats are generally reliable. He says the main problem comes in the beginning and end of the process -- "deciding which statistics should be published, and explaining how they should be used."

However, the authority will have to reserve judgment until it begins issuing its assessments, in the next month or so. And recent statistical snafus elsewhere illustrate that getting the basic numbers right isn't always easy. A government audit of South Korean statistics found that farms with thousands of chickens were reported as lacking the birds, and that unclaimed dead bodies weren't being included in death counts. A spokesman for the National Statistics Office said the office is gathering relevant documents to determine how to punish those at fault.

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US Federal Government Stimulus / Splurge Funds and Wisconsin School District Budgets

Jason Stein:

The possible cuts come on top of other proposed changes to school finance, including ending an effective 3.8 percent cap on teacher pay and benefits in July 2010.

"I think you can argue that this is the worst state budget for public schools in a generation," said Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, who said a few districts may have to consider closing.

UW-Madison economist Andy Reschovsky said the Madison School District could see a net cut in aid of $4.1 million, or 4.6 percent, possibly forcing program cuts, teacher layoffs and big increases in property taxes. His analysis, which is less precise when looking at any single district, suggests the falling aid could set up Madison schools to raise property taxes by up to 7 percent.

Stimulus math

Over the next two years, the state would cut direct aid to schools by nearly $300 million under a budget proposal that still must be approved by the Assembly and Senate and signed by Doyle. Over that period, the federal government is expected to pump $350 million in stimulus money directly into schools through two main streams. The money would mainly have to be used to help poor and special education students.

Doyle's budget director, Dave Schmiedicke, noted the budget uses some additional stimulus money and $55 million in state money not included in Reschovsky's analysis to offset part of the increase in property taxes.

Related: Wisconsin K-12 Tax and Spending Growth: 1988-2007

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Research suggests children can recover from autism

Lindsey Tanner:

Leo Lytel was diagnosed with autism as a toddler. But by age 9 he had overcome the disorder.

His progress is part of a growing body of research that suggests at least 10 percent of children with autism can "recover" from it -- most of them after undergoing years of intensive behavioral therapy.

Skeptics question the phenomenon, but University of Connecticut psychology professor Deborah Fein is among those convinced it's real.

She presented research this week at an autism conference in Chicago that included 20 children who, according to rigorous analysis, got a correct diagnosis but years later were no longer considered autistic.

Among them was Leo, a boy in Washington, D.C., who once made no eye contact, who echoed words said to him and often spun around in circles -- all classic autism symptoms. Now he is an articulate, social third-grader. His mother, Jayne Lytel, says his teachers call Leo a leader.

The study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, involves children ages 9 to 18.

Autism researcher Geraldine Dawson, chief science officer of the advocacy group Autism Speaks, called Fein's research a breakthrough.

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Illinois joins school march toward national standards, test

Tara Malone:

Illinois has joined a growing list of states that favor common learning guidelines for math and English, a movement that could lead to national testing and what supporters say is a better way for teachers and parents to gauge whether students are improving and measuring up on a nationwide level.

With a deadline for signing onto the idea Wednesday, officials hope to move quickly and have set December as a target for mapping out grade-by-grade standards from kindergarten through senior year.

The initiative would represent a dramatic departure from the past, by ending the current patchwork of state-set expectations and exams that vary widely in rigor. It also could save millions of dollars in redundant tests at a time when governments are struggling with budget deficits.

Backers believe that the groundswell of state support -- together with the endorsement of Education Secretary Arne Duncan and a promise of stimulus funds to bankroll the project -- may spell success where past efforts have failed.

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June 6, 2009

Students taking advanced placement have tripled in Duval County, but more fail

Topher Sanders, Mary Kelli Palka:

Briana Hudson, a senior at Wolfson High School, took her first Advanced Placement class two years ago and received a B.

She was happy with the boost to her grade-point average. She was excited by the chance to receive college credit by passing the national AP exam. She thought her class had prepared her for it, which was the point.

Except it didn't. She didn't pass.

