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July 31, 2009

Ineligible Players on Madison High School's Basketball Teams, Madison West High's Coach and Athletic Director is Out

Rob Schultz:

Last March, the Regents forfeited a WIAA tournament upset victory over Baraboo for using a player who had an unexcused absence prior to the game.

Hodge, 46, who was the boys basketball coach, athletic director and minority service coordinator at his alma mater, claimed West principal Ed Holmes and school district administrators used that instance to railroad him out of West. He said it was a retaliatory move for rebutting the district's stance during a controversial arbitration hearing in 2008.

"It had nothing to do with my coaching," said Hodge, who took the Regents to the WIAA state tournament twice, won six WIAA regional titles and two Big Eight Conference titles during his tenure. He had a 121-149 overall record.

"It was all about the theory of retaliating against me because I went public about how the district treats its employees if they have an issue."

Data provided to The Capital Times and Hodge from an anonymous source showed there were 82 unexcused absences logged by players from his team that went unpunished.

Madison East had 117 unexcused absences that would have forced the Purgolders to relinquish 15 victories and a regional title, while Madison La Follette had 73 unexcused absences and Madison Memorial 12, according to the source's data.

According to the data, Memorial -- which won the WIAA Division 1 state title -- had only one case of an ineligible player scoring in a game.

The source also has data that claimed that some of East's unexcused absences were changed to excused absences after Hodge lodged a complaint about all the schools' unexcused absences with the WIAA March 9.

Hodge gave the data he received before and after he lodged the complaint with the WIAA to John Matthews, the executive director of Madison Teachers, Inc. He said Matthews brought the data to the attention of MMSD superintendent Dan Nerad.

The district then investigated Hodge's assertions and recently sent its conclusions to the WIAA, according to the WIAA's Dave Anderson, "Their findings did not reveal substance to the allegations that were made," said Anderson, who will begin duties as the WIAA's executive director Monday.

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Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review

30 July 2009

Little Jack Horner sat in the corner
Eating his Christmas pie:
He stuck in his thumb, and pulled out a plum
And said, "What a good boy am I!"

I publish history research papers by secondary students from around the world, and from time to time I get a paper submitted which includes quite a bit more opinion than historical research.

The other day I got a call from a prospective teenage author saying he had noticed on my website that most of the papers seemed to be history rather than opinion, and was it alright for him to submit a paper with his opinions?

I said that opinions were fine, if they were preceded and supported by a good deal of historical research for the paper, and that seemed to satisfy him. I don't know if he will send in his paper or not, but I feel sure that like so many of our teenagers, he has received a good deal of support from his teachers for expressing his opinions, whether very well-informed or not.

From John Dewey forward, many Progressive educators seem to want our students to "step away from those school books, and no one gets hurt," as long as they go out and get involved in the community and come back to express themselves with plenty of opinions on all the major social issues of the world today.

This sort of know-nothing policy-making was much encouraged in the 1960s in the United States, among the American Red Guards at least. In China, there was more emphasis on direct action to destroy the "Four Olds" and beat up and kill doctors, professors, teachers, and anyone else with an education. Mao had already done their theorizing for them and all they had to do was the violence.

Over here, however, from the Port Huron Statement to many other Youth Manifestos, it was considered important for college students evading the draft to announce their views on society at some length. Many years after the fact, it is interesting to note, as Diana West wrote about their philosophical posturing in The Death of the Grown-Up:

"What was it all about? New Left leader Todd Gitlin found such questions perplexing as far back as the mid-1960s, when he was asked 'to write a statement of purpose for a New Republic series called 'Thoughts of Young Radicals.' In his 1978 memoir, The Sixties, Gitlin wrote: 'I agonized for weeks about what it was, in fact, I wanted.' This is a startling admission. Shouldn't he have thought about all this before? He continued: "The movement's all-purpose answer to 'What do you want?' and 'How do you intend to get it?' was: 'Build the movement.' By contrast, much of the counterculture's appeal was its earthy answer: 'We want to live like this, voila!'"

For those of the Paleo New Left who indulged in these essentially thoughtless protests, the Sixties are over, but for many students now in our social studies classrooms, their teachers still seem to want them to Stand Up on the Soapbox and be Counted, to voice their opinions on all sorts of matters about which they know almost nothing.

I have published research papers by high school students who have objected to eugenics, racism, China's actions in Tibet, gender discrimination, and more. But I believe in each case such opinions came at the end of a fairly serious history research paper full of information and history the student author had taken the trouble to learn.

When I get teenage papers advising Secretary Clinton on how to deal with North Korea, or Timothy Geitner and Ben Bernanke on how to help the U.S. economy correct itself, or telling the President what to do about energy, if these papers substitute opinion for research into these exceedingly complex and difficult problems, I tend not to publish them.

My preference is for students to "step away from that soapbox and no one gets hurt," that is, to encourage them, in their teen years, to read as many nonfiction books as they can, to learn how little they understand about the problems of the past and present, and to defer their pronouncements on easy solutions to them until they really know what they are talking about and have learned at least something about the mysterious workings of unintended consequences, just for a start.

Since 1987, I have published more than 860 exemplary history research papers by secondary students from 36 countries (see for examples), and I admire them for their work, but the ones I like best have had some well-earned modesty to go along with their serious scholarship.

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COCKSURE Banks, battles, and the psychology of overconfidence.

Malcolm Gladwell:

In 1996, an investor named Henry de Kwiatkowski sued Bear Stearns for negligence and breach of fiduciary duty. De Kwiatkowski had made--and then lost--hundreds of millions of dollars by betting on the direction of the dollar, and he blamed his bankers for his reversals. The district court ruled in de Kwiatkowski's favor, ultimately awarding him $164.5 million in damages. But Bear Stearns appealed--successfully--and in William D. Cohan's engrossing account of the fall of Bear Stearns, "House of Cards," the firm's former chairman and C.E.O. Jimmy Cayne tells the story of what happened on the day of the hearing:

Their lead lawyer turned out to be about a 300-pound fag from Long Island . . . a really irritating guy who had cross-examined me and tried to kick the shit out of me in the lower court trial. Now when we walk into the courtroom for the appeal, they're arguing another case and we have to wait until they're finished. And I stopped this guy. I had to take a piss. I went into the bathroom to take a piss and came back and sat down. Then I see my blood enemy stand up and he's going to the bathroom. So I wait till he passes and then I follow him in and it's just he and I in the bathroom. And I said to him, "Today you're going to get your ass kicked, big." He ran out of the room. He thought I might have wanted to start it right there and then.

At the time Cayne said this, Bear Stearns had spectacularly collapsed. The eighty-five-year-old investment bank, with its shiny new billion-dollar headquarters and its storied history, was swallowed whole by J. P. Morgan Chase. Cayne himself had lost close to a billion dollars. His reputation--forty years in the making--was in ruins, especially when it came out that, during Bear's final, critical months, he'd spent an inordinate amount of time on the golf course.

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In Defense of the Play Date

Emily Bazelon:

One of the most biting scenes in The Group, Mary McCarthy's acerbic sendup of female friendship and aspiration, takes place on a play date. Priss Crockett, the grind of the Vassar class of 1933 and now a doctor's wife, is walking through Central Park with her toddler Stephen. She runs into a fellow alum, Norine Schmittlapp, and her 3-month-old baby, Ichabod. "Aren't you afraid he'll be called 'Icky' in school?" Priss asks before barely resisting the urge to tell Norine to raise the hood of the baby's carriage, to shield his head from the sun.

The two women are off and running for an afternoon of sniping and clashing. Norine mentions letting Ichabod sleep in the bed with her at night. Priss can't believe she doesn't know that "under no circumstances, not even in a crowded slum home, should a baby be permitted to sleep with an adult." Stephen sees Ichabod sucking on a pacifier and reaches up to touch the unknown object. Priss snatches his hand away. Norine brings up toilet training, the source of Priss' most bitter shame, since Stephen is not performing properly. Norine's theory is that children should train themselves. "Where in the world did you get such ideas?" Priss asks. The women repair to Norine's apartment, where a butler whisks Stephen away. The butler later returns to whisper in Norine's ear. "Stephen shat," she casually reports, to Priss' humiliation, even as she lets Stephen's nursemaid clean up the mess.

In the last minutes in this strange apartment, Stephen plunges his hand into the neck of the nursemaid's dress, and Priss, desperate to distract him, gives him a piece of chocolate cake. Stephen, a chocolate virgin, doesn't now what to do with it. "Look! It's good," Priss tells him, chewing. McCarthy makes Stephen's corruption complete with this last line of the chapter: "Soon he was greedily eating chocolate cake, from a Jewish bakery, with fudge frosting."

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Free Program Allows Single Parents to Develop Confidence as They Train for a Career

Emma Brown:

Two years ago, Taishia Jenerette was holding down two jobs, caring for her 6-year-old daughter and struggling as a single mother with too little time and too many bills. Then a friend told her about an unusual Fairfax County program that provides low-income single parents with career counseling and professional certificate courses -- free.

"I would have never been able to go to school if not for the Education for Independence program," said Jenerette, 32, who quit her part-time job at Macy's to make time for night classes. "I had looked into it so many times, but I didn't have the money."

In a ceremony last week at the Fairfax County Government Center, Jenerette graduated with a medical assistant certificate that will help her qualify for a promotion, and a raise, at the Virginia Department of Rehabilitative Services, where she prepares disability cases for review. But more important than the certificate, Jenerette said, the program has given her confidence.

"I was so scared to go back to school because I didn't want to fail," said Jenerette, of Centreville. "I said if I can get through this two years, I can do anything."

That attitude is what Education for Independence is meant to engender, said Lorraine Obuchon, one of two career counselors who work with the program's approximately 120 participants.

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13 Schools In Washington, DC to Offer Specialty Programs

Bill Turque:

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, seeking to stanch declining enrollment and the exodus of students to the District's fast-growing charter schools, announced Tuesday that 13 public schools will launch plans for specialized programs in science and technology, arts and languages.

Theme-based schools are a widely employed educational idea, and the District has several specialty high schools, including Duke Ellington School of the Arts, McKinley Technology High School and School Without Walls.

What makes Rhee's proposal different is that the "catalyst schools" will remain neighborhood schools open to all eligible students without an application or other admissions requirements. Eaton Elementary, for example, will remain the school for its Northwest D.C. neighborhood but will also develop a Chinese language and culture program.

Rhee said D.C. families should not have to look far from home to find innovative school options for their children.

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A Message from Wisconsin State Senate President Fred Risser on the K-12 Budget, the QEO and Tax Redistributions

Fred Risser, via a kind reader's email:

July 30, 2009

Dear ________

Due to your interest in the public education, I am writing to update you on the outcome of the 2009 State Budget and how it will impact K-12 Education in Wisconsin.

Despite the financial difficulties that the state finds itself in, a number of programs in this budget will have a positive and lasting effect on public education.  The high point of the budget this year is the repeal of the Qualified Economic Offer (QEO). Since the QEO was passed, teacher pay has lost more than 7% to inflation and fallen even further behind in per capita income. Wisconsin has long prided itself in having a top-notch public education system, yet we have lost countless qualified educators over this law. The elimination of the QEO removes one obstacle toward ensuring that our children have access to the best educators possible.

Other items of note in this budget include additional funding for the expansion of Four-Year-Old Kindergarten programs; increases in aid for high-poverty districts; and additional grant funding to improve school safety efforts.

Unfortunately, the reduction in available state funding resulted in some cuts in school aids.  However, I was pleased that overall funding for public education was maintained at a reasonable level under current circumstances, ensuring that we are able to give Wisconsin students the best resources possible. Funding education is an investment in the future of Wisconsin.

Thank you for your continued support of public education in Wisconsin.  If I can ever be of assistance to you, please do not hesitate to contact my office.

Most sincerely,

Wisconsin State Senate

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"How can I help to get these kids a Lapdesk?

Maria Karaivanova:

"How can I help to get these kids a Lapdesk?" - I get this question all the time from my friends and classmates. And I want to have a good answer. An actionable, simple answer such as: "Go to our website, choose a school from the database and buy a Lapdesk for them."

So how can our company make this happen? One of my main goals this summer is to launch an online initiative and to develop a plan for scaling it up - creating a home for individual donors who will become "Lapdesk friends".

While our current website is functional and rich in information, I want to take it to the next level: to turn it into a dynamic communications platform connecting Lapdesk's partners, sponsors and beneficiaries. I want to enable individuals to donate Lapdesks to a school of their choice and to track our progress - all online.

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July 30, 2009

Oregon Symphony's outreach program falls silent

David Stabler, via a kind reader's email:

The drums have gone quiet. The gongs no longer shimmer. The bells go unchimed. The instruments that kids in small towns around Oregon used to hit, rub and scrape as part of the Oregon Symphony's award-winning outreach effort went quiet this summer.

Another victim of the economy.

The Roseburg-based Ford Family Foundation, the program's primary funder, suffered losses to its endowment and declined to continue paying the program's $150,000 annual cost, said Norm Smith, the foundation's president.

Since 2002, the Oregon Symphony has "adopted" a different town each two years: Klamath Falls, North Bend, Redmond, Baker City, Estacada, La Grande, Cove, Tillamook. The idea was to flood the zone with repeated trips by symphony musicians. Break into tactical units and invade the schools, fill community centers, start a jazz band, launch a string orchestra. Then go back the next year to water the seeds.

What made the program unusual was the effort to make music a lasting presence. Unlike in other outreach efforts, the orchestra didn't just show up, coach a few kids, play a concert and get back on the bus. The focus encouraged local teachers to design a music curriculum for years to come and involved arts groups in adding a concert series to bring performers to town, using Oregon Symphony staff for ideas and follow-up.

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Special Education Vouchers

Jay Greene:

In 1975, Congress passed legislation giving students with disabilities the right to an appropriate education at public expense. But having a right is only as good as your ability to enforce it. In New York City and elsewhere, public schools regularly delay and frustrate disabled students seeking appropriate services--everything from tutoring to speech therapy to treatment of severe disabilities--making their federally protected right all but meaningless. Rather than compelling families with disabled children to contend with obstinate public school systems, we should give them the option of purchasing the services they need for their children from a private provider. That is, we should give them special-ed vouchers--good for the same amount of money that we already spend on them in the public school system--that they could then use to pay for private school. Not only would this bring better services to disabled New York students; it could also save the public money.

Many parents of disabled students have a lot of trouble ensuring that public schools give their kids an appropriate education. The parents have to know what they're entitled to, and most do not. They must negotiate services from the local schools--but the schools are experienced in these negotiations, while the parents generally aren't, so the schools often get away with minimizing their responsibilities. And even if parents win at the negotiating table, getting the schools actually to deliver on their promises is enormously difficult.

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Education in Chicago: Why School Reform Won't Happen

Bill Sweetland:

At the end of my last blog, I said that in my next post I would show why so-called "school reform" has become another empty abstraction, a slogan for politicians. I said I would demonstrate why there is no chance that real school reform will ever happen in Chicago. Here are half a dozen reasons:

(1) For 50 years we -- the public, the critics of education, the education establishment itself -- have known that schooling is in deep trouble, and not just public instruction in ghetto schools. Yet no substantive reforms have been carried out.

Everything has been proposed, everything tried -- several times. The latest cure-all promises tough, real action and painless, revolutionary, unprecedented, serendipitous, timely benefits. Its results have proven to be mixed -- and puny.

The more we talk, the greater the uncertainty about what to do grows. The more ideas put forward, the more difficult practical action becomes. The more we "innovate," the more resistant and hardened the problems of removing ignorance become.

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More on Wisconsin, California and New York's Law Against Tying Teacher Pay to Class Performance

PBS NewsHour:

"If you set and enforce rigorous and challenging standards and assessments, if you put outstanding teachers at the front of the classroom, if you turn around failing schools, your state can win a 'Race to the Top' grant that will not only help students out-compete workers around the world, but let them fulfill their God-given potential," President Obama said.

Some reforms are controversial.

The reforms touted by the Obama administration have supporters and detractors.

California, New York and Wisconsin have laws against tying teacher pay to how their students perform in class. Teacher unions, which are organizations with teacher members that use collective bargaining to get better pay and benefits, are also wary of teacher pay reform.

"The devil really is in the details. On the issues where you have differences, you try to work those out," Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, told the Washington Post.

As head of schools in Chicago, Secretary Duncan started a program that paid some teachers according to how their students performed to see if it worked.

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Chicago school reform is a real estate program to reverse white flight

Edward Hayes:

If Mayor Richard Daley walks into your office and tells you to remove your car from his parking space, you will do it. If he sends in one of his flunkeys to tell you to move your bloody car, you will do it. The only distinction between the two requests is how much you grovel, bow, and scrape before doing as you are told. Past Chicago Public School (CPS) CEO, Paul Vallas, walked into the Chicago Teacher Union (CTU) president's office in 1995 and told her to move her union out of his way because the mayor said so. She did. You would too. That was the whole of Chicago School Reform. It didn't make any difference at all whether the messenger was Vallas, Arne Duncan, new CEO Ron Huberman, or Pee Wee Herman. When Mayor Daley says make a hole, you get out of the way, and you do it with a smile.

Non-educator Vallas did nothing to make schools better for struggling urban youth; non-educator Duncan did less, and the new non-educator Huberman after three months on the job is on paternity leave following his announcing that he and his male partner have a baby. Real educators who previously sat in the CPS superintendent's office did not have direct backing from City Hall. They were weak administrators that chose not to fight the CTU. They may have tried, but not one of them did anything except appear to be busy.

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A Race to the Bottom? Wisconsin's Academic Standards & Teacher Accountability

Charles Barone:

One of the funnest and most instructive concepts in philosophy is the "logical fallacy." Here's an example:
  1. Nothing is better than eternal happiness.
  2. Eating a hamburger is better than nothing.
  3. Therefore, eating a hamburger is better than eternal happiness.
The arguments being advanced by the interest groups that are lining up in opposition to President Obama's and Secretary Duncan's call to tear down teacher-student data firewalls bear a striking similarity to hamburger eating and eternal happiness.
First up, the great state of New York:

1. The Race to the Top Guidance issued by Secretary Duncan on Friday states that:

"to be eligible under this program, a State must not have any legal, statutory, or regulatory barriers to linking student achievement or student growth data to teachers for the purpose of teacher and principal evaluation."

2. New York law states that:

"The regents shall, prescribe rules for the manner in which the process for evaluation of a candidate for tenure is to be conducted. Such rules shall include a combination of the following minimum standards: a. evaluation of the extent to which the teacher successfully utilized analysis of available student performance data and other relevant information when providing instruction but the teacher shall not be granted or denied tenure based on student performance data."

Reactions in California and Wisconsin.

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July 29, 2009

"What if it has all been a huge mistake?"

The Chronicle Review
July 27, 2009

A Rescue Plan for College Composition and High-School English

By Michael B. Prince:

The new administration in Washington promises fresh resources for our failing school systems. The need is great. Yet at a time when every penny counts, we had better be sure that new investments in education don't chase after bad pedagogical ideas.

I propose a rescue plan for high-school English and college composition that costs little, apart from a shift in dominant ideas. For the sake of convenience and discussion, the rescue plan reduces complex matters to three concrete steps.

First, don't trust the SAT Reasoning Test, especially the writing section of that test, as a college diagnostic, and don't allow the writing test to influence the goals of high-school English.

The news last year that Baylor University paid its already admitted students to retake the SAT in order to raise the school's ranking in U.S. News and World Report would be funny if it weren't so sad. The test is a failure.

Even the manufacturer of the SAT admits that the new test, which includes writing, is no better than the old test, which didn't. As The Boston Globe reported on June 18, 2008: "The New York-based College Board, which owns the test, released the study yesterday showing that the current SAT rated 0.53 on a measure of predictive ability, compared with 0.52 for the previous version. A result of 1 would mean the test perfectly predicts college performance. Revising the SAT 'did not substantially change' its capacity to foretell first-year college grades, the research found."

How could this happen? College professors frequently ask their students to write. Shouldn't a test that includes actual writing tell us more about scholastic aptitude than a test that doesn't? Yes, unless the test asks students to do something categorically different from what college professors generally ask their students to do. Is that the problem with the SAT? You be the judge.

The following essay question appeared on the December 2007 SAT. It was reprinted on the College Board's Web site as a model for high-school students to practice; it was subsequently disseminated by high schools and SAT-prep Web sites. The question runs as follows:

"Think carefully about the issue presented in the following excerpt and the assignment below.

"'Our determination to pursue truth by setting up a fight between two sides leads us to believe that every issue has two sides--no more, no less. If we know both sides of an issue, all of the relevant information will emerge, and the best case will be made for each side. But this process does not always lead to the truth. Often the truth is somewhere in the complex middle, not the oversimplified extremes.'

"[Adapted from Deborah Tannen, The Argument Culture]


"Should people choose one of two opposing sides of an issue, or is the truth usually found 'in the middle'? Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations."

Take a stand on where truth is found and support it with reasons. Could anything be more straightforward? Here is a question that promises not to exclude a single thinking student based on cultural bias. No reading imposes itself to the advantage of some students and detriment of others. There are no instructions about writing correctly, proofreading, and the like, and graders are advised to play down surface errors. The prompt threatens no one and nothing, least of all standard operating procedures in high-school English and college composition, where the brief argument essay is the coin of the realm. As the Globe article reports, "the College Board had said the SAT changes were meant to make the test 'more closely aligned with current high-school curricula.'"

Yes, and that's exactly the problem: The College Board bought stock in the ideas it was supposed to regulate.

Most college professors--especially those outside the humanities--would view the SAT essay prompt as significantly unlike their own writing assignments. First and foremost, we ask students to read. Though we may not say so directly, we also expect students to weave faithful renditions of other writers' ideas into their own papers. A student who can whip up an argument about where truth is located is not necessarily a student who can read Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (or any other challenging text) with understanding sufficient to frame an intelligent response. The SAT writing test fails for the simple reason that it ignores reading comprehension, overrates argument, and plays down grammar and prose mechanics. My advice: Toss the test; upgrade the skills it neglects.

But that's not enough. We owe it to our students to trace the influences shaping this failed test. My second remedy for high-school English and college composition is also inexpensive: to examine the assumptions of the critical-thinking movement, which underlie the SAT essay prompt and the field of composition generally--indeed, to think critically, about critical thinking.

Consider the question more closely. What does it ask our students to do? State and support an opinion about how the truth is discovered. This is a question about the methodology of inquiry. Is a dialectical procedure taking in opposing viewpoints a good way to locate the truth? Or does this dialectical procedure cause an oversimplified focus on extreme views at the expense of more nuanced positions in between?

Those of us who pursued advanced degrees in the humanities in the 1980s and 1990s will be familiar with the assumption behind the question: Humanistic confidence in the value of dialogue is naïve in contrast to a more strenuous exercise of critical reason. The question unmasks the pretensions of dialogue and invites students to apply their critical-thinking skills reflexively to think about thinking. You might assume a standardized test administered to millions of high-school juniors and seniors would be an odd place to rehearse an old theoretical battle, long since won by the anti-humanist camp. Yet the critical thinking, reading, and writing movement is obsessed with the process of thinking, and we see that fascination visited upon our students here. The theory seems to be that students become more literate, better able to succeed in school and profession, when they learn rhetorical techniques of critical analysis and reflect on their own thinking processes.

What if it has all been a huge mistake?

The assumptions of the critical-thinking movement have had a deleterious effect on college composition and its forced imitator, high-school English. Anyone concerned with the fate of English composition should know that the fourth edition (1996) of the best-selling and often-imitated Ways of Reading, by David Bartholomae and Anthony Petrosky, begins this way:

"Reading involves a fair measure of push and shove. You make your mark on a book and it makes its mark on you. Reading is not simply a matter of hanging back and waiting for a piece, or its author, to tell you what the writing has to say. In fact, one of the difficult things about reading is that the pages before you will begin to speak only when the authors are silent and you begin to speak in their place, sometimes for them--doing their work, continuing their projects--and sometimes for yourself, following your own agenda...We have not mentioned finding information or locating an author's purpose or identifying main ideas, useful though these skills are, because the purpose of reading in our book is to offer you occasions to imagine other ways of reading."

Note the order: Students make their mark on the book before it has made its mark on them. The priority is response, not understanding. Note how dismissively the authors treat "useful" skills as opposed to "occasions to imagine other ways of reading." The portentous repetition of the book's title signals its iconic status for the movement.

Let's say our students actually learn what we teach them. What result might we expect from their taking to heart this kind of aggressive constructivism mixed with promise of empowerment? Might not the elixir produce habits of fast judgment from little evidence, of looking away from challenging texts in order to opine--habits, in other words, that predict failure instead of success in academic and professional writing?

High-school systems have had little choice but to follow the movement's strong dictates about what "ready for college" means. To grasp the consequences in a nutshell, just consult one of the most successful suppliers of ideas and texts for K-12 education, America's Choice. According to its promotional material, this nonprofit organization provides thousands of schools across America with "a coherent, comprehensive [educational] design that offers exceptional instructional materials and strategies with first-rate coaching and professional development." For ninth-grade English, America's Choice distributes a rhetoric to teach argumentation. It is divided into two multistage, process-based units. The first asks students to read six biographical sketches with the knowledge that all of the people need an immediate heart transplant, and there's only one heart to go around. Who gets the heart? The second unit excerpts chapters from a popular college textbook, Andrea Lunsford and John Ruszkiewicz's aptly named Everything's an Argument, in order to teach ninth-graders how to critique advertisements.

The ideas standing behind both the SAT essay examination and the critical-thinking textbooks received their most powerful institutional formulation in 2000, when the Council of Writing Program Administrators issued a proclamation describing "the common knowledge, skills, and attitudes sought by first-year composition programs in American postsecondary education." The purpose of the document was to consolidate existing practice and regulate the teaching of composition throughout America. The first three stated goals are as follows:

"Rhetorical Knowledge

"By the end of first-year composition, students should:

    Focus on a purpose.
  • Respond to the needs of different audiences.
  • Respond appropriately to different kinds of rhetorical situations.
  • Use conventions of format and structure appropriate to the rhetorical situation.
  • Adopt appropriate voice, tone, and level of formality.
  • Understand how genres shape reading and writing.
  • Write in several genres.
"Critical Thinking, Reading, and Writing

"By the end of first-year composition, students should:

  • Use writing and reading for inquiry, learning, thinking, and communicating.
  • Understand a writing assignment as a series of tasks, including finding, evaluating, analyzing, and synthesizing appropriate primary and secondary sources.
  • Integrate their own ideas with those of others.
  • Understand the relationships among language, knowledge, and power.


"By the end of first-year composition, students should:

  • Be aware that it usually takes multiple drafts to create and complete a successful text.
  • Develop flexible strategies for generating, revising, editing, and proofreading.
  • Understand writing as an open process that permits writers to use later invention and rethinking to revise their work.
  • Understand the collaborative and social aspects of writing processes.
  • Learn to critique their own and others' works.
  • Learn to balance the advantages of relying on others with the responsibility of doing their part.
  • Use a variety of technologies to address a range of audiences."
Many of those goals are worthy in themselves. Consider their net effect, however. Taken together, they load composition/rhetoric with an elaborate vocabulary for describing itself. The group statement does not say that these theoretical and pedagogical ideas should stand in the background, informing practice. They should be among the topics of study. They are what composition/rhetoric is about. Process becomes its own product; rhetorical knowledge trumps content knowledge; critical thinking geared to ideological critique of texts and images replaces open inquiry and accumulation of knowledge through reading and experiment. The omissions are also glaring: not a word about the quality of readings, or the modest work of arriving at an accurate idea of the meaning of texts. Although the fourth outcome goal, "Knowledge of Conventions," lists "control such surface features as syntax, grammar, punctuation, and spelling," grammar is a subheading of a subheading, as it is for the critical-thinking movement generally.

Just as critical thinking has passed into policy without losing its rakish edge, so the practices it proscribes--grammar, imitation, précis writing, explication, recitation, reading great works in their entirety--have quietly dropped from view. I urge those charged with leading us out of our educational deficit to consider that ideas long dominant in composition and rhetoric may be detrimental.

I mean no disrespect to those in the trenches teaching high-school English and college composition. Their work is as essential to our schools as it is undervalued in society. But we need to face the possibility that the failure of the SAT essay examination is the canary in the coal mine alerting us to a discrepancy between the skills being emphasized in high-school English and college composition, and the skills most in need in college courses and in all professions. Lisa Delpit has made this same point in defense of students on the margins. She was one of the first to point out a deep confusion among well-intentioned educators who thought they were taking their students' side by lowering expectations, watering down reading lists, ignoring the basics, and emphasizing "process" as much as "product." In The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People's Children (1988), Delpit says the following about process pedagogy:

"Although the problem is not necessarily in the method, in some instances adherents of process approaches to writing create situations in which students ultimately find themselves accountable for knowing a set of rules about which no one has ever directly informed them. Teachers do students no service to suggest, even implicitly, that 'product' is not important. In this country, students will be judged on their product...and that product, based as it is on specific codes of a particular culture, is more readily produced when the directives of how to produce it are made explicit."

Like most educators, Delpit accepts the idea that teachers should present assignments in a coherent way, building from easier to more difficult tasks ("the problem is not necessarily in the method"). However, she objects to current theories of process as undemocratic. They focus too much attention on the way and not enough on the destination (see the seven bullet points after "Processes" in the proclamation above). Supposedly idealistic and egalitarian, process pedagogy enacts the snobbery of those who climb the educational ladder, and then denounce ladders as hierarchical.

That brings me to the third inexpensive change that faculty and administrators can make to foster the success of their high-school English and college composition programs. In addition to ignoring the SAT and re-examining the tenets of critical thinking in composition, I urge all concerned to grasp the continuing relevance of practices that critical thinking dismisses as teacher-centered and traditional. I refer to imitation-based pedagogies that view students less as budding cultural critics and more as apprentices to a craft.

The idea of "craft" is meant to invoke common sense. What are the ordinary ways that ordinary people learn to install a water heater, shoot a free throw, play a musical instrument, perform a dance routine, or conduct an experiment? Answer that question, and you will have your own justification for applying the practices of grammar, recitation, paraphrase, summary, explication, and imitation to the teaching of writing. In The Creative Habit, the dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp puts the point this way:

"The great painters are incomparable draftsmen. They also know how to mix their own paint, grind it, put in the fixative; no task is too small to be worthy of their attention. The great composers are usually dazzling musicians...A great chef can chop and dice better than anyone in the kitchen. The best fashion designers are invariably virtuosos with a needle and thread...The best writers are well-read people. They have the richest appreciation of words, the biggest vocabularies, the keenest ear for language. They also know their grammar. Words and language are their tools, and they have learned how to use them."

So-called basic skills are the muscle and sinew of the best academic writing. Less glamorous than critique, perhaps, they provide the foundation on which any plausible critical interpretation stands. Depriving students of those basics in a rush to make them critical doesn't make sense.

Once high schools and colleges make the changes suggested above, they will be free to uncouple the teaching of writing from the vocabulary of rhetorical analysis. Process will not substitute for content.

What, then, should writing courses be about? Enlightened instructors and administrators will respond that they should be about what all other college courses are about--not writing itself, but a learnable body of information: literature, art history, biology, political science, or any other substantial topic that furthers a students' real education. Yes, there are rhetorical strategies that good writers know and weak writers lack, but those are best taught in every class, by faculty members who themselves have mastered not only a body of knowledge but also the skills for writing publishable work and sharing those skills with apprentices to their craft.

Michael B. Prince is an associate professor of English at Boston University, where he directed the College of Arts and Sciences Writing Program from 2000 to 2008.

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

Join me at the REACH Awards Day next Wed 8/5; Education Reform's Moon Shot; A $4B Push for Better Schools; Taken to school: Obama funding plan must force Legislature to accept education reforms; President Obama Discusses New 'Race to the Top' Program

1) I hope you can join me a week from Wednesday at the REACH Awards Day from 10-12:30 on Aug. 5th at the Chase branch on 39th and Broadway (see full invite at the end of this email).

REACH (Rewarding Achievement; is a pay-for-performance initiative that aims to improve the college readiness of low-income students at 31 inner-city high schools in New York by rewarding them with up to $1,000 for each Advanced Placement exam they pass. I founded it, with funding from the Pershing Square Foundation and support from the Council of Urban Professionals.

This past year was the first full year of the program and I'm delighted to report very substantial gains in the overall number of students passing AP exams at the 31 schools, and an even bigger gain among African-American and Latino students (exact numbers will be released at the event). As a result, more than 1,000 student have earned nearly $1 MILLION in REACH Scholar Awards! Next Wednesday, the students will come to pick up their checks, Joel Klein will be the highlight of the press conference at 11am, and there will be a ton of media. I hope to see you there! You can RSVP to

2) STOP THE PRESSES!!! Last Friday will go down in history, I believe, as a key tipping point moment in the decades-long effort to improve our K-12 educational system. President Obama and Sec. Duncan both appeared at a press conference to announce the formal launch of the Race to the Top fund (KIPP co-founder Mike Feinberg also spoke and rocked the house!). Other than not being there on vouchers, Obama and Duncan are hitting ALL of the right notes, which, backed with HUGE dollars, will no doubt result in seismic shifts in educational policy across the country.

Here's an excerpt from Arne Duncan's Op Ed in the Washington Post from Friday (full text below -- well worth reading):

Under Race to the Top guidelines, states seeking funds will be pressed to implement four core interconnected reforms.

-- To reverse the pervasive dumbing-down of academic standards and assessments by states, Race to the Top winners need to work toward adopting common, internationally benchmarked K-12 standards that prepare students for success in college and careers.

-- To close the data gap -- which now handcuffs districts from tracking growth in student learning and improving classroom instruction -- states will need to monitor advances in student achievement and identify effective instructional practices.

-- To boost the quality of teachers and principals, especially in high-poverty schools and hard-to-staff subjects, states and districts should be able to identify effective teachers and principals -- and have strategies for rewarding and retaining more top-notch teachers and improving or replacing ones who aren't up to the job.

-- Finally, to turn around the lowest-performing schools, states and districts must be ready to institute far-reaching reforms, from replacing staff and leadership to changing the school culture.

The Race to the Top program marks a new federal partnership in education reform with states, districts and unions to accelerate change and boost achievement. Yet the program is also a competition through which states can increase or decrease their odds of winning federal support. For example, states that limit alternative routes to certification for teachers and principals, or cap the number of charter schools, will be at a competitive disadvantage. And states that explicitly prohibit linking data on achievement or student growth to principal and teacher evaluations will be ineligible for reform dollars until they change their laws.

3) Here's the article from Friday's Washington Post, before the press conference:

President Obama is leaning hard on the nation's schools, using the promise of more than $4 billion in federal aid -- and the threat of withholding it -- to strong-arm the education establishment to accept more charter schools and performance pay for teachers.

The pressure campaign has been underway for months as Education Secretary Arne Duncan travels the country delivering a blunt message to state officials who have resisted change for decades: Embrace reform or risk being shut out.

"What we're saying here is, if you can't decide to change these practices, we're not going to use precious dollars that we want to see creating better results; we're not going to send those dollars there," Obama said in an Oval Office interview Wednesday. "And we're counting on the fact that, ultimately, this is an incentive, this is a challenge for people who do want to change."

On Friday, Obama will officially announce the "Race to the Top," a competition for $4.35 billion in grants. He wants states to use funds to ease limits on charter schools, tie teacher pay to student achievement and move for the first time toward common academic standards. It is part of a broader effort to improve school achievement with a $100 billion increase in education funding, more money for community colleges and an increase in Pell Grants for college students.

4) And here's the article afterward:
President Obama launched a competition Friday for $4.35 billion in federal education funds, urging states to ease restrictions on charter schools, link teacher pay to student achievement and adopt common national academic standards to be eligible for the money.

In a speech at the Education Department, Obama joined Education Secretary Arne Duncan in announcing draft criteria for the "Race to the Top" fund, which the administration is billing as the "largest-ever federal investment in education reform."

"America will not succeed in the 21st century unless we do a far better job of educating our sons and daughters," Obama said. "In a world where countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow, the future belongs to the nation that best educates its people."

Acknowledging that "our education system is falling short," he said that for years, "we've talked these problems to death . . . while doing all too little to solve them." Now, he said, he is challenging the nation's governors, schools boards, teachers, parents, students and others to meet "a few key benchmarks for reform" in order to compete for and win Race to the Top grants.

"That race starts today," Obama said. He pledged that "this competition will not be based on politics or ideology or the preferences of a particular interest group" but on "whether a state is ready to do what works."

5) As an example of the impact this will likely have at the state level, here's an editorial in today's NY Daily News:
Taken to school: Obama funding plan must force Legislature to accept education reforms.
President Obama has dealt a much-deserved slap to lawmakers in New York and other states who kowtow to teachers unions:

They must get rid of anti-reform limits on holding teachers accountable and opening charter schools, or they will kiss hundreds of millions in federal education grants goodbye.

The choice for Albany could not be clearer: Repeal those now.

The Legislature was dead wrong when it voted last year to bar school officials from even looking at students' test scores when deciding whether a teacher is effective enough to get tenure.

The Legislature was also wrong to cap how many privately operated, publicly funded charters schools could open across the state - first at 100, then at a still-too-stingy 200.

Albany enacted both laws at the behest of teachers unions, which bathe legislators in campaign cash. Union members recoil at being held accountable for progress - or lack thereof - in their classrooms as measured by the objective standards of tests. The unions have also battled charters because they are mostly nonunion and consistently get better results with less money.

But Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are demanding that kids' needs come first. Unveiling a $4.35 billion grant program last week, Duncan warned that states that cap charter schools will put themselves at a "competitive disadvantage" for funding. And schools that block the use of test data in evaluating teachers will be flatly ineligible.

