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August 31, 2009

Arne Duncan Has Become a National Embarrassment, Part II

Leonie Haimson:

In a previous column, I reported how Arne Duncan has become an embarrassment here in New York City for his misuse of statistics and his slavish support of our billionaire Republican mayor, Michael Bloomberg, who is running for re-election to a third term. Duncan also called a series of blatantly propagandistic articles that supported Bloomberg's education record as "thoughtful," published in the NY Post, the tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch.

But the problem is much larger than this: Duncan's policies now threaten to alienate voters nationwide. The latest embarrassment is a national "tour," where Duncan plans to join Al Sharpton and Newt Gingrich in cities around the country, pushing for more privatization, including the proliferation of more charter schools.

The fact that Duncan is joining these two disreputable figures reveals troubling insensitivity on his part. The last time Gingrich got involved in the education issue, Newt proposed forcibly removing children from inner-city parents to put them in orphanages and boarding schools.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:18 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Can Poor Spelling Derail a Career?

Toddi Gutner:

I'm mentoring a young, ambitious engineer in our company. He's competent and demonstrates his energetic drive every day. However, he constantly makes spelling and grammatical errors in his writings. I've asked him to utilize spell-checking and re-read his emails. But mistakes such as confusing "our" with "are" and "there" and "their" aren't picked up with the computer tools. It's been over a year and he's still making these mistakes. What would you suggest as an appropriate next course of action? I am not sure if there are any additional classes he can take to improve his grammar/spell-checking skills.

A: While it is clear you have casually mentioned to your mentee about his spelling and grammatical errors, it sounds like it is time you have a more formal, direct discussion with him about his mistakes. It may be that he doesn't fully understand the gravity of the problem and the impact it can have on his career. "He needs to know that these mistakes are getting in the way of his success and that his lack of professionalism and inaccuracy is unacceptable," says Brad Karsh, president of JobBound, a career consulting firm.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:44 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

A Look at Public & Private School Per Student Spending in the Washington, DC Area

Michael Birnbaum:

Private schools without religious affiliation spend almost twice as much per student as their public and Catholic counterparts and more than double that of other Christian schools nationwide, according to a new study.

In the Washington area, there are about 330 private schools with enrollments above 50 students, according to Education Department data. Two-thirds have some religious affiliation, and a quarter are members of non-Catholic Christian school associations. Although it is not surprising that some private schools spend more per student than public and faith-based schools, just how much more has not previously been documented.

"There are a lot of urban legends that drive the policy discussions," said Bruce D. Baker, a professor at Rutgers University and the author of the study. He said that private schools tend to be costlier than the commonly accepted figures in policy debates, especially conversations about school vouchers.

The secular private schools analyzed in the study spent $20,100 on each student in the 2007-08 school year vs. $10,100 in public schools. Nonparochial Catholic schools tended to spend roughly the same as public schools. (Parochial schools were not included in the study because their tax data are not publicly available and because their finances are so tied to those of the Catholic Church.) Members of two of the largest associations of Christian schools spent $7,100 -- several thousand dollars less per student than their public peers.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:14 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Educating America
Bold action required to change schools so they can prepare students to compete

Las Vegas Sun:

Since being confirmed by the Senate this year, Education Secretary Arne Duncan has been rolling out an aggressive plan to overhaul the nation's lagging public school systems. It is time, in his words, for "fundamental reform."

Congress, at President Barack Obama's urging, is putting billions of stimulus dollars into education. It is a stunning amount of money, and this is a time like none other for American schools.

The nation has a high-school dropout rate of 30 percent, Duncan said, and those who graduate are behind students in other nations. With American students competing for jobs in a world economy, it is important they have the best education possible.

"As the president has said many times, we have to educate our way to a better economy," Duncan said Wednesday in a meeting with the Las Vegas Sun's editorial board.

As the former chief executive of the public school system in Chicago, Duncan understands the variety of issues facing education, including public safety concerns and money woes. He understands the need for change and wants to upend the status quo. Duncan has put together a broad array of plans that, if implemented, could significantly improve schools. To wit:

A well-rounded education. The emphasis under the No Child Left Behind Act, the Bush administration's hallmark education policy, was standardized testing that covered a few subjects. Principals and teachers across the country, consequently, "teach to the test." The result often has been a limited curriculum. Duncan wants to see children receive a well-rounded education including physical education, art and music. He said he wants public school students "to have the opportunities private school students have always had."

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Texas High-School Athletes Gain Ground in Class

A new Texas law that could double the amount of academic credit high-school athletes receive for playing sports is stoking a long-standing debate in the Lone Star State about whether athletics should count the same as schoolwork.

Texas is unusual in that high-school sports aren't completely extracurricular. The state has long allowed students who are members of sports teams to take one athletics class during a normal school day, a period that can be filled with anything from watching game films and weight lifting to sitting in study hall.

The state formerly permitted high schoolers to apply only two credits -- or two years' worth -- of athletics classes toward the 26 credits needed to graduate. But a law passed by the Texas legislature in May effectively increased the number of such credits that can apply toward the degree to four.

Coaches and athletic directors welcomed the change, which they had sought from the Texas Board of Education for the past two years.

"We think it's a good idea to allow parents and kids to have some flexibility," said Robert Young, athletic director at Klein Independent School District.

The Texas State Teachers Association also supported the increase in athletics credits, saying it gives students more opportunities to take classes that interest them the most.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:41 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Safer Schools

Philadelphia Enquirer:

The Philadelphia School District should move quickly to fix flaws in the expulsion process of its zero-tolerance discipline policy.

The district had not expelled any students in the four years prior to Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman's arrival. But officials recommended 156 expulsions last school year. An expulsion can last for up to a year.

The School Reform Commission recently voted to expel 65 students, and at least 25 cases are in the pipeline.

A "no-nonsense" disciplinary policy is long overdue in a school system where students and staff often feel unsafe. But a backlog in expulsion cases left dozens of students in limbo for months. That is unacceptable.

These lengthy delays deny students due process and can unfairly harm innocent students waiting for a hearing. If the system is ill-equipped to handle the high volume of expulsion cases, then it needs to be fixed.

A parent of an Olney West High School student said her son spent five months at an alternative disciplinary school waiting for a hearing in which he was eventually exonerated. By then, he had missed most of his senior year.

The Education Law Center says suspended students facing possible expulsion should get a hearing within 10 days. The district contends it is not required to meet that timeline. OK, but it has to do better than have students miss most of an academic year before their case is heard.

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Accountability in Public Schools

New York Times Editorial:

The Obama administration laid down an appropriately tough line in late July when it released preliminary rules for the $4.3 billion pot of money known as the Race to the Top Fund. The administration rightly sees it as a way to spur reform by rewarding states that embrace high standards and bypassing those that do not.

Federal regulations are often modified in line with criticisms that arise during the legally mandated comment period. But Education Secretary Arne Duncan will need to hold firm against the likes of the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers' union, and others who are predictably clinging to the status quo.

The administration plan would award grants based on how well state applications cover several topic areas. States must, for example, submit plausible plans for improving teacher effectiveness, equalizing teacher quality across rich and poor schools. They must also show how they would turn around failing schools.

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

Innovation proposals aim to transform Michigan education

Lori Higgins:

Be bold. Be dramatic. Think big.

That's what state Superintendent Mike Flanagan asked school leaders to do in coming up with plans to reimagine how kids are educated. He said it's necessary to produce better-educated students who are more prepared to compete with their peers around the world.

This reimagine process has the potential to radically transform education in Michigan, where a quarter of students fail to graduate high school on time. Student achievement has seen only modest gains in some subjects, and has actually worsened in others. A troubling 40% of high school students failed the reading portion of the Michigan Merit Exam the last two years.

The reimagine plans could help Michigan win a slice of more than $4 billion in federal funds pledged for states with promising plans to innovate education.

Proposals so far reflect an array of ideas. For instance, students would be able to take college courses at their high school in Fitzgerald Public Schools in Warren. And in Oxford, students will be fluent in Spanish or Mandarin Chinese by the eighth grade -- and start learning a stringed instrument in kindergarten.

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August 30, 2009

Pledge Allegiance to Core Knowledge

Jay Matthews:


Democracy and Our Schools

By E.D. Hirsch, Jr.

Yale Univ. 261 pp. $25

It's not easy being E. D. Hirsch, Jr. If the inventive 81-year-old had been a business leader or politician or even a school superintendent, his fight to give U.S. children rich lessons in their shared history and culture would have made him a hero among his peers. Instead, he chose to be an English professor, at the unlucky moment when academic fashion declared the American common heritage to be bunk and made people like Hirsch into pariahs.

In this intriguing, irresistible book, Hirsch tells of life as the odd man out at the University of Virginia. Twelve years ago, for instance, he decided to give a course at the university's education school. As a bestselling author and leader of a national movement to improve elementary school teaching, he thought students would flock to hear him. Instead, he rarely got more than 10 a year. Be grateful for that many, one student told him. They had all been warned by the education faculty not to have anything to do with someone demanding that all students take prescribed courses in world and American history.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:32 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The "Future of Reading": Students Get New Assignment: Pick Books You Like

Motoko Rich:

For years Lorrie McNeill loved teaching "To Kill a Mockingbird," the Harper Lee classic that many Americans regard as a literary rite of passage.