"But if I'm getting B's in the class, and I'm doing all the work and turning everything in and I answer questions and you say that they're right," Hudson, 18, said, "... it's just kind of like everything that I did was basically a lie."

Hudson is one of thousands of Duval County Public Schools students who passed AP classes in the past two years but failed to pass the related AP exams, a Times-Union review has shown.

Duval students passed 80 percent of their AP courses last year with a "C" or better. But only 23 percent of the national AP exams, taken near the end of those courses, were passed.

The national exam pass rate for public schools was 56 percent.

The disparity widens depending on the school: Students in the district's four "A" high schools, whose students are largely white, passed 85 percent of their AP courses and 42 percent of their exams. In the four "F" schools, whose students are largely black or from lower income families, 74 percent of the courses were passed - and only 6 percent of the exams were.

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'Getting to Yes' Skills Useful at Home Too

Rivers & Barnett:

Though women still do more of the housework and child care, the so-called second shift scenario--in which working women are stuck doing all the work at home too--is less widespread than a decade or so ago.

The fact that men can do the grunt work at home doesn't mean that they will "naturally" do it though--usually the wife has to exert some leverage. Sometimes that leverage is her earnings; other times it's her ability to negotiate.

Unfortunately, the fear that abounds now is that the punishing economic climate may eviscerate a positive trend of more decision making by women.

Women Are Often the Deciders

The Pew Research Center conducted a study in 2008 of 1,260 people who were married or living together as couples and found striking equality in decision making in finances, weekend activities and big-ticket purchases.

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June 5, 2009

It's Not About You

3 June 2009 
Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review

Although many high school students do realize it, they all should be helped to understand that their education is not all about them, their feelings, their life experiences, their original ideas, their hopes, their goals, their friends, and so on.

While it is clear that Chemistry, Physics, Chinese, and Calculus are not about them, when it comes to history and literature, the line is more blurred. And as long as many writing contests and college admissions officers want to hear more about their personal lives, too many students will make the mistake of assuming the most important things for them to learn and talk about in their youth are "Me, Myself, and Me."

Promoters of Young Adult Fiction seem to want to persuade our students that the books they should read, if not directly about their own lives, are at least about the lives of people their own age, with problems and preoccupations like theirs. Why should they read War and Peace or Middlemarch or Pride and Prejudice when they have never been to Russia or England? Why should they read Battle Cry of Freedom when the American Civil War probably happened years before they were even born? Why should they read Miracle at Philadelphia when there is no love interest, or The Path Between the Seas when they are probably not that interested in construction projects at the moment?

Almost universally, college admissions officers ask not to see an applicant's most serious Extended Essay or history research paper, to give an indication of their academic prowess, but rather they want to read a "personal essay" about the applicant's home and personal life (in 500 words or less). 

Teen Magazines like Teen Voices and Teen People also celebrate Teen Life in a sadly solipsistic way, as though teens could hardly be expected to take an interest in the world around them, and its history, even though before too long they will be responsible for it.

Even the most Senior gifted program in the United States, the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, which finds some of the most academically promising young people we have, and offers them challenging programs in Physics, Math, and the like, when it comes to writing, it asks them to compose "Creative Nonfiction" about the events and emotions of their daily lives, if you can believe that.

The saddest thing, to me, is that I know young people really do want to grow up, and to learn a lot about their inheritance and the world around them, and they do look forward to developing the competence to allow them to shoulder the work of the world and give it their best effort. 

So why do we insist on infantilizing them with this incessant effort to turn their interests back in on themselves? Partly the cause is the enormous, multi-billion-dollar Teen market, which requires them to stay focused on themselves, their looks, their gear, their friends and their little shrunken community of Teen Life. If teens were encouraged to pursue their natural desires to grow up, what would happen to the Teen Market? Disaster.