And Duncan made plain his attitude toward New York in a speech last month, saying:

"Believe it or not, several states, including New York, Wisconsin and California, have laws that create a firewall between students and teacher data. I think that's simply ridiculous. We need to know what is and is not working and why."

This gives Albany lawmakers a huge financial incentive to do the right thing.
It's an offer they must not refuse.

6) Obama sat with reporters from the Washington Post for more than 20 minutes. The transcript is below and you can see the video at: Interesting comments about the unions:
Q And one more question on this. You say you want to work with teachers unions and not impose a program on them. But there are critics who say, well, if you work with the teachers unions, those are the same entities that are obstacles to reform. How can you work with them and reform at the same time?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, I mean, I think that there is a cynical view, oftentimes ideologically driven, that says teachers unions inherently are going to be opposed to reform in our school system. I just don't believe that, maybe because my sister is a teacher and I know how hard she works and how deeply she cares about her kids.

I think teachers, understandably, in the past have been suspicious of reform measures that seem to make them into a scapegoat and don't take into account the extraordinary challenges that they face day in, day out -- everything from having to dig into their own pocket to buy school supplies, to not having the kinds of support services for kids who may have trouble outside of the classroom, to bureaucratic rules that get in the way of them teaching creatively.

So there are a whole range of very legitimate concerns that teachers have. And what we want to do is to assume that teachers want to see kids succeed, solicit their best ideas, and then shape and craft reforms that have their buy-in and have their ownership, because that's going to -- there's going to be greater success.

Now -- but I want to be realistic. There are going to be elements within the teachers union where they're just resistant to change because people inherently are resistant to change. Teachers aren't any different from any politicians or corporate CEOs. There are going to be certain habits that have been built up that they don't want to change.

And what we're saying here is if you can't decide to change these practices, we're not going to use precious dollars that we want to see creating better results; we're not going to send those dollars there.

And we're counting on the fact that, ultimately, this is an incentive, this is a challenge for people who do want to change.

I think it's important to note, just in terms of the politics of it, the same notion that somehow teachers unions would not accept reform -- the fact is, is that we got this passed. And you've got national teachers unions, both the NEA and the AFT, that have been consulted even as we've been putting this together.

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Humans prefer cockiness to expertise

Peter Aldhous:

EVER wondered why the pundits who failed to predict the current economic crisis are still being paid for their opinions? It's a consequence of the way human psychology works in a free market, according to a study of how people's self-confidence affects the way others respond to their advice.

The research, by Don Moore of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, shows that we prefer advice from a confident source, even to the point that we are willing to forgive a poor track record. Moore argues that in competitive situations, this can drive those offering advice to increasingly exaggerate how sure they are. And it spells bad news for scientists who try to be honest about gaps in their knowledge.

In Moore's experiment, volunteers were given cash for correctly guessing the weight of people from their photographs. In each of the eight rounds of the study, the guessers bought advice from one of four other volunteers. The guessers could see in advance how confident each of these advisers was (see table), but not which weights they had opted for.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:03 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Should Higher Education Be Free?

Max Page:

Andrew Delbanco effectively describes the tragedy that is unfolding at American universities: after a generation of expanding of opportunity, both private and public colleges are increasingly out of reach of the lower classes ["The Universities in Trouble," NYR, May 14]. Unfortunately, Delbanco avoids the solution that is sitting right before him: free higher education. That's the way most of the civilized world deals with the cost of higher education. And we have past and present examples in our own nation of providing free higher education--the GI Bill, CUNY, California's community colleges, Georgia's HOPE scholarships. My father went from immigrant to soldier to Ph.D. in the space of a decade, thanks to the GI Bill.

Would this be insanely expensive? The total cost of sending every single public university undergraduate to college for a year (that group makes up 75 percent of the total college enrollment) was $39.36 billion in 2006-2007. That's not chicken feed, but it's less than the bailout amount for two large banks, or the cost of three or four months in Iraq.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:44 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Nearly 75% of DC Residents Want Vouchers: Where Does Washington, DC Go in K-12 Education?

Paul DePerna & Dan Lips:

Historically, the District of Columbia has struggled to improve the educational opportunities available to students living in the nation's capital. Over the past decade, District residents have witnessed signifi cant changes in the D.C. education system. New reforms have included the creation of nearly sixty public charter schools on approximately ninety campuses; Mayor Adrian Fenty and Chancellor Michelle Rhee's overhaul of the traditional public school system; and the creation of the federal D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.

As policymakers in District government and on Capitol Hill consider the future of these and other education reform initiatives, attention should be paid to the views of D.C. citizens. In July 2009, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice commissioned Braun Research, Inc. to conduct a statistically representative survey of 1,001 registered voters in the District of Columbia.

Why conduct a survey on education issues in the District of Columbia? Why now?

This is a critical moment for the District and its residents. With so many proposals being suggested in the public domain - to initiate, expand, scale back, or eliminate programs and policies - it can be dizzying to policy wonks and casual observers alike. We hope that this survey can bring a pause for perspective. Each of the organizations endorsing this survey's fi eldwork felt it was important to take a step back and refl ect on the wishes of
D.C. citizens regarding their city's education system.

Joanne has more.

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Diminishing Returns in Humanities Research

Mark Bauerlein:

It was sometime in the 1980s, I think, that a basic transformation of the aims of literary criticism was complete. Not the spread of political themes and identity preoccupations, which struck outsiders and off-campus critics like William Bennett, a former secretary of education turned radio host, as the obvious change, but a deeper adjustment in the basic conception of what criticism does. It was, namely, the shift from criticism-as-explanation to criticism-as-performance. Instead of thinking of scholarship as the explication of the object--what a poem means or a painting represents--humanists cast criticism as an interpretative act, an analytical eye in process.

The old model of the critic as secondary, derivative, even parasitical gave way to the critic as creative and adventuresome. Wlad Godzich's introduction to the second edition of Paul de Man's Blindness and Insight (1983) nicely caught the mood in its title: "Caution! Reader at Work!" People spoke of "doing a reading," applying a theory, taking an approach, and they regarded the principle of fidelity to the object as tyranny. In a 1973 essay in New Literary History titled "The Interpreter: A Self-Analysis," Geoffrey H. Hartman chastised the traditional critic for being "methodologically humble" by "subduing himself to commentary on work or writer"; then he declared, "We have entered an era that can challenge even the priority of literary to literary-critical texts." A writer has a persona, he stated. "Should the interpreter not have personae?"

Older modes of criticism were a species of performance as well. But they claimed validity to the extent to which the object they regarded gave up to them its mystery. The result, the clarified meaning of the work, counted more than the execution that yielded it. By the late 1980s, though, the question "What does it mean?" lost out to "How can we read it?" The interpretation didn't have to be right. It had to be nimble.

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

School spotlight: Apprenticeship provides taste of product engineering

Pamela Cotant:

In between summertime activities, recent Oregon High School graduate Erik VanderSanden is focusing on winter as he helps redesign a device that makes cross country skiing accessible to the disabled.

VanderSanden spent his senior year assisting in the design and redesign of parts and items for Isthmus Engineering and Manufacturing of Madison through the Dane County Youth Apprenticeship Program.

In Dane County, nearly 130 students have participated this school year and into the summer, said Diane Kraus, school to career coordinator for the Dane County consortium of 16 school districts. The county program offers 11 program areas and the most popular right now are health care, information technology, automotive and biotechnology, said Kraus, adding that her program is always looking for more businesses that want to participate.

One of the items VanderSanden worked on for his apprenticeship is a device that allows people to sit while skiing. VanderSanden is now being retained as needed to finish up a prototype, which will be used by Isthmus to manufacture 100 more. The unit was originally designed by UW-Madison mechanical engineering students under professor Jay Martin through the Center for Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology, which is also known as UW-CREATe.

"I tried to optimize what they had already done ... and take it a step further than what they had time for in their class," said VanderSanden said.

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July 28, 2009

Don Severson & Vicki McKenna Discuss the Madison School District's $12M Budget Deficit

26MB mp3 audio file.

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Madison School District Strategic Planning Update, with Links

Madison Board of Education President Arlene Silveira, via email:

TO: MMSD Strategic Planning Committee

Good afternoon,

I am writing to provide you with a Board update on the MMSD strategic plan. Before getting into details, I again want to thank you for all of the time and effort you put into development of the plan. It is appreciated.

On July 21, the Board of Education held our second meeting to review the strategic planning document that you, our community-based strategic planning committee, submitted. The Board unanimously approved the following components of the new strategic plan. The mission, beliefs and parameters were approved with no changes to the plan you submitted. Some language in the strategic objectives was modified for clarity and completeness.

We have not yet approved any of the action plans.
Much more on the Strategic Planning Process here.

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A story from the trenches -- send me more!; DAVID STEINER ELECTED COMMISSIONER OF EDUC FOR NY; As Charter Schools Unionize; Must unions always block innovation in public schools?; NEA Discovers It Is a Labor Union; So You Want to Be a Teacher for America?

1) If you read anything I send out this year, let this be it. One of my friends responded to the survey I sent around a couple of weeks ago by emailing me this story of his experience as a TFA teacher in the South Bronx a decade ago (though he's no longer there, he is still (thankfully) very much involved with educating disadvantaged kids). It is one of the most powerful, heart-breaking, enraging things I have ever read -- and perfectly captures what this education reform struggle is all about. Stories like this about what REALLY goes on in our failing public schools need to be told and publicized, so please share yours with me:


Thanks so much for putting this survey together. It brought back some memories well beyond the few questions about what it was like to teach in the South Bronx with TFA back in the late nineties. I want to emphasize here that I no longer teach in the Bronx, so I have little idea how things have changed and have seen the current Administration take a number of important steps that may be making a great impact. I'm not close enough to the ground to know, but my guess is that there are still plenty of schools in the Bronx and in every other low-income community in the country that reflect some of the miserable stuff I saw in my school. You should really start collecting a book of stories like these. Among all the people I know who've done TFA, these stories are just a few among many sad ones.

As I filled out the survey, I was first reminded of the art teacher in our school. She was truly a caricature of bad teaching. Like something out of the movies. She spent almost every minute of every day screaming at the top of her lungs in the faces of 5-8 year olds who had done horrible things like coloring outside the lines. The ART teacher! Screaming so loud you could hear her 2-3 floors away in a decades old, solid brick building. When she heard I was looking for an apt, she sent me to an apt broker friend of hers. I told the friend I wanted to live in Washington Heights. "Your mother would be very upset with me if I let you go live with THOSE PEOPLE. We fought with bricks and bats and bottles to keep them out of our neighborhoods. Do you see what they have done to this place?" This same attitude could be heard in the art teacher's screams, the administration's ambivalence towards the kids we were supposed to be educating and the sometimes overt racism of the people in charge. The assistant principal (who could not, as far as I could tell, do 4th grade math, but offered me stop-in math professional development for a few minutes every few months with gems like "these numbers you see here to the left of the zero are negative numbers. Like when it is very cold outside.") once told me "I call them God's stupidest people" referring to a Puerto Rican woman who was blocking our way as we drove to another school. She also once told me I needed to put together a bulletin board in the hallway about Veteran's Day. I told her we were in the middle of assembling an Encyclopedia on great Dominican, Puerto Rican and Black leaders (all of my students were Dominican, Black or Puerto Rican). "Mr. ____, we had Cin-co de May-o, and Black History Month, and all that other stuff. It is time for the AMERICAN Americans."

Not everyone in the school was a racist. There were many hard working teachers of all ethnicities who did not reflect this attitude at all. But the fact that the leadership of the school and a number of the most senior teachers was either utterly disdainful of the students they taught, or has completely given up on the educability of the kids, had a terrible effect on overall staff motivation. And many of the well-meaning teachers were extremely poorly prepared to make a dent in the needs of the students even if they had been well led. The Principal told more than one teacher there that "as long as they are quiet and in their seats, I don't care what else you do." This was on the day this person was HIRED. This was their first and probably last instruction. He never gave me a single instruction. Ever. And I was a new teacher with nothing but TFA's Summer Institute under my belt. The Principal proceeded to get a law degree while sitting in his office ignoring the school. When we went to the Assistant Superintendent to report that the school was systematically cheating on the 3rd grade test (i.e., the third grade team met with the principal and APs, planned the cheating carefully, locked their doors and covered their windows and gave answers) she told the principal to watch his back. A few months later, inspectors came from the state. After observing our mostly horrible classes for a full day, they told us how wonderful we were doing and that they had just come down to see what they could replicate in other schools to produce scores like ours. And the list goes on and on.

Like when I asked the principal to bring in one of the district's special education specialists to assess two of my lowest readers, both of whom had fewer than 25 sight-words (words they could recognize on paper) in the 3rd grade, he did. She proceeded to hand one of the students a list of words that the child couldn't read and tell her to write them over again. Then she went to gossip with the Principal. After explaining to him in gory detail, IN FRONT OF THE STUDENT, that she had just been "dealing with a case where a father had jumped off a roof nearby and committed double-suicide with his 8 year old daughter in his arms", she collected the sheet with no words on it, patted the child on the head and left. No IEP was filed nor was I allowed to pursue further action through official channels (I lobbied the mother extensively on my own). I never asked for her to come back to assess the other student.

Our Union Rep was said to have tried to push another teacher down a flight of stairs. The same Union Rep, while I was tutoring a child, cursed out a fellow teacher in the room next door at the top of her lungs so the child I was tutoring could hear every word. When I went to address her about it, the other teacher had to restrain the Rep as she threatened to physically attack me. And when the cheating allegations were finally take up by city investigators, the same Union Rep was sent to a cushy desk job in the district offices. I hear that most of the people I'm referencing here are long gone now, and some of them actually got pushed out of the system, but how rare can this story really be given the pitiful results we see from so many of our nation's poorest schools and how far the system goes to protect horrible teachers and administrators like the ones I worked with?

At the same time as all of this was happening, by the way, the few good teachers in the building often became beaten down and disillusioned. One of the best in my building was consistenly punished for trying to make her corner of the school a better place for learning. They put her in a basement corner with no ventilation, no windows and nothing but a 6-foot-high cubicle-style partition separating her from the other 5 classrooms in the basement. After fighting the good fight she went to teach in the suburbs. When I got a financial firm to donate 20 computers, the principal said he didn't have the resources to get them setup for use and refused to allow them into the school. When I had my students stage a writing campaign to get the vacant lot behind the building turned into a playground, the principal wanted me silenced.

The saddest thing about the whole damn mess was that our K-3 kids still REALLY WANTED TO LEARN. Every day they came eager for knowledge. And every day this cabal of cynicism, racism and laziness did everything within their powers to drain it out of them. It was unreal. Don't get me wrong. There were some good teachers there. And some well meaning, but poor teachers. But in many classrooms, the main lesson learned was that school became something to dread, many adults thought you were capable of very little, and some adults couldn't be bothered to lift a finger.

I hope if any of the good, hard-working teachers who fought so hard to rid the school of this mess read this, they'll know I'm not lumping them in with the rest. But the problem was, when I addressed the worst practices in the school at a staff meeting, the bad teachers laughed and the good teachers took it the hardest and thought I was criticizing them.

Thanks again for the survey. Let's make these stories known.

2) Some INCREDIBLE news from NY State: education reform warrior David Steiner was elected NY State Education Commissioner!!!

The New York State Board of Regents voted today to elect Dr. David Milton Steiner as New York State Education Commissioner and President of the University of the State of New York. The Regents took this action at their July meeting held today in Buffalo.

Currently the Dean of the Hunter College School of Education at the City University of New York, Dr. Steiner is best known for his leadership of the national effort to transform teacher preparation and improve teacher quality....

...At Hunter, Dr. Steiner led a national partnership with the KIPP Academies, Uncommon Schools, Achievement First and Teach for America to create a dedicated teacher preparation program for charter and non-charter school teachers geared to the unique challenges of urban schools. Known as Teacher U at Hunter, the partnership has gained national attention for rethinking what rigorous teacher preparation looks like. This year Teacher U at Hunter will begin a new partnership with the New York City Department of Education to prepare 90 New York City Teaching Fellows in Special Education.

Dr. Steiner, in conjunction with the New York City Department of Education and New Visions for Public Schools, has just launched a Teacher Residency Program aimed at preparing public secondary school teachers in the sciences and English Language Arts.

3) I've blogged about Dean Steiner in the past:
Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Comments on Ed School Quality

In my email last night, I didn't say every school of education is pathetic. One very notable exception is the Hunter College School of Education under the leadership of Dean David Steiner. Dean Steiner has been the skunk at the ed school garden party ever since he published a study a few years ago documenting (according to one article, "the depth to which ed schools impart a leftist leaning "edu-dogma," where discourse is dangerously limited, where there is a lack of important historical and contemporary perspectives, and where pedagogical approaches are championed for their ideology rather than their effectiveness.") To read his article in Education Next about his study, see:

Dean Steiner is on my email list and wrote the following in response (shared here with his permission):


As you may know, I have been an outspoken critic of ed. schools. My research of "top" ed. schools showed programs stuffed with required courses that used little or no research-based material, treated student teaching as if it were a side-show rather than the central element of a serious teacher preparation program, and used required reading materials from only one side (the left) of the political spectrum.

But before throwing contempt on ed. schools, note that Art Levine in his full report cites a number that in his view are doing a serious job. At the school of education at Hunter College, I am proud that three of the best charter school networks -- KIPP, Uncommon Schools and Achievement First -- are partnering with us to co-design and co- teach a certification and masters program. The program, currently in its pilot year, integrates student-teachers' work in their schools with their study of that work in our classrooms, and has its goal as nothing less than demonstrated, measurable impact on student learning. As a whole, we at Hunter are shifting what we do as a school of ed. from inputs to outputs. One example: within three years every one of our students will be videotaped in their student teaching and have those videos rigorously analyzed. At the same time we are indexing those videos so that our entire faculty can use them as case studies. We will use weaknesses we see in the performance of our student-teachers in these videos to back-engineer our programs, focusing on what matters.

Soon we expect that all teacher education programs in New York City will be told where their graduates rank in terms of the value-added they produce in the city's classrooms. The data -- produced in a major study by Pam Grossman, Jim Wyckoff and their team -- currently focuses on childhood education, where the numbers are great enough to generate robust statistics. No matter where Hunter comes out (and the first full data will be at least four years old), I welcome this study as a critical step toward getting serious about holding ed. schools accountable for the quality of their teacher preparation. I cannot wait until our current programs, for which I have responsibility, are measured, and the results made available to me so that I know where improvements to our programs are most immediately required. If any school of ed. consistently graduates teachers who fail to perform effectively in the classroom, then indeed that school of education should be closed down.

If outstanding teacher preparation were not needed, top charter schools would not pour vast resources of time and effort into professional development. I think your readers should know that some of us are indeed working to transform schools of education into true partners in this effort. We are moving deliberately towards becoming results-oriented, accountable institutions dedicated to graduating only effective teachers.

For more on ed school idiocy, see this City Journal article: and this book, Ed School Follies (

4) A story in today's NYT about union efforts at charter schools around the country:

Here in Chicago, where students at several Chicago International campuses have scores among the city's highest for nonselective schools, teachers began organizing last fall after an administrator increased workloads to six classes a day from five, said Emily Mueller, a Spanish teacher at Northtown Academy.

"We were really proud of the scores, and still are," Ms. Mueller said. "But the workload, teaching 160 kids a day, it wasn't sustainable. You can't put out the kind of energy we were putting out for our kids year after year."

Some teachers disagreed. Theresa Furr, a second-grade teacher at the Wrightwood campus, said she opposed unionization.

"Every meeting I went to," Ms. Furr said, "it was always 'What can we get?' and never 'How is this going to make our students' education better?' "

For Joyce Pae, an English teacher at Ralph Ellison, the decision was agonizing. Her concerns over what she saw as chaotic turnover and inconsistency in allocating merit pay led her to join the drive. But after school leaders began paying more attention to teachers' views, she said, she voted against unionization in June.

Union teachers won the vote, 73-49.

"If nothing else," Ms. Pae said, "this experience has really helped teachers feel empowered."

5) A spot-on editorial in the Baltimore Sun:
Baltimore's KIPP Ujima Village Academy is an unqualified success. Despite serving a poor, inner-city population, the charter school routinely posts some of the highest standardized test scores, not just in the city but in the state.

...But a dispute with the Baltimore Teachers Union threatens to derail that. KIPP teachers have been paid 18 percent more than their peers at other schools because of the extra hours they work. But the union says they're being shortchanged. KIPP teachers work nine hours and 15 minutes a day rather than the standard seven hours and five minutes, and the union insists that they should be paid 33 percent more than other teachers. (That doesn't even count compensation for Saturdays or the three weeks of summer classes.) Union officials had let the matter slide for the first seven years of KIPP's existence, but they say they got some complaints from teachers and are now simply trying to enforce the contract.

What that means for KIPP is this: The school day is being shortened to 8 hours, and Saturday classes have been eliminated. Art and music teachers have been fired, along with some administrative staff. Summer school is still in the budget, but it might not be next year.

Will that jeopardize the school's high performance? It's hard to know, but KIPP has good reason to believe that the extra time its students spend at school has been crucial to their success. KIPP Baltimore Executive Director Jason Botel says his students typically come to middle school two to three grade levels behind in reading and math, and there's no shortcut to making up that difference. Furthermore, many of the students come from tough neighborhoods, and the more time they spend in school, the less time they're subjected to the pressure of the streets.

"We know we have a lot of catching up to do. If we want them to perform on the level with their peers from wealthier communities, we need more time to do it," Mr. Botel says. "We're going to work very hard to maintain the level of performance we've been able to lead students to in the past, but we're very concerned about it."

6) Some good news from the public schools in Baltimore, no thanks to the union there:
Isn't it ironic? When Andres Alonso moved to Baltimore City two years ago to turn around a failing public school system, the Baltimore Teachers Union fought him over practically everything except which color tie he should wear.

Forget about radical items like merit pay. Marietta English, BTU president, called for his resignation because the union didn't want teachers to give up some individual planning time for group planning. Neither was the union enthused by his decision to move 300 people from school headquarters to schools or out of the system -- or to give more power to principals.

But earlier this week English and a host of other "dignitaries" and a packed house of principals, teachers and other onlookers celebrated what was previously unthinkable two years ago: Students learning in Baltimore City schools.

7) Mike Antonucci, with a report from the NEA convention, with his usual trenchant comments:
Whether it was Chanin's retirement, Van Roekel's new emphasis, or a spontaneous paradigm shift, this year NEA finally embraced the labor union label it has downplayed for 25 years...

...He finished by reminding the delegates that NEA's power derived not from its noble mission or righteousness of its cause, but because 3.2 million members send hundreds of millions of dollars in dues money to NEA to fight their battles.

Whatever you think of Chanin, he is to be applauded for his clarity in an age where obfuscation is the norm in politics. We shall not see his like again.

) A great story about a 50-year-old woman whose daughter joined TFA -- and then she did as well!
At 50, Paula Lopez Crespin doesn't fit the Teach for America demographic of high-achieving college senior. The program rarely draws adults eligible for AARP membership. In fact, just 2 percent of recruits are over 30.

But what Ms. Crespin lacks in youth, she makes up for in optimism, idealism and what those in Teach for America call "relentless pursuit of results." Ms. Crespin beat out tens of thousands of applicants to get where she is: fresh off her first year teaching math and science at Cole Arts and Science Academy in a gang-riddled section of Denver.

Many friends thought she was crazy to give up a career in banking for a $32,000 pay cut teaching in an urban elementary school. But the real insanity, Ms. Crespin insists, would have been remaining in a job she "just couldn't stomach anymore," and surrendering a dream of doing "something meaningful with my life."
These days, crazy never looked so normal. Teaching has always been a top choice for a second career. Of the 60,000 new teachers hired last year, more than half came from another line of work, according to the National Center for Education Information. Most bypassed traditional teacher education (for career changers, a two-year master's degree) for fast-track programs like Teach for America. But unemployment, actual or feared, is now causing professionals who dismissed teaching early on to think better of its security, flexibility (summers off, the chance to be home with children) and pension. Four of Ms. Crespin's colleagues at Cole are career changers, ages 46 to 54, including a former information technology executive and a psychologist.

Teach for America, the teacher-training program that has evolved into a Peace Corps alternative for a generation bred on public service, is highly competitive and becoming more so: this year, a record 35,178 applied -- a 42 percent increase over 2008 -- to fill 4,100 slots. Eleven percent of all new Ivy League graduates applied.

Teach for America is a young person's game. But that perception may be shifting.

9) Advice for people who want to switch to do a mid-career switch to teaching:
Career changers hoping for admission to a competitive alternative teacher-training program should worry less about academic and job accomplishments and more about the personal traits that helped them succeed. Problem-solving skills, emotional intelligence, a belief in the power to create change: these are a few of the elements that generate success in underprivileged classrooms.

Timothy Daly, president of the New Teacher Project, which helps career changers get teaching positions across the country and runs the New York City Teaching Fellows program, says he is looking for candidates who are "in it for the right reasons" and not, say, waiting for the current economic wave to pass.
He suggests career changers visit a classroom, observe good teaching and ask, "Is this something I really see myself doing?"

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College Courses for High School Students: Bellevue, Washington

Bellevue College:

Running Start provides academically motivated students an opportunity to take college courses as part of their high school education.

Students may take just one class per quarter, or take all of their courses on the BC campus. If you are eligible for the program, you will earn both high school and college credit for the classes you take.

Classes taken on the college campus as part of the Running Start program are limited to "college level" courses (most classes numbered 100 or above qualify).

Tuition is paid for by the school district. Books, class related fees and transportation are the responsibility of the student.

Running Start was created by the Washington State Legislature in 1990 and is available at all community and technical colleges in the State of Washington.


Related: The ongoing battle: Credit for Non-MMSD Courses.

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Online Education: Masters of Science in Engineering


The Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science (HSSEAS) at UCLA offers the Master of Science (M.S.) degree delivered On-Line, with the diploma designation "Master of Science in Engineering".

Courses are now offered in 7 areas of study from 5 departments, with 2 new areas being introduced Fall 2009: Aerospace Engineering and Systems Engineering

The primary purpose of this Program is to enable employed engineers and computer scientists to enhance their technical education beyond the Bachelor of Science level and to enhance their value to the technical organizations in which they are employed. The training and education that the Master of Science in Engineering Program offers are of significant importance and usefulness to engineers, their employers, to California and to the nation. It is at the M.S. level that the engineer has the opportunity to learn a specialization in depth. It is at the M.S. level that those engineers with advanced degrees may also renew and update their knowledge of the technology advances that occur, and have been occurring, at a rapid rate.

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Do You Know a High-Achieving Student Kept From College Because of Money?

Jay Matthews:

I try to stay away from the New York Review of Books. It is a trap for aimless readers like me. I may enjoy a piece on the last Khan of Mongolia. But that makes me want to sample a letter about derivatives or a review of what Titian thought of Tintoretto. Pretty soon it's bedtime and I have forgotten to do important stuff like talk to my wife and watch "The Closer" on TNT.

Yet I couldn't resist a piece in the May 14 issue by Columbia University humanities professor Andrew Delbanco about the sorry state of American higher education. In most respects, it was a splendid analysis of what ails our universities: bad investments, recession, elitism, etc. But on one crucial point he lost me. That was his conclusion that "a great many gifted and motivated young people are excluded from college for no other reason than their ability to pay, and we have failed seriously to confront the problem."

I noticed he did not identify even one person to whom this had happened. Like many writers in the review, Delbanco was observing from the scholarly heights. His was a wide-angle view, full of national statistics and global analysis. That was one of the pleasures of reading the piece, to see all these issues in historical and social context.

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July 27, 2009

WIBA's Mitch Henck Discusses the Madison School District's Budget with Don Severson

24MB mp3 audio file. Mitch and Don discuss the Madison School District's $12M budget deficit, caused by a decline in redistributed tax dollars from the State of Wisconsin and generally flat enrollment. Topics include: Fund 80, health care costs, four year old kindergarten, staffing, property taxes (which may increase to make up for the reduced state tax dollar funding).

Madison School District Board President Arlene Silveira sent this message to local Alders Saturday:

Good afternoon,

Below is an update of the MMSD budget situation.

As you know, the biennial budget was signed into law at the end of June. The budget had numerous provisions that will effect the future of public education that include:

  • Repeal of the Qualified Economic Offer (QEO)
  • Decrease in funding for public education by the state of approximately $14720million
  • Decrease in the per pupil increase associated with revenue limits
The repeal of the QEO will potentially impact future settlements for salries and benefits. The decrease in funding for public education by the state creates the need for a tax increase conversation in order to sustain current programs. The decrease in the revenue limit formula will cause MMSD to face more reductions in programs and services for the next 2 years at a minimum.


  • Decrease in state aid: $9.2 million
  • Reduction in revenue: $2.8 million (decrease in the per pupil increase from $275 to $200/pupil)

Total decrease: projected to to be $12 million

Last May, the Madison Board of Education passed a preliminary 2009-10 budget that maintained programs and services with a modest property tax increase. The groundwork for our budget was laid last fall when the Board pledged our commitment to community partnership and the community responded by supporting a referendum that allowed us to exceed revenue caps to stabilize funding for our schools. Two months later, with programs and staff in place for next year, we find ourselves faced with State funding cuts far exceeding our worst fears.


We are in this position in part because Wisconsin's school funding formulas are so complicated that the legislature and supporting agencies did not accurately predict the budget's impact on school districts. State aid to Madison and many other districts was cut by 15%. In practical terms, coupled with additional State cuts of $2.8 million, MMSD is saddled with State budget reductions of $12 million this year.

This grim situation is a result of a poor economy, outdated information used by the legislature, and a Department of Public Instruction policy that penalizes the district for receiving one-time income (TIF closing in Madison). Federal stimulus funds will, at best, delay cuts for one year. We are left with a gaping budget deficit when many fiscal decisions for the upcoming school year cannot be reversed.


We are working on strategies and options and are looking carefully at the numbers to ensure our solutions do not create new problems. We will evaluate options for dealing with the budget in early August.

To repair our budget, we are working with legislators and the DPI to appeal decisions that have placed us in this position. We continue to look for changes in resource management to find additional cost reductions. We are seeking ways to offset the impact of school property tax increases if we need to increase our levy.

At the same time, we pledge that we will not pass the full cost of the cuts along as increased property taxes. We will not resort to massive layoffs of teachers and support staff, t he deadline having passed to legally reduce our staff under union contracts.

I will be back in touch after our August meeting when we have made decisions on our path forward.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Arlene Silveira
Madison Board of Education

Related: Sparks fly over Wisconsin Budget's Labor Related Provisions.

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Online classes: Convenient option or growing cash cow for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee?

Erica Perez:
Students registering for fall classes this summer at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee will see a 30% increase in the number of online classes, but the convenience comes with a price: as much as $275 per course on top of regular tuition.

University officials say the increase is part of a strategy to boost enrollment and revenue by meeting a growing demand for the online format, which appeals to students who commute, work full time or have families.

But the move is also a way for UWM to pass more of its costs to students at a time when it faces a $20 million budget cut over the next two years that will be only partially offset by a tuition increase.

The trend toward online courses raises two key questions at a time when UWM students are registering for fall classes: Will the shift in scheduling mean more local students have to take the pricier online courses, and where does the money raised by the online fees go?

The pricing of online courses varies by college, but the fees particularly frustrate some undergraduates in the College of Letters and Science, which charges $275 above regular tuition for each online course.
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Discovery learning in math: Exercises versus problems Part I

Barry Garelick, via email:

By way of introduction, I am neither mathematician nor mathematics teacher, but I majored in math and have used it throughout my career, especially in the last 17 years as an analyst for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. My love of and facility with math is due to good teaching and good textbooks. The teachers I had in primary and secondary school provided explicit instruction and answered students' questions; they also posed challenging problems that required us to apply what we had learned. The textbooks I used also contained explanations of the material with examples that showed every step of the problem solving process.

I fully expected the same for my daughter, but after seeing what passed for mathematics in her elementary school, I became increasingly distressed over how math is currently taught in many schools.

Optimistically believing that I could make a difference in at least a few students' lives, I decided to teach math when I retire. I enrolled in education school about two years ago, and have only a 15-week student teaching requirement to go. Although I had a fairly good idea of what I was in for with respect to educational theories, I was still dismayed at what I found in my mathematics education courses.

In class after class, I have heard that when students discover material for themselves, they supposedly learn it more deeply than when it is taught directly. Similarly, I have heard that although direct instruction is effective in helping students learn and use algorithms, it is allegedly ineffective in helping students develop mathematical thinking. Throughout these courses, a general belief has prevailed that answering students' questions and providing explicit instruction are "handing it to the student" and preventing them from "constructing their own knowledge"--to use the appropriate terminology. Overall, however, I have found that there is general confusion about what "discovery learning" actually means. I hope to make clear in this article what it means, and to identify effective and ineffective methods to foster learning through discovery.

Garelick's part ii on Discovery learning can be found here.

Related: The Madison School District purchases Singapore Math workbooks with no textbooks or teacher guides. Much more on math here.

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The Dad Who Holds Schools to the Rules

Emily Alpert:

David Page says the problem is that parents are on their own. Teachers have a union. So do principals. School board members get to vote plans up or down and top administrators make decisions in the salmon-pink offices of San Diego Unified.

But parents are often too intimidated to speak up or too star-struck with school staffers to question them, Page said. Education is a world loaded with its own numbing lingo -- categorical funding, supplement not supplant, program improvement -- and it seems overwhelming to understand it, let alone to fight it.

"They think, 'They make six figures and they're educated. Who am I to second guess them?'" Page said.

Yet Page has done just that. If parents at the poorer schools in San Diego Unified did have a union, he might be their leader, with all the fans and foes that entails. Seventeen years after the father of six first walked into a parents' meeting at Ross Elementary in Kearny Mesa, unsure of his rights and unfamiliar with the jargon, Page has become a human encyclopedia on the rules that govern funds for disadvantaged kids and a dogged fighter for parents in communities sometimes left out of decisions.

He is one of the few parents across the state that jets to Sacramento for meetings of the state Board of Education, pores over complex regulations on education spending, and explains it all to befuddled parents at the school district committee that oversees funds for children in poverty, which he has led for six years. Page also leads the nonprofit California Association of Compensatory Education and sits on the board of the Family Area Network, which advises the state on parent involvement.

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As More Charter Schools Unionize, Educators Debate the Effect

Sam Dillon:

Dissatisfied with long hours, churning turnover and, in some cases, lower pay than instructors at other public schools, an increasing number of teachers at charter schools are unionizing.

Labor organizing that began two years ago at seven charter schools in Florida has proliferated over the last year to at least a dozen more charters from Massachusetts and New York to California and Oregon.

Charter schools, which are publicly financed but managed by groups separate from school districts, have been a mainstay of the education reform movement and widely embraced by parents. Because most of the nation's 4,600 charter schools operate without unions, they have been freer to innovate, their advocates say, allowing them to lengthen the class day, dismiss underperforming teachers at will, and experiment with merit pay and other changes that are often banned by work rules governing traditional public schools.

"Charter schools have been too successful for the unions to ignore," said Elizabeth D. Purvis, executive director of the Chicago International Charter School, where teachers voted last month to unionize 3 of its 12 campuses.

President Obama has been especially assertive in championing charter schools. On Friday, he and the education secretary, Arne Duncan, announced a competition for $4.35 billion in federal financing for states that ease restrictions on charter schools and adopt some charter-like standards for other schools -- like linking teacher pay to student achievement.

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An innovative British special needs school is setting new standards

Brendan O'Malley:

One side of Heron Road, south London, is lined with grey-brick, bay-windowed Victorian terraced houses. The other is dominated by a strikingly modern building.

Michael Tippett School stands within a frame of timber pillars spanned by orange and maroon louvres, its walls are covered with slats of chestnut cladding and its eco-roof is topped with a thin carpet of mauve plants.

Many schools for children with severe and complex special needs are designed to protect the children from the outside world and seem to hide them away.

But through the front doors of Michael Tippett you can see the social hub of the school, a double-storey atrium, the garden and the undulating landscape of a small community park beyond.

Situated in a part of Lambeth borough that is dominated by vast regimented blocks of flats and crammed terraces, this generous entrance is a bold statement about the value put on educating the least able in the community.

"It has to do with dignity and respect for the people we work with," said head Jan Stogdon. "The building reflects the ethos of the school."

Michael Tippett is named after the British composer whose music celebrated the resilience of the human spirit in the face of oppression. The 70 pupils, aged 11 to 19, have their own daily struggles against the limitations of their own complex needs and severe or profound learning difficulties. Some have sight or hearing impairments, a number have gastrotomy tubes and others are at various points on the autistic spectrum.

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Laid Off Sales Manager Goes Back to School to Teach a Foreign Language

Related: Janet Mertz on Teaching Hiring criteria.

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July 26, 2009

'Fast Forwarding to Designer Baby Era'

David Washburn:

Beyond the celebration of the 40-year-old lunar landing, the big science news this week came Thursday from a group of Chinese researchers who figured out how to grow healthy mice from mouse stem cells.

The breakthrough is a huge step for research into induced pluripotent, or iPS, stem cells, which is taking adult stem cells and converting them into embryonic stem cells. But the Chinese discovery is causing some to worry that we're a lot closer to human cloning than we should be.

This story in Friday's Los Angeles Times frames the debate well.

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Can Wisconsin go from 'ridiculous' to 'impressive' in education?

Alan Borsuk:

Simply ridiculous.

If you wanted to gain good standing with some guy giving away a mountain of money, you would probably be alarmed if you heard him use that language publicly about you.

You'd have choices at that point. You could get upset and tell him to keep his stupid money. You could try to convince him that you weren't ridiculous without really changing your ways. Or you could change your ways.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is that guy right now. Wisconsin is who he's talking about. And it's certainly clear that only the third option is going to please him. He wants change.