But last fall, for the first time in 15 years, Ms. McNeill, 42, did not assign "Mockingbird" -- or any novel. Instead she turned over all the decisions about which books to read to the students in her seventh- and eighth-grade English classes at Jonesboro Middle School in this south Atlanta suburb.

Among their choices: James Patterson's adrenaline-fueled "Maximum Ride" books, plenty of young-adult chick-lit novels and even the "Captain Underpants" series of comic-book-style novels.

But then there were students like Jennae Arnold, a soft-spoken eighth grader who picked challenging titles like "A Lesson Before Dying" by Ernest J. Gaines and "The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison, of which she wrote, partly in text-message speak: "I would have N3V3R thought of or about something like that on my own."

The approach Ms. McNeill uses, in which students choose their own books, discuss them individually with their teacher and one another, and keep detailed journals about their reading, is part of a movement to revolutionize the way literature is taught in America's schools. While there is no clear consensus among English teachers, variations on the approach, known as reading workshop, are catching on.

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College send-off scary -- for Mom

Sandy Banks:

I remembered from my first go-round to bring necessities not listed in the college dormitory's move-in guide: plastic hangers, scented drawer liners, tools to un-jam a balky closet door.

But what I didn't remember when my daughter and I arrived last week at San Francisco State is how difficult it can be to drop off your kid, leave campus and get on with your life.

I'd been through the drill in 2003 with my oldest daughter. Then, we wandered wide-eyed through every reception and information session that Stanford offered. Two days later, we said tearful goodbyes and I headed home, confident that my child would be well cared for.

This time, my youngest daughter and I joined an endless sea of families jostling for 20-minute parking spots to unload computers and microwaves and cases of water bottles. Then we hauled our stuff up four flights of stairs.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:44 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Smart Child Left Behind

Tom Loveless & Michael Petrilli, via a kind reader's email:

AS American children head back to school, the parents of the most academically gifted students may feel a new optimism: according to a recent study, the federal No Child Left Behind law is acting like a miracle drug. Not only is it having its intended effect -- bettering the performance of low-achieving students -- it is raising test scores for top students too.

This comes as quite a surprise, as ever since the law was enacted in 2002, analysts and educators have worried that gifted pupils would be the ones left behind. While the law puts extraordinary pressure on schools to lift the performance of low-achieving students, it includes no incentives to accelerate the progress of high achievers.

Yet the new study, by the independent Center on Education Policy, showed that more students are reaching the "advanced" level on state tests now than in 2002. This led the authors to conclude that there is little evidence that high-achieving students have been shortchanged.

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Milwaukee's for-profit colleges do well during recession

Joel Dresang:

At a ceremonial opening of the Bayshore campus of Bryant & Stratton College last week, Peter Pavone alluded to the ballooning popularity of career colleges.

Nine years ago, Bryant & Stratton had 123 students in Milwaukee, said Pavone, the college's director of Milwaukee campuses. This fall, local enrollment will be around 2,000, including about 100 at its new site, a 37,000-square-foot suite with a capacity for 750 students.

"We've had a nice story," Pavone told a small gathering in the school's library, overlooking Bayshore Town Center.

Away from the celebration, down the hall from Pavone's remarks, Michael Anderson was installing equipment for the school's information technology lab.

Anderson, who's 39, first turned to career colleges when he got downsized as a production worker at Master Lock. He enrolled in computer classes at Milwaukee Career College and has stayed on there as an instructor. Now, through an affiliation agreement with Bryant & Stratton, he's continuing to advance his education.

"For a lot of people, they don't want to go to a traditional college," Anderson said. "They want specialized skills. They don't have a lot of time to go back to school."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:23 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

To Survive, a Catholic School at Newark Abbey Makes Way for a Rival

Winnie Hu:

Gone are the crucifixes in every classroom and the carvings of the Virgin Mary from the airy, red-brick building that has been home to St. Mary's School at the Newark Abbey since 2001.

The fixtures were relocated -- along with St. Mary's -- to make way for a charter school, Robert Treat Academy, to open a second campus here this month. It is the first time that the Benedictine monks have allowed a nonreligious school to operate on the grounds of the monastery, whose Victorian-style towers span two city blocks in the Central Ward.

The arrangement generates $150,000 a year in rent for the Newark Abbey, which also operates a Roman Catholic high school for boys, St. Benedict's Preparatory, and underpins a more ambitious plan to share not just space but also resources. Robert Treat is proposing that its students be allowed to use a swimming pool and field house on the grounds and have future access to St. Benedict's Latin and advanced math teachers, and is envisioning sending more of its eighth-grade graduates to St. Benedict's.

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How Kennedy Took Politics Out of Education

Jay Matthews:

It is startling to realize, as we consider the legacy of Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, that this very liberal, very partisan Democrat was key to the consensus that has unified the two parties on education policy for the last two decades.

I was slow to pick up on this. It wasn't until I looked carefully at the presidential candidate positions in 2000 that I understood how much the two parties agreed on how to make public schools better. George W. Bush and Al Gore were very different people, but their education platforms, once you got past their favorite wedge issue, vouchers, were nearly identical. Both wanted to use test scores to make schools accountable for improving achievement. If Gore had gotten to the White House, he would have produced a law similar to No Child Left Behind.

For some time I have attributed this to the good sense of education experts on both sides of the aisle. The people guiding the candidates on this issue have seen what works in schools, particularly in low income neighborhoods, and have rescued their parties from the kind of anti-testing rhetoric that was so popular with teacher union leaders.

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August 29, 2009

Will Advanced Placement Replace the SAT?

Jay Matthews:

This online column, now in its ninth year, used to be called "Class Struggle." When we shifted that name to my blog, including all three of my weekly columns plus my various rants and outbursts, and the more reasoned discourse of my Post education writer colleagues, we renamed it "Trends." It is a simple name, useful mostly to access our left-side-of-the-page archive of Friday online columns, but proves to be quite apt.

I love following trends in education, particularly those that involve favorite topics such as high-performing charter schools, college admissions practices, great teachers, weak-minded curricular fads and college-level courses in high school. We have two interesting trends in this last category, both having to do with the rise in influence of Advanced Placement, and to a lesser extent International Baccalaureate.

I have been accused of uncritically promoting AP and IB. I insist it's not true. I have written three books looking at these programs in detail. I think that makes me credible when I say they have done more to raise the level of high school instruction than anything else in the last two decades. But they have their flaws, such as the odd ways some schools motivate students to take the courses and tests. One of the two trends is the use of cash bonuses. That approach raises participation and achievement, both good things, but I still consider it troubling.

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A Reaffirmation of Why I Became an Educator

Gina Greco:

"Impersonal, disconnected, and unfulfilling." That is how I would have answered if you asked me 10 years ago what I thought of online teaching. As a teacher, I feed off the energy of the crowd and thrive on exciting and entertaining my students to the point of drawing even the most resistant into attending class. When the economy and my growing family necessitated that I teach online as well as in the classroom, I couldn't have been more surprised by the satisfaction and joy that could come from a distance-learning program.

It is not easy. First there are the students themselves. They are generally older, multicultural, and have work and family commitments. Many are in the military or have a spouse in it. Many are single mothers. Some see this chance for an education as their only chance in life, their last option.

To effectively work in the distance-learning realm, your students need to feel close to their classmates and professors, despite the miles between us. Establishing a bond, a common ground, a supportive arena for thought and expression may mean the difference between a successful, compassionate classroom and a lost, detached one.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:11 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

To Take or Not to Take AP and IB

Jay Matthews:

The Question:
Is it better for college admissions to take an IB or AP class and receive a C or D or take a standard class and receive an A or B? Our office is decidedly split on this matter. The majority of us feel that it is better to make the grade since GPA is the first cut often for college admissions. We usually advise our students that if they are going to take an IB or AP class they need to get an A or B in the class, and to take an IB or AP class in their strength area.
My Answer:
The high school educators and college admissions officers I know best have convinced me that EVERY student going to college should take at least one college-level course and exam in high school. AP, IB or Cambridge are the best in my view, although a dual enrollment course and test given by the staff of a local college is also good. Students need that taste of college trauma to be able to make a smooth transition their freshman year.
When you consider actual situations, the threat of a bad grade from taking AP or IB fades away. A student strong enough to have a chance of admission to a selective college, the only kind that pays close attention to relative GPAs of their applicants, will be strong enough a student to get a decent grade in an AP or IB class, and a decent score on the exam. If they do NOT get a good grade in the course or the exam, then they are, almost by definition, not strong enough to compete with other students trying to get into those selective colleges. Their SAT or ACT score will show that, even if they don't take AP or IB, and I suspect their overall GPA even without AP or IB will not be that great. If you know of a straight-A, 2100 SAT student who did poorly in an AP course, let me know, and I will revise my opinion. But I have never encountered such a student in 20 years of looking at these issues.