In addition, too many teachers are afraid to help their students confront the pressure to be self-involved, and to allow them to face the challenges of preparing for the adult world. Some teachers, themselves, are more comfortable in the Teen World than they think they would be "out there" in the Adult World, and that inclines them to blunt the challenges they could offer to their students, most of whom will indeed seek an opportunity to venture into that out-of-school world themselves. 

We all tend to try to influence those we teach to be like us, and if we are careful students and diligent thinkers as teachers, that is not all bad. But we surely should neither want nor expect all our students to become schoolteachers working with young people. We should keep that in mind and be willing to encourage our students to engage with the "Best that has been said and thought," to help them prepare themselves for the adulthood they will very soon achieve.

For those who love students, it is always hard to see them walk out the door at the end of the school year, and also hard when they don't even say goodbye. But we must remember that for them, they are not leaving us, so much as arriving eagerly into the world beyond the classroom, and while we have them with us, we should keep that goal of theirs in mind, and refuse to join with those who, for whatever reason, want to keep our young people immature, and thinking mostly about themselves, for as long as possible.

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

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A Day With Autism


We spend some time with a family whose little boy is newly diagnosed.

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June 4, 2009

Madison School Board Infinite Campus Discussion

Watch the discussion here. I've not had a chance to watch or listen to this yet, but I plan to. Much more on Infinite Campus here.

Via a kind reader's email.

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Online classes can save schools money, expand learning time for K-12 students

University of Florida News:, via a kind reader's email:

New research at the University of Florida predicts more public school students in kindergarten through 12th grade will take classes online, have longer school days and more of them in the next decade. Academic performance should improve and schools could save money.

While distance education over the Internet is already widespread at colleges and universities, UF educational technology researchers are offering some of the first hard evidence documenting the potential cost-savings of virtual schooling in K-12 schools.
"Policymakers and educators have proposed expanding learning time in elementary through high school grades as a way to improve students' academic performance, but online coursework hasn't been on their radar. This should change as we make school and school district leaders more aware of the potential cost savings that virtual schooling offers," said Catherine Cavanaugh, associate professor at the University of Florida's College of Education. "Over the next decade, we expect an explosion in the use of virtual schooling as a seamless synthesis between the traditional classroom and online learning."

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Leaving "No Child Left Behind" does not depend on more teachers or more money, but selfless children

via email:

It's time to move away from "differentiated curriculum" which is really segregated learning, to student-centered cooperative education.

It's time to embrace what the children have to teach our world: their cooperative, creative, and compassionate spirit.

It's a shame we continue to spend more money to prevent children from sharing learning and ideas with each other and our world.

Us adults would stand to learn much on how to alleviate economic woes, if we cooperated with the regenerative spirit that children keep trying to impart in our world.

I've been a sub for a while in this district that continues to bow down to parents who care only about self-serving educational models while exploiting resources, schools, and our community.

Since I've resolved that I probably will never be hired as a full-time teacher, I've written a book recently published called The Power of Paper Planes: Co-Piloting with Children to New Horizons.

Dave Askuvich,

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June 3, 2009

How the Web and the Weblog have changed Writing

Phillip Greenspun:

Publishing from Gutenberg (1455) through 1990
  1. The pre-1990 commercial publishing world supported two lengths of manuscript:
    the five-page magazine article, serving as filler among the ads
  2. the book, with a minimum of 200 pages
Suppose that an idea merited 20 pages, no more and no less? A handful of long-copy magazines, such as the old New Yorker would print 20-page essays, but an author who wished his or her work to be distributed would generally be forced to cut it down to a meaningless 5-page magazine piece or add 180 pages of filler until it reached the minimum size to fit into the book distribution system.

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Mesquite schools' proposal would let students score days off for passing TAKS, classes

Karel Holloway:

Some Mesquite high school students could skip the last week of school next year while others get intensive academic help under a program that could be approved tonight.

Students who pass the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills and their classes would attend class for fewer days, essentially earning extra days of summer vacation.

High school students who haven't passed both would attend the full year and receive intensive help while the other students are off. Those still behind after the end of the school year would go to summer school.