The immediate subject is $4.35 billion that Duncan and the education department will be awarding to states this year and next. Called the Race to the Top program, the goal is to help states that are leading the way in innovation and commitment to improving achievement, particularly among low-income and minority students.

President Barack Obama and Duncan on Friday unveiled proposed rules on how the money will be awarded. One of the firmest: "To be eligible under this program, a state must not have any legal, statutory or regulatory barriers to linking student achievement or student growth data to teachers for the purpose of teacher and principal evaluation."

Wisconsin is one of the few states that have such a rule, right there in state law.

Or, as Duncan put it in a New York Times interview: "Believe it or not, several states, including New York, Wisconsin and California, have laws that create a firewall between students and teacher data. I think that's simply ridiculous. We need to know what is and is not working and why."

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So You Want to Be a Teacher for America?

Cecilia Capuzzi Simon:

At 50, Paula Lopez Crespin doesn't fit the Teach for America demographic of high-achieving college senior. The program rarely draws adults eligible for AARP membership. In fact, just 2 percent of recruits are over 30.

But what Ms. Crespin lacks in youth, she makes up for in optimism, idealism and what those in Teach for America call "relentless pursuit of results." Ms. Crespin beat out tens of thousands of applicants to get where she is: fresh off her first year teaching math and science at Cole Arts and Science Academy in a gang-riddled section of Denver.

Many friends thought she was crazy to give up a career in banking for a $32,000 pay cut teaching in an urban elementary school. But the real insanity, Ms. Crespin insists, would have been remaining in a job she "just couldn't stomach anymore," and surrendering a dream of doing "something meaningful with my life."

These days, crazy never looked so normal. Teaching has always been a top choice for a second career. Of the 60,000 new teachers hired last year, more than half came from another line of work, according to the National Center for Education Information. Most bypassed traditional teacher education (for career changers, a two-year master's degree) for fast-track programs like Teach for America. But unemployment, actual or feared, is now causing professionals who dismissed teaching early on to think better of its security, flexibility (summers off, the chance to be home with children) and pension. Four of Ms. Crespin's colleagues at Cole are career changers, ages 46 to 54, including a former information technology executive and a psychologist.

Teach for America
, the teacher-training program that has evolved into a Peace Corps alternative for a generation bred on public service, is highly competitive and becoming more so: this year, a record 35,178 applied -- a 42 percent increase over 2008 -- to fill 4,100 slots. Eleven percent of all new Ivy League graduates applied.

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Sparks fly over Wisconsin budget's labor-related provisions

Steven Walters & Stacy Forster:

As the dust settles around the new state budget, partisan disagreement continues over the boost that unions - particularly education unions - got by making it easier for them to sign up thousands of new members and by repealing the 3.8% annual limit on teachers' pay raises.

The provisions passed because Democrats, who got control of the Legislature for the first time in 14 years, partnered with Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle to advance changes the governor and unions had been pushing for years.

Unions traditionally help elect Democratic politicians. The largest teachers union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, spent about $2.1 million before last November's elections, with much of that backing Democrats.

Most of the labor-related provisions in the budget were added to provide people with "good, family-supporting jobs," said Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison), co-chairman of the Legislature's Finance Committee.

"The idea that we're shifting back to the worker, rather than just big business and management, that's part of what Democrats are about," Pocan said.

It also helped that the two top Democratic legislators, Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan of Janesville and Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker of Weston, are veteran labor leaders.

Sheridan is the former president of a Janesville union for General Motors; Decker was a union bricklayer when he was elected president of the Central Wisconsin Building Trades.

In a statement, Sheridan said Assembly Democrats focused on giving workers struggling through the recession "an opportunity to negotiate for better working circumstances or wages." They also made sure the budget included tax breaks to help businesses create and protect jobs, he said.

Republican leaders say taxpayers will be the ultimate losers, when they must pay public employees higher wages and better benefits.

Republicans also say Doyle and Democratic legislative leaders approved the changes to thank unions for their campaign cash and endorsements before last November's elections. The Democrats also are laying groundwork to win support heading into the 2010 elections, GOP lawmakers say.

One striking example of lobbying effectiveness during challenging economic times: the budget includes a change to arbitration rules between school districts and teacher unions:
To make matters more dire, the long-term legislative proposal specifically exempts school district arbitrations from the requirement that arbitrators consider and give the greatest weight to
revenue limits and local economic conditions. While arbitrators would continue to give these two factors paramount consideration when deciding cases for all other local governments, the importance of fiscal limits and local economic conditions would be specifically diminished for school district arbitration.
This is obviously the kind of thing frequently seen in Washington.... It would be interesting to see the players (and money) behind this legislation. In related local news, the Madison School District and the local teacher union have yet to agree to a new contract. Perhaps this arbitration change plays a role in the process?

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In the Future, the Cost of Education Will Be Zero

Josh Catone:

The average cost of yearly tuition at a private, four-year college in the US this year was $25,143, and for public schools, students could expect to pay $6,585 on average for the 2008-09 school year, according to the College Board. That was up 5.9% and 6.4% respectively over the previous year, which is well ahead of the national average rate of inflation. What that means is that for many people, college is out of reach financially. But what if social media tools would allow the cost of an education to drop nearly all the way down to zero?

Of course, quality education will always have costs involved -- professors and other experts need to be compensated for their time and efforts, for example, and certain disciplines require expensive, specialized equipment to train students (i.e., you can't learn to be a surgeon without access to an operating theater). However, social media can drastically reduce much of the overhead involved with higher education -- such as administrative costs and even the campus itself -- and open source or reusable and adaptive learning materials can drive costs down even further.

One vision for the school of the future comes from the United Nations. Founded this year by the UN's Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technology and Development (GAID), the University of the People is a not-for-profit institution that aims to offer higher education opportunities to people who generally couldn't afford it by leveraging social media technologies and ideas.

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AYP scores too extreme say school authorities

Larry Bowers:

Cleveland Director of Schools Dr. Rick Denning emphasized today the criteria for graduation rates required by No Child Left Behind are "too extreme," challenging high schools locally, across the state and across the nation.

Cleveland and Bradley County schools received their annual Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) scores for the past year this week and a majority of schools in the two local education systems are in "Good Standing."

These annual scores, released by the Tennessee Department of Education, are based on information provided by the state on district and school-level achievement.

All Bradley County elementary schools, middle schools and Walker Valley High School received marks of "Good Standing" by meeting federal benchmarks as defined by No Child Left Behind.

Cleveland Middle School was removed from "Target Status" with improvements in Special Education Math, for which the school was listed "At Risk" two years ago.

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Making the Grade: Student Video Projects Enhance Learning at Madison's Cherokee Middle School


Diverse student learning styles need to be met with a variety of learning tools. Teachers at Cherokee Heights Middle School reflect on the transformation and student growth they see with the introduction of technology such as digital media.

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Bill Gates: Tough US immigration stance a 'huge mistake'; Seeks More exceptions for 'smart people'

Austin Modine:

Bill Gates called US immigration restrictions a "huge mistake" while on tour of India today, urging America to open its golden doors for more "smart people."

The Microsoft billionaire spoke out on US immigration at a software CEO forum Monday in New Deli while visiting the country to receive the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament, and Development.

"I have been speaking about some of the immigration restrictions that the US has got involved in, and they are terrible for the US and also terrible for the world," India's national newspaper The Hindu quotes Gates saying. "The US Congress is very tough on immigration, in general. And my position has been, well, that is unfortunate, but what about making an exception for smart people, people with engineering degrees and letting such people come in."

Adding that Microsoft has always been against tougher immigration laws, Gates said stricter US policy would be a "huge mistake."

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GAO Sees Progress, Problems After D.C. Schools Takeove

Bill Turque:

The District's struggling public school system has made significant progress during two years of mayoral control, but lack of planning and transparency has hindered some reforms, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported Thursday.

The report, requested by the Senate subcommittee that oversees District affairs, praised Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee for "bold steps" taken to close under-enrolled schools, improve test scores and develop teachers' skills and methods of monitoring their performance.

But Cornelia M. Ashby, director of education and workforce issues for GAO, told the Senate subcommittee that "some false steps" had hampered efforts to transform the system, which serves 45,000 students in 128 schools.

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Now, colleges pay students who defer school for service

Stacy Teicher Khadaroo:

Colleges are thinking creatively these days about linking two priorities for students: financial aid and public service.

While loan forgiveness for graduates who take service jobs has been common for years, what's catching on now is the idea of rewarding up front students who defer college to help others.

More than 80 colleges and universities have started offering some matching grants for students who earn tuition assistance through AmeriCorps. At least 1,165 have signed on to match new government grants for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. And Princeton University and Dickinson College recently created programs to support public service, expecting that these students will bring a unique dimension to campus after spending time off the education track.

"We're seeing an upsurge nationally in the number of students looking for alternatives immediately following high school graduation - whether it be a 'gap year,' ... a two-year community college, or digging deeply into a service or job commitment that will allow them to ... define an interest," says Stephanie Balmer, dean of admissions at Dickinson in Carlisle, Penn.

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At Foothill, a college-level program for middle school students lagging in math

Jessie Mangaliman:

Maria Mendoza is hunkered over her math workbook, diligently copying a work sheet, "Adding 3 & 4 Digit Numbers." She had copied it once already, and completed the problems. But there were two minor errors and the math teacher, Agnes Kaiser, had returned it to be done over.
Mendoza, 13, happily complied.

"Now I get it," she said, satisfied.

Maria, who will be in eighth grade this fall at Graham Middle School, was one of 81 students from Mountain View in the four-week summer math program that ended Friday at Foothill College in Los Altos.

This is no ordinary summer math camp for students behind many grades in their learning of math. The curriculum used to teach Maria and other students is Math My Way, the program the college has been using successfully for years to teach intensive, remedial math to incoming community college students with elementary-level math skills. The camp was funded with a $77,000 grant from the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, part of an initiative to close the education achievement gap, a learning disparity among different racial groups.

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Pursuing an Academic Edge at Home

Joseph de Avila:

Kimberly Kauer was worried about her 6-year-old daughter's math skills. Her school doesn't assign homework, and Ms. Kauer wasn't sure which math concepts her daughter fully understood.

To quell her fears, Ms. Kauer started her daughter on an online educational program for young children called DreamBox Learning. DreamBox uses interactive games to teach math and analyzes users' progress as they complete lessons.

"It was really well-geared to her age," says Ms. Kauer, a 38-year-old stay-at-home mom in Emerald Hills, Calif. "They really tailored their questions to meet her needs." After monitoring her daughter's progress, Ms. Kauer concluded that her daughter was up to par for her age.

DreamBox is one of a number of companies, with names like SmartyCard, Brightstorm and Grockit, that are pitching a new generation of online educational products aimed at supplementing students' education at home. The programs, which parents pay for by subscription, target learners from kindergartners to high-school seniors. The companies hope their interactive programs will draw students wanting to get ahead at a lower cost than hiring a professional tutor.

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July 25, 2009

Charter schools need a shout-out in Madison action plans

Scott Milfred:

Yet try to find any mention of charter schools in the Madison School District's new strategic plan and you'll feel like you're reading a "Where's Waldo?" book. You almost need a magnifying lens to find the one fleeting reference in the entire 85-page document. And the words "charter school" are completely absent from the strategic plan's lengthy and important calls for action.

It's more evidence that much of liberal Madison clings to an outdated phobia of charter schools. And that attitude needs to change.

Nearly 10 percent of Wisconsin's public schools are charters. That ranks Wisconsin among the top five states. Yet Madison is below the national average of 5 percent.

Charter schools are public schools free from many regulations to try new things. Parents also tend to have more say.

Yet charters are held accountable for achievement and can easily be shut down by sponsoring districts if they don't produce results within a handful of years.

One well-known Madison charter school is Nuestro Mundo, meaning "Our World" in Spanish. It immerses kindergartners, no matter their native language, in Spanish. English is slowly added until, by fifth grade, all students are bilingual. My daughter attends Nuestro Mundo.

It was a battle to get this charter school approved. But Nuestro Mundo's popularity and success have led the district to replicate its dual-language curriculum at a second school without a charter.

The School Board has shot down at least two charter school proposals in recent years, including one for a "Studio School" emphasizing arts and technology.

Madison School Board President Arlene Silveira told me Friday she supports adding charter schools to the district's action plans in at least two places: under a call for more "innovative school structures," and as part of a similar goal seeking heightened attention to "diverse learning styles."

I agree. I believe that diffused governance, in other words a substantive move away from the current top down, largely "one size fits all" governance model within the Madison public schools is essential.

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Civic Committee of The Commercial Club of Chicago
June 2009


Most of Chicago's students drop out or fail. The vast majority of Chicago's elementary
and high schools do not prepare their students for success in college and beyond.
There is a general perception that Chicago's public schools have been gradually
improving over time. However, recent dramatic gains in the reported number of CPS
elementary students who meet standards on State assessments appear to be due to
changes in the tests made by the Illinois State Board of Education, rather than real
improvements in student learning

At the elementary level, State assessment standards have been so weakened that most
of the 8th graders who "meet" these standards have little chance to succeed in high
school or to be ready for college
. While there has been modest improvement in real
student learning in Chicago's elementary schools, these gains dissipate in high school.

The performance of Chicago's high schools is abysmal--with about half the students
dropping out of the non-selective-enrollment schools, and more than 70% of 11th
grade students failing to meet State standards
. The trend has remained essentially flat
over the past several years. The relatively high-performing students are concentrated
in a few magnet/selective enrollment high schools. In the regular neighborhood high
schools, which serve the vast preponderance of students, almost no students are
prepared to succeed in college

In order to drive real improvement in CPS and fairly report performance to the public,
a credible source of information on student achievement is essential. Within CPS
today, no such source exists. CPS and the State should use rigorous national
standardized tests. Also, the Board of Education should designate an independent
auditor with responsibility for ensuring that published reports regarding student
achievement in CPS are accurate, timely and distributed to families and stakeholders
in an easily understood format.

Efforts to provide meaningful school choices to Chicago's families must be aggressively
pursued--including expanding the number of charter and contract schools in
Chicago. Most of these schools outperform the traditional schools that their students
would otherwise have attended; and the choices that they offer parents will help spur
all schools in CPS to improve.

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Politically Correct Speech at the Stanford Graduate School of Education

Jay Matthews:

Michele Kerr (she tells me it is pronounced "cur") is a hard-working educator and Web surfer who is often mean to me. This is probably a good thing. When I post something stupid, Kerr--using her nom de Internet, "Cal Lanier"--is on me like my cat chasing a vole in the backyard.

Her acidic humor is so entertaining, however, and her command of the facts so complete, that I have come to look forward to her critiques. She tends to eviscerate me whenever I embrace anti-tracking or other progressive gospel preached in education schools these days, but I learn something each time.

I wish the supervisors of the Stanford Teacher Education Program (STEP) at that university's School of Education had checked with me before they decided Kerr's views and her blogging were inappropriate for a student in their program. They appeared to have decided her anti-progressive views were disrupting their classes, alienating other students and proving that she and Stanford were a bad fit. Kerr says they tried to stifle both her opinions and her blog, and threatened to withhold the Masters in Education she was working toward, based on their expressed fear that she was "unsuited for the practice of teaching."

Kerr's eventual triumph over such embarrassingly wrong-headed political correctness is a complicated story, but worth telling. In her struggle with STEP, she exposed serious problems in the way Stanford and, I suspect, other education schools, treat independent thinkers, particularly those who blog.

STEP retains the right to decide if a student is suited to teaching, and can deny even someone as smart and dedicated as Kerr, who has a splendid record as a tutor, a chance to work in the public schools.

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Detroit's Schools Are Going Bankrupt, Too

Paul Kersey & Michael Van Beek:

Am I optimistic that they can avoid it . . . ? I am not." That's what retired judge Ray Graves said this week when asked whether the Detroit public schools, which he is advising, would be forced into bankruptcy. Facing violence, a shrinking student body, and graduating just one out of every four students who enter the ninth grade on time, the city's schools have been stumbling for years. Now they face a seemingly insurmountable deficit and are expected to file for bankruptcy protection at about the time that students should be settling down in a new school year.

As embarrassing as such a filing would be, it also may be the only thing that can force the kinds of changes Detroit schools need--as the financial turmoil is just the latest manifestation of a system in terminal decline.

Detroit is like many urban school districts--large, unwieldy and bureaucratic, with a powerful union that makes the system unable to adapt to changing circumstances and that until very recently had an indulgent political class that insulated it from reform. That insulation came in two forms. The first was neglect. Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick spent several years distracted by a scandal stemming from his affair with a staffer. He resigned last year, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, and was sentenced to four months in jail. Had he been an effective mayor, he might have also been a powerful advocate for students.

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Making the Grade: Madison West High School Rocket Club


Beating out 100 teams from across the country, one of the four West High Rocket Club teams won first place in the Team America Rocketry Challenge earning them a trip to the Paris Air Show.

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Private Schools as Charities: The war against fee-paying schools takes on new life

The Economist:

EVEN among left-wingers, few talk about banning independent schools nowadays. There are craftier ways of overhauling the education system to fight privilege. One of them hit the headlines this week when the Charity Commission published its first "public-benefit" assessment, including five private schools among its chosen charitable specimens. Two--Highfield Priory in Lancashire and S. Anselm's in Derbyshire--failed the tough new requirement to show that they are helping the general public. The schools have a year to come up with a plan to get on track, or risk being taken over or closed down.

For centuries education has been considered a charitable activity, with no questions asked. In 2006 the rules were changed. Under the Charities Act of that year, schools are no longer entitled to the tax breaks that charitable status confers simply because they provide teaching. Instead, they have to demonstrate that they are actively benefiting the public. It has fallen to the regulator to interpret and apply the law: the commission says charities that charge fees, such as private schools, must ensure that "people in poverty" can use their services. The two schools that the commission flunked did not provide those who cannot afford the fees "sufficient opportunity to benefit".

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Encouraging Competitiveness: The fewer the competitors, the harder they try

The Economist:

WHAT relationship there is between the number of participants in a competition and the motivation of the competitors has long eluded researchers. Does the presence of a lot of rivals stimulate action or lead someone to give up hope? It is more than an academic question. Or, rather, it is a very academic question indeed, for it may affect the way that examinations are conducted if they are to be a fair test for all.

To investigate the matter two behavioural researchers, Stephen Garcia at the University of Michigan and Avishalom Tor at the University of Haifa in Israel, looked at the results of the SAT university entrance examination in America in 2005. This test generates a score supposedly based on the test-taker's verbal and analytical prowess.

The two researchers used data on the number of test-takers in each state of the union and the number of test-taking venues in that state to calculate the average number of test-takers per venue in the state in question. They found that test scores fell as the number of people in the examination hall increased. And they discovered that this pattern was also true for the Cognitive Reflection Test, another analytical exam.

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July 24, 2009

California threatened with loss of funds if it doesn't use test scores in evaluating teachers

Jason Felch & Jason Song:

U.S. education secretary is expected to withhold millions of dollars in education stimulus money if the state doesn't comply with his demand.

California could lose out on millions of federal education dollars unless legislators change a law that prevents it from using student test scores to measure teachers' performance, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is expected to announce in a speech today.

California has among the worst records of any state in collecting and using data to evaluate teachers and schools.

Moreover, a 2006 law that created a teacher database explicitly prohibited the use of student test scores to hold teachers accountable on a statewide basis, although it did not mention local districts.

Only a few of the state's nearly 1,000 districts evaluate teachers by using their students' scores, though a dozen more are considering such moves, according to state officials. Los Angeles Unified, the state's largest, does not grade teachers based on student performance.

Data-driven school reform is a major focus of the Obama administration's education policies.

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Obama to unveil $4 billion school improvement plan


President Barack Obama is set to announce on Friday a competition for $4 billion in federal grants to improve academic achievement in U.S. schools, the Washington Post reported on Thursday.

Obama wants states to use funds from the competition, dubbed the "Race to the Top," to ease limits on so-called charter schools, link teacher pay to student achievement and move toward common U.S. academic standards, the Post said.

Charter schools receive public funding but generally are exempt from some state or local rules and regulations. They are operated as an alternative to traditional public schools.

"What we're saying here is, if you can't decide to change these practices, we're not going to use precious dollars that we want to see creating better results; we're not going to send those dollars there," Obama told the Post in an interview.

Michael Shear and Nick Anderson have more.

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A Research Article On "flexible grouping"

Via a kind reader's email:

"States and Provinces and curricula around the world track students by age. This practice is so common that we do not think of it as tracking. With few exceptions, a six year old must go into first grade even if that six year old is not ready or was ready for the grade one year earlier" (Usiskin 98)


One of the many challenges facing schools is the decision on how to allocate students to classrooms. Research confirms the empirical observations of many parents and educators that students learn at greatly varying rates (Walberg 1988). These different learning rates are explained by (among other things) differing learning styles, aptitudes and levels of motivation (NECTL 1994). Unfortunately for visions of "equal outcomes," due to differences in understanding, among other things, these differences in learning rates tend to increase as the child moves through the educational system (Arlin, 1984, P. 67). Given the wide variations in knowledge, motivation, and aptitude, schools must choose methods of allocating students to classes, and curriculum to classes and students.

Unfortunately, school administrators face not only conflicting messages in regard to the educational implications of various decisions, but significant pressure to base decisions either partly or mainly on nonacademic factors(1) (Oakes 1994 a, b and Hastings, 1992 for example). Hastings declares ability grouping to be wrong as a "philosophic absolute" and declares its use to be "totally unacceptable." The National Education Commission on Time and Learning, on the other hand, labels the act of providing the same amount of learning time to students who need varying amounts "inherently unequal" (94). They state "If we provide all students with the same amount of instructional time, we virtually guarantee inequality of achievement" (emphasis in original). The Draft for "Standards 2000' from the NCTM (NCTM 98) calls for increased equity by exposing all students, not just the elite, to challenging mathematics. There is no apparent awareness that many students do not find existing materials, whether consistent with the 1989 standards or not, challenging.

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Proposed "Common Core Standards"

The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a joint effort by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) in partnership with Achieve, ACT and the College Board [10MB PDF]:

Governors and state commissioners of education from across the country committed to joining a state-led process to develop a common core of state standards in English-language arts and mathematics for grades K-12. These standards will be research and evidence-based, internationally benchmarked, aligned with college and work expectations and include rigorous content and skills. The NGA Center and CCSSO are coordinating the process to develop these standards and have created an expert validation committee to provide an independent review of the common core state standards, as well as the grade-by-grade standards. The college and career ready standards are expected to be completed in July 2009. The grade-by-grade standards work is expected to be completed in December 2009.
">10MB Proposed standards pdf document.

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An Apple for Your Teacher

Anne Marie Chaker:

It's shaping up to be a grim year for the Spokane Public School district in Washington state. Like so many others, it is making deep cuts in everything from teaching staff to school supplies this coming school year. But there's one bright spot for the district: The amount of federal dollars to incorporate technology in the classroom--and to train teachers to use it--is expected to double to about $160,000 from the previous year.

At the same time school districts around the nation are bracing for a round of severe belt-tightening as a result of strained state and local budgets, they're also getting a significant bump in federal funding to make their classrooms more tech-savvy, which they hope will help improve student performance.

Students at North Carolina's Greene Central High School use their school-issued laptops to collaborate on a social-studies project: Some school districts have seen increased funding for technology as staff and other programs are suffering substantial cuts.

The only problem: Districts are prohibited from using the money for any other purpose--which can mean that they have to cut staff and other programs while spending lavishly on computers.

The Enhancing Education Through Technology program was authorized in 2002 as part of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law. But the level of funding steadily declined to $267.5 million in 2008 from $700.5 million six years earlier--a 62% drop. The economic-stimulus package signed into law by President Barack Obama in February restored $650 million in funding to the program, to be used over the course of the next two school years. States are expected to receive those funds this week to distribute to their school districts.

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Weighing School Backpacks

Tara Parker-Pope:

Last year, my daughter's school backpack got so heavy, she would sometimes just drag it behind her rather than hoist it onto her shoulders. Backpacks with wheels are too bulky for her locker, so next year I'm thinking about buying an extra set of textbooks to keep at home.

In its latest rating of the most durable school backpacks, Consumer Reports has conducted its own survey to determine how much weight kids are carrying as a result of overloaded packs. The researchers visited three New York City schools and weighed more than 50 children's backpacks. They found that kids in the 2nd and 4th grades are carrying about 5 pounds worth of homework and books. But once kids reach the 6th grade, the homework load gets heavier. On average, 6th graders in the study were carrying backpacks weighting 18.4 pounds, although some backpacks weighed as much as 30 pounds.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that a child's backpack weigh no more than 10 to 20 percent of a child's weight. Consumer Reports recommends keeping the weight closer to 10 percent of a child's weight. But one Texas study found that most parents don't check the weight of their child's backpack. According to Consumer Reports:

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Detroit Schools Official On State Of System


Education Secretary Arne Duncan has called Detroit's schools a "national disgrace." The system suffers from budget deficits, corruption and a falling student population. Detroit Public Schools Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb, the official who will decide whether the school system will file for bankruptcy protection by the end of the summer, discusses the financial state of the Detroit Public School system.
Kai Ryssdal interviews Detroit's emergency financial manager Robert Bobb.

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Cleveland schools planning more buildings in areas where enrollment is dropping, study shows

Thomas Ott:

The Cleveland school district continues to plan for new elementary schools in blighted neighborhoods where enrollment has plunged, threatening to chew up state construction money that could be used in more stable parts of town, an analysis shows.

Enrollment is dropping faster than projected in some neighborhoods, primarily on the East Side. If construction continues, taxpayers could wind up paying for more school space than is needed, according to a report released today by the Bond Accountability Commission. The group monitors the one-third local share of a $1.5 billion construction and renovation program.

The analysis by commission administrator James Darr assumes that more than 25 schools not scheduled for work will close. If the buildings remain open, the surplus of space will soar, he said.

Darr called on the district to promptly shrink or eliminate schools where necessary.

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July 23, 2009

Madison School District Strategic Planning Update

On July 21, the Board unanimously approved the following components of the new strategic plan.

  • Mission
  • Beliefs
  • Parameters
  • Strategic Objectives
We have not yet approved any of the action plans.

New Mission: Our mission is to cultivate the potential in every student to thrive as a global citizen by inspiring a love of learning and civic engagement, by challenging and supporting every student to achieve academic excellence, and by embracing the full richness and diversity of our community.

Strategic Objectives:

We will ensure that all students reach their highest potential and we will eliminate achievement gaps where they exist. To do this, we will prepare every student for kindergarten, raise the bar for all students, create meaningful student-adult relationships, and provide student-centered programs and supports that lead to prepared graduates.

To improve academic outcomes for all students and to ensure student engagement and student support, we will strengthen comprehensive curriculum, instruction and assessment systems in the District.

We will implement a formal system to support and inspire continuous development of effective teaching and leadership skills of all staff who serve to engage and support our diverse student body while furthering development of programs that target the recruitment and retention of staff members who reflect the cultural composition of our student body.

We will rigorously evaluate programs, services and personnel through a collaborative, data-driven process to prioritize and allocate resources effectively and equitably, and rigorously pursue the resources necessary to achieve our mission.

We will promote, encourage, and maintain systems of practice that will create safe and productive learning and work environments that will unify and strengthen our schools, programs, departments and services as well as the District as a whole.

Next steps:

We did not approve any action plans. We went around the table and listed our priority areas and the Administration will develop action plans to support those areas and bring them back to the Board in August. There will be plenty of opportunity for discussion around the action plans brought forward. We have structured our process this way to ensure we keep moving forward as the plan is Important for setting the future direction of the District.


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School districts struggle to pay retirees' health benefits

Bob Kelleher:

Some Minnesota school districts may have to go into debt to pay for the rising cost of health care for their retired employees.

Local Minnesota governments have until October to sell bonds -- without a public referendum -- to help pay for retired employees' health care. But with the economy in the tank, some people are unhappy about paying higher property taxes to fund someone else's health benefits.

The retirees' health policy costs fall under something accountants call OPEB -- Other than Pension Employee Benefits. OPEB obligations, especially for health care, are really starting to put the squeeze on school districts statewide.

"We're actually paying for a larger number of retirees, from a pot that is generated by a smaller number of students," said Robert Belluzzo, superintendent of the Hibbing school district.

In that district, $1 of every $5 of its budget goes to retiree benefits, primarily for health care. Meanwhile, Belluzzo says the retiree pool keeps growing.

"The number of retiree health insurance plans is more than the number of active insurance plans that we have," said Belluzzo.

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Are teenagers more business savvy than 40-year-olds?

Financial Times:


Don Williams

It is a rare joy to see such a stir caused by a document written by someone who resides in the real world and that isn't based on ubiquitous, spurious statistics. It is terrifying that the glimpse of the bleeding obvious that is Matthew Robson's report has senior executives going into meltdown. "Teenagers see adverts on websites as extremely annoying and pointless." I'm gobsmacked! I thought we all went into rapture when screen infestations do their best to disrupt what you're trying to do. Low price (or no price) seems to be critical to all aspects of teenage consumption . . . really? "Teenagers don't use Twitter . . . tweets are pointless" - well actually, not just pointless, a smidgeon tragic unless you don't have anything resembling a life. The near panic caused by Mr Robson beautifully demonstrates that industry is awash with people who try to impose old-world thinking, methods and tools on new-world technology and lifestyles. To make even basic decisions they surround themselves with reports, advisers, consultants and, scariest of all, research. The 15-year-old's work proves there is a canyonesque gap in the market for a "common sense" consultancy.

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Who Will Congress Put First? Children or Teachers Unions?; Testing Tactics Helped Fuel D.C. School Gains; Why Cory Booker Likes Being Mayor of Newark; No Ordinary Success; Gates Says He Is Outraged by Arrest at Cambridge Home

1 & 2 here

3) A wise comment in response to one of my recent emails:

Petrilli is right on the money - I can't tell you how many times I've heard certain reformers denigrate "higher order thinking" and "problem solving" as just more union code words for an anti-accountability agenda. The problem is, when they insist that all that matters is basic skills and proficiency tests, they sound ridiculous to parents and teachers, and that limits their effectiveness. Basic skills, just because they're easily tested, are NOT all that matter, and our pursuit of more and more accountability needs to not be accompanied by a dumbing down of the accountability systems so we can have an easier time measuring and can make an argument against those who inappropriately assert that everything is unmeasurable.
4) A great blog post following the recent death of Frank McCourt, the author of Angela's Ashes, who taught in NYC public schools for decades before becoming an author:
Frank McCourt was my English teacher in my senior year at Stuyvesant (class of '74). He introduced us to African literature such as Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, which sounded even more dramatic in his thick brogue.

When one student asked why we should read this book, what possible use would it be to us in our lives, he answered, "You will read it for the same reason your parents waste their money on your piano lessons. So you won't be a boring little shyte the rest of your life."

It was the most honest answer to such a question I ever heard from any teacher. Whenever the question came to my head about any subject thereafter I fondly remembered Mr. McCourt and resolved not to be a boring little shyte.

5) Good to see Roll Call telling it like it is:

The test for Congress is whether to allow Obama and Duncan to continue their efforts with adequate funding - which is being processed right now - and the follow-on to the NCLB, probably to be introduced in January.

Republicans, if they're as serious about school reform as they've claimed for years, ought to rally to the cause because, as Duncan said in a speech in June, "we're convinced that with unprecedented resources must come unprecedented reform.

"Just simply investing in the status quo isn't going to get us where we need to go."

But Democrats may be a bigger problem - especially those beholden to the teachers unions. Some appropriators have cast a skeptical eye on Duncan's efforts to expand charter school funding, foster performance pay, get student test data tied to teachers and teachers colleges, fire persistently bad teachers and close bad schools.

Ultimately, the question for Members of Congress is, are you working to give America's children, especially poor children, a chance to thrive and compete in the world, or to protect industrial-era work rules for union members? Members should be judged on the choice that they make.

I'm quoted briefly:

After Duncan's speech, education blogger Whitney Tilson wrote, "This is a seminal event - an education secretary in a DEMOCRATIC administration went in front of the most important union in the country, that used to OWN the Democratic party and told them a whole lotta things they DIDN'T want to hear.
"This is the equivalent of Dick Cheney speaking at the NRA and espousing gun control."
6) Despite this snarky article's attempts to insinuate otherwise, there's no doubt that real, positive change is happening under Michelle Rhee's leadership in DC.
When Mayor Adrian M. Fenty announced the continued growth of standardized test scores for District students Monday, he hailed it as "powerful evidence of the incredible work being done by teachers, principals and most importantly our students."

What Fenty did not say was that the two-year improvement in District of Columbia Comprehensive Assessment System results -- including an average of nearly 15 percentage points in the pass rates on elementary reading and math tests -- was also the product of a strategy that relied on improved statistical housekeeping.

These include intensive test preparation targeted to a narrow group of students on the cusp of proficient, or passing, scores, and "cleaning the rosters" of students ineligible to take the tests -- and also likely to pull the numbers down.

Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee described some of these approaches as the pursuit of "low-hanging fruit."

The initiatives are neither novel nor improper. They've been in the toolboxes of urban school leaders since the inception of the No Child Left Behind Act. The law requires schools to show annual progress toward a goal of all students passing reading and math tests by 2014.

Rhee, who says she would like to see the law amended to emphasize year-to-year academic growth, said this week that much of what she had done was a matter of common sense.

"In our first year, we found that certain basic things were not happening," she said.

"There were actions we took to ensure we were maximizing our potential to be successful."

However, this article does raise important truths that not all progress is always what it appears. Here's a quote from David Simon, the creator of one of my all-time favorite TV shows, The Wire, in an interview with Bill Moyers:
You show me anything that depicts institutional progress in America, school test scores, crime stats, arrest reports, arrest stats, anything that a politician can run on, anything that somebody can get a promotion on. And as soon as you invent that statistical category, 50 people in that institution will be at work trying to figure out a way to make it look as if progress is actually occurring when actually no progress is.
7) A nice article in Time about Cory Booker. Under his leadership, there's been amazing progress in crime fighting -- now he needs control of the schools (whose budget is roughly 50% larger than the entire city budget) to make a similar impact there:
Whether the cameras, Booker's patrols or the Policing 101 measures instituted by McCarthy -- moving more officers to night and weekend shifts, when, get this, crime is more likely to happen -- were most responsible for the turnaround, the results are stunning. Murders dropped 36% in Newark -- from 105 to 67 -- from 2006 to 2008. Shooting incidents dropped 41%. Rapes fell 30%, and auto thefts 26%. Newark went 43 days without a homicide in early 2008, the city's longest such stretch in 48 years. In the first quarter of this year, Newark had its lowest number of homicides since 1959.
8) My friend James Forman with a long article about Geoffrey Canada's Harlem Children's Zone and Promise Academy charter school, and about KIPP:
How much can schools improve the life prospects of children growing up in poor neighborhoods? This question has divided the education community since at least the 1960s, when a group of researchers led by James Coleman attempted to quantify the extent to which segregation hurt black children. Coleman concluded that differences in family background had a greater impact on student achievement than did differences in school quality.
9) Gates is exactly right that this shit doesn't happen to white people:
Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. cast his recent arrest in his home in Cambridge, Mass., as part of a "racial narrative" playing out in a biased criminal justice system. The professor who has spent much of his life studying race in America said he has come to feel like a case study.

"There are one million black men in jail in this country and last Thursday I was one of them," he said in an exclusive interview with The Washington Post Tuesday morning. "This is outrageous and that this is how poor black men across the country are treated everyday in the criminal justice system. It's one thing to write about it, but altogether another to experience it."

He was still outraged but he said he has had time to take a step back and will now apply the scholarship that has been his life's work to the issue of race in the criminal justice system.

Gates was arrested Thursday at his home near Harvard University after trying to force open the locked front door. The charge of disorderly conduct was dropped this afternoon, the Cambridge police department said in a news release. The department called the arrest "regrettable and unfortunate."

According to the initial police report Gates accused police officers at the scene of being racist and said repeatedly, "This is what happens to black men in America."

Police came to Gates's home to investigate a possible break-in about 12:40 p.m. on Thursday. The department's report said Gates was arrested "after exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior" at his home. Officers said they tried to calm Gates, who responded, "You don't know who you're messing with."

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Aiming for College, Seeking an Edge

Letters to the NY Times Editor:

Re "Before College, Costly Advice Just on Getting In" (front page, July 19):

Reading this article made me extremely angry. I cannot believe that people have no shame in charging so much for college counseling. It's too bad that we live in a society whose culture dictates such crazed behavior to get kids into certain schools.

The only necessary ingredients to get into a good school are passion, dedication and good old hard work. There is nothing magical about these counselors other than the spell they cast on bank accounts.

Students should find something, or several things, that they love and care about and work hard to become the best they can be. Kids have gotten into top colleges writing about buying milk, Barbies and, for me, my perseverance with piano. Study hard, maintain a healthy lifestyle and stay positive. That's it.

S. Susan Zhu
Paris, July 19, 2009

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For Difficult Kids, Choice Of Care Can Bring Rewards

Sue Shellenbarger:

Dorothy Flint knew soon after her son William was born that she had a difficult child. He cried often and nursed nonstop. He slept so poorly that Ms. Flint took him on midnight drives in the car to calm him. He had separation anxiety so severe that she rarely left him. "He was really a tough baby," says the Crofton, Md., mother.

Later she found a silver lining. Ms. Flint took pains to choose an excellent child-care center for William, now 4, and he quickly surpassed other kids, sharing his toys and learning classroom rules. He wins praise from his teacher for his social skills. As high-maintenance as William was, Ms. Flint says, he has also been high-reward.

Working parents struggling with difficult children--marked by excessive crying, fussiness, emotional volatility, fear of strangers and clinginess--often worry about how they will fare in child care. Research has shown that sensitive, vulnerable kids can be at higher risk of problems later if they're mistreated or face other adversity early.