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

Dissertations Are Long and Boring

Macy Halford:

This indisputable fact is the impetus behind the genius blog Dissertation Haiku, which explains itself thus:
Dissertations are long and boring. By contrast, everybody likes haiku. So why not write your dissertation as a haiku?
aI guess that graduate-student writers are just like any other kind of writer in that they do want someone, anyone, to enjoy their work, regardless of how specialized or mind-numbingly dull the subject might be--hence the hundreds who have posted to the blog. So far, my favorite comes from one Mary O'Connor, who is studying ecology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She writes that her dissertation deals with "the effects of temperature on food webs using coastal marine plants and animals. In general, as water warms by small amounts, fish and crustaceans eat more seaweed. Thus, warming predictably changes energy flow in food webs and the abundance of marine plants and animals." I appreciate the importance of this research (and even find it intriguing), but for the sake of this post, I'll give it a big yawn. Now for the haiku:
Hungry herbivores,
It's warm; feel your tummies growl?
Graze down hot seaweed.

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

Second language changes the way bilinguals read in their native tongue

Research Digest Blog:

Do bilinguals have an internal switch that stops their two languages from interfering with each other, or are both languages always "on"? The fact that bilinguals aren't forever spurting out words from the wrong language implies there's some kind of switch. Moreover, in 2007, brain surgeons reported evidence for a language switch when their cortical prodding with an electrode caused two bilingual patients to switch languages suddenly and involuntarily.

On the other hand, there's good evidence that languages are integrated in the bilingual mind. For example, bilinguals are faster at naming an object when the word for that object is similar or the same in the two languages they speak (e.g. ship/schip in English and Dutch).

Now Eva Van Assche and colleagues have provided further evidence for the idea of bilingual language integration by showing that a person's second language affects the way that they read in their native language.

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August 28, 2009

The Rubber Room: The battle over New York City's worst teachers.

Steven Brill:

In a windowless room in a shabby office building at Seventh Avenue and Twenty-eighth Street, in Manhattan, a poster is taped to a wall, whose message could easily be the mission statement for a day-care center: "Children are fragile. Handle with care." It's a June morning, and there are fifteen people in the room, four of them fast asleep, their heads lying on a card table. Three are playing a board game. Most of the others stand around chatting. Two are arguing over one of the folding chairs. But there are no children here. The inhabitants are all New York City schoolteachers who have been sent to what is officially called a Temporary Reassignment Center but which everyone calls the Rubber Room.

These fifteen teachers, along with about six hundred others, in six larger Rubber Rooms in the city's five boroughs, have been accused of misconduct, such as hitting or molesting a student, or, in some cases, of incompetence, in a system that rarely calls anyone incompetent.

The teachers have been in the Rubber Room for an average of about three years, doing the same thing every day--which is pretty much nothing at all. Watched over by two private security guards and two city Department of Education supervisors, they punch a time clock for the same hours that they would have kept at school--typically, eight-fifteen to three-fifteen. Like all teachers, they have the summer off. The city's contract with their union, the United Federation of Teachers, requires that charges against them be heard by an arbitrator, and until the charges are resolved--the process is often endless--they will continue to draw their salaries and accrue pensions and other benefits.

"You can never appreciate how irrational the system is until you've lived with it," says Joel Klein, the city's schools chancellor, who was appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg seven years ago.

Neither the Mayor nor the chancellor is popular in the Rubber Room. "Before Bloomberg and Klein took over, there was no such thing as incompetence," Brandi Scheiner, standing just under the Manhattan Rubber Room's "Handle with Care" poster, said recently. Scheiner, who is fifty-six, talks with a raspy Queens accent. Suspended with pay from her job as an elementary-school teacher, she earns more than a hundred thousand dollars a year, and she is, she said, "entitled to every penny of it." She has been in the Rubber Room for two years. Like most others I encountered there, Scheiner said that she got into teaching because she "loves children."

"Before Bloomberg and Klein, everyone knew that an incompetent teacher would realize it and leave on their own," Scheiner said. "There was no need to push anyone out." Like ninety-seven per cent of all teachers in the pre-Bloomberg days, she was given tenure after her third year of teaching, and then, like ninety-nine per cent of all teachers before 2002, she received a satisfactory rating each year.

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On the New Literacy

Clive Thompson:

As the school year begins, be ready to hear pundits fretting once again about how kids today can't write--and technology is to blame. Facebook encourages narcissistic blabbering, video and PowerPoint have replaced carefully crafted essays, and texting has dehydrated language into "bleak, bald, sad shorthand" (as University College of London English professor John Sutherland has moaned). An age of illiteracy is at hand, right?

Andrea Lunsford isn't so sure. Lunsford is a professor of writing and rhetoric at Stanford University, where she has organized a mammoth project called the Stanford Study of Writing to scrutinize college students' prose. From 2001 to 2006, she collected 14,672 student writing samples--everything from in-class assignments, formal essays, and journal entries to emails, blog posts, and chat sessions. Her conclusions are stirring.
"I think we're in the midst of a literacy revolution the likes of which we haven't seen since Greek civilization," she says. For Lunsford, technology isn't killing our ability to write. It's reviving it--and pushing our literacy in bold new directions.

The first thing she found is that young people today write far more than any generation before them. That's because so much socializing takes place online, and it almost always involves text. Of all the writing that the Stanford students did, a stunning 38 percent of it took place out of the classroom--life writing, as Lunsford calls it. Those Twitter updates and lists of 25 things about yourself add up.

It's almost hard to remember how big a paradigm shift this is. Before the Internet came along, most Americans never wrote anything, ever, that wasn't a school assignment. Unless they got a job that required producing text (like in law, advertising, or media), they'd leave school and virtually never construct a paragraph again.

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Artificial life is only months away, says biologist Craig Venter

Mark Henderson:

Artificial life will be created within four months, a controversial scientist has predicted. Craig Venter, who led a private project to sequence the human genome, told The Times that his team had cleared a critical hurdle to creating man-made organisms in a laboratory.

"Assuming we don't make any errors, I think it should work and we should have the first synthetic species by the end of the year," he said.

Dr Venter, who has been chasing his goal for a decade, is already working on projects to use synthetic biology to create bacteria that transform coal into cleaner natural gas, and algae that soak up carbon dioxide and turn it into hydrocarbon fuels. Other potential applications include new ways of manufacturing medicines and vaccines.

Dr Venter's prediction came after scientists at his J. Craig Venter Institute, in Rockville, Maryland, announced that they had developed a new method of transplanting DNA into bacteria, promising to solve a problem that has held up the artificial life project for two years.

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Fall Sports Underway.....

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Reforming Los Angeles's Schools

Los Angeles Times Editorial:

It's not a total coincidence that, on the day after the Los Angeles Unified school board passed the first major reform to turn around its lowest-performing campuses, the Obama administration announced that it would target billions of federal dollars to districts that reconfigured their persistently failing schools.

From the start, board Vice President Yolie Flores Aguilar said her reform initiative was inspired by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan's "Race to the Top" campaign, which will funnel stimulus money to troubled schools that commit to transforming their operations. Passed by the board Tuesday, Flores Aguilar's resolution allows district and outside groups to submit competing proposals for operating 50 new schools, as well as up to 200 schools that have failed to meet federal improvement goals for several years.

The signs of a new era were visible at L.A. Unified headquarters even before the vote. Thousands of parents representing both sides crowded into the building and filled the streets outside, a level of involvement too rarely seen in debates over local schools. And though the usual amount of posturing took place on the dais, there was a greater openness among board members about the role of labor unions in reform attempts.

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My summer at the Woodstock for technologists

Simon Daniel:

It's not every day you move an atom with a mouse click. But this is precisely what I do one day at the Singularity University, a new institution supported by Google and Nasa, which aims to educate a select group of entrepreneurs and scientists about the rapid pace of technology.

The class of 40 students - who are taking time out of their working lives - has settled into a busy routine. Our 12-hour days are crammed with experiments, visits to technology centres including IBM and Willow Garage, and discussion with experts. The purpose is to open our eyes to the pace of change and future possibilities.

On Wednesday we arrive at IBM Almaden research centre, a series of black glass buildings in the hills near San Jose. Unassuming office doors open to reveal scientists working away in a scene reminiscent of a sci-fi movie. We meet Kevin Roche, who is building complex machines that can deposit thin films of atoms to form nano-scale devices.

This is where, in 1989, the physicist Donald Eigler built a scanning tunnelling microscope and demonstrated the ability precisely to manipulate individual atoms by rearranging xenon atoms to spell out IBM. In homage, we use a similar machine and write SU (for Singularity University) by selecting iron atoms with a mouse and nudging them across the screen.

We open another door and witness magnetic "racetrack" memory experiments. This is the idea of storing data in magnetic field domains that can then slide or "race" along nano-wires so they can be read quickly. The idea may help our future portable devices to store hundreds of times more video.

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

Up-and-comer offers advice from other parents

Jen Leo:

Trekaroo ( aims to answer the parental cry for a more family-oriented, review-centric travel site.

What works: When it comes to traveling with kids, sometimes the only people moms can trust for advice are other moms. Trekaroo is focused solely on family travel and offers tips, hotel reviews and destination information for children of all ages.

It's well on its way to becoming the of family travel. Users can dive into the latest reviews from the home page or look for what other parents (and some kids) have said about the hotels, theme parks, zoos and other attractions they've visited.