"It just seems like a great opportunity to work with a smaller number of students who may have some more intensive needs," said Jeannie Stone, a district administrator who has been investigating the program.

The school board is expected to adopt the plan, known as the optional flexible year program, at its regular meeting. If approved, Mesquite would be one of the larger districts in the state to use the program

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Family Life a Complex Affair for Immigrants

Maria Sacchetti:

Roughly four million American-born children have at least one parent who is in this country illegally, and life for these immigrant families can be complex. Immigration status determines who can work and drive a car, as well as who can leave the country to rush to a dying relative's bedside. The situation is at the heart of the debate over immigration reform. Advocates are pushing for a way to keep families together; opponents say people should not be rewarded for sneaking across borders.

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In digital age, interest in traditional yearbooks wanes

Jessica Meyers:

Karl Lorin and Marisa Lander stood at the edge of Liberty High School's cafeteria in Frisco oblivious to the lunchtime circus surrounding them. Transfixed, they swept hands across glossy pages and flipped through an index in search of their names.

Then they snapped the book shut and handed it back to the classmates distributing them. Neither had bought one.

The nostalgia of this decades-old relic hasn't faded completely from the Frisco school, but the students' actions represent a growing detachment with the hardbound encapsulation of geeky high school moments.

The traditional yearbook is no more.

Liberty High, which pre-sold yearbooks for $60 each to about half its student body, is at the top of the heap. South Oak Cliff High School sold only a handful to its underclassmen.

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June 2, 2009

2008-2009 Madison West High School ReaLGrant Initiave update

57K PDF, via a kind reader's email:

The School Improvement Committee has spent this year investigating academic support models in other schools to begin to develop an effective model for West High School. The committee visited Memorial High School, Evanston High School, Wheeling High School, and New Trier High School, in IL. Some of the common themes that were discovered, especially in the Illinois schools, were as follows:
  • Many schools have an identified academic team who intervene with struggling students. These teams of support people have clearly defined roles and responsibilities. The students are regularly monitored, they develop both short and long term goals and the students develop meaningful relationships with an adult in the building. The academic support team has regular communication with teaching staff and makes recommendations for student support.
  • There are mandatory study tables in each academic content areas where students are directed to go if they are receiving a D or F in any given course.
  • Students who are skill deficient are identified in 8th grade and are provided with a summer program designed to prepare them for high school, enhanced English and Math instruction in 9th grade, and creative scheduling that allows for students to catch up to grade level.
  • Some schools have a family liaison person who is able to make meaningful connections in the community and with parents. After school homework centers are thriving.
  • Social privileges are used as incentives for students to keep their grades up.
Recommendations from the SIP Committee
  • Design more creative use of academic support allocation to better meet the needs of struggling students.
  • Create an intervention team with specific role definition for each team member.
  • Design and implement an after school homework center that will be available for all students, not just those struggling academically.
  • Design and implement student centers and tables that meet specific academic and time needs (after school, lunch, etc.)
  • Identify a key staff person to serve in a specialized family liaison role.
  • Develop a clear intervention scaffold that is easy for staff to interpret and use.
  • Design and implement enhanced Math and English interventions for skill deficient students.
Related topics:

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Tough Times, Tough Choices

Carol Anne Walker:

"There still appears to be a constant flow of expats being relocated to Budapest compared to last year," says Lena Sarnblom, relocation coordinator for Move One Relocations. "But April and May have also been busy with departure services and we have been informed that this will continue to rise."

Ingrid Lamblin, branch manager at AGS Budapest Worldwide Movers, confirms that AGS is also seeing an increase in expatriate departures, and she says that "incoming expatriates are more often single people with less belongings, or couples without children, or whose children are already grown."

But János Prihoda, general manager of Inter Relocation Group, says that while he thinks it likely that there will be a decrease in expatriates in manufacturing industries, such as telecommunications and the automotive industry, he has in fact seen an increase in expatriates coming in to work for financial organisations and as consultants.

"Our main clients come from the service centre market," he says, "and despite the economic situation, the number of expats have grown rather then decreased."