But new studies are discovering an upside: these difficult babies also have a significantly higher chance of surpassing other kids later if placed in the right kind of child care. The findings offer new guidance for parents in predicting how child care is likely to affect a child.

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Islamic schools seed fresh fears of terror

Farhan Bokhari:

As Pakistan basks in the praise of western officials over its offensive against Islamist militants, concerns are mounting that Islamic madrassa schools in the populous provinces of Sindh and Punjab may provide a beachhead for radicalism.

Security officials last year counted more than 560 madrassas in and around Karachi, the country's largest city and financial centre and the capital of Sindh province, according to a report seen by the Financial Times. Schools in the report were noted for "training for arms and pupils sent to Afghanistan and Kashmir", "famous for extremist teachings and armed students", "arms on site" and "foreign armed students".

Pervez Musharraf, then president, promised in 2002 to address links between Islamic schools and militant groups, but made little headway in establishing authority over the madrassas.

The schools have since been linked to terrorist incidents, such as the 2005 London bombings.

The Karachi madrassa schools "are in danger of becoming a watering hole for militants leaving places like Swat [the valley that was briefly controlled by the Taliban this year before the army launched an offensive to restore control] and seeking refuge if they can reach Karachi", said a western diplomat.

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Education 101: Taking charge of your child's middle school education

Andrea Hermitt:

Middle School is where parents begin to lose touch with what is going in in their child's education. The child is old enough to manage his or her own assignments, and also mature enough to suffer the consequences should they not follow through. There really is no need for the parent to continue to manage the students education, right? Wrong.

Middle school is also where students become more interested in having a social life and less interested in getting an education. Without the watchful eye of the parents, the student can begin a downhill spiral that the parents won't be able to control.

Here are some things parents must do to take charge of a middle school child's education:
Make your presence known in the school. Speak to teachers and administrators to find where they can use your talents within the school. Whether you have a job or not, make it a point to spend at least one day a month at the school, or perhaps a couple of long lunch breaks a month.

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OP hopefuls meet for first time, critique Jim Doyle's tenure, make their cases to be governor.

Marc Eisen & Charlie Sykes via a kind reader's email:

Sykes: The Milwaukee Public Schools have been an educational and fiscal disaster for a long time. Is it time to blow up MPS? Is it time to consider a state takeover?

Walker: It's time to do something dramatic. Whether or not it's a state takeover--Tommy Thompson talked about that a decade ago. An alternative would be to break it up into smaller districts. When you start talking about anywhere from 80,000 to 100,000 kids, it becomes very difficult for anybody to get their hands around it.

I would lift the lid entirely on school choice. I would allow schools throughout the county to [participate]. Take Thomas Moore, which has a very successful program, but can't currently operate [as a choice school] because part of its property is in St. Francis. I would allow for expansion, and I would lift some of the limits on charter schools,

Neumann: There is dramatic change needed in education. What's going on in policy in Madison right now is that more rules, regulations and red tape are being thrown at our choice and charter schools so that less and less dollars get to the classroom. They're tying the hands of the innovative people in education. We need to expand the opportunity in choice and charter schools.

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July 22, 2009

K-12 Wisconsin Tax & Spending Climate: A look at Wisconsin's Economic Base

Thomas Hefty & John Torinus, Jr:

Our state motto is "Forward," but Wisconsin is falling behind in the economic race to create jobs and raise family incomes.

As we'll show here, Wisconsin is lagging its own economic performance of the 1990s and losing ground to other states--especially to other upper Midwest states like Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois. It is even failing to meet its own goals--established in 1997 with much fanfare by a blue ribbon commission--for ramping up the state economy.

Although our political and media leaders ignore these failings, Wisconsin residents intuitively understand how our economic anemia has sapped their incomes and diminished their opportunities.

Since 2005, Wisconsin has experienced growing out-migration. Our citizens have voted with their feet, moving to states where they foresee a better future.

In the end, gauging economic success is really pretty simple for most people. Is Wisconsin gaining jobs? Are family incomes rising? Are wages increasing? In a word: No. Yet our state officials go out of their way (perhaps understandably) to emphasize the good news about Wisconsin business while ignoring the bad.

Consider how officials in the Doyle administration have massaged the unemployment rate to make Wisconsin job performance look better than it really is.

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End tenure, improve teaching

John D. Marshall

Over the past 70 years, public education has been a catalyst for America's rise to global leadership. Public schools are a gateway to opportunity for everyone and offer the best hope for lifting a child out of poverty, giving him an opportunity for a better life.

As conscientious citizens, we must invest significantly more time and resources in our public schools, and specifically in our best teachers. On most standardized and norm-referenced tests, American students score in the middle of the pack or worse, and far below the developed countries in Europe and Asia.

We read about increasing class sizes, reduction of teachers' aides and extracurricular activities, elimination of special ed programs, and "virtual" education replacing the traditional classroom teacher -- all as a result of the current economic downturn.

However, this recession may provide the leverage to make fundamental changes to our education system and specifically, to enhance the teaching profession, whose reputation has suffered for the past 30 years.

The most important factor in student learning is the quality of the teacher. Recent research indicates overwhelmingly that, with the exception of the family's role, the capabilities of the classroom teacher are more important than any other school factor in a student's learning. It is more important than class size, facilities, curriculum, the number of computers in a school, and per-pupil funding.

The difference in what students learn from a good teacher compared to a poor teacher is vast. We are better off having our child in a class of 25 with a great teacher than in a class of five with a mediocre teacher.

But how do we identify promising teacher candidates? It turns out that identifying the good teachers before they enter the field is surprisingly difficult. Research indicates that a college graduate's grades, test scores, graduate degrees and teaching certifications have little predictive value in determining effectiveness. The many intangibles make it almost impossible to predict someone's ability to connect with kids. In fact, many experts believe that teachers' character, integrity and personality may be more important than their content knowledge.

However, what everyone in the field can agree on is that becoming a really good teacher takes time. And by the time the school system is able to determine who is a good teacher -- and who is not -- everyone in the profession has achieved tenure. This is a problem.

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My Totally Unscientific Teacher Quality Survey

My survey:

Based on your experience working in a traditional public school serving primarily low-income and/or minority students, what percentage of the teachers you worked with were (the numbers in the three boxes must add up to 100):
  • Good/great (you would be happy to have your child in the class)
  • Fair, but improvement is possible (you would have reservations having your child in the class)
  • Horrible and unlikely to ever improve (you would NEVER permit your child to be in the class)
46 people responded and here were the results:

Good/great: 20%
Fair: 35%
Horrible: 45%

This is obviously a very skewed group of mostly TFA teachers in the worst schools, but nevertheless I'm shocked that the horrible number is so high. If this figure is even close to being right, then the problem is even bigger than I thought. I'll have to think about the implications of this, but one obvious one is the enormous importance of changing union contracts (and other factors) that make it impossible to remove horrible teachers -- and let's be clear, everyone knows who they are. There may be some tough calls regarding whether to keep certain teachers in the "fair" category, but horrible ones who are unlikely to ever improve need to find another line of work -- but, esp in this economy, they will fight to the death to keep their very nice jobs...

2) Here's a comment from one person who responded to the survey:
Good/great: 50%
Fair: 30%
Horrible: 20%

I taught in NYC for 5 years, from 2002-2007; I taught 5th grade, all subjects, and I was not TFA, but was NYCTF. One quibble with your survey and its framing: I would not want my daughter in any classroom in my school, regardless of the teacher quality. The curriculum (Teacher's College reading and writing; Everyday Math, virtually zero science, social studies, art and music) was either bad or nonexistent, and the social environment (harsh, chaotic) was not fit for any child. I agree that teacher quality is huge, but it's not enough to overcome all other problems. Great schools are great schools when all or most of the moving parts (teachers, administrators, curriculum, accountability, environment, seriousness of purpose, parental involvement, et al) are working. Planes can fly if they lose an engine, even two. They can't fly on one. At least not for very long.

Posted by Whitney Tilson at 12:36 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison School Proposed Board Strategic Plan Discussion - Audio

The Madison School Board discussed the proposed Strategic Plan [PDF] last evening. Listen to this discussion via this 85MB mp3 audio file. Much more on the proposed Strategic Plan here. Some recent written questions from the Board to the Administration can be found here.

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Seat Assignment? Check. Student Playlist? Check. School of the Future? Check.

Jennifer Medina:

The seating arrangements are compared to airport traffic patterns. The student schedules are called playlists. And lesson plans are generated by a complicated computer algorithm for the 80 students in the class.

This could be the school of the future, according to the schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, who visited Middle School 131 in Chinatown on Tuesday to promote a pilot program called School of One.

The program, which is being held in a converted library, consists mainly of students working individually or in small groups on laptop computers to complete math lessons in the form of quizzes, games and worksheets. Each student must take a quiz at the end of every day, and the results are fed into a computer program to determine whether they will move on to a new topic the next day.

Mr. Klein said the program would allow learning in a way that no traditional classroom can, because it tailors each lesson to a student's strengths and weaknesses, as well as the child's interests.

"The model we are using throughout the United States in kindergarten to 12th-grade education is fundamentally the same as it was 100 years ago," Mr. Klein said.

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New York City Comptroller Questions Graduation Statistics

Javier Hernandez:

he New York City comptroller, William C. Thompson Jr., released a report on Tuesday suggesting that the city's graduation rates were inflated, saying he had found instances where it appeared schools had wrongly changed student grades and improperly awarded credit.

But Mr. Thompson, a candidate for mayor, did not point to any conclusive evidence of manipulation, saying only that a lack of oversight coupled with intense pressure to push up graduation rates created the potential for abuse. And he acknowledged that, by and large, the schools examined in his audit were awarding diplomas only to students who had met graduation requirements.

Still, Mr. Thompson cautioned, the city was not monitoring students records scrupulously enough, and the record-keeping system was disorganized and prone to inaccuracy.

"The mayor's managerial style has created an incentive for schools to graduate students whether or not they have met the requirements," Mr. Thompson said at a news conference on Tuesday. "A New York City high school diploma is supposed to represent one standard."

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India makes education compulsory and free under landmark law

Dean Nelson:

The Indian parliament has passed a bill to provide universal, free and compulsory education for all children aged between six and 14.

The law, passed more than 60 years after India won independence, has been hailed by children's rights campaigners and educationalists as a landmark in the country's history.

India's failure to fund universal education until now, and its focus on higher education, have been cited as factors in its low literacy rates. More than 35 per cent of Indians are illiterate, and more than 50 per cent of its female population cannot read.

Official figures record that 50 per cent of Indian children do not go to school, and that more than 50 per cent of those who do drop out before reaching class five at the age of 11 or 12.

Campaigners say children from poor families are often discouraged by parents who need them to work, while financial obstacles are put in the way of families who would like their children to be educated. Families are often deterred by the cost of school books and uniforms.

The Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill will now guarantee 25 per cent of places in private schools are reserved for poor children, establish a three-year neighbourhood school-building programme, and end civil servants' discretion in deciding which children will be given places.

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Bill Gates: Better data mean better schools

Kathy Matheson:

The U.S. must improve its educational standing in the world by rewarding effective teaching and by developing better, universal measures of performance for students and teachers, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates said Tuesday.

Speaking at the National Conference of State Legislatures' annual legislative summit, Gates told hundreds of lawmakers how federal stimulus money should be used to spark educational innovation, spread best practices and improve accountability.

Gates, one of the world's richest men, has been a longtime critic of American public schools and has used philanthropy to advocate for a better educational system.

U.S. schools lag their international counterparts because of "old beliefs and bad habits," and it's not clear how to get them back on track without uniform achievement standards, he said.

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July 21, 2009

6 Lessons From Montgomery County Public Schools That Mostly Missed the Point

Jay Matthews:

If you don't like Jerry D. Weast, superintendent of schools in Montgomery County, do not take the new book "Leading for Equity: The Pursuit of Excellence in Montgomery County Public Schools" to the beach for your summer reading. Your resulting heart attack will frighten other vacationers and bring sorrow to your family.

Still, for those of us who like Weast, or take a neutral stance toward the aggressive school leader, it is a fascinating read. The authors, Harvard Business School experts Stacey M. Childress and David A. Thomas and national business and education authority Denis P. Doyle, look at Montgomery's remarkable success in raising student achievement as if they were analyzing Wal-Mart's marketing triumphs. It is all about process. People who deal with this sort of stuff in their own jobs will be intrigued.

I, however, write about teachers, and I am not quite as thrilled with the book as the folks hanging around the business school's soda machine might be. Let me take you through its key chapter, "Six Lessons from the Montgomery County Journey and a New Call to Action," to show what I mean.

I pause here for a brief pep talk. Please, please read the summary titles of the six lessons below without giving up and moving over to John Kelly's column. I realize that Kelly is always good, and these titles are almost impenetrable. But that is part of my point.

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Just 3 new Milwaukee voucher schools approved

Alan Borsuk:

A board authorized by the state Legislature to control the entry of schools into Milwaukee's controversial private school voucher program is beginning its life with a powerful statement that it will stop any school it doesn't think is prepared to provide a quality education from getting off the ground.

The New Schools Approval Board, part of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University, voted last week to give a green light to only three new voucher schools for this fall. Each of them involves an existing education program that has not received public voucher payments previously.

The board stopped 16 schools from opening, generally start-up operations that were on track to meet the requirements for opening that existed prior to this year.

Leaders of some of those organizations were angered by the decisions and say they will meet soon to consider further action, such as a lawsuit. The new state law provides no appeals process for decisions by the New Schools Approval Board.

Three schools will be the smallest number of new voucher participants in years. In the past five years, there have been between eight and 15 new schools in the voucher program each September. Combined with the closing of other schools, the total number of participating schools has stayed in the range of 120 to 125.

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Singapore Math Workbook Only Purchase Discussion (No textbooks or teacher guides) at the Madison School Board

26MB mp3 audio file. Marj Passman, Lucy Mathiak and Maya Cole raised a number of questions regarding the purchase of $69K worth of Singapore Math Workbooks (using Federal tax dollars via "Title 1") without textbooks or teacher's guides at Monday evening's Board Meeting. The purchase proceeded, via a 5-2 vote. Ed Hughes and Beth Moss supported the Administration's request, along with three other board members.

Related Links:

The Madison Math Task Force Report [3.9MB PDF] found that local elementary school teachers used the following curricular materials (page 166):

What, if anything has the Math Task Force report addressed?

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Parent-Paid Aides Ordered Out of New York City Schools

Winnie Hu:

For years, top Manhattan public schools have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from parents to independently hire assistants to help teachers with reading, writing, tying shoelaces or supervising recess. But after a complaint by the city's powerful teachers union, the Bloomberg administration has ordered an end to the makeshift practice.

Principals have been told that any such aides hired for the coming school year must be employees of the Department of Education, their positions included in official school budgets.

But such employees can command nearly double the pay of the independently hired assistants, and several schools on the Upper East Side either have told current employees they will probably not have jobs in the fall or have put off hiring new employees. That has incensed many parents, who see the aides less as a perk than as a necessity to cope with growing class sizes in well-regarded schools like the Lower Lab School for gifted children, where the average class size is now 28, and Public School 290, where broom closets are used as offices and the cafeteria doubles as a gym.

"The reason the teaching assistants are here is because they've been stuffing so many kids in these classes," said Patrick J. Sullivan, co-president of the Parent-Teacher Association at the Lower Lab School (P.S. 77), where parents spend $250,000 a year on the teaching assistants. "Nobody wants to break any rules, but 28 is just too many kids for one teacher."

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Detroit Schools on the Brink Shrinking District Heads Toward Bankruptcy to Gain Control of Its Costs

Alex Kellogg:

Detroit's public-school system, beset by massive deficits and widespread corruption, is on the brink of following local icons GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy court.

A decision on whether to file for protection under federal bankruptcy laws will be made by the end of summer, according to Robert Bobb, Detroit Public Schools' emergency financial manager. Such a filing would be unprecedented in the U.S. Although a few major urban school districts have come close, none has gone through with a bankruptcy, according to legal and education experts.

But in Detroit -- where U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan dubbed the school system a "national disgrace" this spring -- lawmakers and bankruptcy experts see few alternatives, given the deep financial challenges confronting the district and the state.

"Am I optimistic that they can avoid it...? I am not," says Ray Graves, a retired bankruptcy judge who has been advising Mr. Bobb in recent weeks.

As with General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC, bankruptcy may not be the worst thing for Detroit's schools. A filing under Chapter 9 of the Bankruptcy Code, which covers public entities like school districts and municipalities, would allow the district to put major creditors such as textbook publishers, private bus operators and DTE Energy, the local gas-and-electric utility, in line for payment. It also would give Mr. Bobb broad latitude to tear up union contracts without protracted negotiations.

But a filing also could hurt the district's debt rating and ability to float bonds.

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Within you, without you

Harry Eyres:

Michel de Montaigne, inventor of the essay, could also be seen as the begetter of the contemporary curse of self-absorption. Montaigne (1533-1592) made a move, nearly five hundred years ago, that still seems modern and revolutionary. He reversed the whole direction of study, research, investigation; he turned the lens from the observed to the observer. "For many years now the target of my thoughts has been myself alone; I examine nothing, I study nothing, but me; and if I do study anything else, it is so as to apply it at once to myself, or more correctly, within myself."

Now you could see this (like other French revolutions) as profoundly dangerous. You could blame Montaigne for the culture of narcissism, the world of endlessly proliferating self-help books, whose sheer number betrays a sense of desperation. Montaigne is indeed the patron saint of self-help books: "You should not blame me for publishing; what helps me can perhaps help someone else."

Now go back to that first quotation, and pause on the subtle but all-important distinction Montaigne makes at the end of it. What is the difference between applying something to yourself and applying it within yourself? When you apply something to yourself, the two entities involved, the something and yourself, don't really change; they may work in tandem for a while, but they can be decoupled. But when you apply something within yourself, that implies a profound transformation from within - a more organic, less violent and more permanent process, a silent but momentous shift in the whole machinery of the self.

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In search of a modern-day Mozart

Richard Fairman:

The premiere of Mozart's Mitridate, re di Ponto at the Teatro Regio Ducal in Milan on December 26 1770, must have been a memorable occasion. Six hours long, the opera was an immediate hit, and its run extended to 21 performances. "Every evening the theatre is full, much to the astonishment of everyone," the young composer wrote in a letter to his sister. "People say that since they have been in Milan they have never seen such crowds at a first opera." Mozart was 14 at the time.

He is far from being the only teenage genius in musical history; a recent poll to decide music's greatest prodigy in BBC Music Magazine didn't even manage to place Mozart in the top 10. Mendelssohn, who was the winner, composed his brilliant Octet when he was just 16. In second place, Schubert set German song alight by penning "Gretchen am Spinnrade" at 17. Korngold, placed third, completed his sexually saturated opera Violanta at the same age.
More from Arts - Nov-24

Where are the equivalents to these prodigies today? There is plenty of evidence that young people are as busy composing as ever - the recent Channel 4 television series about 16-year-old British composer Alexander Prior will have alerted the world to that - but very few music-lovers are likely to be aware of them. Spend a year going to concerts in any cultural capital and it would be quite normal not to hear a note of music by a single composer as yet untroubled by middle-aged spread.

If there is one place where youth really has a hold, it is the BBC Proms. The 2009 season opens on Friday and promises the usual admirable spotlight on youth. Young audiences, teenage soloists, family days, youth orchestras all have their place. But what of young composers? Search through the season programme and the score here looks rather different. The youngest living composer in the main evening concerts is 28. There are only three others under 30 out of the 128 composers altogether. By that age Mozart, Mendelssohn, Schubert and Bizet had already turned out masterpieces by the armful (and, tragically, each only had a few more years to live).

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Mayoral Control of Schools: The New Tyranny

Gerald Bracey:

Our Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has been on a "listening tour" where he's done most of the talking. He advocates, repeatedly, that mayors should take control of urban schools. Obviously he cannot take an honest look at his own accomplishments under this governance system or--he'd have to shut up.

The usual rationale a mayoral power grab is it brings more accountability and a clear line of authority. School boards are generally elected in off years and few people vote, allowing special interest groups (usually education unions, some claim) to essentially rig the elections. School boards are fractious and try to micromanage. They are amateurs and prisoners of deeply rooted school bureaucracies.

But do mayors do better? Depends on how you feel about democracy. The Spring 2009 issue of Rethinking Schools, said that, as Daley's man, Duncan "has shown himself to be the central messenger, manager and staunch defender of corporate involvement in, and privatization of, public schools, closing schools in low-income neighborhoods of color with little community input, limiting local democratic control, undermining the teachers union and promoting competitive merit pay for teachers."

The most important corporate involvement involves the 132-year-old Commercial Club of Chicago. Yet that organization recently published Still Left Behind, slamming Chicago's public schools as awful and that the reforms they've endured were designed to make the adults running the schools look good, not improve the lives of children. You could say the Club stabbed Arne in the back except that they did it upfront in the open, without once mentioning Duncan's name. The Club report backs up its case with many data.

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July 20, 2009

Wisconsin K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Democrat State Senator Mark Miller on the recent Budget

Christian Schneider @ WPRI:

Over the weekend, Democrat State Senator Mark Miller took to the airwaves to explain what happened. Here is Miller's (albeit clumsy) explanation of why Madison area districts are taking a big hit in this budget, from the "Here and Now" show:

Now, the pages of this blog have not been very friendly to Miller and his cohorts during the budget process. But on this one, I think he's getting a bad rap - and explaining why helps illustrate the constant struggle the state has with the school finance formula.

(CAUTION: What follows is an attempt at explaining school aids, and may be dreadfully boring. If it gets too bad, feel free to go over and read the Dogs With Mustaches blog and come back in 15 minutes.)

Let's look at the purpose of the school aid equalization formula. As its name suggests, it exists to "equalize" the relative wealth of districts. The theory behind the formula is that kids in property poor districts should have access to the same resources as kids in property rich districts (like Madison), even if the local district doesn't have the same property values on which to draw. Thus (and this is a substantial generalization), the state grants more money to property poor districts and less money to property rich districts.

(For a full explanation of the complexities of the school aid formula, take about four caffeine pills and read this.)

For example, take a school district like Peshtigo, with per pupil property values of $275,466. Peshtigo receives about 81.6% of their budget from the state. On the other end of the scale, the Madison Metropolitan School District boasts property values of $844,000 per student, and thus receive about 41.25% of their budget in state aid. (Since you were wondering, the Geneva J4 school district, with per pupil property values of $3.3 million, receive the lowest in state aid, at 16.9%. Beloit gets 85.1% of their budget paid for by the state, since apparently nobody there has discovered indoor plumbing.)

Related by Lucy Mathiak: Mark Miller "explains" how State budget isn't all that bad

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Pay bump for teachers with master's degrees could be put to better use

The Center on Reinventing Public Education via a Debra Britt email:

Seattle, WA, July 20, 2009 -- In this recessionary climate of depressed revenues and budget cuts for education, school districts across the U.S. "would be foolhardy" not to rethink paying teachers for master's degrees, according to a new report out today.

"On average, master's degrees in education bear no relation to student achievement," say education researchers Marguerite Roza and Raegen Miller in their short paper, Separation of Degrees: State-By-State Analysis of Teacher Compensation for Master's Degrees.

The brief was produced jointly by the Center on Reinventing Public Education and the Center for American Progress.

"During this time of fiscal stringency, it should raise eyebrows when a state automatically allocates such large sums of the average per-pupil expenditure in a manner that is not even suspected of promoting higher levels of student achievement," say the authors.

In hard dollars, this means New York state spends an extra $416 per student (for a total of $1.121 billion a year) just because 78 percent of its teachers hold master's degrees. In Washington state, the analogous numbers are $319 per pupil (or $330 million a year total) for the 56 percent of its teachers with a master's. These expenditures, respectively, represent 2.78 percent and 3.30 percent of the total federal, state, and local money devoted to education in each state.

Roza and Miller chart these numbers for each state and suggest that the money now committed to the master's bump in pay could be better spent, writing that: "Teaching candidates with salient and meaningful master's degrees should be given preferential attention when competing for jobs, all else being equal. A master's degree in engineering, for example, should be construed as evidence that a candidate possesses a deep understanding of a subject matter that is relevant to teaching mathematics or science."

The authors acknowledge that changing long-established pay practices and contractual schedules will not be easy. But they argue that from a strategic point of view, this master's bump in pay "makes little sense because these monies could be channeled into teacher compensation in ways that lead to improved student performance."

Seeing the issue in the context of how a financial crisis can inspire education reform focused on benefiting students, Roza and Miller conclude:

"In the fiscal climate ahead, school systems serious about improving results for students will have no choice but to reconsider their long-automated ways of spending money, uncover how much money is at stake, and compare current ways of spending to alternative ones with greater potential to benefit students."

Separation of Degrees: State-By-State Analysis of Teacher Compensation for Master's Degrees is available at This is the fourth "Rapid Response" brief in the $CHOOLS IN CRISIS: MAKING ENDS MEET series, designed to bring relevant fiscal analyses to policymakers amidst the current economic crisis.

# # #

Marguerite Roza is a Senior Scholar at the Center on Reinventing Public Education and a Research Associate Professor at the University of Washington College of Education.

Raegen T. Miller is Associate Director for Education Research at the Center for American Progress. As a National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow, he was affiliated with the Center on Reinventing Public Education.

The Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington Bothell engages in independent research and policy analysis on a range of K-12 public education reform issues, including choice & charters, finance & productivity, teachers, urban district reform, leadership, and state & federal reform.

The Center for American Progress is a think tank dedicated to improving the lives of Americans through ideas and action.

A related set of links from Janet Mertz.

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My Full Set of Questions on the Strategic Plan

First, thank you Jim Z for posting the responses to our questions. I should note that we did not get answers to ALL of our questions. I am uploading the PDF that I sent with my questions in case you are interested in the full set. I apologize for the size of the document - I took the PDF, added notes and highlighting where I was requesting answers, and saved only the pages that were marked up. There are 25 pages in all.

Also, I found the following text while looking for something on the web in my day job. I liked the formulation, so am passing it along:

To meet the challenges of the twenty-first century, our students need not only knowledge, but also the skills to use that knowledge, the responsibilities associated with using it and practice in the integration of that knowledge in new and complex ways.

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How states like Illinois rig school tests to hype phony achievement

Wall Street Journal Editorial:

When President Obama chose Arne Duncan to lead the Education Department, he cited Mr. Duncan's success as head of Chicago's public school system from 2001 to 2008. But a new education study suggests that those academic gains aren't what they seemed. The study also helps explain why big-city education reform is unlikely to occur without school choice.

Mr. Obama noted in December that "in just seven years, Arne's boosted elementary test scores here in Chicago from 38% of students meeting the standard to 67%" and that "the dropout rate has gone down every year he's been in charge." But according to "Still Left Behind," a report [158K PDF] by the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, a majority of Chicago public school students still drop out or fail to graduate with their class. Moreover, "recent dramatic gains in the reported number of CPS elementary students who meet standards on state assessments appear to be due to changes in the tests . . . rather than real improvements in student learning."

Our point here isn't to pick on Mr. Duncan, but to illuminate the ease with which tests can give the illusion of achievement. Under the 2001 No Child Left Behind law, states must test annually in grades 3 through 8 and achieve 100% proficiency by 2014. But the law gives states wide latitude to craft their own exams and to define math and reading proficiency. So state tests vary widely in rigor, and some have lowered passing scores and made other changes that give a false impression of academic success.

The new Chicago report explains that most of the improvement in elementary test scores came after the Illinois Standards Achievement Test was altered in 2006 to comply with NCLB. "State and local school officials knew that the new test and procedures made it easier for students throughout the state -- and throughout Chicago -- to obtain higher marks," says the report.

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Teacher, Can We Leave Now? No.

Tom Friedman:

I confess, I find it hard to come to Afghanistan and not ask: Why are we here? Who cares about the Taliban? Al Qaeda is gone. And if its leaders come back, well, that's why God created cruise missiles.

But every time I start writing that column, something stills my hand. This week it was something very powerful. I watched Greg Mortenson, the famed author of "Three Cups of Tea," open one of his schools for girls in this remote Afghan village in the Hindu Kush mountains. I must say, after witnessing the delight in the faces of those little Afghan girls crowded three to a desk waiting to learn, I found it very hard to write, "Let's just get out of here."

Indeed, Mortenson's efforts remind us what the essence of the "war on terrorism" is about. It's about the war of ideas within Islam -- a war between religious zealots who glorify martyrdom and want to keep Islam untouched by modernity and isolated from other faiths, with its women disempowered, and those who want to embrace modernity, open Islam to new ideas and empower Muslim women as much as men. America's invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were, in part, an effort to create the space for the Muslim progressives to fight and win so that the real engine of change, something that takes nine months and 21 years to produce -- a new generation -- can be educated and raised differently.

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An unsentimental education

Christopher Caldwell:

Long before the US began shedding millions of jobs last year, American politicians were obsessed with retraining people cast off by the global economy. "The average worker will change jobs six or seven times in a lifetime," Bill Clinton said in an address to the Cleveland City Club in 1994. That was not much help: how do you train people for tomorrow's jobs if you do not know what tomorrow's jobs will be?

President Barack Obama's call for $12bn (£7.4bn, €8.5bn) of investment in "community colleges" is evidence that the flux Mr Clinton alluded to is ending. Community colleges offer a range of short-term credentialing courses along with two-year and four-year degrees. They are where you go to become a dental hygienist, a cyber-security expert, a nurse or a solar-energy technician. If job-specific training is making more sense, then the job market is probably growing more predictable. The economy may be in a terrible rut, but we are, to a degree, re-entering the world of stable, credentialed work.

Community colleges now accommodate half the nation's undergraduates. Enrolment has leapt by a million students in the past decade, to more than 6m. Most are funded by individual states, which have had to cut their budgets even as demand for spaces has risen, and no one has picked up the slack. The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that "community colleges receive less than one-third the level of federal support per full-time-equivalent student ($790) that public four-year colleges do ($2,600)."

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Intern in the News: Matthew Robson

Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson:

Two weeks ago, Mr Robson was pretty pleased at being one of half a dozen London schoolchildren to secure a work experience placement at Morgan Stanley's Canary Wharf offices.

Such positions usually go to the friends and family members of well-connected bankers. In Mr Robson's case, the networking was done by his whippet, Rudy, who dragged his mother into conversation with the wife of one of Morgan Stanley's media analysts while both walked their dogs in Greenwich Park.

After a week of presentations by senior staff, the Kidbrooke comprehensive school pupil felt he had grasped the basics of banking, and was looking forward to a secondment to the European media research desk.

Many a teenage internship has been spent fetching Starbucks orders and being otherwise ignored. But Mr Robson struck lucky when Edward Hill-Wood, the head of the team, asked him to spend a few days pulling together an account of his friends' media and communications habits. Mr Hill-Wood's decision to publish the three- page report Mr Robson handed in has made the 15-year-old the world's most famous intern since Monica Lewinsky.

The report made for stark reading for the bank's clientele. His peers see advertising, the struggling sector's congealing lifeblood, as "extremely annoying and pointless". They "cannot be bothered" to read a newspaper, never buy CDs or use yellow pages directories, and generally try to avoid paying for anything other than concerts and cinema tickets.

While mobile phones are central to their social lives, the friends he canvassed (by text message) avoid expensive handsets for fear of losing them, do not use the mobile internet as it costs too much and prefer games consoles for free chat.

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Madison School District Budget Update: Wisconsin K-12 State Budget Changes

Superintendent Dan Nerad [184K PDF]:

Every two years the State of Wisconsin goes through a process to finalize a two year budget for all governmental programs. This biennial budget process is the source of the State's commitment to public education here in Wisconsin, historically driven by legislative guidance to adhere to two-thirds funding.
The two-thirds funding has changed over recent years, but for the most part the State of Wisconsin was able to continue annual increases to public education in an attempt to keep up with rising costs within this sector.

The biennial budget was sigued into law near the end of June by Governor Jim Doyle after various proposals and with relatively few vetoes. This budget has numerous provisions that will effect the future of public education that include:

  • Repeal of the Qualified Economic Offer (QEO)
  • Decrease in funding for public education by the state of approximately $147 million
  • Decrease in the per pupil increase associated with revenue limits
Each of these provisions can and Will have a very unique impact on :MMSD over the years to come. The repeal of the QEO will potentially impact future settlements for salaries and benefits. The decrease in funding for public education by the state is projected to create the need for a tax increase conversation in order to sustain current programs. The decrease in the revenue limit formula will cause MMSD to face more reductions in programs and services fur the next two years at a minimum.

Many public and private organizations are dealing with this issue. It is perhaps a time to make lemonade out of lemons. In the MMSD's case, getting out of the curriculum creation business (teaching & learning) and placing a renewed focus on hiring the most qualified teachers and letting them run.

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Arne Duncan Public School System has biggest black-white achievement gap in USA

Edward Hayes:

A phony interpretation of Chicago Public Schools' academic progress isn't the only beast threatening your local schools. For decades now, in every school district with a fireplug, a Walgreens, and a crooked alderman, the test scores of white children have been higher than those of black youngsters. The monster is called the achievement GAP. It slithers into your school even when the black and white students are sitting right next to each other in the same classroom. Furthermore, black middle-class students cannot escape its wrath because the GAP tracks them down even when their parents escape to the suburbs or move uptown.

Boring but important: The stupidly named National Assessment for Education Progress (NAEP) exams, administered by the National Center for Education Statistics, the statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Education (whew!), reports that the national GAP has narrowed for 9 to 13 year olds in math and reading since 1978, but remains unchanged for the last ten years. But there are isolated pockets of small success where the gap narrowed a bit.

4th Grade Reading: Three states reduced the GAP (1990-2007) -Delaware, Florida, & New Jersey.

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Are Obama and Duncan attacking teachers and local control?

Jesse ALred:

Since Franklin Roosevelt's 1933 victory, working familes have been the heart of the Democratic Party. Except for African-Americans, Obama did not win the party's heart in his primary contest with Hillary Clinton. He won with the support of affluent social liberals, well-educated youthful volunteers and superior financial support from the corporate sector.

The public schools' policies of President Obama and his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan so far suggest this middle-class feeling that in spite of all his gifts Mr. Obama may lack the common touch or grounding in everyday reality may be right.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's agenda seems designed to alienate middle-class teachers and parents who depend on public schools. His school reform proposals lack a well-grounded sense of why schools fail. His agenda includes the following:

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July 19, 2009

Proposed Madison Schools' Strategic Plan: School Board Written Questions

Madison School Board 1.1MB PDF:

4) Curriculum Action Plan - Flexible Instruction (page 44)

Arlene Silveira Is "flexible Instruction" the latest term for differentiation or differentiated teaching/team teaching? If so, we have been doing this for a while in the district. Do we have any evaluation of how this is working?

Lucy Mathiak
Please define "flexible instruction (and in civilian terms vs. eduspeak, please).

Ed Hughes
To what extent, if at all, does the "flexible instruction" action plan contemplate less "pull out" instruction for special ed students?

Madison School District Administration's response:

Flexible instruction is similar to other terms, such as differentiation and universal design. All of these terms mean that teachers begin with explicit standards and/or curricular goals for a unit or course. Teachers then design multiple ways to teach and multiple learning experiences for students for all core standards and/or curricular goals. Flexible instruction is best planned in teams composed of regular education, special education, and ESL teachers so that many aspects of diverse learners, including options for students abovelbelow grade level, are addressed in the original design of lessons. In classrooms with flexible instruction, various groups of students can work together, share and leam from each other even when the different groups of students might be working on slightly different types of experiences.

Although there is no explicit evaluation of how this is currently working, one of the highest priorities of teachers is the time to engage in this type of collaborative professional work.

The last paragraph states "Although there is no explicit evaluation of how this is currently working" gets to the heart of curricular issues raised by a number of board members, parents and those discussed in the recent outbound parent survey.

This document is a must read for all public school stakeholders. It provides a detailed window into School Board governance and the current state of our public school Administration.

Related Links:

UPDATE: Lucy Mathiak posted her full set of questions here.

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Reading Strategies and Cargo Cult Science

Robert Pondiscio:

The idea that it's enough to simply "find what works, adopt it, and spread it around," notes scientist/blogger Allison over at Kitchen Table Math is an example of what physicist Richard Feynman called "Cargo Cult Science":
In the South Seas there is a Cargo Cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they've arranged to make things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas--he's the controller--and they wait for the airplanes to land. They're doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn't work. No airplanes land. So I call these things Cargo Cult Science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they're missing something essential, because the planes don't land.
"Cargo Cult education seems to be all the rage in lots of communities," Allison notes. "Sure, districts could just start grabbing lessons from high performing schools but that won't make the students suddenly read or write. Unless they understand what's underneath the 'lessons of the high performing school' then it won't matter."

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An unsentimental education

Christopher Caldwell:

Long before the US began shedding millions of jobs last year, American politicians were obsessed with retraining people cast off by the global economy. "The average worker will change jobs six or seven times in a lifetime," Bill Clinton said in an address to the Cleveland City Club in 1994. That was not much help: how do you train people for tomorrow's jobs if you do not know what tomorrow's jobs will be?

President Barack Obama's call for $12bn (£7.4bn, €8.5bn) of investment in "community colleges" is evidence that the flux Mr Clinton alluded to is ending. Community colleges offer a range of short-term credentialing courses along with two-year and four-year degrees. They are where you go to become a dental hygienist, a cyber-security expert, a nurse or a solar-energy technician. If job-specific training is making more sense, then the job market is probably growing more predictable. The economy may be in a terrible rut, but we are, to a degree, re-entering the world of stable, credentialed work.

Community colleges now accommodate half the nation's undergraduates. Enrolment has leapt by a million students in the past decade, to more than 6m. Most are funded by individual states, which have had to cut their budgets even as demand for spaces has risen, and no one has picked up the slack. The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that "community colleges receive less than one-third the level of federal support per full-time-equivalent student ($790) that public four-year colleges do ($2,600)."