Two features are especially convenient for time-stretched moms and dads - the age filter that allows you to amend your search results to a specific age range and the amenities search for a quick look at accommodations with cribs, adjoining rooms, child care programs, laundry facilities and more.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:00 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

August 27, 2009

A Southwest Area Madison Meeting on Crime, Including A Number of Madison School Officials

David Blaska:

While the mayor and his staff were conspicuously absent, other government institutions were well represented: Madison School Board president Arlene Silveira (middle aged white female) and members Beth Moss, Maya Cole, Marge Passman, Ed Hughes, and three school principals (all middle aged, white, of varying genders). Police Captain Jay Lengfeld (middle aged, white, male) and neighborhood officers Justine Harris (young white female) and John Amos (middle aged white male) attended. So did County Sheriff Dave Mahoney (middle aged white male), which impressed me greatly. As well as a number of alders and county board members, including Ald. Jed Sanborn and Supv. Diane Hesselbein (young white male and female, respectively), who told me she danced with my brother Mike (older white male) at a function in the Dells. (Ald. Pham-Remmele [older asian female] was called away to visit her seriously ill and aging mother [even older asian female] in California.) Did not see The Kathleen. Here's who else wasn't there: Bicycle Boy (young, white and stupid)!

The people speak

The very first "citizen" to speak was an Orchard Ridge older white male whom I did not recognize. The fellow bordered on racism when he said "the complexion" of the neighborhood had changed. Perhaps it was just an unfortunate choice of words. "Put the problem people somewhere else," he demanded. But he was the only person who spoke that way Wednesday night at Falk.

On the other extreme was Lisa Kass (older white female) who (wouldn't you know it?) is a school teacher. "Just because someone is different doesn't mean people are bad," she said, demonstrating a flair for tautologies. Other than the first speaker (arguably), no one alleged different.

Here is the most racist thing your host can say: Let's have two sets of behavior, one for one race and a lesser standard for another race. That is separate but unequal!

Then Kass (she teaches our children?) committed the sin of moral equivalence. One of the Bill of Rights prohibits loud noise after 10 p.m. weekdays and 11 p.m. weekends.

"Where is the prohibition against leaf blowers at 7:30 in the morning?" she demanded.

Hey, for my money, add it to the list. Pisses me off, too. Still, it is hard to see 200 people taking an hour and a half out of a weekday evening to bitch about leaf blowers and lawn mowers -- either in Green Tree or Allied Drive. Hey, at least the blowers and mowers are keeping their properties tidy! Or, is "neat" now prima facie evidence of racism?

Yes, leaf-blowing in the early morning is inconsiderate and annoying but yelling the M-F word is inconsiderate, annoying, obscene, morally offensive, and disturbing.

Then Ms. Kass hand-slapped her seatmate Florenzo Cribbs (young black male), president of Allied Drive-Dunn's Marsh neighborhood. Prior to the event Cribbs encouraged his e-mail list to attend the meeting. "DON'T LET THE PROWER STRUCTOR THAT ALLOWED THE PROBLEWS CREAT THE RULES FOR TRY TO FIX THE PROBLEMS."

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The Overhaul of Wisconsin's Assessment System (WKCE) Begins

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction [52K PDF]:

Wisconsin will transform its statewide testing program to a new system that combines state, district, and classroom assessments and is more responsive to students, teachers, and parents needs while also offering public accountability for education.

"We will be phasing out the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examinations (WKCE)," said State Superintendent Tony Evers. "We must begin now to make needed changes to our state's assessment system." He also explained that the WKCE will still be an important part of the educational landscape for two to three years during test development. "At minimum, students will be taking the WKCEs this fall and again during the 2010-11 school year. Results from these tests will be used for federal accountability purposes," he said.

"A common sense approach to assessment combines a variety of assessments to give a fuller picture of educational progress for our students and schools," Evers explained. "Using a balanced approach to assessment, recommended by the Next Generation Assessment Task Force, will be the guiding principle for our work."

The Next Generation Assessment Task Force, convened in fall 2008, was made up of 42 individuals representing a wide range of backgrounds in education and business. Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, and Joan Wade, administrator for Cooperative Educational Service Agency 6 in Oshkosh, were co-chairs. The task force reviewed the history of assessment in Wisconsin; explored the value, limitations, and costs of a range of assessment approaches; and heard presentations on assessment systems from a number of other states.

It recommended that Wisconsin move to a balanced assessment system that would go beyond annual, large-scale testing like the WKCE.

Jason Stein:

The state's top schools official said Thursday that he will blow up the system used to test state students, rousing cheers from local education leaders.

The statewide test used to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind law will be replaced with a broader, more timely approach to judging how well Wisconsin students are performing.

"I'm extremely pleased with this announcement," said Madison schools Superintendent Dan Nerad. "This is signaling Wisconsin is going to have a healthier assessment tool."

Amy Hetzner:
Task force member Deb Lindsey, director of research and assessment for Milwaukee Public Schools, said she was especially impressed by Oregon's computerized testing system. The program gives students several opportunities to take state assessments, with their highest scores used for statewide accountability purposes and other scores used for teachers and schools to measure their performance during the school year, she said.

"I like that students in schools have multiple opportunities to take the test, that there is emphasis on progress rather than a single test score," she said. "I like that the tests are administered online."

Computerized tests give schools and states an opportunity to develop more meaningful tests because they can assess a wider range of skills by modifying questions based on student answers, Lindsey said. Such tests are more likely to pick up on differences between students who are far above or below grade level than pencil-and-paper tests, which generate good information only for students who are around grade level, she said.

For testing at the high school level, task force member and Oconomowoc High School Principal Joseph Moylan also has a preference.

"I'm hoping it's the ACT and I'm hoping it's (given in) the 11th grade," he said. "That's what I believe would be the best thing for Wisconsin."

By administering the ACT college admissions test to all students, as is done in Michigan, Moylan said the state would have a good gauge of students' college readiness as well as a test that's important to students. High school officials have lamented that the low-stakes nature of the 10th-grade WKCE distorts results.

Based on those recommendations, the Department of Public Instruction has ceased development of new test items for the WKCE. Additionally, the agency will request proposals on a wide range of assessment system components, seeking maximum flexibility to meet Wisconsin's educational and statutory needs as well as cost and implementation constraints. New assessments at the elementary and middle school level will likely be computer-based with multiple opportunities to benchmark student progress during the school year. This type of assessment tool allows for immediate and detailed information about student understanding and facilitates the teachers' ability to re-teach or accelerate classroom instruction. At the high school level, the WKCE will be replaced by assessments that provide more information on college and workforce readiness.

As part of state legislation enacted in 1992, statewide assessments of student knowledge in five subjects were required. Early versions of the WKCE were commercial shelf tests from CTB/McGraw-Hill for grades four, eight, and 10. With enactment of No Child Left Behind in 2002, the WKCE and Wisconsin Alternate Assessment for Students with Disabilities (WAA-SwD) became high stakes, summative assessments used for federal accountability purposes. Last fall, 430,000 students in grades three through eight and grade 10 took paper and pencil assessments in reading and mathematics. Additionally, to meet state accountability requirements, students in grades four, eight, and 10 took assessments in language arts, science, and social studies. Costs for the assessments last year were about $10 million. A comprehensive and improved assessment system is expected to cost significantly more, especially during thedevelopment years.

"Our next statewide assessments must balance the needs of students, teachers, and parents as well as providing public accountability for student learning," Evers said. "We will be actively pursuing possible funding strategies for test development, including competitive federal assessment funds. Funding must meet demands from the state and federal government, interest groups, and the public for accountability in education."

The state is well poised to develop a comprehensive assessment system. Wisconsin is part of the national Common Core Standards Initiative, which is aligning academic standards to expectations for postsecondary and career readiness. Additionally, draft revisions to Wisconsin's Model Academic Standards for English language arts and mathematics were commended for aligning well with American Diploma Project benchmarks. The American Diploma Project, part of the nonprofit education reform organization Achieve Inc., is working to raise the rigor of high school standards, assessments, and curriculum to better align these expectations with the demands of postsecondary education and work.

"Standards, curriculum, instruction, and assessment are four pillars of the learning process," Evers said. "Wisconsin needs an assessment system that supports our advances in these other areas. New assessments must be based on state standards and provide timely information that can inform instruction, improve student achievement, and support our efforts to ensure every child is a graduate ready for the workforce or further education."

Types of Assessment
Formative - Daily evaluation strategies that provide immediate feedback. May include in-class questions, class discussion, or teacher observation.

Benchmark - Administered periodically to gauge student progress or evaluate how well a program is working. May include graded class work, midterm and end-of-
unit assessments, or commercial products developed for this purpose.

Summative - Monitors national, state, district, school, or classroom progress. May include end-of-course exams; ACT, SAT, and Advanced Placement exams; or other large-scale assessments such as the WKCE and WAA-SwD.

Posted by Tim Schell at 3:41 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Vote could open 250 L.A. schools to outside operators

Howard Blume & Jason Song:

In a startling acknowledgment that the Los Angeles school system cannot improve enough schools on its own, the city Board of Education approved a plan Tuesday that could turn over 250 campuses -- including 50 new multimillion-dollar facilities -- to charter groups and other outside operators.

The plan, approved on a 6-1 vote, gives Supt. Ramon C. Cortines the power to recommend the best option to run some of the worst-performing schools in the city as well as the newest campuses. Board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte dissented.

The vote occurred after a tense, nearly four-hour debate during which supporters characterized the resolution as a moral imperative. Foes called it illegal, illogical and improper.