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iPhones May Help Japanese University Catch Absent Students

Erica Hendry:

The days of skipping class for students at one Japanese university are over.

At least that's the hope of administrators at Aoyama Gakuin University, in Tokyo, whose School of Social Informatics will give Apple's iPhone 3G to 550 of its students as a way to track attendance with the phone's global-positioning system.

Attendance is an important graduation requirement at the university, the Associated Press reported, and in the past, students would fake attendance by asking friends to answer attendance roll calls or hand in signed attendance sheets with their signatures.

In the new system, students will be required to enter their ID number into an iPhone application at the beginning of class. The phone will pinpoint the students' location when they do, to ensure they are actually on campus.

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The Strengths of Poor Families

Sherylls Valladares and Kristin Anderson Moore:

In the minds of many people, poor families equal problem families. Indeed, that perception is not surprising, giving compelling evidence of the harsh effects that poverty can have on family life and child well-being. However, far less attention has been paid to the strengths that many poor families have and the characteristics that they may share with more affluent families. This Research Brief
examines these issues.

To explore the similarities and contrasts between poor and non-poor families, Child Trends analyzed data for more than 100,000 families from the 2003 National Survey of Children's Health (NSCH). Our results suggest that, although poor families experience socioeconomic disadvantages, these families may be enriched by the strengths found in their family routines and relationships. Specifically, we found that poor families are at a disadvantage when it comes to receiving services and benefits and are more likely to express concerns about their neighborhoods. On the other hand, we found that poor families do not differ from more affluent families in many ways, such as in the closeness of their relationships and the frequency of outings together or attending religious services.
Also, while parents in poor households express concerns about neighborhood safety in general, they are just as likely to report feeling that their child is safe at home or at school as are parents who are better off. Moreover, we found that families in poverty are somewhat more likely to eat meals together.

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iPhone applications can help the autistic

Greg Toppo:

Leslie Clark and her husband have been trying to communicate with their autistic 7-year-old son, JW, for years, but until last month, the closest they got was rudimentary sign language.
He's "a little bit of a mini-genius," Clark says, but like many autistic children, JW doesn't speak at all.

Desperate to communicate with him, she considered buying a specialized device like the ones at his elementary school in Lincoln, Neb. But the text-to-speech machines are huge, heavy and expensive; a few go for $8,000 to $10,000.

Then a teacher told her about a new application that a researcher had developed for, of all things, the iPhone and iPod Touch. Clark drove to the local Best Buy and picked up a Touch, then downloaded the "app" from iTunes.

Total cost: about $500.

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Valedictorian Knows What Future Holds

Clyde Haberman:

Thursday was graduation day for Cathy Watkins. She received a bachelor's degree in sociology from Marymount Manhattan College.

Ms. Watkins did so well in her courses that she was named the class speaker. She set her speech on the lectern and put on her reading glasses. At 41 -- a grandmother of three, no less -- she was not the standard age for a graduate.

Much of what she said would sound familiar to anyone who ever sat through a commencement ceremony. "One person can make a difference," she told her fellow students. "Let that difference start with you." Afterward, she joined her classmates and visiting relatives for lunch.

And then Ms. Watkins returned to her normal life, locked up behind the walls and concertina wire of the maximum-security state prison for women in this Westchester suburb of New York City.

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After-School Grows Up: Helping Teens Prepare for the Future

Alicia Wilson-Ahlstrom, Nicole Yohalem and Sam Piha:

From all corners of the country, concerns are growing among parents, educators, policy makers, employers, and students themselves, that a large number of teens are not engaged in their education, not on track to graduate from high school and/or not prepared to successfully transition into post-secondary education or the workforce.

These various stakeholders come at this concern from different perspectives but tend to agree on a definition of success, one that extends well beyond high school graduation. In short, young people need to be ready for college, work and life.1 Getting there requires a range of supports:

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New data - same staffing inequities at high-poverty Philadelphia schools

Paul Socolar & Ruth Curran Neild:

Despite efforts to more equitably distribute teachers, School District data obtained by the Notebook this spring show that schools with the highest concentration of poverty still have the most teacher turnover and the lowest percentages of highly qualified and experienced teachers.