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Duncan to Principals: Release Your Inner Warrior!

Lesli Maxwell:

In his campaign for turning around the nation's worst public schools, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan this morning called for a cadre of "warrior principals."

Speaking to principals from across the country, Mr. Duncan said that without strong leaders, any effort to dramatically transform the thousands of public schools that have failed for decades would be futile. He challenged the leaders to "take on the toughest job in America."

"We need a team of warrior principals to leave the easier places and go into the most underserved communities with a chance to build a new team," Mr. Duncan said to the roughly 350 principals who are in Washington this week for the annual meeting of the National Association of Elementary School Principals and National Association of Secondary School Principals. Mr. Duncan said he would need to enlist about 1,000 principals a year, over the next five years.

The secretary has been pushing hard for turning around thousands of failing schools, and has already implored other groups of educators, including the charter school movement, to get involved in that work. Mr. Duncan also asked the principals to work on fixing the "broken" teacher evaluation system by developing evaluations that are "fair, thoughtful, but meaningful."

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Democrats' math fuzzy on school aid; Districts can do better at cutting, too

James Wigderson:

tate Democrats are congratulating themselves on two points. They made the trains run on time; they passed the state budget just before the deadline.

They also claim that 99 percent of us will not see a tax increase.

If they had taken just a little more time with the budget they would have recognized they did not even come close to their 99 percent threshold. Even their own budget document lists so many tax and fee increases you would have to be a contortionist to get around them.

But their budget also plays a cruel game of peek-a-boo with taxpayers. The Democrats hide tax increases by pushing them to the local level. Taxpayers in the Waukesha School District are discovering the first of these hidden taxes.

The Waukesha School District is getting hit with a $6 million reduction in state aid. Never fear, we're told. This does not mean an actual cut in school spending. It means the district will raise local property taxes to make up for the shortfall, a 10.51 percent increase in the tax levy.

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Wash. Board of Education revises math requirement


The State Board of Education has made a minor revision in the high school math credit requirements.

During a meeting in Gig Harbor on Friday, the board gave students more flexibility in their choices for high school math.

The board decided earlier that beginning with the class of 2013, high school students will be required to earn three credits of math to earn a diploma.

When the requirement was changed, the state rule said students who took a high school level math class without credit as an eighth grader were required to repeat that same course for credit in high school.

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D.C. Chancellor Gains Ground With Aggressive Agenda

NPR Audio:

Washington, D.C., Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee is pushing forward with her efforts to turn around the local school system. Those efforts have thrust Rhee's agenda onto a national stage, as educators across the country grapple with struggling school districts. Rhee discusses her work, which includes recently narrowing an achievement gap between white and minority students.

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Swine flu is a real danger to children. But not a Dickensian one

David Spiegelhalter:

The death of an apparently healthy six-year-old child has helped to put swine flu back on the front pages. The Health Protection Agency says that 5 to 14-year-olds remain the group predominately affected by the illness -- 1 in 600 of them -- 1,500 a day -- went to their GPs with symptoms last week. The death of a child naturally provokes our shock and sympathy, and such events are now so rare that they are unfamiliar to most people. Statistically, 7 is the safest age to be in England and Wales -- there are 650,000 seven-year-olds and about 60 die each year. That's 1 in 10,000.

So what do young people die of, and what might swine flu do to those risks? The Office for National Statistics reports that of 6.3 million children aged between 5 and 14 in England and Wales, 721 died in 2007. The statistics rather coldly amalgamate 721 individual stories, each of which will be gone over endlessly by parents and others who were touched by their short lives.

We tend to hear about the 135 accidental deaths -- including 34 pedestrian fatalities, 18 killed on bicycles, 5 on motorbikes, 22 in cars, 2 in trains, 1 who fell from a tree, 8 drownings, 1 electrocution, 3 deaths in fires and 6 accidental poisonings. These events are so rare that it is unsurprising when they make local or even national news. We also hear about the 24 homicides in this age group -- about half of them committed by the child's parents -- though we hear less of the 16 suicides.

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July 18, 2009

Before College, Costly Advice Just on Getting In

Jacques Steinberg:

The free fashion show at a Greenwich, Conn., boutique in June was billed as a crash course in dressing for a college admissions interview.

Katherine Cohen has a Web site called ApplyWise that puts prospective college applicants through a 12-step presentation.

Yet the proposed "looks" -- a young man in seersucker shorts, a young woman in a blue blazer over a low-cut blouse and short madras skirt -- appeared better suited for a nearby yacht club. After Jennifer Delahunty, dean of admissions at Kenyon College, was shown photos of those outfits, she rendered her review.

"I burst out laughing," she said.

Shannon Duff, the independent college counselor who organized the event, says she ordinarily charges families "in the range of" $15,000 for guidance about the application process, including matters far more weighty than just what to wear.

Ms. Duff is a practitioner in a rapidly growing, largely unregulated field seeking to serve families bewildered by the admissions gantlet at selective colleges.

No test or licensing is required to offer such services, and there is no way to evaluate the counselors' often extravagant claims of success or experience. And Ms. Duff's asking price, though higher than many, is eclipsed by those of competitors who may charge upwards of $40,000 -- more than a year's tuition at many colleges.

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Testing Tactics Helped Fuel D.C. School Gains

Bill Turque:

When Mayor Adrian M. Fenty announced the continued growth of standardized test scores for District students Monday, he hailed it as "powerful evidence of the incredible work being done by teachers, principals and most importantly our students."

What Fenty did not say was that the two-year improvement in District of Columbia Comprehensive Assessment System results -- including an average of nearly 15 percentage points in the pass rates on elementary reading and math tests -- was also the product of a strategy that relied on improved statistical housekeeping.

These include intensive test preparation targeted to a narrow group of students on the cusp of proficient, or passing, scores, and "cleaning the rosters" of students ineligible to take the tests -- and also likely to pull the numbers down.

Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee described some of these approaches as the pursuit of "low-hanging fruit."

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History Is Scholarship; It's Also Literature
Before we can educate graduate students about good writing,

Stephen J. Pyne:

History is a book-based discipline. We read books, we write books, we promote and tenure people on the basis of books, and at national meetings we gather around book exhibits. But we don't teach our graduate students how to write books.

It's an odd omission. We view statistics, geographic-information systems, languages, oral-history techniques, paleography, and other methodologies as worthy of attention in doctoral study--but not serious writing. Yet careers rise and fall on the basis of what we publish.

It may be that the scientific model of the grant-supported article is becoming more dominant, or that the simple production of data has become a sufficient justification for scholarship. Surely one reason is that research seminars offer enough time to compose an essay or a journal article but not a book, or even a book chapter. Perhaps an obsession with historiography has blocked interest in historical writing as literature, or the belief has arisen that the best way to meet the challenges of postmodern literary criticism is to deny its claims altogether, particularly since the contamination of memoir by fictional devices has tainted the whole question of applying "literary" techniques, borrowed from fiction, to nonfiction sources.

It may be simply that most of us don't know how to teach writing--real writing, which is to say, finding the means to express what we want to say. Instead we defer to the off-the-shelf formulas of the favored journals and the thesis-evidence-conclusion style of traditional dissertations. We take students' ideas for books and turn them into dissertations, and then expect them to magically reconvert them back into the books that originally motivated their imaginations and that their subsequent careers will require. While at least some historians are keen to unpack prose, few are eager to teach how to pack it properly in the first place. Whatever the reasons, serious writing isn't taught. There isn't even an accepted name for it.

Over the years my curiosity about that tendency ripened into concern. Then, a few years ago, while visiting at Australian National University, I was asked to lead a seminar on writing. That inspired me to offer a graduate course at my own institution on the theory and practice of making texts do what their writers wished. It would be English for historians, just as we might offer statistics for ecologists or chemistry for geologists. It's been the best teaching experience of my career.

Initially I thought most of the students who enrolled would come from history; almost none of them did. Instead, my students came from biology, anthropology, journalism, English, geography, communications, and undeclared majors who strolled in more or less off the streets. The only historian who took it did so as an override in defiance of her program of study. What all of the students shared was a desire to write better, and generally to write something other than the oft-cribbed, formulaic prose required of their disciplines.

We meet once a week for three hours. Class size matters: The structure of the course doesn't work with fewer than four or more than 10 students. The first 80 minutes or so we discuss the assigned readings--sometimes a book, sometimes essays or sample sections--that illustrate the topic of the day, such as voice, designing, plotting, character, setting, figures of speech, editing, scaling, and so on. We break for 10 to 15 minutes and then turn to the weekly writing exercises. That is where the rubber hits the road.

Each week students electronically submit an exercise of 300 to 600 words on an assigned topic. I select four and post them to the course Web page, and we discuss them intensively. Course evaluations, both formal and informal, are unanimous that this is the most valuable part of the course. To establish the style of the discussion, I use the first class session to demonstrate with a piece or two of my own writing.

Why not evaluate more than four selections? We simply haven't the time, or the concentration. We're exhausted. I try to vary the selections so the same students aren't always showcased. I pick those who did well, those who struggled, and those who wrote interesting or instructive pieces. There is something we can learn from each of them.

However much we might argue that writing requires self-editing and an ability to see ourselves as other readers might, putting words on paper is personal and anxiety inducing. I try to calm students with two strategies for our in-class discussions.

First, the students whose work is selected for us to evaluate in the classroom are anonymous. I post their work only as "Text 1," "Text 2," and so on. Over time, everyone pretty much knows who submitted what, yet the artifice is convenient, and it even allows the authors to comment on their own work. From time to time I throw in something I've written just to keep everyone guessing.

Second, students are graded according to whether they attend class and submit the required exercises. They can miss one without an excuse and still get an A. They don't have to fret over whether a submission is "good enough": If it's submitted on time and to the correct specs, it is.

In the past I had tried to teach writing within the context of a research seminar. The students were terrified. If they did not write well enough, they feared their transcript would suffer; and, just as worrisome, they stood to "lose" a potentially publishable article, which would also diminish their emerging CV. With my graduate course on writing, they have the chance to experiment and, for many, to undergo a literary detox program as they struggle to find their own voice and try to purge the awkward styling they've often inherited from their disciplines that leaves them tripping over their syntactical shoelaces. Rehab can take several months, but their grade won't suffer if they are dutiful with submissions and discussions. That kind of discipline is itself something a writing course should cultivate.

How do we discuss the writing? Pointedly, and gently. My role is not that of instructor so much as editor. We ask, What is this piece about? What is the writer trying to do? And how might we assist him or her in doing it? Then we often step back and ask more generally: What other techniques and strategies might get at this topic? The point is not that the submission is right or wrong, but that there are always many ways to express an idea, and we can use the particular submission before us to explore a range of possible approaches.

That there are always alternatives is the guiding directive of the course. Figuring out how to say what you want without making things up, or leaving things out that need to be in, is where literary imagination comes into play. Aesthetic closure is our duty to art, thematic closure our duty to scholarship, and reconciling style and substance is what the course is about. Who then determines what is the best solution in the end? The writer.

For me, the biggest challenge in teaching a course like this is getting students engaged in the difficult task of analyzing the exercises. I have to push them. They have to learn that a few casual comments of the "I like this a lot" or "This doesn't work for me" variety won't do. They have to analyze why and how it works or not. Many simply don't know how to read for craft. That's the purpose of the assigned readings, which are full of examples. And that's why I need to demonstrate a style by tackling (fairly critically) some writing of my own.

Another problem is that students tend to look to me to offer a "solution" to each exercise. I do comment; we are all expected to join in the discussion. But the trick is to put the burden on them to undertake the heavy editing. Some students do that much better than others, and some classes take to it more readily. The catalyst seems to be having a self-confident and generous student, usually older, who injects a calming presence. So far I've been lucky to have one of those each time I've taught the course.

The deeper institutional issue is granting credit to graduate students for such a course. While there is widespread dismay over poor writing, especially by historians, "good writing" seems to mean, for many faculty members, that "You need to write in the style I like," or "I want to do less copy editing." The idea that writing is an exercise in literary imagination--that it requires thinking about voice, about designing and framing, about diction, about the potential uses of character and setting and plot--is not widely accepted. Too many academics think "good writing" merely means using the active voice, not confusing "its" and "it's," and getting from thesis to conclusion as painlessly as possible.

For some scholarly writing, the prevailing formulas are sufficient, and part of good writing is recognizing when they work. Yet they often falter when confronted with new ideas, and learning how to adapt traditional templates to the actual requirements of the material and the enthusiasms of the writer is a craft that can be learned, and even taught.

Without departmental support, however, writing with literary imagination is not only difficult to teach but detrimental to graduate students because they will not get credited for the work nor be allowed by dissertation committees to use what they have learned. Before writing can be taught seriously to graduate students in history, their professors will have to agree on what good writing means, decide that it matters, and accept themes as well as theses. Before we can educate students about good writing, we may have to re-educate their teachers.

Stephen J. Pyne is a professor at Arizona State University and the author of Voice and Vision: A Guide to Writing History and Other Serious Nonfiction.

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Online Education and its Enemies

Liam Julian:

Holly Bates, an eight-year-old Florida girl, has such bad allergies that being near nuts or nut-based products--or even being near someone who has recently eaten nuts--can trigger anaphylactic shock. With peanut peril ubiquitous, young Holly is not enrolled in a traditional public school; instead, she attends Florida Connections Academy, a full-time "virtual" school that she accesses from her home computer. Her mother, a former public school teacher, loves the program. "The curriculum is unbelievable," she told the Tampa Tribune in 2007. "It would astound you, the progress these children make."

The Sunshine State is something of a virtual education pioneer. Since the 2003-04 school year, Florida has partnered with two for-profit companies--Connections Academy and K12 Inc.--to provide pupils with the option of attending school online, full-time, for free. But years before that, Florida was promoting other types of virtual education. Florida Virtual School is a statewide program that allows students to take individual courses online, often in subjects not offered at their local school, like Latin or Macroeconomics. It began in 1997 as a small grant-based project with just 77 course enrollments. Today, Florida Virtual School is its own school district and has an annual budget near $100 million. In the 2008-09 school year, according to Education Next, some "84,000 students will complete 168,000 half-credit courses, a ten-fold increase since 2002-03." A newly-minted Florida Virtual School Connections Academy, announced in August 2008, will further expand online learning options and access.

Joanne has more.

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Education Change Agent: Alex Johnston, CEO, ConnCAN

Education Gadfly via a kind reader's email:

What drew you to working in the education field and what path did you take to end up where you are now?

I was in college during the LA riots of 1992, and seeing how quickly our society could pull apart at the seams really made me want to focus on addressing the underlying inequalities that produce such fragile ties in the first place. I was doing a lot of work with Habitat for Humanity in inner city Boston at the time, and that in turn led me to focus my undergrad studies on affordable housing and the politics of exclusionary zoning in the suburbs of Boston. After a diversion to grad school overseas, I landed back in New Haven, Connecticut for a stint of couch-surfing with friends while I finished up a doctoral dissertation on the impact of government funding on non-profit housing providers. I then took all that book learning and put it to the test by signing on to the management team that was charged with turning around the New Haven Housing Authority from the brink of receivership. It just so happened that one of those friends whose couch I'd been staying on was Dacia Toll, the founder of the Achievement First network of charter schools--and so I got a unique perspective on the incredible power of these schools to transform their students' lives because so many of her kids were coming right out of the very same housing developments that I was managing. Rewarding as it was to help the housing authority's residents reclaim their communities from years of neglect, once I began to appreciate how powerful schools could be in turning the cycle of poverty on its head, I was hooked.

And so about five years ago I was fortunate to connect with ConnCAN's founding Board Chair, Jon Sackler. Together with an array of business, community and higher education leaders we founded ConnCAN on the premise that we need more than pockets of excellence to close Connecticut's worst-in-the-nation achievement gap. We need statewide policies that allow educational innovations like Teach for America or Dacia's schools to spread far and wide. And those policies will never be enacted unless we create the political will for them by building a movement of education reformers. We've been at it ever since, from the early days when it was just me and my dog working out of my house to today, when we've got a fantastic team of ten, and we're well on our way to building a powerful, statewide movement for education reform.

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Connected Kids At Elite High Schools

Alexander Russo:

've been ignoring the UofI clout story for weeks now, feeling like it was more of a higher ed thing than something about local high schools, but this latest story from the Tribune really caught my eye:

Half of the 616 Illinois students who received preferential treatment from 2005 to 2009 graduated from just 22 high schools, all but one in the metro area. Highland Park High had the most kids on the list, with Loyola Academy coming in second. There were only 25 kids on the clout list from CPS schools.

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No Size Fits All

David Brooks, via a kind reader's email:

If you visit a four-year college, you can predict what sort of student you are going to bump into. If you visit a community college, you have no idea. You might see an immigrant kid hoping eventually to get a Ph.D., or another kid who messed up in high school and is looking for a second chance. You might meet a 35-year-old former meth addict trying to get some job training or a 50-year-old taking classes for fun.

These students may not realize it, but they're tackling some of the country's biggest problems. Over the past 35 years, college completion rates have been flat. Income growth has stagnated. America has squandered its human capital advantage. Students at these places are on self-directed missions to reverse that, one person at a time.

Community college enrollment has been increasing at more than three times the rate of four-year colleges. This year, in the middle of the recession, many schools are seeing enrollment surges of 10 percent to 15 percent. And the investment seems to pay off. According to one study, students who earn a certificate experience a 15 percent increase in earnings. Students earning an associate degree registered an 11 percent gain.

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A Degree, At Long Last

Stephanie Lee:

Aiko (Grace) Obata Amemiya, 88, started working at a hospital in the mid-1940s, fulfilling her dream of becoming a nurse. As of Thursday, she's on her way to fulfilling another lifelong dream: obtaining a degree from the University of California at Berkeley.

That dream was destroyed after Pearl Harbor, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, sending 110,000 Japanese-American citizens to internment camps to protect the nation "against espionage and against sabotage." Born in the United States to parents from Akita, Japan, Amemiya was one of roughly 700 University of California students who spent those "stolen years," as some call them, in wooden barracks with no running water or air conditioning, far away from their relatives, homes and colleges.

Now, nearly 70 years after Pearl Harbor, she and many others will get degrees from the university. The Board of Regents voted Thursday to award honorary degrees to the students who were interned, following in the footsteps of universities in Washington State and Oregon. "I'm elated for all the students that were here at Cal at that time," said Amemiya in a phone interview. "I think it's such an honor for all of us to be considered for an honorary degree."

Mark Yudof, the university system president, said in a statement: "This action is long overdue and addresses an historical tragedy. To the surviving students themselves, and to their families, I want to say, 'This is one way to apologize to you. It will never be possible to erase what happened, but we hope we can provide you a small measure of justice.'

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School safety 'insult' to Pullman


Several high-profile authors are to stop visiting schools in protest at new laws requiring them to be vetted to work with youngsters.

Philip Pullman, author of fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials, said the idea was "ludicrous and insulting".

Former children's laureates Anne Fine and Michael Morpurgo have hit out at the scheme which costs £64 per person.

Officials say the checks have been misunderstood and authors will only need them if they go to schools often.

The Home Office says the change from October will help protect children.

The measure was drafted in response to recommendations made by the inquiry into the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in 2002, by school caretaker Ian Huntley.

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July 17, 2009

Charter Schools Gain in Stimulus Scramble
Cash-Strapped States, Districts Signal Expansion of Public-Education Alternative Despite Some Teachers' Strong Opposition

Rob Tomsho:

Some cash-strapped states and school districts are signaling a major expansion of charter schools to tap $5 billion in federal stimulus funds, despite strong opposition from some teachers unions.

Charter schools are typically non-unionized, publicly funded alternative schools that have been widely promoted by conservatives as a needed dose of competition in public education.

Last month, the Louisiana legislature voted to eliminate that state's cap on new charter schools. The Tennessee legislature recently passed a bill expanding charter schools after U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan personally lobbied Democrats who had been blocking it. And the Rhode Island legislature reversed a plan to eliminate funding for new charters after Mr. Duncan warned such a move could hurt the state's chances for grant money.

The most striking example may be in Massachusetts. Gov. Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Tom Menino -- both Democrats with histories of strong labor support -- are proposing new state laws that would give them broader power to overhaul troubled schools, open more charter schools and revamp collective-bargaining agreements.

Mr. Menino, who oversees the Boston schools, wants Massachusetts communities to be able to transform traditional public schools into district-controlled charter schools and link teachers' pay to performance.

Formerly a charter-school critic, Mr. Menino said he is fed up with opposition from the Boston Teachers Union. "I'm just tired of it," he said. "We're losing kids."

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California's Proposition 98, which guards funding for state's schools, is tested again

Eric Bailey:

n the tug of war over state's deficit, Schwarzenegger would like to suspend it. The California Teacher's Assn. wants reassurances.

Reporting from Sacramento -- For years it has been this government town's equivalent of a stone fortress, a bastion of public policy under the watchful eye of a potent political army.

But this summer, Proposition 98, the law that guarantees public schools roughly 40% of general fund revenue, is being tested as it has been only a few times before.

Schwarzenegger has talked of suspending Proposition 98 and has reopened a battle with the law's guardian and protector, the powerful California Teachers Assn. Both sides have waged war over the airwaves for the last week, with dueling TV commercials typically not seen in a nonelection year.

The governor and Republicans have rejected Democratic calls for new taxes on oil or tobacco. With no added taxes, cuts to schools are among the last ways the state can balance its books.

The unpopularity of such cuts guarantees difficult negotiations. But the talks over Proposition 98 have been made even more complex by lingering suspicions each side has of the other's motives.

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Lifestyle Inequality: The Habits of American Elites

Mark Penn & E. Kinney Zalesne:

There's always been lots of talk in this country about income inequality, but very little about lifestyle disparities, differences which are pulling American elites farther and farther away from mainstream America.

These disparities can be as profound as any class distinctions related directly to income; they go beyond having a bigger house, a nicer car or fancier vacations. America has always frowned on the idea of an "aristocracy," but American elites today are increasingly creating their own separate world of activities, removed from the everyday pursuits of average Americans.

As part of a talk I gave at the Aspen Ideas Festival, we compared the lifestyle of the attendees (260 of whom cooperated in a poll sponsored by the conference and one you can take on Facebook) with the changing habits of the American public. The group was drawn from leaders in business, politics, the arts and academia, gathering for a weekend in the Rocky Mountains to examine critical issues of the day.

Forget about huge, sweeping megaforces. The biggest trends today are micro: small, under-the-radar patterns of behavior which take on real power when propelled by modern communications and an increasingly independent-minded population. In the U.S., one percent of the nation, or three million people, can create new markets for a business, spark a social movement, or produce political change. This column is about identifying these important new niches, and acting on that knowledge.

Not surprisingly their income and education levels were very upscale: most had graduate degree and six-figure incomes or more. Most, in this case, had studied in the humanities; few came from math and science backgrounds.

Much more on Mark Penn, who was heavily involved with Hilary Clinton's Presidential campaign, here.

The article is well worth reading and contemplating.

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Virginia Home-Schoolers Can Seek State Aid

Washington Post:

Home-schoolers in Virginia are now eligible for state financial aid that they were previously not allowed to receive.

The Virginia Guaranteed Assistance Program, which provides need-based scholarships for tuition, fees and books at the state's two- and four-year public institutions, required recipients to have graduated from high school with at least a 2.5 grade-point average.

The state's approximately 30,000 home-schoolers were ineligible for the aid, which offered an average grant of $3,671 in the 2007-08 school year.

Under rules the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia approved this week, home-schoolers may qualify by submitting SAT scores of at least 900 and ACT scores of at least 19.

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Book Smarts? E-Texts Receive Mixed Reviews From Students

Ryan Knutson & Geofrey Fowler:

Last August, administrators at Northwest Missouri State University handed 19-year-old Darren Finney a Sony Corp. electronic-book Reader. The assignment for him and 200 other students: Use e-textbooks for studying, instead of heavy hardback texts.

At first, Mr. Finney worried about dropping the glass and metal device as he read. But eventually, the sophomore came to like the Reader. Its keyword search function, he says, was "easier than flipping through the pages of a regular book." Dozens of other participants, however, dropped out of the program, complaining that the e-texts were awkward and inconvenient.

Nationwide, universities, high schools and elementary schools are launching initiatives like the one at Northwest Missouri State, testing whether electronic texts that can be viewed on e-book readers or on laptop computers can cut costs and improve learning.

This fall, Inc. is sponsoring a pilot program for its large-screen Kindle DX e-reader with hundreds of students across seven colleges, including Princeton University and University of Virginia. Meanwhile, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to bring digital math and science textbooks to California's secondary schools as early as this fall. (Heavy old books, the governor says, are useful as weights for arm curls.)

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Stop Cyberbullying with Education

Larry Magid:

The first things you need to know about cyberbullying are that it's not an epidemic and it's not killing our children. Yes, it's probably one of the more widespread youth risks on the Internet and yes there are some well publicized cases of cyberbullying victims who have committed suicide, but let's look at this in context.

Bullying has always been a problem among adolescents and, sadly, so has suicide. In the few known cases of suicide after cyberbullying, there are other contributing factors. That's not to diminish the tragedy or suggest that the cyberbullying didn't play a role but--as with all online youth risk, we need to look at what else was going on in the child's life. Even when a suicide or other tragic event doesn't occur, cyberbullying is often accompanied by a pattern of offline bullying and sometimes there are other issues including long-term depression, problems at home, and self-esteem issues. And the most famous case of "cyberbullying"--the tragic suicide of 13-year-old Megan Meier--was far from typical. Cyberbullying is almost always peer to peer, but this was a case of an adult (the mom of one of Megan's peers) being accused of seeking revenge on a child who had allegedly bullied her own child.

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Millions more going to college?

Joseph Aoun:

THIS WEEK, President Obama unveiled a multibillion-dollar proposal to boost enrollment in the nation's community colleges. His plan seeks to graduate 5 million more Americans from two-year colleges by 2020, and follows a more sweeping goal he announced during his first address to Congress in February: for America to once again have the highest number of college graduates in the world by 2020.

While some will question whether these prospective students are ready for college, many of us in higher education are asking ourselves: Are we ready?

In the months following the president's congressional speech, there has been spirited debate in the education community about whether or not the president's goal is attainable. A member of a federal commission on higher education called it "sheer fantasy.'' Others have said the deadline should be pushed from 2020 to 2025.

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Teaching Kids About Money the Hard Way

Karen Blumenthal:

It's getting harder for parents to raise financially independent young adults.

Many banks refuse to open individual checking accounts for 16- and 17-year-olds, requiring parents to jointly own the account, even if the youngsters have a job. Colleges urge parents to link their bank accounts or credit cards to the prepaid cash cards that double as their students' ID cards, to ensure a regular flow of funds from the Bank of Mom and Dad.

And under the new credit-card law that goes into effect early next year--part of a broader move toward aggressive consumer protection--parents of those under 21 will have to agree to take responsibility for their kids' credit cards unless the young applicants can show they have the income to qualify.

All of this seems to encourage parents to interfere with--and maybe even bail out--these young adults. And it comes at an age when the youngsters themselves should be taking on personal responsibility and making their own financial decisions.

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A Privacy Law That Protects Students, and Colleges, Too

Chriss Herring:

A law designed to keep college students' grades private often is used for a much different purpose -- to shield universities from potentially embarrassing situations.

Some critics say a number of schools are deliberately misreading the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act in order to keep scandals and other unflattering news from hitting the media. "Some schools have good-faith misunderstandings of the law, but there are others that simply see this as a handy excuse to hide behind," says Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, which provides student journalists with legal help.

Legal experts say part of the problem is that the law is loosely defined. In addition, the potential consequences of violating the law -- namely, that schools would lose their federal funding -- prompt university officials to be conservative in their decisions about releasing information.

Those complaints rankle advocates of student privacy, who say that, if anything, the three-decade-old law should be expanded. "Most of these kids are adults, and they should be able to make their own decisions," says Daren Bakst, president of the Council on Law in Higher Education.

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July 16, 2009

Online education: Raising Alabama

The Economist:

An experiment in levelling the playing field

ON A sweltering day in Alexander City, Alabama, summer school was in full swing. Two girls were reading "Julius Caesar" as two others wrestled with maths. A boy worked his way through a psychology quiz, and a teacher monitored an online discussion with students from around the state: Was Napoleon the last enlightened despot or the first modern dictator?

This is not a traditional classroom scene, but it has become common enough in Alabama. The state has many small, rural schools. Because of their size, and the relative scarcity of specialised teachers, course offerings have been limited. Students might have had to choose between chemistry or physics, or stop after two years of Spanish. But thanks to an innovative experiment with online education, the picture has changed dramatically.

In 2005 the governor, Bob Riley, announced a pilot programme called Alabama Connecting Classrooms Educators and Students Statewide, or ACCESS. The idea was to use internet and videoconferencing technology to link students in one town to teachers in another. It was something of a pet cause for Mr Riley, who comes from a rural county himself. He was especially keen that students should have a chance to learn Chinese.


Joe Morton, the state superintendent of schools, points to the number of black students taking AP courses. In 2003, according to the College Board, just 4.5% of Alabama's successful AP students (those who passed the subject exam) were black. In 2008 the number was up to 7.1%. There is still a staggering gap--almost a third of the state's students are black--but the improvement in Alabama was the largest in the country over that period. "That makes it all worthwhile right there," says Mr Morton.

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The Children at Judge Sonia Sotomayor's Bronx School

Manny Fernandez:

The hardwood floor was shiny yet scuffed, from the tiny chairs and desks that have rubbed against it for generations. The open windows let in a cool breeze. The pencil sharpener on the window sill sat at attention, as did Dorothy Faustini's fourth- and fifth-grade math students.

The problem on the chalkboard: What is 72,641 divided by 10?

Hands shot up, hands stayed down. "Do not be afraid of the big numbers," Ms. Faustini reminded the children.

Jacqueline Garcia, 8, sat at the front of the classroom, inside Blessed Sacrament School in the Bronx on Wednesday morning. Math does not frighten her. She likes it, because she wants to be a doctor, and to be a doctor, she said, you have to learn math, science and reading.

One of Jacqueline's older schoolmates, Alicia Sylvester, 12, wants to go to Penn State University and learn to be a pharmacist. Another student, Alex Nunez, 10, is undecided on his career path, but he said it's a toss-up between a scientist and an astronaut.

"I can go to space and discover new planets and fix some satellites," Alex said.

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Pastor says he fought to keep school open

Matthew Hay Brown:

In the week since the decision to close Towson Catholic High School was announced, students, parents and alumni have focused their anger on a single man.

Monsignor F. Dennis Tinder has been accused of planning to shut down the school since he came to Immaculate Conception Church nine years ago, of turning down fundraising ideas and of speaking insensitively in referring to the student body as "a whole different community."

Tinder, in his first interview since announcing the closing, described the anger directed at him as "poignant." If he had it to do over, he said Wednesday, he would have closed the financially troubled high school earlier, to give students and their families more time to make alternate plans for the fall.

"I think we probably erred on the side of trying to keep the school going," said Tinder, who is responsible for the church, the high school and Immaculate Conception School, which serves children from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

"If there's a regret, it is that we tried too hard to keep the school open and went too long," he said. "I think we would have faced the same difficulty had we done it earlier. But it is my regret that we waited as long as we did in a failed attempt to keep it open."

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Education reform in Massachusetts A chance for charters

The Economist:

Independent public schools may be getting a chance in the Bay State

MASSACHUSETTS ranks at or near the top of national measures of how well schoolchildren do at reading and mathematics. A leader in early-years education, it is also applauded for its vocational, technical and agriculture schools. Still, there are problems. The disparity between students in affluent districts and those in low-income urban ones is shocking. In the Concord/Carlisle school district, for instance, 92% of students graduated from high-school on time and planned to attend a four-year college or university in 2007, compared with just 12.8% in Holyoke, one of the poorest cities in the state.

Many states have turned to charter schools (self-governing publicly-funded schools) to close achievement gaps like that, but charters are a tricky subject in Massachusetts even though the few they do have, such as Boston Collegiate, are among the best in the country. Unions abhor them while the school boards that run most public schools fear losing power and funding. Politicians have been unwilling to take on Massachusetts's mighty unions.

Last year Deval Patrick, the self-styled "education governor" of the state, unveiled a 55-point plan to overhaul the state's education system. The governor's package includes the introduction of three types of "readiness schools" to turn around poorly performing districts. Like charters, they will have greater flexibility, autonomy and will be held accountable for their results. But they will not be fully independent, remaining under the control of local school boards. Mr Patrick will introduce a bill authorising these schools later this month. One sort would have an external partner, such as a university, while another would be teacher-led.

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Connecticut Schools, Charters, Politics, Parents and the Achievement Gap

Sam Dillon:

Connecticut is another Northern state where achievement gaps are larger than in states across the South, the federal study shows. That is partly because white students in Connecticut score above the national average, but also because blacks there score lower, on average, than blacks elsewhere".

This validates my personal belief, and something that I have been saying for several years now, that Connecticut does not have great public schools, rather, it has one of if not the highest percentages of households with 4-year and advanced college degrees (CT, NJ and MA are always at the top of this list). This high percentage of well educated households makes Connecticut's public schools look good -- it is the household that is the difference maker, not the public schools. To prove my point, why is it that not one DRG B school does not outperform just one DRG A school?...or just one DRG C school out perform just one DRG B school?...makes no sense if the school were in fact the difference maker. DRG = Demographic Reference Group which is how the Dept. of Ed. here in CT groups all of its school districts to rate performance and other statistical data. It is generally rated by median household income but size of the community and other socioeconomic factors are part of the equation too. A = the most wealthy communities (also the "best" schools) and it goes down form there. is all about socio-economics not how great Connecticut's public schools are, which they are not.

Connecticut's high-performing, public charter schools are making a difference, and that is an objective statement based on proven data.

We should do everything in our powers to embrace the proven Achievement First (Amistad Academy) model and replicate it far and wide. Why it is being stiff-armed by our legislators and the teachers union is simply bewildering. But then again both have proven to put their interests (political careers and pay checks) first and Connecticut's children second -- the teachers union is particularly good at that.

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Using the Rout in Housing to Lower Taxes

MP McQueen:

Kim Davidson lives in Bonita, Calif., a San Diego suburb hit hard by tumbling property values. Earlier this year, she made the best of a bad situation and appealed her tax assessment. The county reduced her annual tax bill by more than $1,000 to $3,500.

"I did the whole thing online and walked [my application] down to the mailbox, and a month and a half later, I learned I saved all that money," says Ms. Davidson, a 44-year-old account manager for a business consulting firm, who purchased the home last year. "It was incredible."

Tens of thousands of homeowners across the country are trying to wring something positive from an epic real-estate crash. In Cuyahoga County, Ohio, which includes Cleveland, hit hard by rising unemployment and foreclosures, nearly 23,000 property owners applied for property-tax reductions this year, up from an annual average of 1,700. Appeals in California's Sacramento County soared to 12,000 in 2008 from a typical rate of 1,800 a year earlier.

The number of property owners seeking a tax reduction in Clark County, Nevada, which includes Las Vegas, soared to 6,000 this year from about 1,000 annually in recent years. About three-quarters of those who filed appeals succeeded in having their valuations lowered, most by 30% to 40%, county officials say. The county already had reduced valuations across the board for the vast majority of its residential property owners, says Michele Shafe, assistant director of the Clark County Assessor's office. She said staffers had to work overtime and Saturdays to keep up with demand for reassessments.

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Teaching Kids About Money the Hard Way

Karen Blumenthal:

It's getting harder for parents to raise financially independent young adults.

Many banks refuse to open individual checking accounts for 16- and 17-year-olds, requiring parents to jointly own the account, even if the youngsters have a job. Colleges urge parents to link their bank accounts or credit cards to the prepaid cash cards that double as their students' ID cards, to ensure a regular flow of funds from the Bank of Mom and Dad.

And under the new credit-card law that goes into effect early next year--part of a broader move toward aggressive consumer protection--parents of those under 21 will have to agree to take responsibility for their kids' credit cards unless the young applicants can show they have the income to qualify.

All of this seems to encourage parents to interfere with--and maybe even bail out--these young adults. And it comes at an age when the youngsters themselves should be taking on personal responsibility and making their own financial decisions.

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Connecticut owns one of nation's largest black-white achievement gaps

AP, via a kind reader's email:

Despite unprecedented efforts to improve minority achievement in the past decade, the gap between black and white students remains frustratingly wide, according to an Education Department report released Tuesday.

There is good news in the report: Reading and math scores are improving for black students across the country. But because white students are also improving, the disparity between blacks and whites has lessened only slightly.

On average, the gap narrowed by about 7 points from 1992 to 2007, so that black students scored about 28 points behind white students on a 500-point scale.

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Weighing Price and Value When Picking a College

Sue Shellenbarger:

Facing shrunken savings and borrowing options, parents and students are making some tough trade-offs in choosing and paying for college, suggesting some shifting attitudes toward higher education may endure beyond the recession.

Old dreams of adult children earning degrees from elite, door-opening colleges or "legacy" schools attended by relatives are falling away in some families, in favor of a new pragmatism. Other parents and students are doing a tougher cost-benefit analysis of the true value of a pricey undergraduate degree. As parents wrestle privately with such emotional issues, many say they wish they'd begun years earlier to assess their values and priorities, long before their children's college-decision deadline was upon them.

Mustafah Abdulaziz for The Wall Street Journal
Throughout her childhood, Sarah Goldstein imagined attending New York University, says her mother, Rose Perrizo of Sharon, Mass. Sarah's grandmother is an NYU alum; Sarah lived near campus with her parents when she was small. "In her mind, Sarah was always headed there," Ms. Perrizo says.