The action signals a historic turning point for the Los Angeles Unified School District, which has struggled for decades to boost student achievement. District officials and others have said their ability to achieve more than incremental progress is hindered by the powerful teachers union, whose contract makes it nearly impossible to fire ineffective tenured teachers. Union leaders blame a district bureaucracy that they say fails to include teachers in "top-down reforms."

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U.S. school lunch reform may open opportunity menu

Lisa Baertlein:

School lunch is back on the U.S. policy menu for the first time in decades, thanks to President Barack Obama's drive to make school food more nutritious and healthy.

Like any reform effort in Washington these days, the school lunch overhaul is vulnerable to a growing government deficit. But some companies and investors are getting in the game early with small projects that could some day grow into big business catering to millions of school children.

The U.S. government pays much of the bill for school food. Efforts to replace the processed and nutrition-poor foods still on many student lunch trays come with a higher price tag that many schools cannot afford. Businesses can help close the gap.

U.S. natural foods grocer Whole Foods Market Inc (WFMI.O) has teamed with Chef Ann Cooper -- best known for her high-profile partnership with Chef Alice Waters at Berkeley Unified School District -- to launch the Lunch Box project (, an expanding online guidebook to help school "lunch ladies" serve healthier food.

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Sam Savage And His War Against Averages - Creating A New Data Type For Risky Models

Tom Foremski:

using single numbers in spreadsheets used to model financial risk and instead use a "distribution" - a range of numbers. He says that by using a distribution or "dist" we would be able to not only produce better models of uncertainty but we would avoid fundamental mistakes in modeling financial and operational performance.

Mr Savage recently published a book "The Flaw of Averages - Why we underestimate risk in the face of uncertainty" which explains his evangelism for the use of dists within financial models of risk.

Currently, the most widely used method of predicting uncertainty is to use single numbers, usually representing a single average of expected outcomes.

However, models based on average assumptions are wrong on average. This is a paradox that has been known by mathematicians for nearly 100 years, called Jensen's Inequality. Although business schools teach Jensen's Inequality, business managers continue to use average numbers to try to model things like demand, production, and project completion time. And they are constantly surprised by real world outcomes that can be very costly.

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A hastily passed education law is part of the president's plan to take control of all aspects of Venezuelan society

The Economist:

THE first time Hugo Chávez made a serious attempt to reshape the Venezuelan education system, the resulting political battle contributed to the coup that in 2002 briefly ousted him from the presidency. A new education law, shoved through parliament on the night of August 13th after minimal debate, already has the opposition talking of civil disobedience.

The government claims that the law will overcome centuries of exclusion, at last giving the children of the poor equal access to education. But its critics argue that it fails to deal with the key causes of inequality--low-quality teaching, crumbling buildings and widespread truancy in state schools. Whereas Mr Chávez's Ecuadorean ally, Rafael Correa, seems sincere in his drive to raise educational standards (see next story), the focus of the Venezuelan leader's reforms is on ensuring the intrusion of politics at every level. Mariano Herrera, an educationalist, predicts that the result will be greater inequality, not less.

Teaching is to be rooted in "Bolivarian doctrine", a reference to Mr Chávez's ill-defined Bolivarian revolution--supposedly inspired by Simón Bolívar, a leader of Latin America's 19th-century independence struggle. Schools will come under the supervision of "communal councils", indistinguishable in most places from cells of the ruling socialist party. Central government will run almost everything else, including university entrance and membership of the teaching profession.

Couched in vague terms, the law acquires coherence when seen against the president's professed intention to establish revolutionary hegemony over Venezuelan society. In a 2007 campaign on a referendum on constitutional change, Mr Chávez lectured a bemused public on the writings of Antonio Gramsci, an Italian communist who died in 1937. In essence, Gramsci said that to eliminate the bourgeois state one must seize the institutions that reproduce the dominant class's thought-patterns.

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Devon Mallard, 11, needs special education, but Chicago Public Schools isn't complying with a court order to help

Rex Huppke:

In March, an independent hearing officer made official what Shnette Tyler already knew: Her 11-year-old son, who has severe learning and behavioral disabilities, had not been receiving a proper education from Chicago Public Schools.

Detailing how the school system had repeatedly failed Devon Mallard, the hearing officer wrote: "Despite a history of disability as well as documented behavioral difficulties, it took two years of decreasing reading scores, increasingly aggressive behaviors, and the filing of a due process complaint for the district to take notice of this student and focus on his specific needs for special education services."

Within 45 days, the school district was ordered to set up a proper education plan for Devon -- who attends Ray Elementary School in Hyde Park -- and provide him with an array of weekly services including psychological counseling, occupational therapy and a reading tutor.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:23 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

August 26, 2009

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Stimulus Funds "Fall Short" & A Worsening US Debt Outlook

Stacy Teicher Khadaroo:

The announcement earlier this year that roughly $100 billion in federal stimulus funds would flow to public schools came with great expectations - both for saving jobs and for fostering reforms in education. But the way the money is being used so far is decidedly more mundane.

In a new survey of 160 school-district leaders, 53 percent say they have not been able to use the money to save teaching positions in core subject areas or special education. And 67 percent say the opportunity to direct the money to reforms has been limited or nil.

"Everybody appreciated getting the money ..., but primarily all the money did was help to backfill the budget deficits they were already facing," says Daniel Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) in Arlington, Va., which released the survey Tuesday.

The majority of survey respondents did prioritize saving various personnel positions, along with investing in professional development. Other top uses of the money included buying technology, equipment, and supplies for classrooms and paying for school repairs.

Survey respondents cited several key reasons for not being able to focus more on reforms.

The money is coming through several streams, and the most flexible one, known as State Fiscal Stabilization, was primarily used to fill holes left by declining state and local funding.

Sarah O'Connor, Edward Luce & Krishna Guha:
The CBO released sharply higher deficit projections predicting the 10-year deficit would reach $7,140bn, some $2,700bn more than it had thought in March. Unlike the White House's calculations, the CBO estimate assumes all policies will stay exactly as they are.

"If you include the administration's fiscal plans, this implies a deficit increase way in excess of $10 trillion over the next decade - the numbers are deeply alarming," said Bill Gale, a senior economist at the Brookings Institution.

The deficit projections are a political millstone for the Obama administration as it seeks to promote health reform and other priorities. However, there is no sign of a rebellion in the bond market, where 10-year Treasuries were on Tuesday yielding 3.44 per cent. This suggests the market still sees a weak recovery ahead, even though data on house prices and consumer confidence suggested the recession was ending.

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What Should Colleges Teach? Or, becoming Alarmed at College Students Inability to Write a Clean English Sentence

Stanley Fish:

A few years ago, when I was grading papers for a graduate literature course, I became alarmed at the inability of my students to write a clean English sentence. They could manage for about six words and then, almost invariably, the syntax (and everything else) fell apart. I became even more alarmed when I remembered that these same students were instructors in the college's composition program. What, I wondered, could possibly be going on in their courses?

I decided to find out, and asked to see the lesson plans of the 104 sections. I read them and found that only four emphasized training in the craft of writing. Although the other 100 sections fulfilled the composition requirement, instruction in composition was not their focus. Instead, the students spent much of their time discussing novels, movies, TV shows and essays on a variety of hot-button issues -- racism, sexism, immigration, globalization. These artifacts and topics are surely worthy of serious study, but they should have received it in courses that bore their name, if only as a matter of truth-in-advertising.

As I learned more about the world of composition studies, I came to the conclusion that unless writing courses focus exclusively on writing they are a sham, and I advised administrators to insist that all courses listed as courses in composition teach grammar and rhetoric and nothing else. This advice was contemptuously dismissed by the composition establishment, and I was accused of being a reactionary who knew nothing about current trends in research. Now I have received (indirect) support from a source that makes me slightly uncomfortable, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, which last week issued its latest white paper, "What Will They Learn? A Report on General Education Requirements at 100 of the Nation's Leading Colleges and Universities."

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Charter School Struggles To Find Students


In continuation of the program's focus on education issues, guest host Jennifer Ludden checks in with Kavitha Cardoza, a reporter for NPR member station WAMU-FM in Washington, D.C., about enrollment problems at the National Preparatory Public Charter School, which is opening next month. More than a third of students in the nation's capitol are enrolled in charter schools -- the largest percentage in the country. But National Prep is having trouble meeting its enrollment figures.

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A Proposed Milwaukee Public Schools "Accountability" Office

Erin Richards:

Milwaukee Public Schools should create a new accountability services office that can provide the district with much-needed transparency, oversight and an annual fiscal review, Milwaukee School Board President Michael Bonds said Tuesday.

Bonds' proposal to comprehensively reform the school system's financial operations isn't directly related to the issue of who should run MPS, but the announcement came on the heels of a news conference he joined at City Hall this week to oppose letting Mayor Tom Barrett appoint members of the School Board and choose the next superintendent.

Gov. Jim Doyle and Barrett this month made public their plans for the mayor to appoint the School Board and pick the superintendent of MPS.

After the news conference at City Hall, local and state political leaders started taking sides: opposing mayoral control on the grounds that it's undemocratic, or supporting Barrett and mayoral control because a long-failing district needs an overhaul.

Milwaukee Ald. Tony Zielinski said the mayoral control plan was aimed at taking away voter rights, and he's been joined in opposition by School Board members Terry Falk and Annie Woodward, state Reps. Christine Sinicki and Annette Polly Williams, both Milwaukee Democrats, as well as members of the NAACP, Milwaukee Innercity Congregations Allied for Hope, the LGBT community and the Service Employees International Union.