Differences are most striking at middle schools and high schools. For instance, at high schools where more than 85 percent of the students live below the poverty line, nearly one in three teachers is not highly qualified and one in five has two or fewer years of experience. In the highest-poverty middle schools, nearly one in three teachers has two years or less of experience.

The same pattern is true for teacher retention and turnover - higher rates of poverty correlate with higher rates of turnover. Again, the differences are most striking in middle schools. Many schools lose 30 to 40 percent of their teachers or more each year.

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The School Aid Stand

Scott Jagow:

When states and counties cut their budgets, school districts usually lose funding. And of course, that's happening across the country right now. I'm sure there's plenty of screaming at school board and PTA meetings, but some schools and communities are focusing their energy in a different way. They're raising the money themselves.

Case in point: Coralwood School in Decatur, Georgia. Coralwood is a cool school for several reasons. It's the only public school in Georgia dedicated to special needs children 3-6 years old. The kids with special needs learn in classrooms together with other children.

Plus, Coralwood has its own foundation with a Director of Development whose full-time job is to raise money for the school from the community. That's pretty unusual. Most schools or districts rely on parent volunteers to do fundraising. Even the most dedicated parents don't have time to do the job properly.

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June 1, 2009

Alternative Teacher Certification Works

UW-Madison professors Peter Hewson and Eric Knuth took up a valid cause in their May 15 guest column when they voiced concerns about having under-prepared teachers in Wisconsin classrooms.

But they're off base in implying that alternative certification programs such as the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence, proposed in SB 175, will mean more students won't have effective teachers.

Research has shown otherwise.

A recent study in "Education Next" showed states with genuine alternative certification programs see higher test scores and more minority teachers. A Brookings Institute study from 2006 showed that teachers who have come through colleges of education are no more effective than teachers who come through an alternative certification program or no certification program at all.

In addition, ABCTE's rigorous teacher preparation program includes nearly 200 hours of workshops on topics such as pedagogy and classroom assessment. Our exams are difficult, with only 40 percent of candidates passing on the first try. As a result, our teacher retention rate is 85 percent after three years, compared to less than 65 percent for traditional certification routes.

I understand Hewson and Knuth's motivation for suggesting that an alternative to traditional certification may not produce great teachers. That philosophy is good for their employer, but not -- as research has shown -- any better for students.

/-- David Saba, president, ABCTE, Washington, D.C./

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The End of Over-Parenting

Lisa Belkin:

Perhaps you know it by its other names: helicoptering, smothering mothering, alpha parenting, child-centered parenting. Or maybe there's a description you've coined on your own but kept to yourself: Overly enmeshed parenting? Get-them-into-Harvard-or-bust parenting? My-own-mother-never-breast-fed-me-so-I-am-never-going-to-let-my-kid-out-of-my-sight parenting?

There are, similarly, any number of theories as to why 21st-century mothers and fathers feel compelled to micromanage their offspring: these are enlightened parents, sacrificing their own needs to give their children every emotional, intellectual and material advantage; or floundering parents, trying their best to navigate a changing world; or narcissistic parents, who see their children as both the center of the universe and an extension of themselves.

But whatever you call it, and however it began, its days may be numbered. It seems as though the newest wave of mothers is saying no to prenatal Beethoven appreciation classes, homework tutors in kindergarten, or moving to a town near their child's college campus so the darling can more easily have home-cooked meals. (O.K., O.K., many were already saying no, but now they're doing so without the feeling that a good parent would say yes.) Over coffee and out in cyberspace they are gleefully labeling themselves "bad mommies," pouring out their doubts, their dissatisfaction and their dysfunction, celebrating their own shortcomings in contrast to their older sisters' cloying perfection.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:23 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

A Mathematician's Lament

Sara Bennett:

One of the most eye-opening pieces of writing I've ever read is A Mathematician's Lament" How School Cheats Us Out of Our Most Fascinating and Imaginative Art Form by Paul Lockhart. I've known Paul since our sons met when they were about eight years old, and I was so happy to hear that his essay (called a "gorgeous essay" by the Los Angeles Times) was printed in paperback form. This book belongs on everyone's bookshelf.