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More on Obama and Community Colleges

Christopher Beam:

There's a joke among snooty Boston-area high-school kids: If they don't get good grades, they'll end up at Cape Cod Community College, or "4 C's by the Sea." In suburban Washington, D.C., the punch line is Maryland's Montgomery College, or "M.K." for short. Kids in Houston use San Jacinto College, long known as "Harvard on the Highway."

Community colleges don't get a lot of respect. Except, as of this week, from President Obama. In a speech Tuesday in Warren, Mich., he proposed sinking nearly $12 billion into revamping the country's community-college system. The plan would provide $9 billion in grant money to boost academic programs and raise graduation rates, plus another $2.5 billion to upgrade school facilities. It would also fund open-source online courses so that schools don't have to build more classrooms to admit more students.

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Study: Achievement gap persists in Minnesota, rest of U.S.

Tom Weber:

A new report from the U.S. Education Department shows black students are scoring better in math and reading, but not enough to close a nationwide gap between them and white students.

The study also shows Minnesota has one of the nation's largest achievement gaps, but not necessarily for the reasons you might think.

The study looked at fourth and eighth-grade math and reading scores from a nationwide achievement test called the NAEP.

The test is scored on a 500-point scale. Of the students the study looked at, black students scored 26-to-31 points below white students in reading and math.

The study concludes that every state still has an achievement gap, but at least that gap isn't getting any bigger. Fifteen states saw their gap shrink on fourth-grade math, but not a single state has narrowed the gap in eighth-grade reading.

The disparity, though, is not caused by black students getting worse. Scores for blacks continue to improve, but they're also improving for white students. Researchers note it's hard to close the gap when everyone is improving.

Minnesota, meanwhile, has one of the nation's largest achievement gaps. But again, that's not necessarily because blacks are slipping, according to Jim Angermeyr, the head of research for Bloomington schools.

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Education Reform

Jeff Nolan:

There is a lot of talk in California right now about how the budget crisis will affect education investments, and I write investments very deliberately because education spending is a form of investment that is supposed to yield future returns. It's evident that we'll have to deal with the budget hole by cutting education spending rather dramatically, in fact it is absolutely unavoidable because education spending is about 50% of the state budget and when you include all of the other initiative mandated spending, the state government controls less than 20% of the actual budget... with a $26b hole in the budget the state could cut every dollar spent on things not mandated by voters and there would still be a deficit.

Okay, so we're going to have a less generously funded school system, a system that already competes for last place in the country in terms of educational quality. There is also the reality that we will dramatically reduce our funding for community colleges and at the same time raise fees, a reality for the California State University system and the University of California system.

While we are going through this fiscal realignment is it not also appropriate to ask what we are getting out of our education system? K-12 is a basket case and parents with economic means opt out of the system while those on lower income tiers are effectively denied something every child deserves, a quality education.

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A failing grade for Maryland math

Liz Bowie:

Maryland's public schools are teaching mathematics in such a way that many graduates cannot be placed in entry-level college math classes because they do not have a grasp of the basics, according to education experts and professors.

College math professors say there is a gap between what is taught in the state's high schools and what is needed in college. Many schools have de-emphasized drilling students in basic math, such as multiplication and division, they say.

"We have hordes of students who come in and have forgotten their basic arithmetic," said Donna McKusick, dean for developmental education at the Community College of Baltimore County. College professors say students are taught too early to rely on calculators. "You say, 'What is seven times seven?' and they don't know," McKusick said.

Ninety-eight percent of Baltimore students signing up for classes at Baltimore City Community College had to pay for remedial classes to learn the material that should have been covered in high school. Across Maryland, 49 percent of the state's high school graduates take remedial classes in college before they can take classes for credit.

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Your e-mail has emerged as a winner of £500,000.00 GBP (Five hundred thousand British Pounds) in our on-going Google Promotion

Library of Congress Vatican Exhibit:

Classical Roots of the Scientific Revolution.

For over a thousand years--from the fifth century B.C. to the fifth century A.D.--Greek mathematicians maintained a splendid tradition of work in the exact sciences: mathematics, astronomy, and related fields. Though the early synthesis of Euclid and some of the supremely brilliant works of Archimedes were known in the medieval west, this tradition really survived elsewhere. In Byzantium, the capital of the Greek-speaking Eastern empire, the original Greek texts were copied and preserved. In the Islamic world, in locales that ranged from Spain to Persia, the texts were studied in Arabic translations and fundamental new work was done. The Vatican Library has one of the richest collections in the world of the products of this tradition, in all its languages and forms. Both the manuscripts that the Vatican collected and the work done on them in Rome proved vital to the recovery of ancient science--which, in turn, laid the foundation for the Scientific Revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries. In the Roman Renaissance, science and humanistic scholarship were not only not enemies; they were natural allies.

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July 15, 2009

Remembering Apollo 11

The Big Picture:

40 years ago, three human beings - with the help of many thousands of others - left our planet on a successful journey to our Moon, setting foot on another world for the first time. Tomorrow marks the 40th anniversary of the July 16, 1969 launch of Apollo 11, with astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin Jr. aboard. The entire trip lasted only 8 days, the time spent on the surface was less than one day, the entire time spent walking on the moon, a mere 2 1/2 hours - but they were surely historic hours. Scientific experiments were deployed (at least one still in use today), samples were collected, and photographs were taken to document the entire journey. Collected here are 40 images from that journey four decades ago, when, in the words of astronaut Buzz Aldrin: "In this one moment, the world came together in peace for all mankind". (40 photos total)

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Wonk alert! More details on Obama's community college proposal

Mary Beth Marklein:

Wonk alert! I'm posting additional background information on the community college initiative that President Obama announced today, along with a link to the Council of Economic Advisers report, out Monday, called Preparing the Workers of Today for the Jobs of Tomorrow.

The name of Obama's proposal: The American Graduation Initiative

The cost: see what I've underlined below.
The four main features:

Frederick Hess has more.

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Sloppy Wisconsin K-12 budget hits Madison, other schools hard

Scott Milfred:

It's not just Madison schools getting hit with a much bigger cut in state aid than expected.

Middleton-Cross Plains is in the same leaky boat. So are schools in Adams-Friendship, Green Lake, Markesan, Montello, Princeton, Westfield and Wisconsin Dells.

State lawmakers had said no school district in Wisconsin should experience a state aid cut of more than 10 percent, under the state budget just signed into law.

But more than 90 school districts, including all of those listed above, just learned they're facing cuts greater than 15 percent. In addition, school districts including Lodi and Cambridge are facing cuts of more than 12 percent.

It's a stunning blow to local schools.
In Madison, it means the worst-case scenario of a 10 percent cut of $6 million next school year just became a much bigger reduction of more than $9 million.

That's likely to trigger higher local property taxes and cuts to instruction -- despite last fall's referendum that was supposed to steady Madison schools for three years.

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Mark Miller "explains" how State budget isn't all that bad

In a remarkable act of denial, Senator Mark Miller has issued the following release absolving himself and his colleagues of all responsibility for the legislative actions that have exacted significant hits on public schools. Passing the buck for the accuracy of the data that was used to calculate aid cuts, and omitting the critical information that federal economic recovery funds will make up for some but not all of the loss in state aid, Miller claims that somehow public schools do not have it so bad. Or at least not as bad as other state agencies.

Regardless of how the comparisons stack up, it takes real imagination to assert that somehow the legislatures protected public education in this budget.

For Immediate Release Contact: Sen. Mark Miller

July 15, 2009 (608) 266-9170

Sen. Mark Miller issued the following statement regarding DPI's July 1 preliminary general school aid distribution:

In May, when the Joint Finance Committee confronted a dramatic $1.6 billion additional loss in anticipated state revenue, it acted decisively to limit reductions in school aids to $147 million; substantially less than the $237 million cut originally feared necessary. It also took action to limit any aid reduction resulting from the $147 million cut to no more than 10% of a school district's aid. This goal was accomplished using the most current data available to the committee as provided by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB).

Preliminary data provided by DPI affirms that the Legislature's action was successful at limiting aid reductions attributable to the $147 million cut to 10% for individual school districts. In fact, for the Madison Metropolitan School District, the only reduction in
aid attributable to the $147 million cut approved by the Legislature is $4,519, or 0.0088%.

There are, however, 99 school districts that will see aid reductions of approximately 15%, including the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) which will see a cut of 15.2% according to the latest figures from DPI. These large cuts are primarily a function of the school aid formula, not the Legislature's action on the 2009-11 budget. According to a recent LFB memo, MMSD is losing aid because of increases in its property values and per pupil expenditures relative to the rest of the state, not because of the $147 million school aid reduction. In fact, even if the legislature acted today to restore the $147 million cut, the majority of these districts - including MMSD - would effectively experience the same reduction in aid.

With the help of federal stimulus dollars and the Legislature's action to limit reductions in school aids, we were able to protect one of our most basic priorities - educating our children for the jobs of tomorrow - from the deeper cuts that many state agencies received.

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CAST July 09 MMSD Budget Statement

via a TJ Mertz and Jackie Woodruff email: July 15, 2009

The school referendum approved overwhelmingly by Madison Metropolitan School District voters in November 2008 was based on a "Partnership Plan" that promised to maintain educational quality, initiate a community-wide strategic planning process, and mitigate the impact on property tax-payers in a variety of ways.

While the school district remains committed to the principles of this Partnership Plan, with the uncertain economy many things have changed since November. Most significantly, the recently enacted state budget has left MMSD facing what now looks like a $9 million reduction in state aid as well as requiring an almost $3 million reduction in expenditures for the 2009-10 school year.

As the MMSD Board of Education seeks ways to address the shortfalls created by the state budget, Community and Schools Together (CAST) believes it is important that the community recognize that this problem was created by state officials, not local decisions. The reductions in revenues and in funding for targeted programs (via categorical aids) will impact every district in the state. Madison is one of about 100 districts that have had their general state aid cut by 15%, but almost all districts are experiencing significant reductions in state support and will be contemplating higher than anticipated property tax increases.

These cuts come after 16 years of inadequate funding, annual cuts in most districts as well as reductions of the state's portion of education costs in recent years. This recent state budget moves us further away from the sustainable, equitable and adequate educational investments that are needed to keep Madison and Wisconsin strong and competitive.

It is also important that the community understand that the tax and revenue projections in the Partnership Plan and those used in the preliminary district budget passed in May were good projections made in good faith based on the best available information. That preliminary budget strengthened education and held property tax mil rate increase to 1¢ (far below the 11¢ increase anticipated prior to the referendum).

In the coming months the Board of Education must find ways to meet the shortfalls created by the state budget. There are no good choices.

These choices involve some combination re-budgeting and re-allocating, potential new cuts, use of the district's recently growing fund balance, temporarily employing targeted stimulus monies, or increasing the local tax levy. CAST urges the Board to retain their commitment to quality education and community involvement. We also ask the community to take advantage of opportunities to let all our state and local elected officials know that Madison values education.
Community and Schools Together (CAST) is a grass roots organization dedicated to securing sustainable, adequate and equitable public education investments in Madison and Wisconsin.

(Contact) CAST Co-Chairs:
Thomas J. Mertz - 608-255-1542, Carol Carstensen - 608-255-8441, Troy Dassler -- 608-241-5183

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Apollo 11 by numbers

Ian Bott:

Almost 40 years since the first Moon landing on July 20 1969, the Apollo space programme remains one of the most eye-catching achievements in the history of science.

The anniversary also brings back glorious memories for Nasa, the US space agency formed more than 50 years ago, and the programme's success contrasts with the relatively pedestrian activities that space agencies perform today.

Here, the Financial Times takes a look back at the Apollo programme through figures. Click on each number to see how it fits into the story of the mission.

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The statistics that colleges hate to share

Penelope Wang:

When you start searching for that perfect college for your child, you might think there's plenty of information to help you with your decision. Just for starters, every college has a website that will give you all the essentials.

Take Stephens College, a private, four-year women's school in Columbia, Missouri. A quick tour of its website will tell you that the college offers more than 50 major and minors, everything from English to event planning to equestrian science. Class sizes average just 13 students. Annual costs total $32,250, but nearly all students get some kind of financial aid. And the campus looks nice.

But what you won't see without diligent searching is that half of Stephens students fail to graduate, even after six years. Not to pick on Stephens, which does mention that statistic deep in its website. Point is, little of the data that colleges provide really tell you much about the value of your investment: the quality of the education, the experience of the students, or how the graduates fare later in life. Instead parents have long accepted the value of the diploma on faith. And many assume that a college that charges $50,000 a year will give their child a better education than one that charges $25,000.

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If granny would disapprove, don't put it on the net

Rhymer Rigby:

No matter how many people come unstuck after posting inappropriate details of themselves on the internet, people just keep on doing it.

We had the case of Sir John Sawers, the UK's incoming head of MI6 and his wife's Facebook account. Some of the details we learnt about the new head spook were innocuous enough (he wears Speedos), others less so (the location of his flat and details of friends and family). He is not the only one. From Republicans making racist remarks to bankers slagging off their bosses, it is a long and sorry list.

"Everyone knows that a lot of companies make a beeline for Facebook when they're looking at potential recruits," says Charlotte Butterfield, managing director of Law Absolut, the legal recruitment firm. "It's a form of due diligence and your profile on Facebook should be broadly the same as the person you present at interview."

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High Schools Seek to Curb Heat-Linked Sports Injuries

Laura Yao:

On a hot day last August, Max Gilpin, a high-school sophomore from Louisville, Ky., collapsed during a preseason football practice. Three days later, he died from complications of heatstroke. His coach, Jason Stinson, was later indicted for reckless homicide in the first known criminal case of its kind.

With high-school football season set to get under way in many parts of the country next month, Max's story, which received widespread media attention, has spurred a nationwide debate about how far high schools should go to prevent heat-related injuries among their athletes.

Last month, the National Athletic Trainers' Association, which represents accredited trainers with a background in sports medicine, issued new heatstroke-prevention guidelines for high schools. These included recommendations to limit the duration and intensity of practice sessions early in the season and in hot weather.

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Helping Students, in and Out of School

Letters to the NY Times Editor:

"Lessons for Failing Schools" (editorial, July 6) says Education Secretary Arne Duncan, with a $100 billion educational stimulus fund at his disposal, is right to focus on transforming 5,000 low-performing schools that account for the majority of minority dropouts. But if it were that easy -- just a matter of spending money -- the country would have probably done it long ago.

What we are facing is more than a school problem caused by the schools alone. It is a pervasive set of problems in some minority communities, including fatherless households, teenage dropout mothers, drugs and a culture that disparages education, along with some incredibly poor teaching.

The first thing Mr. Duncan should do is to ensure that minority children and their families who really want to do well and are trying hard get the opportunity to escape to charter and other schools so they aren't dragged down by the mass failures we are witnessing in public urban education.

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The 25 Best Foods for Fitness

When it comes to choosing the foods we eat, we have so many choices that it often becomes confusing. As Americans, we are blessed with almost every kind of food imaginable, available right next door at the supermarket. There are, however, some very specific foods that help improve athletic performance. The foods listed below are particular important to keep in your diet. The following foods, in alphabetical order, provide premium fuel for the active athlete.

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Children of the credit revolution

Samantha Pearson:

Andy Slater, a 22-year-old delivery driver in London, appears oblivious to the fact that the UK is suffering its worst recession since the second world war.

"You gotta have new trainers ain't you? Nike, Adidas, Lacoste - whatever looks good," he says, eyeing up the latest models in the Westfield shopping mall in west London.

He is not alone in his opinion. In a survey conducted by the US-based Westfield group in May, 70 per cent of its shoppers aged between 18 and 35 said they were spending the same or more on clothes and eating out.

Slaves to fashion and free of most financial commitments, young people have kept spending in economic downturns when others have cut back. But today's younger generation is particularly flush with cash and, after growing up during the credit boom, spending is deeply ingrained.

As a result, retailers geared towards the youth market - particularly clothing chains - have been basking in their good fortune.

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10 Google Search Tricks


Searching on Google can be a magical experience once you find out how to make your search queries efficient. By making efficient I mean using some tricks or the cheat sheet provided by Google itself to quickly find what you actually require. Having being hooked onto Google for a long time now, I have come across some amazing search tricks which can change the way you look at Google today.

In this article I will list down the search tricks which I use quite frequently. Be it finding time, meanings or watching the cricket score, searching PDF's, with Google as the search engine life cannot be more simpler. Here are the 10 most amazing Google Search tricks:

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July 14, 2009

State lags in closing achievement gap

Gayle Worland:

Wisconsin lags behind the rest of the nation in closing the achievement gap between black and white students, according to a U.S. Department of Education report released Tuesday.

Based on data from 2007, the National Assessment of Education Progress study shows some academic improvement among black and white students nationwide, with the gap in test scores between the two groups narrowing in a number of states. Wisconsin stands out as the only state with a racial achievement gap wider than the national average in all four categories measured: math for grades four and eight, and reading for grades four and eight.

Scores among black Wisconsin students were lower than their national peers in all four categories. White students in Wisconsin scored slightly above the national average in math, but below the national average for reading in grade four. The largest gap between white and black Wisconsin students was in math at grade eight, with a 45-point difference between their test scores on a 0-500 point scale.


Closing the achievement gap is important to the Madison School District, said district spokesman Ken Syke.

"It's not a zero-sum situation," Syke said. "As we work to raise the achievement level of students of color, we still work as educators to continue to raise the achievement level of students who are not of color. It's not like if you're pouring resources into one you're not pouring resources into the other."

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Holding one child back to make another child feel better

Andrea Hermitt

Personal story: When my son was in the first grade we had just returned to New York from New Orleans. About a month into the school year I realized that the work he was being given was identical to what he had done the year before. I decided a conference with the teacher was in order. I sat down with her and explained the situation thinking a teacher would know what to do. Instead she said to me "Do you want me to frustrate the other children?' My response was less than cordial. Any wonder why we homeschool now?

Stephanie Tolan, noted author well known advocate for extremely bright children , once said "You don't have the moral right to hold one child back to make another child feel better." To understand her reasoning behind the quote, you must understand that her youngest child was an extremely gifted child and that she has also spent a great deal of time working with the parents of gifted children and advocating for gifted children. An interview of Ms. Tolan tells of her child being humiliating in school as a result of his advanced intelligence.

Back to my story: I did not know, nor do I currently have documentation that my child is gifted, but I do know that the the first grade experience continued through his time in school, and even beyond that. The first grade teacher and administration acknowledged that not only did the child already know the material he was being given, but he also easily absorbed any new information they attempted to give. They held me off by promising to have him tested for the gifted program when the time was right. However, we moved south again, and the schools in GA refused to test him. No one would admit he was possibly gifted until the day I went to de-enroll him so he could be homeschooled. The teacher asked why I would take an obviously gifted child out of school. The look on her face after she realized what she said, made it clear that I didn't have to answer the question.

Realizing that schools are not created to cater to the individual child, is the key to parents creating the best education for their kids. This is not to say that homeschooling is the only solution to giving a child a customized education. This is to say that if parents don't supplement outside of the classroom, your child WILL BE disserviced. This is especially true if that child is bright, talented, or gifted.

Let's face it, schools are only given so much in resources. Because special education needs are much more apparent than gifted needs, it is the gifted students that lose out. For the most part, schools have not purposely committed a moral sin against the gifted child, but ignorance that you have committed a hit-and-run does not make the victim any less injured. Some one has to pick them up, and nurture them back to health. If the schools can't do it, then the parents must. Still we must continue to advocate for proper education of the gifted an advanced child.

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47 Wisconsin Students are National Merit Scholarship Winners

The Madison-area winners include: Kori Bertun, East High School (recipient of a National Merit Scholarship from Rice University); Mary Kate Wall, Edgewood High School (Indiana University, Bloomington); Nicholas Klawes, La Follette High School (Grinnell College); Elisabeth Meier, Madison Country Day School, Waunakee (University of Chicago); Emma Cornwell, Memorial High School (St. Olaf College); Bennett Naden, Middleton High School (Harvey Mudd College); Adam Schneider, Middleton High School (UW-Eau Claire); and Dianna Amasino (Macalester College) and Zachary Pekarsky (Oberlin College), both of West High School. Colleen Ziegler of Joseph A. Craig High School in Janesville won a National Merit Scholarship from Arizona State University. Joshua Campbell of Sauk Prairie High School, Prairie du Sac, won a National Merit Carleton College Scholarship, and Connor Mulcahy of Whitewater High School, Whitewater, won a National Merit University of Minnesota Scholarship.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:09 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Teachers are key for students who like learning and remain curious

Greg Toppo via a kind reader's email:

People are naturally curious, so why is school such a chore for so many kids? University of Virginia cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham set out to learn why in his new book, Why Don't Students Like School? Part of the answer, he finds, is that thinking can be just plain hard. Unless conditions are right, we'll actually try to avoid the process of thinking. A teacher's challenge, the author says, is to "maximize the likelihood that students will get the pleasurable rush that comes from successful thought." The author chats about the learning process.

Q: After all we've learned about the mind and brain, why is it so difficult to make school enjoyable for students?

A: School is all about mental challenge, and that is hard work, make no mistake. Still, people do enjoy mental work or, more exactly, people enjoy successful mental work. We get a snap of satisfaction when we solve a problem. But solving a problem that is trivially easy is not fun. Neither is hammering away at a problem with no sense you are making progress.

So the challenge for a teacher is to find that sweet spot of mental difficulty, and to find it simultaneously for 25 students, each with a different level of preparation. To fight this problem, teachers must engage each student with work that is appropriate for his or her level of preparation. This must be done sensitively, so that students who are behind don't feel like second-class citizens. But the fact is they are behind, and pretending that they are not does them no favors.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:29 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Babysitting has figured in much of society's angst over teen culture and the changing American family

Laura Vanderkam:

Like many girls, I began my adventures in babysitting when I was 11 years old. It was in the late 1980s, after I had taken a Red Cross course to become "babysitter certified," acquiring expertise in dislodging an object from a choking baby's throat and learning to ask parents for emergency phone numbers. During my roughly four-year career, there were highs, like using my babysitting contacts to co-found a lucrative summer day camp in my neighborhood, and lows: bratty children and stingy parents, such as one mom who would have me come over 45 minutes early but wouldn't start the clock until she left and always wrote out a check when she got back -- even though, considering my $2-per-hour rate, she probably could have paid me from change in the bottom of her purse.

My experiences were fairly typical of those encountered by millions of young women, as I might have suspected at the time and as I am thoroughly convinced after having read "Babysitter: An American History," a scholarly examination of the subject by Miriam Forman-Brunell. Ms. Forman-Brunell is a history professor at the University of Missouri in Kansas City, but she is also a mother who reports that she has hired a bevy of babysitters.

Babysitting, the author says, has always been a source of tension: "Distressed parent-employers have suspected their sitters of doing wrong ever since the beginning of babysitting nearly one hundred years ago." Before that, extended families or servants ensured that someone was watching the kids, but with the rise of the suburban nuclear family, parents looking to preserve adult intimacy in their marriages were forced to seek help elsewhere. Since most either weren't willing to or couldn't pay adult wages, the labor supply was reduced to young teens who wanted money but didn't have other ways of earning it.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:59 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison School Board Discussion: Private/Parochial, Open Enrollment Leave, Open Enrollment Enter, Home Based Parent Surveys

22MB mp3 audio file. A summary of the survey can be seen here. The Board and Administration are to be commended for this effort. It will be interesting to see how this initiative plays out.
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Fine Arts Task Force Report Discussion - Audio

The Madison School Board's discussion last evening via a 42MB mp3 audio file. An interesting discussion, particularly with respect to the School District's interaction with the community and the Teaching & Learning Department. Much more on the Fine Arts Task Force here.
Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:20 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Pittsburgh scholarships saving schools, students

Ramit Plushnick-Masti:

John Tokarski III maintained a 4.4 GPA in Pittsburgh's Schenley High School, played three sports and took on leadership roles. Yet it appeared his dreams might burst: the $45,000-a-year tuition for the private college he wanted to attend was too steep.

"We said, if you meet these rules, if you obtain these goals, you reach these objectives, everything will fall into place," said his father, John Tokarski Jr. "I felt like I had lied to him, like I had come up short in my promise to him, because he did it all and it looked as if we weren't going to be able to do it."

Then, in March, a news headline - "Pittsburgh Promise expands" - flashed across his father's laptop screen. The Pittsburgh Promise scholarship now included Pennsylvania's private colleges, not just public institutions. With other scholarships and grants, that $5,000 a year made the difference for the 17-year-old, who was determined to go to Washington and Jefferson College in nearby Washington, Pa.

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The Culture Wars' New Front: U.S. History Classes in Texas

Stephanie Simon:

The fight over school curriculum in Texas, recently focused on biology, has entered a new arena, with a brewing debate over how much of the Bible belongs in American history classrooms.

The Texas Board of Education, which recently approved new science standards that made room for creationist critiques of evolution, is revising the state's social studies curriculum. In early recommendations from outside experts appointed by the board, a divide has opened over how central religious theology should be to the teaching of history.

Three reviewers, appointed by social conservatives, have recommended revamping the K-12 curriculum to put the Bible, the Christian faith and the civic virtue of religion front-and-center in the study of American history. Two of them want to remove or de-emphasize references to several historical figures who have become liberal icons, such as César Chávez and Thurgood Marshall.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:02 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Baby Boomers to Kids: Kiss Your Inheritance Goodbye

Brett Arends:

Thanks to the financial crisis many people will have to reconsider the legacy they'll leave behind.

Ross Schmidt, a financial advisor in Denver, sat down with a well-to-do client last fall, just after the stock market had collapsed. The client was in her sixties, divorced, with two adult sons. "We were scrambling to stem losses in her portfolio" and re-evaluate retirement plans, Mr Schmidt recalls. He asked his client how much she wanted to leave her sons.

"Well, now, nothing," she replied.

She will not be the last to reach this decision -- especially if the stock market stays down.

Millions of families are struggling with new financial realities, including heavy losses in many retirement accounts, and more prosaic expectations for future investment returns. Those near retirement face the hardest choices. Should they keep working for longer? Revise their retirement plans? Scale back their standard of living now to conserve money for later?

One idea that should be in the mix, much to the dismay of your children: Leave less to your heirs. Or even nothing at all.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:36 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Why America is flunking science

Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum:

In the recent Tom Hanks/Ron Howard film "Angels & Demons," science sets the stage for destruction and chaos. A canister of antimatter has been stolen from CERN -- the European Organization for Nuclear Research -- and hidden in the Vatican, set to explode right as a new pope is about to be selected.

Striving to make these details as realistic as possible on screen, Howard and his film crew visited CERN, used one of its physicists as a science consultant, and devoted meticulous care to designing the antimatter canister that Hanks' character, Robert Langdon, and his sexy scientist colleague, Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), wind up searching for.

But there was nothing they could do about the gigantic impossibility at the center of the plot. While the high-energy proton collisions generated at CERN do occasionally produce minute quantities of antimatter -- particles with the opposite electrical charge as protons and electrons, but the same mass, which can in turn be combined into atoms like antihydrogen -- it's not remotely enough to power a bomb. As CERN quips on a Web site devoted to "Angels & Demons," antimatter "would be very dangerous if we could make a few grams of it, but this would take us billions of years."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:23 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The Case for Power-to-Weight Graduated Drivers' Licenses

Jerry Sutherland:

On October 31 2006, Orange County teen Nikki Catsouras had an argument with her father. When Mr. Catsouras left for work, the his daughter "borrowed" his Porsche 911. Approaching a tollbooth, Catsouras rear-ended a Honda at 70 mph. The California Highway Patrol took photographs of the gruesome results. The photos hit the net and went viral. Catsouras sued the police for invasion of privacy. Lost in the shuffle: why was Miss Catsouras-a young, inexperienced driver-- legally entitled to drive the Porsche?

The issue is pretty easy to understand: should young, inexperience motorists be allowed to drive high-powered cars? Australia says no. This despite a 2006 study by the University of Australia (funded by red light camera income) that concluded that only three percent of young driver crashes involved vehicles with a high power to weight ratio. The state of Victoria, for example, has instituted a power-to-weight related graduated license program for young drivers. Since July 2007, a probationary driver can't drive a car which has:

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:03 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Education data system key to additional federal stimulus money

Kristi Swartz:

Almost like being tagged with a barcode, at some point schoolchildren in Georgia will receive a unique number that tracks their test scores and other data from the moment they enter kindergarten until they've graduated.

Such a data system, which would update nightly, school officials say, may sound like a pipe dream. In fact, if the state wants a crack at a huge pot of additional stimulus money from the U.S. Department of Education, that system must one day become a reality.

The money, $4 billion total in what Education Secretary Arne Duncan has dubbed the "Race to the Top" fund, will be distributed next year at Duncan's discretion.

A strong data system is one of four measures the secretary will use in awarding the grants. The others are creating international academic standards, turning around low-performing schools and teacher quality.

Because of the sums of money involved, and because the grants will only go to a few states, the Race to the Top represents a potentially enormous payoff.

The amount of the grants or how they will be distributed is unknown at this point.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:02 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

July 13, 2009

Should High Schools Bar Average Students From Rigorous College-Level Courses and Tests?

Jay Matthews:

Fifteen years ago, when I discovered that many good high schools prevented average students from taking demanding courses, I thought it was a fluke, a mistake that would soon be rectified.

I had spent much time inside schools that did the opposite. They worked hard to persuade students to take challenging classes and tests, such as Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Cambridge, so students would be ready for the shock of their first semester at college, which most average students attend. The results were good. Why didn't all schools do that?

I still don't have a satisfactory answer. It always comes up this time of year because of my annual rankings of public high schools for Newsweek, which is based on schools' efforts to challenge average kids as measured by participation in AP, IB and Cambridge tests.

Many school superintendents and principals who run schools that restrict access to those college-level courses and tests have disappointing results on the Newsweek list. Some of them object to my methodology. It is clear from my conversations with them that they are smart and compassionate people.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:36 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

What about a 2 Year Salary Freeze for K-12 Educators?

UW-system public educators not only have a 2 year freeze but a reduction of just over 3% via furloughs. WHY would K-12 public educators by exempt?! The QEO has been REPEALED effective IMMEDIATELY this month!

More: Freeze needs to include Janesville Education Association members:

FULL DISCLOSURE! Yes, I know some readers are going to be pointing the finger at me asserting: YOU hypocrite! YOU were a member of WEAC and JEA from 1971 through your retirement in June 2000. TRUE! I was a member of WEAC and JEA through the WI K-12 public education funding formula (QEO, State Revenue Cap, 2/3 aid) from its inception (1993-95 WI State Budget) through my retirement in June 2000. I served as the Co-chair of the Joint Legislative Committee representing the JEA from January 1998 through June 2000. I am very PROUD of the work which the Joint Legislative Committee did to study the issues of K-12 public education funding in WI and the recommendations which were issued in September 1998 with the goal of influencing the fall 1998 elections. The Joint Legislative Committee became a very effective advocate for effective reform of the K-12 public education funding formula in WI. The Committee was directly involved in the organization of the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools through co-chair, Virginia Wyss, President of the Janesville Board of Education. Virginia continues to be actively involved in the leadership of WAES. (WAES - URL:

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

New York Must Start Putting Teacher Training Schools to the Test

Merryl Tisch:

In the coming year New York State will play a leading role in the movement to set one high national standard for all our school children. We will look to raise the bar to require that all students leave high school not only proficient on state tests - but ready for higher education.

But it won't be enough to simply raise standards and hope for the best. We also need to do a much better job preparing our teachers. After all, study after study confirms that teacher quality is the single most important factor in boosting student performance that is under the control of schools.

In cases when our students aren't learning, we must start to question, among other things, the preparation of their teachers.

Improving the quality of teaching in New York will mean partnering with the institutions that train our classroom instructors - SUNY 23%, CUNY 11% and independent colleges 66%.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:45 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Still behind - Chicago Public Schools

Chicago Tribune Editorial:

So how are we going to know if Chicago's public schools are succeeding?

Mayor Richard Daley and school officials boasted this week that Chicago kids' performance on state standardized tests edged higher in all categories and all grades this year. One snapshot: 76.2 percent of 8th graders met or exceeded standards on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test.

But we've known for some time now that nobody can put much faith in the ISAT. In 2006, state education officials significantly changed the test. Like magic, the test results took a leap.

What really happened: Illinois responded to pressure from the federal No Child Left Behind law by deciding it was simpler to make the tests easier than make the kids smarter.

Pure Parents has more.

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A Vietnamese American is bringing hope to disabled people in his homeland through IT training

John Boudreau:

Some wounds never heal. In 1968, at the age of 15, Do Van Du lost a leg and part of an arm while serving as a combat interpreter for the US Special Forces near the Cambodian border. He moved to the US in 1971 and became a successful software engineer and systems analyst. Then, seven years ago, Du returned to his homeland to help found a college-level programme run by Catholic Relief Services to train disabled young people to be software engineers and tech workers - a first for Vietnam.
"People with disabilities don't have a voice in Vietnam," he says. "You are basically thrown away. You are not 'normal'. You can't work. You are a leech on society," he says, before walking into a classroom full of eager students on crutches and in wheelchairs. "In Asia, because of the belief in reincarnation, people think you have done something in a prior life and now you are paying for it."

Grim evidence of the harsh treatment of Vietnam's disabled citizens is easy to find among the students in Du's programme.

Duong Anh My was pelted with rocks because his leg was deformed.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:43 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Middleton students prepare for national competition

Pamela Cotant:

Five students from Middleton are spending part of their summer preparing for the North American Canon Envirothon after winning the Wisconsin event earlier this year.

The students will head to Asheville, N.C., to compete in the event Aug. 2-8.

This is the second year in a row the high school has won the Wisconsin Envirothon.

The Envirothon is a North American competition that provides an opportunity for students to show their knowledge of topics such as forestry, wildlife, aquatic resources and soil resources, according to Kirsten Moore, coordinator for the Wisconsin Envirothon and office manager of the Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association.

This year the Envirothons are focused on "Biodiversity in a Changing World."

In addition to taking written tests at the event in August, the students will be sequestered in a room for a day and expected to prepare an oral presentation using notes from review sessions during the week.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:26 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Charter Schools Aren't the Solution for Virginia

Kitty Boitnott:

The Obama administration and The Post are fascinated with charter schools [editorial, July 5], but charters do not make sense for Virginia. Maybe charter schools are needed in the District or Chicago, but in Virginia they are a solution looking for a problem.

The first question to consider is whether charter schools actually work. A recent study by the Rand Corp. suggests that they produce about the same results as traditional public schools.

Charter schools haven't flourished in Virginia because our school boards already have the autonomy to create specialty schools. In the Richmond area alone we have schools that specialize in the arts; engineering; communication; languages; the humanities; technology; international studies; leadership and government; global economics; the military; science and mathematics; and technology. We have governor's schools, magnet schools and centers for the gifted, and the list goes on and on. Virginia school boards, unlike those in states where charters have proliferated, don't need charter legislation to allow flexibility and innovation. Our school boards have great autonomy and flexibility. They are free to innovate, and they do.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:05 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison police chief: Time to gang up on gangs

Steven Verburg:

Madison police chief Noble Wray wants to send more officers after gang members, and he plans to talk to the mayor next week about an initiative to make that possible.

A recent assessment by the police department's two-officer Gang Unit indicated more than 900 confirmed Madison gang members and another 500 people considered associates of gang members.

"It is clear the number of young people connected to gangs is on the rise, and we need to respond to that growth," Wray said in a press release issued Friday.

Many gang members and their associates commit burglaries, robberies, assaults, shootings, and they deal drugs, he said. Wray wants to form a new "Gang/Crime Prevention Unit."

The unit would work closely with neighborhood officers, community policing teams, detectives and others by tapping the expertise of staffers who analyze crime data.

Related: Gangs & School Violence Forum.

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Maths dunces who don't make the cut: Haberdashers have to reject nine out of ten applicants because they can't add up

Andrew Levy:

When the Bamberger family opened a haberdashery 65 years ago, they insisted their staff use mental arithmetic to price up customers' purchases.

Despite the arrival of calculators, that attitude has remained unchanged over the intervening years.

But now the family finds itself facing an unexpected maths problem - most youngsters it would like to employ are incapable of working out sums in their heads.

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July 12, 2009

Columbus High School student dies after playing 'the choking game'

Devin Rose:

At 17, Macklin "Mack" Jensen was getting ready to compete at a national wrestling tournament in Fargo, N.D.

Jensen also played rugby, like his father, Dan, had played years ago, and one of his teams won a national championship June 18 in Colorado.

"He loved life," said Dan Jensen. "Anybody that knew him could see that he had lots of life."

Mack died Friday while participating in "the choking game," also called "space monkey" or "gasp."

The game is typically played by adolescents who strangle themselves or have others push on their chests in order to feel light-headed for a few seconds, according to GASP, a campaign organized by parents of victims to educate about the dangers of the game.

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Mathematics Learning in Early Childhood: Paths Toward Excellence and Equity

Christopher T. Cross, Taniesha A. Woods, and Heidi Schweingruber, Editors; Committee on Early Childhood Mathematics; National Research Council:
arly childhood mathematics is vitally important for young children's present and future educational success. Research has demonstrated that virtually all young children have the capability to learn and become competent in mathematics. Furthermore, young children enjoy their early informal experiences with mathematics. Unfortunately, many children's potential in mathematics is not fully realized, especially those children who are economically disadvantaged. This is due, in part, to a lack of opportunities to learn mathematics in early childhood settings or through everyday experiences in the home and in their communities. Improvements in early childhood mathematics education can provide young children with the foundation for school success.