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Ohio School District Report Cards

Julie Carr Smyth:

A record 116 Ohio school districts have been rated excellent and overall student achievement returned to a 10-year high last year, but the statewide graduation rate fell to its lowest in five years, the state's latest rankings show.

Data released Tuesday show that more schools and districts were rated effective or higher. However, test scores in the fifth and eighth grades -- entry points to middle and high schools -- failed to meet targets in reading, math, science and social studies. The statewide graduation rate for the previous year also fell to 84.6 percent.

And the Youngstown schools descended into academic emergency, the first district to receive the state's lowest ranking since the 2004-05 school year. A special distress commission will be dispatched to the Steel Belt city to help administrators on the problem.

About 15 charter schools could be closed for failing to meet state academic performance standards, said state Superintendent Deborah Delisle.

The rankings will serve as a benchmark for judging the success of an overhaul of the state's ailing public school system that Gov. Ted Strickland championed in his January State of the State address and during this spring's state budget-writing process.

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SAT scores dip for high school class of 2009

Justin Pope:

Average scores on the SAT college entrance exam dipped slightly for the high school class of 2009, while gender, race and income gaps widened, according to figures released Tuesday by the College Board.

The average SAT score dipped from 502 last year to 501 on the critical reading section of the test. Math scores held steady at 515, and writing fell from 494 to 493. Each section has a maximum score of 800.

More than 1.5 million members of the class of 2009 took the exam, which remains the most widely used college entrance exam despite recent gains by another test, the ACT. The SAT tries to measure basic college-readiness skills, while the ACT is more focused on what students have learned in the classroom.

Average SAT scores were stable or rising most years from 1994 to 2004, but have been trending downward since. That's likely due in part to the widening pool of test-takers. That's a positive sign more students are aspiring to college, but it also tends to weigh down average scores.

Forty percent of students in this year's pool were minorities and more than one-third reported their parents had never attended college. More than a quarter reported English was not their first language at home.

John Hechinger has more:
High-school students' performance last year on the SAT college-entrance exam fell slightly, and the score gap generally widened between lower-performing minority groups and white and Asian-American students, raising questions about the effectiveness of national education reform efforts.

Average scores for the class of 2009 in critical reading dropped to 501 from 502, in writing to 493 from 494 and held steady in math, at 515. The combined scores are the lowest this decade and reflect stalled performance over the past three years. The reading scores are the worst since 1994.

Many observers Tuesday viewed the flat results of recent years as discouraging in light of a more than 25-year effort to improve U.S. education. "This is a nearly unrelenting tale of woe and disappointment," said Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank. "If there's any good news here, I can't find it."

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Parents Scramble as Ax Falls on After-School Programs

Sue Shellenbarger:

A critical safety net for working parents is unraveling, and many are bracing to pay a hefty price.

As schools open their doors this month and next, closings and cutbacks at thousands of after-school programs nationwide have parents scrambling to make alternative arrangements. Some are forging new child-care alliances with neighbors, or turning their work or sleep schedules upside down to watch their children after school. A growing number will leave young schoolchildren home alone, or in the care of siblings.

Taken together, the trend will mark a significant shift this fall in the quality of family and neighborhood life in some locales, forcing parents to find new ways of coping

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Teacher Pay Should Change

Jay Matthews:

I am not a big fan of merit pay for high-performing teachers unless the entire school staff is rewarded. But I have no doubt that our current teacher pay upgrade and certification system, based largely on education school credits, is dumb and should be changed.

You disagree? Then let me introduce you to Jonathan Keiler, a social studies teacher at Bowie High School in Prince George's County, where school starts Monday.

It is difficult to argue that Keiler, 49, is anything but one of his county's best teachers. He is the only member of the Bowie High faculty with National Board Certification, having passed a competitive series of tests of his classroom skills that has become a gold standard for American educators. He has a bachelor's degree in philosophy and history from Salisbury University and a law degree from Washington and Lee University. He served four years as an Army Judge Advocate General officer, then was a partner in a private law firm in Bethesda until, as he puts it, he "got sick of law and became a social studies teacher at my alma mater."

He teaches a survey course called Practical Law, as well as Advanced Placement World History and AP Art History. More students signed up for his classes this year than he had periods to teach them. He coaches Bowie's Mock Trial team, the most successful in the county. He has published articles on military history and law in several magazines.

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Kewaskum High school offer much longer orientation to incoming freshmen

Amy Hetzner:

The hallways of Kewaskum High School were hushed, with only the odd staff member quietly shuffling down its corridors, while the school's field house rang with the sound of more than 130 student voices.

"V-I-C-T-O-R-Y, that's our freshman battle cry!" groups of ninth-graders chanted from the bleachers.

With almost a week to go before the start of the school year, nearly three-quarters of Kewaskum High's freshman class has chosen to spend the next few days learning about its new school. Freshmen will look for their lockers, track down classroom teachers and meet or reacquaint themselves with their classmates.

And, hopefully, they will get a head start on what educators consider the most important year of high school.

"If you talk to any high school principal, what they're going to tell you is that when a kid is most likely to fail is in that freshman year," Kewaskum High School Principal Christine Horbas said. "So to get them off on the right foot, I think, is very, very important."

Many schools hold orientation nights or freshman-only times on the first day of school. Kewaskum tried some of those ideas, too, before launching a full warm-up week this year.

The extra time means Kewaskum can hold more fun activities for the ninth-graders - such as teaching them school cheers or playing four-way tug-of-war - as well as refresh skills such as writing exam answers and making measurements.

Meanwhile, TJ Mertz wonders what is happening with the Madison School District's "Ready, Set, Go" conferences.

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Many Students Stranded by Computer Bug

Nelson Hernandez & emma Brown:

Students at many Prince George's middle and high schools began their year on the sidelines Monday when a problem with the county's new computer system left hundreds of them with gaps in their class schedules.

Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said he did not know how many students were affected by the problem, but he said "most" of the county's 22 high schools had reported problems. At Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, the county's largest school, with an enrollment of more than 2,700 students, more than 600 were without schedules, according to parents and staff members.

The glitch mainly affected students enrolled in "singleton" classes -- generally upper-level or special classes that have smaller enrollments than mandatory core courses. Hite called the situation "unacceptable and inexcusable."

"I don't know if it was a technical issue, with schedules just being dropped, or if they were put in incorrectly," Hite said. "We have every available body that can work on schedules working on schedules. . . . I expect this to be resolved by the end of the week."

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August 25, 2009

Will Legislature Approve Takeover of Milwaukee Public Schools?

Bruce Murphy:

Back in the mid-1990s, the idea of the mayor taking over Milwaukee Public Schools was occasionally floated, but never got anywhere because Mayor John Norquist was seen as overbearing, too eager to amass more power. No one has ever made the same accusation of his successor.

Indeed, when Tom Barrett first ran for mayor in 2004, he proposed such a governance change, and in the face of criticism, backed off within two days. "I don't want to be the piñata on this issue," he told me at the time.

In the last couple years, Barrett has gotten increasing pressure, from the business community, from local community activists, from Gov. Jim Doyle, to take over the schools. But he kept dragging his feet. Perhaps the final convincer was U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who has offered the carrot of federal funding for Milwaukee Public Schools should that happen. If a governance change was ever going to happen, the time to do so was clearly now.

Under the proposed change, the mayor would directly appoint the MPS superintendent, and would appoint school board members, with Common Council approval. The idea is being attacked, with the same bizarre argument offered over and over.

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Minority Share of SAT Takers Hits 40 Percent

Nick Anderson & Emma Brown:

Four out of 10 students who take the SAT are racial or ethnic minorities, the College Board reported Tuesday morning, a milestone for the nation's most widely used college admissions test. But some performance gaps are widening in comparisons of scores by race and family income.

For the 1,530,128 students in the high school Class of 2009 who took the 3-hour 45-minute test, the composite scores were 501 in critical reading, down one point from the year before; 515 in mathematics, unchanged; and 493 in writing, down one point. The grading scale is 200 to 800 points for each section.

Over the past decade, math scores have risen four points and reading scores dropped four.

The College Board, a nonprofit organization based in New York that oversees the test, stressed participation trends, not the scores. The 40 percent minority share of test-takers was up from 38 percent a year ago and 29.2 percent in 1999.

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Kaplan's Tutoring Business Made the Grade

Keith Winstein:

When Stanley Kaplan began tutoring high schoolers for the Scholastic Aptitude Test in his Brooklyn, N.Y., basement in 1946, the exam was surrounded by secrecy.

The student's score was confidential, revealed only to a college-admissions office and sometimes a guidance counselor -- never to the test taker. The test was uncoachable, according to the College Entrance Examination Board, which oversees the SAT. "If the Board's tests can regularly be beaten through coaching then the Board is itself discredited," the Board wrote in a 1955 report.

Mr. Kaplan, who died Sunday at age 90, changed that. Initially derided as a "cramming school," his private tutoring business eventually launched a $2.5 billion test-preparation industry.

Mr. Kaplan used to pay his grammar-school classmates a dime to let him tutor them for coming tests, but his own history with testing and admissions was troubled. He adopted the middle name Henry after a teacher confused him with another student with the same name and gave Mr. Kaplan the wrong grade. In the mid-1930s, he took the New York Board of Regents college-entrance examination, and received a terrible score -- it turned out to be another grading error.