Here's how it begins:

A musician wakes from a terrible nightmare. In his dream he finds himself in a society where music education has been made mandatory. "We are helping our students become more competitive in an increasingly sound-filled world." Educators, school systems, and the state are put in charge of this vital project. Studies are commissioned, committees are formed, and decisions are made--all without the advice or participation of a single working musician or composer.

Since musicians are known to set down their ideas in the form of sheet music, these curious black dots and lines must constitute the "language of music." It is imperative that students become fluent in this language if they are to attain any degree of musical competence; indeed, it would be ludicrous to expect a child to sing a song or play an instrument without having a thorough grounding in music notation and theory. Playing and listening to music, let alone composing an original piece, are considered very advanced topics and are generally put off until college, and more often graduate school.

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

Duncan: States Could Lose Stimulus Dollars if they Fail to Embrace Charters

Libby Quaid:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan says states will hurt their chance to compete for millions of federal stimulus dollars if they fail to embrace innovations like charter schools.

Duncan was responding to a question about Tennessee, where Democratic state lawmakers have blocked an effort to let more kids into charter schools. President Barack Obama wants to expand the number of charter schools.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:03 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Schooling Does Not Work For Us

Alison Smith:

While the debate continues about school systems and which type of school works best, thousands of children and families decide that no school provides what they want.

Special needs, bullying, philosophical views or dissatisfaction with a particular school offered are all typical reasons behind home education.

Parents and children talk about why they have chosen this option - or a combination of home and school - for the education they find most appropriate.

Jamie McDonald's mother June founded a home education group in Bedford which was the first to obtain any form of state funding.

Six years ago, her group decided to collaborate with a local secondary school to use the resources of school but keep the autonomy of home education.

The only condition of joining the group is that the children sit national exams.

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

Starting Over Sometimes Difficult For Moms


Mothers who fall victim to drug abuse, domestic violence, and other life altering circumstances are often vulnerable and need help starting over. Regular parenting contributor Jolene Ivey is joined by Malika Saada Saar and Imani Walker to discuss how families can find paths to stability and safety. Saar and Walker are co-founders of The Rebecca Project for Human Rights.

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

In tough times, graduates (and parents) assess the worth of a liberal arts education

Stacy Teicher Khadaroo:

As Nicole Marshall posed for photos on the eve of her commencement, someone joked, "Smile - think of all the loans you took out for this!" She says she chose St. Michael's, a Catholic liberal arts college near Lake Champlain in Colchester, Vt., because it offered the biggest aid package, "but I'm still leaving with quite a bit of loans" - about $20,000.

Her debt is a little lighter than the national average for graduates of private, four-year schools who borrow: nearly $23,800 as of 2007, according to the College Board in New York.

But if there's any time that students and parents can take such costs in stride, it's during the heady rush of commencement, when the campus is fragrant with fresh blossoms and abundant hope. For added inspiration to help them focus on the value of learning, these families heard a commencement speech Thursday from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

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

North Carolina's End of Grade Exams

Ann Doss Helms:

Test time begins today for Charlotte-Mecklenburg's elementary and middle school students. And as with almost everything else, the economy will make it more challenging.

North Carolina's end-of-grade exams are designed to gauge whether students in grades 3-8 have mastered reading and math. They influence whether students advance to middle or high school.

The tests themselves aren't getting harder. But with summer school options shrinking because of budget cuts, thousands of students who score below grade level must now keep trying to pass before the school year ends June 10.

In Mecklenburg and across the state, tight budgets are forcing cutbacks in summer school, which is usually an option for kids who need help getting ready for the next grade.

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