Relying on a comprehensive review of the research, Mathematics Learning in Early Childhood lays out the critical areas that should be the focus of young children's early mathematics education, explores the extent to which they are currently being incorporated in early childhood settings, and identifies the changes needed to improve the quality of mathematics experiences for young children. This book serves as a call to action to improve the state of early childhood mathematics. It will be especially useful for policy makers and practitioners-those who work directly with children and their families in shaping the policies that affect the education of young children.
Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:04 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Online Discussion: Teachers Unions and Professional Work

Education Sector, via a kind reader's email:

Welcome to Education Sector's online discussion of teachers' work and teachers unions. Last year, we released results from a survey of public school teachers, Waiting to Be Won Over: Teachers Speak on the Profession, Unions, and Reform, which revealed a mix of opinions about the role of unions in school reform. Teachers believe unions are essential, the survey found, particularly for safeguarding jobs. But the survey also found teachers to be surprisingly open to change, and to the idea that unions should drive rather than resist reform. So what does this mean for the future of teachers unions? To delve into this further, we have assembled a group of current and recent teachers from different kinds of schools, different parts of the country, and with different views on this question.

Briefly, they are, Laura Bornfreund, a former Florida teacher who now works for Common Core, an organization focused on the liberal arts in education; Julie Eisenband, a teacher and adviser at SAGE Academy Charter School in Brooklyn Park, Minn.; Arthur Goldstein, who teaches English as a Second Language at Francis Lewis High School in Queens, N.Y.; Caitlin Hollister, a third-grade teacher from Boston Public Schools; and Bruce William Smith from Green Dot Public Schools in Los Angeles. Education policy expert Paul T. Hill from the Center on Reinventing Public Education is also joining us to provided national context and to discuss research he has done on teachers unions and charter schools. (Panelist biographies here.)

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:52 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Driver's education and more for 3 teens

Kirk Dooley:

Ralph and Robin Burns have three teenage boys, each one armed with a driver's license.

Nick, Zach and Lucas Burns are good drivers, but like most other relatively inexperienced motorists, they have yet to hit a slick patch of ice on the road or to hydroplane on rain-soaked pavement. When any driver faces such road hazards for the first time, the outcome is usually determined more by luck than skill.

If a young driver hits a patch of ice for the first time and loses control of the car, it could be the last mistake he or she ever makes.

Ralph took a special driving class sponsored by Lexus a few years ago at Texas Motor Speedway and remembered being impressed with the program as it simulated emergency conditions in a controlled environment. When a friend recently told him that he had sent his daughter to a similar program geared for teen drivers, Ralph's ears perked up.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:50 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

DPS gives control of lagging schools to private sector

Marisa Schultz:

Detroit Public Schools Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb announced Friday that he has hired four educational management companies to turn around 17 of the worst-performing high schools in the district, a move that marks what leaders say is the largest public school district overhaul of its kind in the nation.

"We have not been making the grade," Bobb said at a press conference at Central High School.

School board members expressed shock and dismay Friday -- just one day after they rolled out their own academic plan that they've asked Bobb to fund. Some accused Bobb of overstepping his bounds as a financial manager by launching an academic plan that will affect 20,000 students in three-quarters of the district's high schools without the board's knowledge.

The board was charged with working on the academics, while Gov. Jennifer Granholm brought in Bobb to work on the finances for a year.

"We have asked Robert Bobb to do a very difficult job and he needs the authority to do it right," said Granholm's spokeswoman Liz Boyd, noting Bobb is not overstepping his role. "He doesn't need to be micromanaged."

The district signed multiyear contracts with four out-of-state companies that will be funded through $20 million in federal stimulus dollars. The aim is to improve student achievement, discipline, respect, safety and graduation rates, district officials said.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:31 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Persistent Myths in Feminist Scholarship

Christina Hoff Sommers:

"Harder to kill than a vampire." That is what the sociologist Joel Best calls a bad statistic. But, as I have discovered over the years, among false statistics the hardest of all to slay are those promoted by feminist professors. Consider what happened recently when I sent an e-mail message to the Berkeley law professor Nancy K.D. Lemon pointing out that the highly praised textbook that she edited, Domestic Violence Law (second edition, Thomson/West, 2005), contained errors.

Her reply began:

"I appreciate and share your concern for veracity in all of our scholarship. However, I would expect a colleague who is genuinely concerned about such matters to contact me directly and give me a chance to respond before launching a public attack on me and my work, and then contacting me after the fact."

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Rubik Cube inventor devises new puzzle to drive us all to distraction

Chris Smyth:

His cube was one of the most popular and infuriating toys of all time. Now Professor Ernö Rubik is hoping that the sphere will bring sleepless nights to the world's obsessive puzzlers.

The creator of Rubik's Cube is back with his first new puzzle for almost 20 years and early indications are that it is going to be every bit as irritating as the original.

Rubik's 360, which goes on sale next week, features six small balls inside three interlocking spheres. The task is to lock each ball into colour-coded capsules on the outermost sphere. Professor Rubik said of his cube that it was "easy to understand the task, but hard to work out the solution". It is just as aggravating to crack the 360.

In The Times newsroom yesterday, the angry rattles of plastic pellets signified dozens of journalists failing to coax so much as one ball from the centre of the sphere.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:03 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The Periodic Table of Videos

The University of Nottingham:

ables charting the chemical elements have been around since the 19th century - but this modern version has a short video about each one.

We've done all 118 - but our job's not finished. Now we're updating all the videos with new stories, better samples and bigger experiments.

Plus we're making films about other areas of chemistry, latest news and occasional adventures away from the lab.

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New student loan repayment plan is based on borrower's income

Kathy Kristof:

The federal program is complex and won't apply to every borrower, but it could dramatically reduce monthly payments for some.

The 32-year-old father of two just graduated from architecture school with $125,000 in debt. He and his wife, an audiologist, expect to make good money someday -- more than enough to pay the loans. But between the rotten economy and a new baby, the Savannah, Ga., couple have only been able to find part-time work. They're struggling to make ends meet, so the $1,200 a month that Jeff's lenders want on his loans doesn't seem feasible.

Fortunately for the Zollingers, a new federal student loan repayment plan goes into effect this month that could dramatically reduce payments for highly indebted borrowers. Called "income-based repayment," the plan limits the monthly payments to a percentage of the borrower's monthly income.

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July 11, 2009

Task force on Minn. high schools taking shape


A task force asked to suggest ways to design an accountability system for Minnesota high schools is seeking suggestions itself.

The panel created this spring by the Legislature is soliciting advice through July 15 on the key issues it should tackle.

From there, the task force plans to produce a report on high school assessments and accountability. Preliminary recommendations could be out this fall, and the goal is to deliver a final report to the state education commissioner and lawmakers by year's end.

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School committee model questioned

Jonathan Braden:

The service of school board members on district committees generally does not work well, a state education consultant told school officials yesterday during the Columbia Board of Education's retreat.

But board members and administrators agreed that it has worked well for Columbia Public Schools.

"This district has moved this way, and it's had some successes," Superintendent Chris Belcher said.

David Lineberry is the associate executive director for education and training for the Missouri School Boards' Association. He presented to the school board yesterday afternoon during its three-hour retreat.

Lineberry and officials talked about the board's overall role, the school district's upcoming Comprehensive School Improvement Plan, or CSIP [PDF], and the role of board members on committees.

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Admissions 101: Are Low Grades in AP/IB Classes Better than High Grades in Regular Classes?

Jay Matthews:

A few weeks ago, Jay Mathews asked readers a tough question in his Admissions 101 forum - which is better: an A or B in a regular course or a C in a more challenging course like an AP or IB class? Jay sided with AP, saying that all students interested in tier 1 or tier 2 schools should take at least 2 AP or IB courses. Even if that means a C on a high school transcript, Jay argued, colleges will appreciate a student who is willing to take on a challenge. Reader reactions have been pouring in ever since:
eloquensa: "My strategy suggestion is a little different from yours - I don't know about the college front in the C-in-AP/IB-or-A-in-regular argument, but if the student is a little more strategic in course and teacher selection it's a lot easier to avoid that dreaded C.

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Middle Class Children in KIPP

Catharine Bellinger, a Princeton sophomore who has plans to start a campus journal on education policy.

I suggested she practice with a topic provocative enough to get her in trouble, a good place for all writers to be. My question to her, inspired by her experiences in the D.C. schools, is: "Should middle class parents send their kids to KIPP?"

I have written a great deal about that successful network of public charter schools, known for raising the achievement of low-income students in our poorest urban and rural neighborhoods. I am hearing from some middle-class parents who would like some of that teaching for their own children. Here is Bellinger's take on whether that will work. Her email address is Let her, and me, know what you think.
By Catharine Bellinger">:

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New Index Will Score Graduate Students' Personality Traits

Daniel de Vise:

The Educational Testing Service wanted to help graduate school applicants prove they are more than a set of test scores. So it developed a tool to rate students across a broad sweep of traits -- creativity, teamwork, integrity -- that admission tests don't measure.

The Personal Potential Index, unveiled this week, looks suspiciously like another set of scores. An applicant's personality is distilled into six traits, and the applicant is rated on each of them by various professors and former supervisors on a scale of 1 to 5.

Officials with the nonprofit organization, based in Princeton, N.J., say the index marks the first large-scale attempt to codify the elusive, subjective attributes that make up a successful grad student. The goal is to raise the share of students who finish graduate school. Non-cognitive, or "soft," skills are considered crucial to success in higher education.

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Monona School Board Abolishes Standing Committees

Peter Sobol:

But after some discussion the board voted to abolish the standing committees (Curriculum, Policy and Business Services) and instead move to two meetings of the entire board each month. Concerns were mostly expressed about the inefficient use of staff time under the current system.

My feeling is that we risk distancing ourselves from the community and will have diminished working relationships with the administrators. My observation has been that the board's best work gets done at the committee level as items well vetted in committee tend to be broadly supported by the board. I am worried about the efficiency of trying to work out the details on issues with the larger group, this issue already came up tonight when it was suggested we would need a special policy committee to work through several pending policy issues.

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July 10, 2009

Madison School District: Private/Parochial, Open Enrollment Leave, Open Enrollment Enter, Home Based Parent Surveys

Kurt Kiefer, MMSD Chief Information Officer [1.3MB PDF]:
This memo is a summary of the results from the surveys completed during the past school year with various parent groups whose children reside within the MMSD attendance area but receive certain alternative education options. Also included are results of the survey conducted with non-residents who attend MMSD schools via the Open Enrollment program (Le., Open Enrollment Enter).

Groups were surveys representing households whose students were enrolled in one of four different educational settings: MMSD resident students attending private/parochial schools, MMSD resident students attending other public schools via the Open Enrollment program, non-resident students attending MMSD schools via the Open Enrollment program, and MMSD resident students provided home based instruction.

The surveys were conducted between December 2008 and February 2009. The surveys were mailed to households or they could complete the survey online. Two mailings were conducted - the initial mailing to all households and a second to non-respondents as a reminder request. Total group sizes and responses are provided below.
This document will be discussed at Monday evening's Madison School Board meeting. UPDATE:
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More Know Less Dough Community College Marketing

Madison Area Technical College's latest marketing campaign.
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Everybody Hates The Teachers' Unions Now

Mickey Kaus:

When Father Hesburgh throws down ... How can we know when the tide of respectable opinion has decisively turned against the teachers' unions? When a panel that includes Father Hesburgh, Birch Bayh. Bill Bradley, Eleanor Holmes Norton and Roger Wilkins goes medieval on them, saying their resistance to reforms designed to hold schools accountable has hurt "disadvantaged students" and led to "calcified systems in which talented people are deterred from applying or staying as teachers ..."

Here are two undiplomatic grafs from the report's final page:

The unions have battled against the principle that schools and education agencies should be held accountable for the academic progress of their students. They have sought to water down the standards adopted by states to reflect what students should know and be able to do. They have attacked assessments designed to measure the progress of schools, seeking to localize decisions about test content so that the performance of students in one school or community cannot be compared with others. They have resisted innovative ways-such as growth models-to assess student performance.

In their attack on education reform, the national unions have often been unconstrained by considerations of propriety and fairness. They have sought to inject weakening amendments in appropriations bills, hoping that they would prevail if no hearings were held and the public was unaware of their efforts. They have used the courts to launch an attack on education reform, employing arguments that could imperil many federal assistance programs going back to the New Deal. They have failed to inform their own members of the content of federal reform laws.

Locally, it will be interesting to see what substantive changes, if any, come out of the current Madison School District / Madison Teachers, Inc. bargaining.

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Hawaii Board of Education Approves 12.6% Budget Reduction ($227M on $1.8Billion Annual Spending)

Loren Moreno:
Faced with the most drastic budget cuts ever to the state's public education system, the Board of Education approved a plan yesterday that includes about $117 million in yet-to-be negotiated labor savings — from potential pay cuts to furloughs of teachers and administrators.

The plan, which trims a total of $227 million from the $1.8 billion school system budget, includes a 5 percent across-the-board cut to school-level programs, a reduction of part-time workers and slashing of school-level funding.

Several board members said the plan is certain to have repercussions on teaching and learning.

"There is nobody in this room who wants to do what we're about to do. But the fiscal reality is such that we have to do this," said board member John Penebacker.
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An Alternative Path to Teaching

Kevin Brown:

The recent job market reminds me of when I finished my doctorate in the mid-1990s. Though the market was not as saturated then, it definitely was not conducive to finding a job. I applied to more than 100 colleges and universities, garnering only a phone interview at one college, where I happened to know two people on the search committee. I made it to a final cut of 10, but no further.

However, I knew that I wanted to teach, so I adjusted my plans and applied for positions at independent high schools (also known as "private schools," but they do not care for that designation). For those struggling in this job market, I would suggest that this path has numerous benefits and few drawbacks, especially for someone beginning a career.

First, independent schools have talented, often highly motivated students. At the first school I worked at, I taught sophomores and juniors, not in Advanced Placement classes or even Honors classes. The sophomores read The Scarlet Letter, among other works, and the curriculum for the juniors included Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales, Hamlet, Macbeth, Jane Eyre, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Heart of Darkness, and the British Romantic poets. Teachers assigned works such as Moby-Dick to their classes, and none of us were disappointed in the students' responses to the level of difficulty. In fact, we had to move through Heart of Darkness quickly, as the end of the semester was approaching, and neither of my junior classes complained about the pace or load for what is a difficult read for the college sophomores I now teach in a non-majors course at a four-year, liberal arts university.

Related: via Janet Mertz.

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Wisconsin requires teaching of organized labor in public schools


A state bill up for a hearing today would require Wisconsin public schools to teach the history of organized labor and the collective bargaining process in the U.S.

Labor unions support the requirement. But groups representing school boards and administrators have registered against it saying they don't want the curriculum micromanaged

North Carolina's House:
ouse members have endorsed teaching North Carolina public school students about how thousands of people were sterilized through a state program in the mid-20th century.

The House Education Committee approved legislation Tuesday that would order the eugenics program be included in the public school curriculum. The bill also direct students and professors at University of North Carolina campuses to interview program victims so future generations know what happened.

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Teachers union attacks Schwarzenegger's proposed suspension of Proposition 98

Michael Rothfeld:

The California Teachers Assn. unveiled a television ad Thursday attacking Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for his proposal to suspend Proposition 98, the law that sets funding guarantees for schools.

Schwarzenegger last week proposed reducing the guarantee by $3 billion for the coming fiscal year to help address the state's $26.3-billion deficit.

The well-funded union, which has turned public opinion against the governor in the past, focuses its commercial on Schwarzenegger's failure in 2005 to repay money he had promised to return after suspending the guarantee the year before. "He said he was sorry," the ad says. "He said never again. . . . And now Schwarzenegger says he'll break the minimum guarantee to our schools again."

Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear said the governor would not be dissuaded.

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July 9, 2009

Indiana providing teaching fellowships in Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM)

The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation:

The Woodrow Wilson Indiana Teaching Fellowship seeks to attract talented, committed individuals with backgrounds in the STEM fields--science, technology, engineering, and mathematics--into teaching in high-need Indiana high schools. Learn more...

Funded through a $10 million grant from the Lilly Endowment, the Fellowship offers rigorous disciplinary and pedagogical preparation, extensive clinical experience, and ongoing mentoring. Eligible applicants include current undergraduates, recent college graduates, midcareer professionals, and retirees who have majored in, or had careers in, STEM fields.

When will the MMSD and the State of WI follow suit?


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Drivers of Choice: Parents, Transportation, and School Choice

Paul Teske, Jody Fitzpatrick, Tracey O'Brien, via a kind reader's email:
Transportation is clearly a consideration to be factored into any discussion of school choice. Yet we know very little about how much it matters in family’s decisions about their children’s school, and almost nothing about how much of a barrier it is to school choice, especially for low-income families. How far does the average family want their child to travel to school? Would they be as comfortable letting their younger children travel as far as they might a middle or high school student? What transportation options are available to low-income families? These are the kinds of questions we tried to address in this study, in order to obtain meaningful data to help shape school transportation policy.

This project first surveyed the landscape of transportation and school choices. It examined the density of large districts in the U.S. The project team contacted large school districts to find out their policies on transportation and choice, then examined district budgets to see how much they actually spend on transportation. Most importantly, the project surveyed families in two cities—Denver and Washington, D.C.—to find out their travel patterns and school choice options. The study breaks down that data, collected from households earning less than $75,000 in annual income, to determine how much transportation is a barrier to choice.

This report addresses the following questions:
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More Rigorous Requirements for Teacher Education Will Encourage Programs To Emphasize Clinical Training, Focus on Critical Needs of P-12 Schools

The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, via a kind reader's email:

As part of the first major revision of teacher education requirements in 10 years, i nstitutions seeking the NCATE seal of approval must either demonstrate that they are on track to reach an "excellent" level of performance, rather than remain at an "acceptable level," or make transformative changes in key areas, such as:
  • strengthening the clinical focus of their programs to better prepare educators to meet the needs of today's P-12 students and foster increases in student learning
  • demonstrating the impact of their programs and graduates on P-12 student learning
  • increasing knowledge about what works in teacher education to improve P-12 student learning, using a research and development strategy to build better knowledge and help institutions use that knowledge to improve programs, and
  • addressing critical needs of schools, such as recruiting talented teachers and bolstering teacher retention.
The new accreditation strategy, approved by the NCATE Executive Board last month, creates two alternative pathways to accreditation. The Continuous Improvement track raises the target level of performance beyond the "acceptable" level. The second pathway, the Transformation Initiative track, encourages institutions to build the base of evidence in the field about what works in teacher preparation and help the P-12 schools they serve address major challenges, from raising student achievement to retaining teachers.

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School Choice and Supreme Court Nominee Sonia Sotomayor

Andy Smarick:

Will Judge Sonia Sotomayor's life experience, including attending a private Catholic school, lead to an uncomfortable conclusion--that government-supported school choice is just?

The Obama administration has made Judge Sonia Sotomayor's life story a central part of her introduction to the nation as a Supreme Court nominee. The administration has focused attention on her inspiring, only-in-America path from public housing through elite institutions of higher education to the top of the legal profession.

Consequently, we might expect to see these experiences clearly reflected in their positions on three contemporary issues.

First, President Obama ought to be a vigorous defender of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides vouchers to low-income students in the nation's capital so they can attend private schools.

Second, the president should be expected to act forcefully to save America's urban Catholic and other faith-based schools, which are disappearing at a rapid pace, robbing disadvantaged families of desperately needed private education options.

Third, we should expect Judge Sotomayor to decide in favor of school choice programs while on the bench.

In practice, however, there appears to be a limit to the influence of personal experience. President Obama failed to stand up for the D.C. voucher program, and Democratic congressional leaders went after it with a vengeance. If his 2010 budget is adopted, no new students will be allowed into the program, and it will slowly wither away. Similarly, while his Department of Education has $100 billion in stimulus funding for America's schools, neither he nor Education Secretary Arne Duncan has uttered a word about preserving faith-based urban schools.

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Duncan's Donut: The Ed. Sec.'s Impact on Chicago Student Achievement Was Near Zero

Andrew Coulson:

For seven months, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the media have bombarded us with tales of how Duncan dramatically boosted student achievement as leader of Chicago Public Schools. Based on two new independent analyses, Duncan's real impact appears to have been near zero.

The usual evidence presented for Duncan's success is the rise in the pass rate of elementary and middle school students on Illinois' own ISAT test. But state tests like the ISAT are notoriously unreliable (they tend to be corrupted by teaching to the test and subject to periodic "realignments" in which the passing grade is lowered or the test content is eased). In January, the Schools Matter blog argued that exactly such a realignment had occurred in 2006.

So to get a reliable measure of Duncan's impact, I pulled up the 4th and 8th grade math and reading scores for Chicago on the National Assessment of Educational Progress -- a test that is much less susceptible to massaging by states and districts. I then compared the score changes in Chicago to those for all students in Large Central Cities around the nation, and tested if the small differences between them were statistically significant. Not one of them is even remotely significant at even the loosest accepted measure of significance (the p < 0.1 level). Chicago students did no better than those in similar districts around the nation between 2002/2003 and 2007, a period covering virtually all of Duncan's tenure in Chicago.

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University students not shy about asking profs to reconsider grades

Todd Finkelmeyer:

Compiling final grades for students in Sharon Thoma's Zoology 101 course is fairly simple.

Students take three multiple-choice exams, plus a final, during the semester. The grading scale is spelled out at the start of the year in the syllabus, which also notes there is no way to earn extra credit.

"So it's solely objective and it's pretty clear where you fall," says Thoma, a University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty associate who co-teaches the huge lecture with two professors.

And yet, over the past two years Thoma has observed a surprising uptick in the number of students who e-mail her at the end of the semester, asking if she'd reconsider the grade she awarded them "because they worked so hard."

Thoma estimates she received 20 such e-mails this spring out of some 850 students. "They'll typically say, 'I know you said there won't be any grade adjustments, but I worked really hard and I don't feel that the grade reflects the effort I put into the class,'" says Thoma, who stresses most students work hard in class and understand the ground rules. "And so I have a new standard reply: 'I can't quantitate your effort.'"

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Not Making the Grade - English Curriculum on Hong Kong

The Standard:

As an international city, English has always been at the center of discussions regarding Hong Kong's education system. Regretfully, the standard of English among students has fallen to such a level that it is worthy of attention.

Although I do not work in the field of education, I realize there may be many reasons for falling standards.

However, to my astonishment I heard recently of Hong Kong Institute of Education graduates majoring in English who merely got a D grade in English in the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination and Hong Kong Advanced Level yet got degrees to teach senior school students.

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Learning the ropes: Program helps teens transition to high school

Gayle Worland:

On Monday, it was all about maneuvering through a seemingly endless maze of high school hallways. By Tuesday, it was about soaring through the air on a zip line.

It was day two of LIFE, or Learning is for Everyone, a pilot program launched this summer for graduates of Whitehorse and Sennett middle schools. In the fall, the teens will enter La Follette High School as ninth-graders -- both statistically and anecdotally one of the toughest periods of a student's school career.

"Ninth grade can be a really rocky, challenging transition for many students," said Julie Koenke, a grant communications coordinator for the Madison School District who helped write the curriculum for LIFE. "They're not always sure of the change in expectations for them around academics. There's a different school culture, and just the largeness of what a high school can be."

LIFE -- which offers students everything from scavenger hunts at La Follette to learn their way around the school to an athletic ropes course, classes on time management and visits to MATC and UW-Madison -- is part of a trend: High schools are reaching out to freshmen to keep them in school even before the school year begins.

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July 8, 2009

Barry Edelstein on Shakespeare

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Newark Starts a Summer School Aimed at Advanced Placement

Winnie Hu:

Advanced Placement classes do not begin at Science Park High School until September, but Cristiana De Oliveira will spend many a summer day sitting behind a desk in A.P. calculus for five hours rather than lounging by a swimming pool.

Cristiana is one of 335 students signed up for Newark's new A.P. Summer Institute, in which A.P. courses in calculus, biology, United States history and English language and literature each get an intensive two-week introduction, paid for with $300,000 in federal grants.

Intended to help increase enrollment in the special courses as well as student performance, the new program, which starts on Monday, is expected to reach more than half the students taking Advanced Placement classes this fall in the 40,000-student Newark school district.

"We're in a stressful environment in school, and if we can start now, it will be a lot easier," said Cristiana, 17, a senior who will be getting up at 6:30 a.m. and riding two public buses to reach the high school for the summer program.

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Tokyo subway manner posters


Let's introduce interesting poster about train manner in Tokyo subway. You may see this interesting poster in Japanese Tokyo subway.

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We Are All Writers Now

Anne Trubek:

Blogs, Twitter, Facebook: these outlets are supposedly cheapening language and tarnishing our time. But the fact is we are all reading and writing much more than we used to, writes Anne Trubek ...

The chattering classes have become silent, tapping their views on increasingly smaller devices. And tapping they are: the screeds are everywhere, decrying the decline of smart writing, intelligent thought and proper grammar. Critics bemoan blogging as the province of the amateurism. Journalists rue the loose ethics and shoddy fact-checking of citizen journalists. Many save their most profound scorn for the newest forms of social media. Facebook and Twitter are heaped with derision for being insipid, time-sucking, sad testaments to our literary degradation. This view is often summed up with a disdainful question: "Do we really care about what you ate for lunch?"

Forget that most of the pundits lambasting Facebook and Twitter are familiar with these devices because they use them regularly. Forget that no one is being manacled to computers and forced to read stupid prose (instead of, say, reading Proust in bed). What many professional writers are overlooking in these laments is that the rise of amateur writers means more people are writing and reading. We are commenting on blog posts, forwarding links and composing status updates. We are seeking out communities based on written words.

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Progress in International Reading Literacy Study 2006 (PIRLS): pedagogical correlates of fourth-grade students in Hong Kong

Wai Ming Cheung, Shek Kam Tse, Joseph W.I. Lam and Elizabeth Ka Yee Loh:

Reading literacy of fourth-grade students in Hong Kong showed a remarkable improvement from 2001 to 2006 as shown by international PIRLS studies. This study identified various aspects of the teacher factor contributing to the significant improvement among students. A total of 4,712 students and 144 teachers from 144 schools were randomly selected using probability proportional-to-size technique to receive the Reading Assessment Test and complete the Teacher's Questionnaire, respectively. A number of items pertaining to teachers' instructional strategies and activities, opportunities for students to read various types of materials, practices on assessment, and professional preparation and perception, were found to be significantly correlated with the outcome of students' reading literacy. Stepwise regression procedure revealed four significant predictors for students' overall reading achievement. The most powerful predictor was the use of materials from other subjects as reading resources. Suggestions to improve quality of teaching of reading and further studies are made.
Daniel Willingham has more.

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Houston Community College Has Global Appeal

Larry Abramson:

America's community colleges suffer from an image problem at home, but some are experiencing a boom -- especially when it comes to foreign student enrollments.

Take Houston Community College. Thanks in part to an aggressive outreach campaign, the school has the highest percentage of international students of any community college in the U.S.

Betting On An American Education

Even if there were ivy on the walls of Houston Community College, it would wither in the Texas heat. The drab buildings of the school's Gulfton neighborhood campus are typical community college architecture, but that doesn't scare anyone away.

Sejal Desai came here after the college's fame spread -- via word of mouth -- to the small city she comes from in India.

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The Top 10 High School Athletic Programs in the United States

Kevin Armstrong:

In his 11 years as athletic director at the Honolulu's Punahou School Tom Holden never decorated his school's gym walls or outfield fences with championship banners. State titles, of which there have been 61 over the last four years, hold a place in Buff 'n Blue lore, but that's in the trophy case. "We just congratulate among ourselves," said Holden, who retired last Thursday. "Nothing public."

Punahou's 19 state titles during the 2008-09 school year were a nice retirement gift for Holden. Now he can add being named Sports Illustrated's top high school program for the second consecutive year. To come up with our top 10, as well as our top programs in each state, we looked for state championships and Division-I scholarship athletes and success on and off the field. Punahou was at the head of the class.

On the mainland, Jesuit High (Portland, Ore.), won seven state titles to rank just behind Punahou. Throughout the country and the District of Columbia, found schools that exemplified excellence in athletics during all seasons. Here is our top 10:

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Schoolboy dream grows up

Joathan Moules:

When asked why he thinks the UK is not as entrepreneurial as the US, Mr Smith puts the blame on education. "Teachers and career advisers have been very risk-averse," he says.

"If you can change attitudes in schools and teach entrepreneurship to primary and secondary school children, we will have more role models."

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Dear Plagiarist

G. Thomas Couser:

When you got your paper back with a grade of F for plagiarism, you reacted in predictable fashion -- with indignant denial of any wrongdoing. You claimed "you cited everything" and denied that you had committed intentional plagiarism, or ever would.

This response is all too familiar to an experienced professor. Only once in my three decades of teaching has a student I caught plagiarizing owned up to it right away. And in that case, I believe (perhaps cynically) that she (a graduate student) thought a forthright confession might lead me to lighten the penalty. It didn't; I failed her for the course and wrote her up. Indeed, I found out later that she had been caught plagiarizing by a colleague the previous term and let off lightly. I suspect that, because too many professors (many of them adjuncts fearful of student backlash) overlook or are unwilling to pursue plagiarism -- the process can be labor intensive, and it is always unpleasant -- cheating has become a way of life for many students, and they are genuinely surprised at being held responsible for it. So I don't doubt that your shock is real.

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July 7, 2009

How I Spent My Summer: Hacking Into iPhones With Friends

Yukari Iwatani Kane:

Like many teenagers, Ari Weinstein spends his summers riding his bike and swimming. This year, the 15-year-old had another item on his to-do list: Foil Apple Inc.'s brightest engineers and annoy chief executive Steve Jobs.

Ari is part of a loose-knit group of hackers that has made it a mission to "jailbreak" Apple's iPhone and iPod touch. The term refers to installing unapproved software that lets people download a range of programs, including those not sanctioned by Apple.

Since Apple began selling its latest iPhone 3GS on June 19, Ari and six online cohorts spent hours a day probing the new product for security holes. This weekend, one of the member of the group, dubbed the Chronic Dev Team, released the jailbreaking software they've been working on. Ari says the program is a test version with some bugs, but that users have successfully downloaded it. A quarter-million people have visited the site, he says.

"Coding and testing things that may or may not work, and figuring things out, is a really rewarding experience," says Ari, a Philadelphia resident who began hacking when he was 11.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Tax Bill Appeals Take Rising Toll on Governments

Jack Healy:

Homeowners across the country are challenging their property tax bills in droves as the value of their homes drop, threatening local governments with another big drain on their budgets.

The requests are coming in record numbers, from owners of $10 million estates and one-bedroom bungalows, from residents of the high-tax enclaves surrounding New York City, and from taxpayers in the Rust Belt and states like Arizona, Florida and California, where whole towns have been devastated by the housing bust.

"It's worthy of a Dickens story," said Gus Kramer, the assessor in Contra Costa County, Calif., outside San Francisco. "These people are desperate. They know their home's gone down in value. They've watched their neighborhoods being boarded up. They literally stand in there and say: 'When can I have my refund check? I need to feed my family. I need to pay my electric bill.' "

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Lessons for Failing Schools

NY Times Editorial:

Mr. Duncan has said from the start that he wants the states to transform about 5,000 of the lowest-performing schools, not in a piecemeal fashion but with bold policies that have an impact right away. The argument in favor of a tightly focused effort aimed at these schools is compelling. We now know, for example, that about 12 percent of the nation's high schools account for half the country's dropouts generally -- and almost three-quarters of minority dropouts. A plan that fixed these schools, raising high school graduation and college-going rates, would pay enormous dividends for the country as a whole.

Mr. Duncan can use his burgeoning discretionary budget to reward states that take the initiative in this area. But Congress could push the reform effort further and faster by granting the education department's request for two changes in federal education law. The first would be to come up with new federal school improvement money and require the states to focus 40 percent of it on the lowest-performing middle and high schools. The second change would allow the secretary to directly finance charter-school operators that have already produced high-quality schools.

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6 Great Tools for LSAT, SAT and GMAT Test Prep

Dana Oshiro:

Thousands of intelligent students seize up during standardized test season. They're the ones in the back of the gymnasium, frantically writing to the last minute and choking under the pressure of an egg timer. I am this student.

Perhaps test anxiety doesn't come from the actual questions sitting in front of us, but rather the fact that these standardized test scores can be life altering. These scores affect our admittance to the right schools, our ability to gain scholarships and our ability to qualify for certain types of aid. The weight of these tests had many of us prematurely self-destructing, and honestly, it doesn't get any easier as we get older.

Want to do an MBA or law degree? Your qualifying test scores could mean the difference between a great life transition and a mediocre one. Below is a list of test prep resources. If you're spending your summer prepping, these might just help you gain the confidence you need to come out on top.

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Q & A With US Education Secretary Arne Duncan

Chicago Tribune:

ucation Secretary Arne Duncan recently answered questions about his goals and relationship with the business community. An edited transcript:

QWhy include business in the policy debate about public education?

AWe all need to work together on this stuff, business leaders and educators. Everyone's mutual interests are absolutely aligned.

QBusiness leaders want reform but don't want to pay for it, right?

ANo; there's been unbelievable generosity, not just in resources but in ideas. We've had a great relationship with the Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable. I've met with a number of CEOs.

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No Ordinary Man, This Principal Has Influenced a Legion of Educators

Jay Matthews:

When I first met him a dozen years ago, Mike Durso struck me as an okay principal. He didn't say much about himself, but his school, Springbrook High in Silver Spring, was well-run. The students liked him. He had been around a long time, another good sign.

It took some time to realize how badly he had deceived me. His adopted persona, good ol' boy administrator, hid something more important. I began looking for clues to how amazing Durso was, what an impact he was having on the region with his phenomenal eye for talent, while he pretended to be like everybody else, just getting through the day.

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Bout with cancer gave Evers the drive to become Wisconsin schools chief

Alan Borsuk:

When the surgery was over, the worst of the aftermath survived, and the tumor gone, Tony Evers met with his oncologist, Linn Khuu.

"You know, you've been given a second chance," she told him. "Go do something great."

Evers felt a bit insulted at first. He thought he had worked hard and done good things for years. For one thing, he had been deputy state superintendent of public instruction for almost seven years at that point.

Then he decided she was right.

Now, Evers said, he would tell people who went through what he went through, "If you do get a second chance, make the most of it."

At 11 a.m. Monday, Evers, 57, will show what he is doing to make the most of it. He will be sworn in as Wisconsin's 26th superintendent of public instruction - and almost surely the first without an esophagus.

Within months of being told he had a form of cancer that generally has low survival rates, Evers decided to undertake a race for statewide office.

"Once you get over a hurdle, it does make you a bit more fearless," he said in an interview last week.

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Harvard President: School has tough choices in decline

Melissa Trujillo:

Drew Gilpin Faust started as Harvard's president when the university's prosperity seemed limitless. With its ballooning wealth, Harvard planned almost frenzied growth, from a building boom into Boston to vast increases in student financial aid.

Billions of lost endowment dollars later, though, Faust faces a much different reality.

"We can't have chocolate and vanilla and strawberry. We have to decide which one," she said.

It's a question few at Harvard expected Faust to be forced to answer in the infancy of her presidency.

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A Union Promotion
An enemy of education reform gets kicked upstairs.

Wall Street Journal Editorial:

In her weekly "What Matters Most" newspaper column, Randi Weingarten recently bid the Big Apple farewell. Ms. Weingarten has been elevated to president of the national American Federation of Teachers from head of its New York City affiliate, and she had some notable parting words: "One of the most rewarding (and exhausting) things about working in public education in New York City is that it is the best laboratory in the world for trying new things."

Well, it could be, if it weren't for Ms. Weingarten's union. Since taking over in 1998, she has done everything she could to block significant reforms to New York's public schools. Take her opposition to charter schools. She resisted raising the state cap on charters from 100 unless the union could organize them. (She lost and the cap now is 200.)

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July 6, 2009

Wisconsin's New K-12 Academic Standards

Alan Borsuk:

Wisconsin education officials are aiming to move into the national mainstream by setting firmer standards for what children should learn in school and finding better ways to measure achievement.

A new report from the American Diploma Project praises Wisconsin's proposed new set of standards for high school English and math. The report is the latest of several indications that changes are being made when it comes to student expectations - and that others are noticing.

Wisconsin built a reputation in recent years for having loosely written state standards. The state was viewed as setting the bar about as low as anywhere in the country in determining if students were proficient, and taking too rosy an approach to deciding whether schools were getting adequate results.

Several national groups, some of them with conservative orientations but others harder to peg politically, criticized the state for its softness.

The report from the Diploma Project, issued last week, says that in revising its statement of what students are expected to learn in English and math, "Wisconsin has taken an important step to better prepare young people for success in post-secondary education and in their careers."

Much more on the WKCE here.

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Privacy & Social Network Sites: Wife Blows MI6 Chief's Cover on Facebook

Nadia Gilani:

The wife of the new head of MI6 has caused a major security breach and left his family exposed after publishing photographs and personal details on Facebook.

Sir John Sawers is due to take over as chief of the Secret Intelligence Service in November, putting him in charge of all of Britain's spying operations abroad.

But entries by his wife Shelley on the social networking site have exposed potentially compromising details about where they live and work, their friends' identities and where they spend their holidays. On the day her husband was appointed she congratulated him on the site using his codename "C".

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Peer Pressure

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
6 July 2009

We make frequent use of the influence of their high school peers on many of our students. We have peer counseling programs and even peer discipline systems, in some cases. We show students the artistic abilities of their peers in exhibitions, concerts, plays, recitals, and the like.

Most obviously, we put before our high school students the athletic skills and performances of their peers in a very wide range of meets, matches, and games, some of which, of course, are better attended than others.

While some high schools still have just one valedictorian, fellow students have little or no idea what sort of academic work the student who is first in her class has done. Academic scholarships may be announced, but it is quite impossible for peers to see the academic work for which the scholarship has been awarded. Here again, the contrast with athletics is clear.