Mr. Kaplan launched his tutoring service after being rejected from five medical schools in the late 1930s, despite graduating second in his class at the City College of New York. Mr. Kaplan attributed the rejections to being Jewish and his public-college pedigree.

"I remember the admissions process before standardized testing, and I believe tests open doors, not close them," he wrote in a 2001 memoir. "I might have been accepted to medical school if I had been able to display my true potential to admissions officials."

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Would you ace a Milwaukee School Board quiz?

Eugene Kane:

With the new school year set to begin next week, it's time for a back-to-school quiz.

Not for students. This one is for parents with children in Milwaukee Public Schools or anyone concerned about the future of MPS.

In the past few weeks, the future of MPS has been widely debated due to a blockbuster announcement about a plan to take over control of MPS from the Milwaukee School Board and give it to the mayor of Milwaukee.

Under this plan, endorsed by both Gov. Jim Doyle and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, the Milwaukee School Board would become an appointed body rather than an elected one and the responsibility for choosing the next superintendent would lie with the mayor instead of School Board members.

This kind of thing has been attempted in other cities, with no clear track record of success or failure. But just the fact that Barrett, Doyle and others even floated this trial balloon suggests they think it's an idea whose time has come. Which raises the question:

How much do people know about their Milwaukee School Board? Get your No. 2 pencils ready:

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9th Graders in a Separate School

Wendy Hundley:

In 1997, the Lewisville school district moved its ninth-graders into a separate school as a short-term solution to overcrowding at Lewisville High School.

But the temporary move turned permanent when officials discovered some unexpected benefits from giving freshmen a school of their own: test scores and attendance improved while disciplinary problems and even teen pregnancy rates dropped - from 40 in 1996 to zero the next year.

Today, Killough Lewisville High School North - the district's ninth-grade center that opened in 2005 - is one of LISD's crowning jewels. It achieved an exemplary rating from the Texas Education Agency and was named the No. 1 public high school in the state three years ago by Texas Monthly magazine.

It's been so successful, in fact, that Lewisville school officials are now making plans to create ninth-grade centers for Hebron, Flower Mound and Marcus high schools.

But at the same time they're replicating the ninth-grade model throughout the district, school officials plan to add sophomores to the mix at Killough - a move that has upset parents who feel that the school should remain a freshman haven.

"The ninth-grade center has been great for Lewisville. It's been such a success," said Susan Arthur, whose daughter will attend Killough this year. "We don't understand why they've taken it away."

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The lost baggage of modern literature

Rosie Blau:

When Alain de Botton became the writer-in-residence at Heathrow airport this week, he claimed to be producing "a new kind of literature" to engage with the modern world. BAA, which owns Heathrow, has paid the novelist and philosopher £30,000 ($50,000, €34,800) for his seven-day residency at Terminal Five and to write a 20,000-word book. The "literary flow chart" of life among the baggage handlers and sniffer dogs will be published next month.

This is not the first time a company has appointed a literary figure and sought publicity for its cultural largesse. In 2003, Australian novelist Kathy Lette spent three months as writer-in- residence at the £1,200-a-night Savoy hotel in London. Marks and Spencer, Tottenham Hotspur football club, London Zoo and Toni & Guy hairdressers have all taken in authors to produce great works - or just great publicity.

There's nothing wrong with patronage, of course - its history is as long as the history of art itself. Titian got his big break in 1511, paid to paint three frescoes in Padua. Michelangelo actually lived with Lorenzo de' Medici, his benefactor.

In literature, arguably the earliest writer in residence was Britain's poet laureate: in 1668, Charles II appointed John Dryden to spin his verse for the Restoration years. In The Bulgari Connection in 2001, Fay Weldon became the first known novelist to accept payment to mention a company - the Italian jeweller features more than a dozen times.

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Education's future bright but barriers hinder progress, leaders say

Icess Fernandez:

cation in the Shreveport-Bossier City area is on the dawn of a new era, but barriers at the local and state levels could stifle the potential for improvement, new local education leaders said.

"What education will look like in 10 to 15 years will not be recognizable to many of us because of the ways it will be delivered and ways we will be cooperating," said Centenary College President B. David Rowe. "The ones who don't cooperate, the ones who don't change, the ones who don't collaborate will be left behind."

Rowe, Caddo schools Superintendent Gerald Dawkins, Bossier schools Superintendent D.C. Machen and Bossier Parish Community College Chancellor Jim Henderson are among the area's newest educational leaders. Between them, they are responsible for educating about 70,000 students.

They all have vast experiences in education from working with the state's technical and community colleges to more than 30 years in the same local school system. All four leaders, however, are relatively new to their positions -- ranging from a few weeks to about one year on the job.

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Lowe and Behold
The controversial (Texas) State Board of Education has a new chair. Here's how she can keep it from becoming the State Board of Embarrassment.

Paul Burka:

The State Board of Education is the most dysfunctional agency in Texas government. This is quite an achievement, considering the competition: the Texas Department of Insurance, which allows the highest home insurance rates in the land; the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which changes names every few years but not its polluter-friendly policies; the Public Utility Commission, whose chairman, responding to a petition this summer to prohibit electric utilities from disconnecting low-income and elderly customers until the heat wave broke, argued that it wasn't really unusually hot. And let us not forget the Texas Department of Transportation, which can't abide the idea of a highway without a tollbooth on it.

But there is nothing like the idiosyncratic, bitterly divided SBOE, whose fifteen elected members are charged with overseeing public education in Texas. They decide what Texas schoolchildren are supposed to learn. They establish statewide curriculum standards. They determine whether textbooks include the required material. They set graduation requirements. They are responsible for investing the Permanent School Fund, the endowment for the public schools. They accept or reject requests to establish innovative charter schools. At least, that's what the SBOE is supposed to do. What it has really done, for two decades or more, is argue incessantly over peripheral issues: the theory of evolution, sex education, role models for women.

For the past sixty years, the board has been composed of people from the education community: school board members, teachers, administrators. They have operated in relative obscurity and discharged their duties in a routine way. About the only time the SBOE made news was when critics like Mel and Norma Gabler, of Longview, began showing up at meetings to complain that textbooks under consideration had a liberal, anti-Christian point of view. But by the nineties, a new group of conservatives, many motivated by their religious beliefs, targeted the board for a takeover. They have been so successful that today they are the majority faction, and the SBOE has become the front line of the culture wars in Texas.

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August 24, 2009

Robert Bobb hits streets to coax students back to school

Corey Williams:

Felicia Harvey has two reasons for sending her children to the Detroit Academy of Arts & Sciences: They are learning at the charter school and she doesn't trust their education - or safety - to the city's historically poor public schools.

Detroit Public Schools emergency financial manager Robert Bobb is walking some of the city's toughest neighborhoods to bring back Harvey and other parents who have abandoned the district by the thousands.

It's an imposing sales job, especially with the district's $259 million deficit and his decision to close 29 schools and lay off more than 1,000 teachers before classes start Sept. 8.

"You hear all the negative," Harvey said this week following a surprise visit from Bobb to her west side home. "My theory is change doesn't come overnight. I'm not saying I'm willing to put my foot in the door. I have to wait and see."

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Dream of a Common Language. Sueño de un Idioma Común.

Nate Blakeslee:

The graduates of a radical bilingual education program at Alicia R. Chacón International, in El Paso, would have no trouble reading either of these headlines. What can they teach the rest of us about the future of Texas?

On (En) a warm spring morning in east El Paso, I watched a science teacher named Yvette Garcia wrap duct tape around the wrists of one of her best students. We were in a tidy lab room on the first floor of Del Valle High School, in the Ysleta Independent School District, about two miles from the border in a valley once covered with cotton and onion fields but long since swallowed up by the sprawl of El Paso. Garcia taped a second student around the ankles, bound a third around the elbows, and so on, until she had temporarily handicapped a half-dozen giggling teenagers, whom she then cheerfully goaded into a footrace followed by a peanut-eating contest. It was a demonstration of the scientific concept of genetic mutation--or at least I think it was. The lab was taught entirely in Spanish, and my limited skills didn't allow me to follow a discussion of an advanced academic concept. But these kids could grasp the lesson equally well in Spanish or in English, because they had been taught--most of them since elementary school--using a cutting-edge bilingual education program known as dual language.

In traditional bilingual classes, learning English is the top priority. The ultimate aim is to move kids out of non-English-speaking classrooms as quickly as possible. Students in dual language classes, on the other hand, are encouraged to keep their first language as they learn a second. And Ysleta's program, called two-way dual language, is even more radical, because kids who speak only English are also encouraged to enroll. Everyone sits in the same classroom. Spanish-speaking kids are expected to help the English speakers in the early grades, which are taught mostly in Spanish. As more and more English is introduced into the classes, the roles are reversed. Even the teachers admit it can look like chaos to an outsider. "Dual language classes are very loud," said Steven Vizcaino, who was an early student in the program and who graduated from Del Valle High in June. "Everyone is talking to everyone."

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Schools Boost Science, Math With Hands-On Teaching

Christy Goodman:

To answer the age-old question "When am I going to use this?," school systems in Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's counties are working to enrich their science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs by using hands-on teaching, guest speakers and real-world experiments and applications.