We show high school students the artistic, athletic, and other examples of the outstanding efforts and accomplishments of their peers without seeming to worry that such examples will send their peers into unmanageable depressions or cause them to give up their own efforts to do their best.

When it comes to academic achievements, on the other hand, we do seem to worry that they will have a harmful effect if they are shown to other students. I am not quite sure how that attitude got its hold on us, but I do have some comments from authors whose papers I have published, on their reaction to seeing the exemplary academic work of their peers:

"When a former history teacher first lent me a copy of The Concord Review, I was inspired by the careful scholarship crafted by other young people. Although I have always loved history passionately, I was used to writing history papers that were essentially glorified book reports...As I began to research the Ladies' Land League, I looked to The Concord Review for guidance on how to approach my task...In short, I would like to thank you not only for publishing my essay, but for motivating me to develop a deeper understanding of history. I hope that The Concord Review will continue to fascinate, challenge and inspire young historians for years to come."

North Central High School (IN) Class of 2005

"The opportunity that The Concord Review presented drove me to rewrite and revise my paper to emulate its high standards. Your journal truly provides an extraordinary opportunity and positive motivation for high school students to undertake extensive research and academic writing, experiences that ease the transition from high school to college."

Thomas Worthington High School (OH) Class of 2008

"Thank you for selecting my essay regarding Augustus Caesar and his rule of the Roman Republic for publication in the Spring 2009 issue of The Concord Review. I am both delighted and honored to know that this essay will be of some use to readers around the world. The process of researching and writing this paper for my IB Diploma was truly enjoyable and it is my hope that it will inspire other students to undertake their own research projects on historical topics."

Old Scona Academic High School, Edmonton, Alberta, (Canada) Class of 2008

"In the end, working on that history paper, inspired by the high standard set by The Concord Review, reinvigorated my interest not only in history, but also in writing, reading and the rest of the humanities. I am now more confident in my writing ability, and I do not shy from difficult academic challenges. My academic and intellectual life was truly altered by my experience with that paper, and the Review played no small role! Without the Review, I would not have put so much work into the paper. I would not have had the heart to revise so thoroughly."

Isidore Newman School (LA) Class of 2003

"At CRLHS, a much-beloved history teacher suggested to me that I consider writing for The Concord Review, a publication that I had previously heard of, but knew little about. He proposed, and I agreed, that it would be an opportunity for me to pursue more independent work, something that I longed for, and hone my writing and research skills in a project of considerably broader scope than anything I had undertaken up to that point."

Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School (MA) Class of 2003

Now, whenever a counterintuitive result--like this enthusiasm for a challenge--is found, there is always an attempt to limit the damage to our preconceptions. "This is only a tiny fringe group (of trouble-makers, nerds, etc.)" or "most of our high school students would not respond with interest to the exemplary academic work of their peers." The problem with those arguments is that we really don't know enough. We haven't actually tried to see what would happen if we presented our high school students with good academic work done by their more diligent peers. Perhaps we should consider giving that experiment a serious try. I have, as it happens, some good high school academic work to use as examples in such a trial...

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Milwaukee School District Spending Online

Via Alan Borsuk:

When a citizen taxpayer group, the CRG Network, posted online a database of all invoices paid by Milwaukee Public Schools a few months ago, it brought some amount of criticism of specific items - how much had been spent on food for meetings and parent events, on iPods for student prizes and so on.

But it also led some MPS officials, such as finance chief Michelle Nate, to say the system ought to post the data itself since it's all public information.

Now MPS has done that.

A great idea.

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Education Letters on Classroom Structure, Among Others

Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Context and analysis is key part of schooling

While I entirely agree with David Elmore that the structure of many classrooms can work against the normal ways that young students learn, I must protest the picture of learning which he proposes.

ADD is a real disease. Anyone who "mostly got A's and B's" in school was not ADD. Elmore should spend some time in a class with real ADD students --he will soon see the qualitative difference between their distractibility and the usual kind. Lack of structure is hard for them.

Learning to add numbers or read words is not the same as learning mathematics or reading a sophisticated text: Both require understanding underlying ideas and comparing and contrasting them with other ideas.

Talking to a parent about how invasive taxes are also will not prepare someone for adult conversation. While most of the time people don't know theories, they use them. The first time someone proposes a Hamiltonian view of freedom while yours is Jeffersonian, if you don't know theory, you will not be able to respond convincingly, and you will soon feel pretty stupid.

An exciting school, at any level, gives students not only skills like addition and reading, not only facts without context, but the joy of deep understanding and analysis, which requires teachers and a structure leading students to it.

Sally MacEwen, associate professor and chair of classics at Agnes Scott College

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What it's Like to Teach Black Students

Marty Nemko:

Despite almost 50 years of large and accelerating efforts to improve the school achievement of African-American students, the gap between their achievement and that of whites and Asians remains about as large as ever.

Yet proposals for what to do about it seem basically unchanged: Spend more money and divert existing money to reduce class size and train teachers better, have more students take a rigorous college prep curriculum, work on improving self-esteem, eliminate ability-grouped classes, use cooperative-learning techniques, and reassign top teachers to schools with a high percentage of African-American students.

I have become especially doubtful about whether those approaches will work better in the future than they have in the past when I read this report from the trenches. Usually, we hear only from politicians and education leaders (who also are politicians) spouting lofty rhetoric. Occasionally, we hear of a promising program, but which never turns out to be scalable. Or we see a Hollywood movie about some amazing teacher.

We rarely, however, hear from a more typical teacher who, day to day, teaches low-achieving African-American kids. So it was with interest that I read this truly depressing account from a teacher. I've edited out a couple of unnecessarily snarky sentences, which are irrelevant to the issue. Nonetheless the essay is long yet, I believe, worth your time.)

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Like Her Subject, Math Teacher's Dedication and Conviction Were Absolute

Lauren Wiseman:

Doris Broome DeBoe, who became one of the District's leading math teachers, said she was drawn to the subject because it was absolute. Where other subjects were subjective, she said, math was exact.

"Once you understand what you are doing, there is no deviation," she said.

As a teacher, she believed in endless math drills, nightly homework and practice. She described herself not as a harsh instructor but as one who thought algebra is "a skill like ball playing and piano playing. Once you learn the basics, practice is necessary to ensure mastery."

She said every child had the potential to do well in class. "My best dog is the underdog," she told her students.

Her conviction motivated many students. Michael Bell, a student at Bertie Backus Middle School in the mid-1970s, said Mrs. DeBoe was the inspiration for creating his math preparation company, Acaletics, which helps develop curriculums and training programs within the Florida public school system. His company follows the same basic formula as Mrs. DeBoe's teaching: Practice makes perfect.

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Md. School Joins Test of Online Courses Tailored to Girls

Michael Birnbaum:

When the Online School for Girls flickers to life this fall on computer screens across the country, students will take part in an unusual experiment that joins two trends: girls-only schooling and online teaching.

A consortium that includes the 108-year-old Holton-Arms School in Bethesda is driving the project, in the belief that girls can benefit from an Internet curriculum tailored just to them.

"There's been a lot of research done on how girls learn differently with technology than boys," said Brad Rathgeber, Holton-Arms's director of technology. "Part of this is a little bit of theory that we're trying to put in practice to see if it really does play out."

For now, the online collaboration will allow the four participating schools -- Holton-Arms, Harpeth Hall in Nashville, Westover School in Middlebury, Conn., and Laurel School in Shaker Heights, Ohio -- to offer classes that would not have generated enough student interest or teacher support in any one school. When the classes open to the public a year later, the educators hope that students around the world -- including homeschoolers and girls at coed schools -- will be able to take part in a version of the girls' school experience. And they want to prove that single-sex online education works. They can't find anyone who has done anything similar.

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Mayoral control isn't the answer for Detroit schools

Andy Kroll:

On a recent visit to Cody High School in southwestern Detroit, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan reiterated one of his key talking points on how to improve the nation's underachieving urban public school districts: Put mayors in charge of big-city public schools.

Transferring authority over urban school districts from school boards and superintendents to mayors, Duncan explained in March at the Mayors' National Forum on Education in Washington, D.C., will ensure greater stability in the leadership of school districts. Duncan pointed out that mayors usually hold office longer than the average school superintendent.
The secretary of education also said that mayors make stronger leaders at the helm of public schools.

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Wisconsin K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: State Redistributions to Madison Smaller Than Expected

Mark Pitsch:

Barely a week after the Legislature approved a budget that local and state officials said would slash state aid to Madison schools by no more than 10 percent, new estimates show the cuts will actually top 15 percent.

Word of the $9.2 million cut in general state school aids next year came as a rude shock to lawmakers and district officials. That's because cuts approved by the Legislature's budget committee were estimated to be 13.1 percent, but the final budget was believed to limit the cuts to 10 percent.

Dave Schmiedicke, Gov. Jim Doyle's budget director, said several factors affected the new school funding calculation, including the number of students expected to enroll this fall, the district's relatively larger increase in spending per student compared with other Wisconsin districts and the district's high property values.

Related: Open Enrollment.

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Learning-community dorm: Cool or not cool?

Deborah Ziff:

There are dorms that are popular on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus: Elizabeth Waters, the scenic hall in the center of campus, or the new Ogg, which has air conditioning and walk-in closets.

And then, for whatever reason, there are the ones that aren't. Whether it be Witte, Cole, Kronshage, or another, officials say they're never sure which dorms will drop to the bottom of the list on any given year, falling victim to the whims of 17- and 18-year-olds.

In particular, the university has had some trouble enticing students to live in dorms they label as learning communities, or those that bring faculty, staff, and unique seminars into dorm life.

There are two full dorms on campus with this mission -- Chadbourne and Bradley -- plus floors with special interest themes like women in science and engineering, entrepreneurship, international interests and more.

Last year, UW-Madison started a program that rewards students for picking these halls by allowing them to choose their room online, a la seat selection with the airlines. The fate of other students are left to a computer program's random picks.

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July 5, 2009

A Hot Beach Debate for Edu-Nerds Like Me

Jay Matthews:

Those of us who spend our days mesmerized by discussions of summer learning loss, looping and longitudinal analysis need a summer break, just like everybody else. We are readers, so on vacation we are likely to have a book in our hands, or if we are very old, a newspaper. For me, bestselling thrillers are too predictable and mysteries too complex. I need something different, something weird, something fresh that taps into my essential nerdiness, and I have found it. "Education Hell: Rhetoric vs. Reality," by Gerald W. Bracey.

The first few chapters are familiar, if you, like me, are a fan of the irascible Bracey and his assaults on the conventionally wise among our education leaders. But in chapter 10 he does something totally unexpected. He resurrects The Eight-Year Study, a 70-year-old corpse, and makes me want to talk about it, even with that guy sprawled out on the next beach towel.

The Eight-Year Study was published in 1942, three years before I was born. That is, to me, a virtue. So few people have heard of it they cannot have any knee-jerk reactions. It was a very large experiment. More than 30 high schools in the 1930s were encouraged to try non-traditional approaches to teaching, like combining Engish and social studies and science into one course, to see how the students who studied that way did when compared to students who did not attend the schools in the study. More than 300 colleges agreed to abandon their traditional admissions procedures in accepting students from the experimental schools.

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Throwing a Lifeline to Struggling Teachers

Daniel de Vise:

Jean Bernstein rang a cowbell, her cue to quiet the sixth-graders at Roberto Clemente Middle School for a lesson on multiplying decimals. "You need to settle down," she said.

But that afternoon in Germantown, students seemed intent on chatting, clapping and exchanging high-fives. As the teacher led the class through a sheet of problems, one boy punctuated every answer by exclaiming, "I agree!"

The students might have cut Bernstein some slack had they known that she, too, was being graded.

Last fall, Bernstein entered Peer Assistance and Review, a Montgomery County program that identifies struggling teachers and tries to help them improve. Those who do not face dismissal.

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Jay on the Web: Can Unions and KIPP Schools Co-exist?

Jay Matthews:

Mike Klonsky has some strong words for Jay Mathews on his recent column about unions and charter schools. In the piece, Jay argues that union demands might swamp the progress that one Baltimore KIPP school has shown under the direction of KIPP founder Jason Botel.

In his blog Small Talk, Klonsky, an educator and activist, argues Mathews is ignoring the difficult conditions many KIPP teachers work under:

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US Education Secretary Duncan Promotes Charter School Debate

Mary Bruce:

chools specialize in math, science or the arts. Some are Afro-centric, others are religious. They are publicly funded but operate independently of local schools boards and, often, teacher unions.

They all make up the growing charter school movement that the Obama administration would like to see flourish.

"The charter movement is absolutely one of the most profound changes in American education, bringing new options to underserved communities and introducing competition and innovation into the education system," Education Secretary Arne Duncan told attendees at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools' annual conference last week.

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Naval Academy Professor Challenges Rising Diversity

Daniel de Vise:

Of the 1,230 plebes who took the oath of office at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis this week, 435 were members of minority groups. It's the most racially diverse class in the academy's 164-year history.

Academy leaders say it is a top priority to build a student body that reflects the racial makeup of the Navy and the nation. The service academy has almost twice as many black, Hispanic and Asian midshipmen as it did a decade ago. Much of the increase has occurred in the past two years, with a blitz of 1,000 outreach and recruitment events across the country.

But during the past two weeks, a faculty member has stirred debate by suggesting that the school's quest for diversity comes at a price. Bruce Fleming, a tenured English professor, said in a June 14 opinion piece in the Capital newspaper of Annapolis that the academy operates a two-tiered admission system that makes it substantially easier for minority applicants to get in. Academy leaders strenuously deny Fleming's assertion. Fleming served on the academy's admissions board several years ago.

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Return of Board of Education means parents have less say on schools

Meredith Kolodner & Rachel Monahan:

Parents who've complained for years about having little input under mayoral control of schools, have even less power under the resurrected Board of Education.

They say they have been left with fewer avenues for involvement, including the loss of their Community Education Councils, which expired with mayoral control.

"We had no power when we were authorized, what power will we have now?" said Queens CEC 26 head Robert Caloras.

He plans to file a formal complaint over the appointment of a deputy mayor to represent Queens on the Board of Ed.

He said the appointment of Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott to the seven-member board was a conflict of interest, since he works for the mayor.

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July 4, 2009

Shake-up in Seattle schools coming soon

Danny Westneat via a kind reader's email:

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

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

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

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

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

"Teacher unions are an anachronism," said another.

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

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Number of Black Male Teachers Belies Their Influence

Avis Thomas-Lester:

Tynita Johnson had attended predominantly black schools in Prince George's County for 10 years when she walked into Will Thomas's AP government class last August and found something she had never seen.

"I was kind of shocked," said Tynita, 15, of Upper Marlboro. "I have never had a black male teacher before, except for P.E."

Tynita's experience is remarkably common. Only 2 percent of the nation's 4.8 million teachers are black men, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In fact, Thomas, a social studies teacher at Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. High School, never had a black teacher himself.

"I love teaching, and I feel like I am needed," said Thomas, 33, of Bowie. "We need black male teachers in our classrooms because that is the closest connection we are able to make to children. It is critical for all students to see black men in the classrooms involved in trying to make sure they learn and enjoy being in school."

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A parent's plea on teaching

Michael Laser, via a kind reader's email:

IF I could change public education, here's what I'd do first: reward the best teachers with higher pay and stature, and fire the worst teachers, because they shouldn't be in the classroom.

My children have gone through a total of 16 years of public schooling in New Jersey. Over the years, I've seen outstanding teachers, and outstandingly bad ones. Our kids have had teachers who introduced them to everything under the sun, and made every day different and fascinating. Some of our daughter's teachers gave up their lunch and stayed late to help her find her way through the maze of math. Two of our son's teachers comforted him when traumatic events laid him low. My daughter's sixth-grade teacher made students feel like real scientists; her language arts teacher covered everyone's papers with useful suggestions. These people put everything they have into teaching. They light sparks that stay lit for years.

But we've also seen teachers who put dents in our children's spirits, day after day, teachers who barely taught anything at all, who, I suspect, chose the profession because they wanted summers off.

My father used to come home from his post office job railing about co-workers who didn't do their share of the work, but couldn't be fired. Watching bad teachers fail to do their jobs, I'm even angrier than he was. How can anyone justify protecting the jobs of teachers who:

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Seniority vs. Effectiveness

Seattle: Support Great Teachers:

As a Seattle community, we can and must speak up to improve the effectiveness of every school, in every neighborhood.

We, the undersigned, ask our leaders to do the following:

1. Delay the immediate assignment of replacement teachers until the effects of attrition and retirement are understood. Keep successful teams intact.

2. In the new contract between the teachers' association and the school district, change the layoff policy to prioritize effectiveness. Put in place a system that promotes, rewards and protects teamwork, expertise, best teaching practices and each site's unique programmatic needs.

3. Ensure that all kids have consistent access to highly effective teachers.

4. Give our principals the tools they need to support and retain effective teachers within their individual schools.

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July 3, 2009

Korean School Preps Students For Ivy League

Anthony Kuhn:

With admissions getting more competitive every year, spots at top American colleges are becoming a globally coveted commodity. In Seoul, one elite South Korean prep school has become the envy of many upper-crust U.S. prep schools with its success at getting its students into Ivy League colleges.

The Korean school's formula is simple: Select the country's brightest and most ambitious students and work them extremely hard.

U.S.-Style Studying 101

Roughly 1,200 students at the private Daewon Foreign Language High School begin their day with a nationally required curriculum of Korean, math and English. Three afternoons a week, about a quarter of them continue their studies in the Global Leadership Program -- a special course that emphasizes the research, writing and analytical skills they will need at top U.S. colleges.

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L.A. school board lets Birmingham High go charter

Mitchell Landsberg:

A newly constituted Los Angeles school board took its first action Wednesday by giving up control of its largest campus, allowing Birmingham High to convert itself into a charter.

The action, which took place after Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called for a "revolution" in city schools, followed months of bitter infighting at the school in the Lake Balboa section of the San Fernando Valley, and was a blow to teachers union leaders and others who had advocated the simultaneous creation of a union-sponsored school on the Birmingham campus. The charter will begin its first school year Aug. 19.

New board members Steve Zimmer and Nury Martinez admitted being unprepared to vote on the issue, which stirred deep passions among teachers, parents and students. Zimmer said he felt as though he were "on my Star Trek maiden voyage," and Martinez complained that she had been briefed about the months-long saga only the day before. Zimmer ultimately abstained, while Martinez joined four other board members in voting for the charter.

Trustee Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte dissented, saying she supported the concept but wanted more time to heal the wounds on the campus and prepare plans for the union-backed school.

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US Education Secretary Duncan Advocates Merit Pay at NEA

Stephen Sawchuck:

To answer the question I'm sure you all have: Yes. Teachers booed and hissed during some of the performance-pay portions of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's speech. And they weren't overwhelmingly happy with the talk of reform to seniority and tenure systems, either.

But some of the stories I've seen around the Web on the speech are billing this as "tough love" for the teachers' unions. There was some of that, sure, but President Barack Obama and Duncan clearly telegraphed their intentions to push hard on these issues in the stimulus legislation, and that passed months ago.

So there was an element to this whole proceeding that came off as a little bit rehearsed to me. I wonder if Duncan had prepared his seemingly ad-libbed line for when the booing started: "You can boo; just don't throw any shoes, please." And I'm pretty sure most of the delegates had gotten their vocal chords ready, too.

To me, the biggest news out of the speech is that the administration is increasingly emphasizing student achievement as one measure of teacher pay or evaluation, although not the only measure. That is a big issue, and it's one that helped sink congressional attempts to renew the No Child Left Behind Act in 2007.

Joanne has more along with Thomas.

Libby Quaid:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan challenged members of the National Education Association Thursday to stop resisting the idea of linking teacher pay to student achievement.

It was Duncan's first speech at the union's annual meeting, a gathering at which President Barack Obama was booed when he mentioned the idea of performance pay last year. By contrast, Duncan drew raucous applause and only a smattering of boos.

"I came here today to challenge you to think differently about the role of unions in public education," Duncan told the 3.2 million-member union in San Diego.

"It's not enough to focus only on issues like job security, tenure, compensation, and evaluation," he said. "You must become full partners and leaders in education reform. You must be willing to change."

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Violin-making has put a nondescript town near Beijing on the map. Now the locals have caught fiddle fever

Andrew Jacobs:

Perhaps the only thing more aurally challenging than a roomful of novice violinists screeching their way through Mary Had a Little Lamb is a roomful of novice violinists screeching along on out-of-tune instruments.
"Stop," Chen Yiming says to her enthusiastic students, ages eight to 47. "Can we please pay attention to our instruments and make sure they are tuned correctly?"

After a short break for adjustments, the cacophony resumes.

Violin fever has hit Donggaocun, a drab rural township about an hour's drive from Beijing. Hundreds of residents, young and old, are picking up the bow as Donggaocun tries to position itself as the mainland's string instrument capital.

Once known primarily for its abundant peach harvest, the town has become one of the world's most prodigious manufacturers of inexpensive cellos, violas, violins and double basses. Last year the town's nine factories and 150 small workshops produced 250,000 instruments, most of them ending up in the hands of students in the US, Britain and Germany.

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A Bank Run Teaches the 'Plain People' About the Risks of Modernity

Douglas Belkin:

Dan Bontrager is a 54-year-old Amish man with flecks of gray in his long beard. He's also treasurer of the Tri-County Land Trust, an Amish lending cooperative created to support the Amish maxim that community enhances faith in God.

This past spring, Mr. Bontrager was startled when a number of men he has known most of his life tied their horses to the hitching post outside his office and came inside to withdraw their money from the Land Trust.

"We had a run," Mr. Bontrager says. "I don't know if you know anything about the Amish grapevine, but word travels fast. Somebody assumed it was going to happen, and it started a panic."

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July 2, 2009

Barb Thompson takes Montgomery (AL) Superintendent Post

Adrienne Nettles via a kind reader's email:
In a vote preceded by outbursts from board members, the Montgomery County Board of Education on Wednesday selected Barbara Thompson as Montgomery's new superintendent.

The board voted 4-3 along racial lines to offer the job to Thompson, who currently serves as superintendent of New Glarus Public Schools in Wisconsin.

Black board members Mary Briers, Eleanor Dawkins, Robert Porterfield and Beverly Ross voted for Thompson. Voting against her were white members Charlotte Meadows, Heather Sellers and Melissa Snowden, who all wanted to continue the search process.

Thompson was the lone finalist for the job after Samantha Ingram, superintendent of Fairfield County Schools in South Carolina, withdrew on Monday.

Ross, chairwoman of the school board, said she called Thompson shortly after the vote and Thompson accepted the job.

"I am excited that she's excited about coming here," Ross said. "She was already talking about how to get our test scores up."

Thompson, in a phone interview from her house in Wisconsin, said she and the board in the next few days should begin working out the details of her contract, which include salary negotiations.
Thompson was formerly principal at Lapham Elementary in the Madison School District. The Montgromery School District, with 31,000 students, is nearly 1/3 larger than the Madison Schools.
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Education in America and Britain: Learning Lessons from Private Schools

The Economist:

The right and wrong ways to get more poor youngsters into the world's great universities

LOTS of rich people and crummy state schools, especially in the big cities where well-off folk tend to live: these common features of America and Britain help explain the prominence in both countries of an elite tier of private schools. Mostly old, some with fat endowments, places like Eton, Harrow and Phillips Exeter have done extraordinarily well. Fees at independent schools have doubled in real terms over the past 25 years and waiting lists have lengthened. Even in the recession, they are proving surprisingly resilient (see article). A few parents are pulling out, but most are soldiering on and plenty more are clamouring to get their children in.

Row, row together
All sorts of class-based conspiracy theories exist to explain the success of such institutions, but the main reason why they thrive in a more meritocratic world is something much more pragmatic: their ability to get people into elite universities. For Britain and America also have the world's best universities. Look at any of the global rankings and not only do the Ivy League and Oxbridge monopolise the top of the tree, British and (especially) American colleges dominate most of the leading 100 places. This summer graduates will struggle to find jobs, so a degree from a world-famous name like Berkeley or the London School of Economics will be even more valuable than usual. The main asset of the private schools is their reputation for getting children into those good universities.

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Private Schools & The Recession

The Economist:
In both America and Britain recession has so far done little to dent the demand for private education.

"COMPARED with last year, applications are up 14%," says Mark Stanek, the principal of Ethical Culture Fieldston, a private school in New York. All through the application season he and his board of governors had been on tenterhooks, waiting to see if financial turmoil would cut the number of parents prepared to pay $32,000-34,000 a year to educate a child. Requests for financial help from families already at Fieldston had been rising fast, and the school had scraped together $3m--on top of the $8m it spends on financial aid in a normal year--in the hope of tiding as many over as possible. Nothing is certain until pupils turn up in the autumn. Some parents could get cold feet and sacrifice their deposits. Yet so far the school is more popular than ever.

Across America the picture is patchier, but there is little sign of a recession-induced meltdown in private schooling. Catholic parochial schools and some in rural areas are finding the going harder--but this is merely the acceleration of existing trends. Private schools in big cities with rich residents, and those with famous names and a history of sending graduates to the Ivy League, seem to be doing rather well. "Some parents weighing up their options may be worried about what recession will do to public-school budgets," says Myra McGovern of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), which represents around 1,400 of the country's 30,000-odd private schools. "And some may think that if other people are struggling, that will mean their children are more likely to get in."
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Massachusetts Teachers Union Votes Down Advanced Placement Grant

Mike Antonucci:
Today’s lesson comes courtesy of Bernadette Marso, president of the Leominster Education Association in Massachusetts. Her members just voted down, by a 305-47 margin, a five-year, $856,000 grant from the Advanced Placement Training and Award Program. The program, among other things, pays teachers of Advanced Placement courses bonus money “if they successfully recruit more students to take AP courses and if the students perform well on the end-of-the-year AP exam.”

Some district officials and parents complained about the union decision because the bonuses were just one part of the program, which includes professional development and a subsidy to offset the AP exam fee for the students. But the union stood firmly opposed.

“We understand that some people will not understand the vote, but we confronted this from a union perspective,” Marso said. “We have a fair and equitable contract with the district, and to have a third party come in and start paying certain teachers more money than other hard-working teachers goes against what a union is all about.”
It will be interesting to see how the Madison School District's contract negotiations play out with respect to community 4K partners and other curriculuar issues.
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Tony Evers Evokes Change as He Enters Wisconsin DPI Superintendent Office

"Education is all about continued improvement, and the status quo is not satisfactory," Evers told the audience at a luncheon Tuesday at the Madison Club.

In addition to guiding local schools as they navigate state cuts and an influx of federal stimulus funding, Evers is promoting a single federal test and an overhaul of accountability and assessment standards for public education. Under the new system, which Evers said would be formed quickly over the next few months, the state will be able to consistently measure other educational categories aside from test scores.

The test score measurement mandates under the federal No Child Left Behind law drew criticism from Evers for their incomplete picture of education, but he said the federal standard has done educators "a tremendous favor" by showing disparities between performance of white and non-white students.

He also called for a national standard of testing and curriculum, which he said 46 states had backed. He said that Wisconsin isn't able to truly compare its educational growth to other districts and states because 50 different tests are being administered annually. He also called the current system “economically irrational.” "Public education, even though it's a state responsibility, is a national endeavor, and we have to view it as such," Evers said. "By doing this, we're going to make our system more transparent."

Perhaps nothing will test the new state accountability system as much as Milwaukee. Evers went to great lengths to discuss the “magic” that teachers work with many less fortunate students in the state’s largest school district, but recognized a graduation rate that, despite increasing to about 70 percent, lags well behind the state average.
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Making the Right Choice: Which School is Best?

Ross Tieman:

Choosing a school for one's child must be one of life's toughest decisions. The consequences can last a lifetime - for one's offspring - and have enormous effects upon their wealth and happiness.

The data on which to base a decision are incomplete - even academic league tables such as our own are only a partial measure of a school's "success" in preparing pupils for adult life - and money, or the lack of it, may limit the range of options.

But if money were no object, would it be better to send your child to an independent, or a state school?

On the face of it, evidence in favour of independent schools looks strong. Independent schools educate only 7 per cent of children in the UK, yet they dominate our rankings. Parents who have the financial resources also vote with their pockets.

According to studies by MTM Consulting, a specialist adviser to independent schools, almost a quarter of families who can afford the fees send one or more children to independent schools.

They are therefore spending a lot of cash to buy a private-sector service in preference to one that, in theory, is available free from the state. These parents clearly believe they are buying some added value.

FT Top 1000 Schools.

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Reroute The Pre-K Debate!

Andy Rotherham:

It just can't be a very good sign that when someone raises serious questions about one of the liveliest and controversial issues in our field those questions are ignored or distorted and caricatured. I've heard Checker Finn's new book on pre-kindergarten education referred to as an anti-pre-k book (it's not), an intemperate attack on the pre-k movement (it's critical, sure, but let's assume they're not as vulnerable as the kids they serve), or dismissed as simply too conservative to be taken seriously by the field (again it's not).

That doesn't mean it's a flawless book. Sara Mead has engaged with it and points out some problems with the analysis (in particular Finn overstates current participation levels - especially from a quality standpoint - and that's no small thing given his underlying point) and she also rounds up the other writing on it. But in general there hasn't been a lot of discussion of Reroute the Preschool Juggernaut's points about current program coordination, costs and how to think about costs, quality, and universality. These are not small matters; they cut to the heart of what is likely to be a massive public investment in an important strategy to improve outcomes for economically disadvantaged youngsters.

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Sports Salaries Show What We Really Value

Allen Barra:

The issue of escalating compensation and rising ticket prices in professional sports has been around for years. But next month it could reach a boiling point when 21-year-old Stephen Strasburg, the No. 1 pick in this year's Major League Baseball draft, signs for at least $15 million. And that's just a bonus before salary is even discussed.

The blogosphere and radio call-in shows are already buzzing, with people saying things like "Man, the [Washington] Nationals" -- or whatever team ends up signing Mr. Strasburg -- "are sure going to have to raise prices to pay for this guy. You'll be lucky to afford a beer when you go out to the ballpark to see him pitch."

Well, if you can't afford to buy a beer at the ballpark then it didn't do the team much good to sign the player, did it? Sportswriters and radio guys delight in reminding fans that every time a team acquires an expensive player the cost of everything goes up. But that's just not the way economics works.

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US obesity problem 'intensifies'


The Trust for America's Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found adult obesity rates rose in 23 of the 50 states, but fell in none.
In addition, the percentage of obese and overweight children is at or above 30% in 30 states.

The report warns widespread obesity is fuelling rates of chronic disease, and is responsible for a large, and growing chunk of domestic healthcare costs.

Obesity is linked to a range of health problems, including heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

Dr Jeff Levi, TFAH executive director, said: "Our health care costs have grown along with our waist lines. "The obesity epidemic is a big contributor to the skyrocketing health care costs in the US.

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July 1, 2009

Madison's Population Grew 22,491 from 2000 to 2008, School Enrollment Flat

Bill Glauber:

Madison continued its remarkable population surge with a 10.7% increase from 2000 to 2008, top among Wisconsin cities with a population of 50,000 or more. The capital also led Wisconsin in numerical growth, adding 22,491 people, for a total population of 231,916.

"Madison remains a very desirable place to live, and positive growth rates like this reflect that high quality of life," Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz said in a statement.

The new estimates are intriguing, both locally and nationally, because they detail America's population at the cusp of the financial meltdown and in the midst of a housing bust. They're also the last estimates to be released before the 2010 census is taken.

"Big cities are resilient," said William H. Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. "They've been able to survive in a very difficult economy. These cities have diverse economies that can hold their own in these troubled times."

Related: Madison's enrollment was 24,758 during the 1999-2000 school year and 24,189 during the 2008-2009 academic year. More here and here.

Given Madison's academic orientation (UW-Madison, MATC, Edgewood College, not to mention a number of nearby institutions), our students (every one of them) should have access to world class academics.

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$10 million for new science books as state adds exam

Jane Roberts:

Teaching science in a school district that for years paid little attention to it will cost $10 million for textbooks alone over the next six years.

The city school board approved the expense Monday night, and also OK'd $2.1 million for more print and Web-based reading materials for students in pre-K through third grade.

Half of the district's students are held back at least one year by the time they are in third grade because they cannot read well enough.

The effects, district officials say, show up in low graduation rates and high dropout and incarceration rates, costing the city millions a year in lost productivity alone and millions more in prison and jail costs.

Since the federal No Child Left Behind mandate was passed in 2002, science has gotten short shrift here because it is not one of the subjects covered under the state exams. Instead, teachers have focused on math and reading, often doubling up class periods to give students a bigger dose of what they must know to pass.

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Toyota Unveils Wheelchair Propelled by Thoughts Alone

Clay Dillow:

We'll still have to wait a few years to mind-meld with our Camrys, but researchers at Toyota have unveiled an advanced brain sensing system that controls the movement of a wheelchair by reading a user's thoughts alone. By processing patterns in brain waves, the system can propel a wheelchair forward, as well as make turns, with virtually no discernable delay between thought and movement.

Developed by researchers at BSI-Toyota Collaboration Center, the brain machine interface technology can return a response from a thought stimulus in just 125 milliseconds, whole seconds faster than existing technology, in effect creating real-time responsiveness. Five electroencephalography sensors stationed above the regions of the brain that deal with motor movement interpret patterns in the signals generated by the user. Further, the software interpreting the signals adapts to a particular user's patterns of thinking, achieving 95% accuracy after just one week of three-hour training sessions.

The potential applications for BMI technology extend far beyond the wheelchair, but Toyota's immediate focus will be to help those with mobility issues regain their freedom of movement, as well as to improve nursing care for the elderly. In that pursuit, Toyota is far from alone, as an aging population has Japan forecasting a shortage of health-care workers in the future. Rival automaker Honda is experimenting with a similar technology that allows its Asimo robot to be manipulated via brain signals, the idea being that humanoid robots could replace home care nurses in coming years.

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Khosla: How To Succeed In Silicon Valley By Bumbling And Failing...

Tom Foremski:

Vinod Khosla is one of Silicon Valley's most successful VCs. I was at the recent SDForum Visionary Awards where Mr Khosla was one of four winners of the 2009 awards.

His acceptance speech was short and very good. Excellent advice for entrepreneurs.

Also, he talks about failure, which I have long advocated is Silicon Valley's strength.

A couple of years ago I met with a delegation of Russian diplomats, VCs, and government officials. They were visiting Silicon Valley and wanted to meet with me as part of their tour. They were looking for ways to create several silicon valley-like regions in Russia.

During our meeting, I told them I would tell them the secret of Silicon Valley. I paused. They all leaned in a little closer...

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University Of Illinois Tracked Applicants With 'Clout'

David Schaper:

The state of Illinois is embroiled in yet another political scandal. This one involves the University of Illinois and allegations that students with political clout were admitted to the school over other, more qualified applicants.

A Shoo-In

When William Jones graduated from high school three years ago, he thought he had done what he had to do to get into University of Illinois that fall.

"I was mostly an A student. A's, with a couple of B's. I got a 29 on my ACT," Jones said. "So when I originally applied to U of I, I guess I cockily thought I was a shoo-in, but apparently not."

Jones scored high enough to get on Illinois' waiting list before ultimately being denied. His Plan B was to go to the University of Iowa, where he paid out-of-state tuition.

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Autism patients' treatment is denied illegally, group says

Lisa Girion:

State regulators are violating mental health and other laws by allowing health insurers to deny effective treatment for children with autism, consumer advocates contended today.

In a lawsuit, Consumer Watchdog, a Santa Monica group that monitors insurance practices, is asking a judge to order the Department of Managed Health Care to enforce the law and require insurers to provide their autistic members with the services their physicians have ordered.

Without court action, the suit says, "California's thousands of autistic children and their families will continue to suffer."

The department said it was "holding health plans accountable to provide a range of healthcare services for those with autism" and was handling consumer complaints according to the law.

Autism impairs communication and socialization and is often accompanied by repetitive, injurious behavior.

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38,000 Hong Kong Students Receive A-level results

Simpson Cheung:

Over 38,000 Hong Kong students received their A-level results on Tuesday morning - in one of the most eagerly anticipated but stressful days for young people in the territory.

The Examination Authority said this year there were 38,647 students sitting the A-level exams.

Of these, 8,859 were private candidates and 9,711 were repeating the exams. While most are secondary school pupils, some are also mature students. The exams allow people to enter university.

A total of 17,744 students obtained minimum qualifications for university - a rise of 174 over last year, the authority said.

But it said there were only 14,500 government-funded undergraduate places available at universities. This means 3,244 students will have to attend other tertiary institutions.

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Problem pregnancy 'autism risk'


Complications during pregnancy and giving birth later in life may increase the risk of having a child with autism, a review of dozens of studies suggests.

Researchers found the bulk of studies into maternal age and autism suggest the risk increases with age, and that fathers' age may play a role too.

The mothers of autistic children were also more likely to have suffered diabetes or bleeding during pregnancy.

The US review of 40 studies appears in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

The recorded number of children with autism has risen exponentially in the past 30 years but experts say this is largely due to improved detection and diagnosis, as well as a broadening of the criteria.

The cause of the condition is unclear, and the review team from the Harvard School of Public Health said there was "insufficient evidence" to point to any one prenatal factor as being significant.

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Military academy struggles with finances

Scott Williams:

As one of the nation's oldest military schools, St. John's Northwestern Military Academy has endured every economic crisis since Grover Cleveland's time.

But the current recession is squeezing the Waukesha County institution anew with dwindling revenue and declining enrollment.

Administrators of the private boarding school for boys have responded with an aggressive strategy: employee layoffs, management reorganization and possibly sacrificing the school's golf course for redevelopment.

Officials also have scaled back a long- anticipated celebration this fall marking St. John's 125th year in operation.

"Things are not business as usual," said Kenneth Smits, vice president of administration. "It's something we have to deal with."

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