Charles is expanding its Gateway to Technology to all middle schools after a successful pilot program last year, school system spokeswoman Katie O'Malley-Simpson said. The program is part of the nationally recognized Project Lead the Way curriculum, which supports engineering and science.

"It focuses on showing, rather than telling, students how to use engineering in everyday problems," O'Malley-Simpson said. "They see that because they are applying their skills as they learn them."

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New education clash in Venezuela


Venezuelan police have fired teargas to stop thousands of protesters against a new education law from breaking past a security cordon in the capital Caracas.

Protesters accuse the government of President Hugo Chavez of indoctrinating children into backing socialist values.

Health officials said dozens of people were treated for minor injuries.

Rallies for and against the law, which passed last week, have been held for over a week. Last Friday's protests also met a tough response from police.

Elsewhere in the capital on Sunday, thousands of Chavez supporters held a counter-rally.
They say the new law will give everyone equal access to education, regardless of their economic position.

'Bolivarian Doctrine'
The government says changes to the law - which among other things, broadens state control over schools and makes the education system secular - were long overdue.

But the Catholic Church and university authorities in Venezuela have opposed the law.

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What Teachers Have Learned

New York Times:

In a Room for Debate forum this week, experts discussed the value of education degrees, which often drive pay and promotion in public school systems. Many readers, who are teachers, offered their views on whether teacher prep programs are necessary for the classroom, or if other factors, like subject-matter expertise and life experience, matter more. Here are excerpts from their comments.

The Value of Epiphanies

I teach high school English and journalism, and have for more than twenty years. The students in my journalism classes are among the highest achieving students in the school; traditionally more than half of the top ten students each year are in enrolled in my classes. During the summer and after school I teach remedial English skills to students who did not pass our state standardized test.

To evaluate and pay teachers according to student performance based on standardized test scores will not produce better teachers, or better students. If a teacher helps a non-reader to become a reader, if a teacher helps a student realize the value of knowing how to write well, if a teacher opens up just a small window for further learning to occur, he is a fine teacher. Extra pay is not given to teachers who provide epiphanies and a foundation for lifelong learning. How sad it would be to give extra pay to teachers who turn out top-notch standardized test-takers.
-- Pamela

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each for America: Elite corps or costing older teachers jobs?

Greg Toppo:

In 2007, fresh out of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Chris Turk snagged a coveted spot with the elite Teach For America program, landing here at Cherry Hill Elementary/Middle School in a blue-collar neighborhood at the city's southern tip. For the past two years, he has taught middle-school social studies.

One recent afternoon, during a five-week "life skills" summer-school course, Turk tells his five students that their final project, a movie about what they've learned, has a blockbuster budget: $70.

"We can go big here," he says. "We can go grand."

He might as well be talking about the high-profile program that brought him here.

Despite a lingering recession, state budget crises and widespread teacher hiring slowdowns, Teach For America (TFA) has grown steadily, delighting supporters and giving critics a bad case of heartburn as it expands to new cities and builds a formidable alumni base of young people willing to teach for two years in some of the USA's toughest public schools.

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Teach for America eligible for stimulus

Libby Quaid:

Teach for America and programs like it could benefit from a $650 million competitive grant fund for school reforms pushed by President Barack Obama.

The money is part of the economic stimulus law, which provided $5 billion to help Obama overhaul schools. Most of the money is for states, but $650 million will go directly to school districts and nonprofits.

In a speech Thursday to school superintendents, Education Secretary Arne Duncan spent some time telling the story of Teach for America.

Begun in 1990, the nonprofit recruits recent college graduates to teach in poor communities for at least two years. The group will send an unprecedented 4,100 recruits into the classroom this fall.

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August 23, 2009

Low expectations result in cancerous achievement gap


Okoli, 15, and Green, 18, write for The Simpson Street Free Press, a local newspaper for Dane County teenagers.

Who first decided that being intelligent had a direct relation to being white?

That may seem like a harsh question. But it's one many high-achieving minority students face every day. When a young minority student chooses to study after school, rather than play basketball, he or she is often ridiculed for "acting white." This is just plain wrong. And it is an idea born of low expectations.

It's time we admit the truth. Low expectations damage the chances for success for many kids -- especially minority kids. And it's something we need to guard against here in Dane County.

Many government-funded after-school programs lack substance. They focus on recreation rather than academic achievement. At their core, these programs try to keep students busy and off the streets. That's OK. But it's not helping them build a promising future.

Academic success, on the other hand, does. Academic support should be the top priority for after-school programs and in local neighborhood centers.

The same principle should apply in our schools. We don't have the dollars anymore to spend on fluff. Schools should focus as much time as possible on core subjects. Those who are behind should spend the bulk of their time studying math, science, history, books, music and arts.

To proceed otherwise is to reinforce low expectations, which are a cancer. The achievement gap is just a symptom.

By the time many minority students reach high school, they are behind and unlikely to catch up. Students sense the low expectations. Some teachers stop talking to the kids they believe don't have potential. The whole nasty reality just keeps repeating itself and discourages these students.

Not all will go to college. But all will benefit from regular exposure to books, science and writing. This means continued high expectations for all students in the critical high school years. It's never, ever too late to benefit from education.

Brigadier General Marcia Anderson recently told The Simpson Street Press about a trip she took to Ethiopia. She and her colleagues handed out candy to school children until it was gone. Then Anderson gave them pens.

She said the kids were extremely grateful for their pens -- much more so than they had been for the candy.

There's an important and obvious message in this story. Anderson noticed quickly how important school was to these kids. They carried their textbooks so preciously.

These Ethiopian kids share the same dreams as our forefathers. It's a dream shared by millions of immigrants from all over the world who came to the United States to find a better life.

This dream they believed so fiercely is often called the American dream. It's a dream that promised equal opportunity and a chance to succeed.

Many kids today have lost sight of that dream. And that's a shame, given how much our ancestors sacrificed so that we could have a shot at that dream.

Being a hard worker and attaining high goals is in the fabric of our American heritage. All the people who came to America came here with a dream of success. Those who were brought here in chains worked even harder to pursue the American dream.

Success does not come without hard work. And no one should ever be ridiculed for trying to attain an education.

Related posts:

And of course, the new MMSD TAG Plan has -- as one of its highest priorities -- the early identification and ongoing support of high potential/high ability students of color and poverty --

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US Students are Average on International Tests

US Department of Education:

Major findings include:

In PIRLS 2006, the average U.S. 4th-graders' reading literacy score (540) was above the PIRLS scale average of 500, but below that of 4th-graders in 10 of the 45 participating countries, including 3 Canadian provinces (Russian Federation, Hong Kong, Alberta, British Columbia, Singapore, Luxembourg, Ontario, Hungary, Italy, and Sweden).

Among the 28 countries that participated in both the 2001 and 2006 PIRLS assessments, the average reading literacy score increased in 8 countries and decreased in 6 countries. In the rest of these countries, including the United States, there was no measurable change in the average reading literacy score between 2001 and 2006. The number of these countries that outperformed the United States increased from 3 in 2001 to 7 in 2006.

The 2007 TIMSS results showed that U.S. students' average mathematics score was 529 for 4th-graders and 508 for 8th-graders. Both scores were above the TIMSS scale average, which is set at 500 for every administration of TIMSS at both grades, and both were higher than the respective U.S. score in 1995.

Fourth-graders in 8 of the 35 other countries that participated in 2007 (Hong Kong, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Japan, Kazakhstan, Russian Federation, England, and Latvia) scored above their U.S. peers, on average; and 8th-graders in 5 of the 47 other countries that participated in 2007 (Chinese Taipei, Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan) scored above their U.S. peers, on average.

Among the 16 countries that participated in both the first TIMSS in 1995 and the most recent TIMSS in 2007, at grade 4, the average mathematics score increased in 8 countries, including in the United States, and decreased in 4 countries. Among the 20 countries that participated in both the 1995 and 2007 TIMSS at grade 8, the average mathematics score increased in 6 countries, including in the United States, and decreased in 10 countries.

In PISA 2006, U.S. 15-year-old students' average mathematics literacy score of 474 was lower than the OECD average of 498, and placed U.S. 15-year-olds in the bottom quarter of participating OECD nations, a relative position unchanged from 2003.

Fifteen-year-old students in 23 of the 29 other participating OECD-member countries outperformed their U.S. peers.

There was no measurable change in U.S. 15-year-olds' average mathematics literacy score between 2003 and 2006, in its relationship to the OECD average, or in its relative position to the countries whose scores increased or decreased.

The 2007 TIMSS results showed that U.S. students' average science score was 539 for 4th-graders and 520 for 8th-graders. Both scores were above the TIMSS scale average, which is set at 500 for every administration of TIMSS at both grades, but neither was measurably different than the respective U.S. score in 1995.

Fourth-graders in 4 of the 35 other countries that participated in 2007 (Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, and Japan) scored above their U.S. peers, on average; and 8th-graders in 9 of the 47 other countries that participated in 2007 (Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Japan, Korea, England, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, and the Russian Federation) scored above their U.S. peers, on average.

While there was no measurable change in the average score of U.S. 4th-graders or 8th-graders in science between 1995 and 2007, among the other 15 countries that participated in the 1995 and 2007 TIMSS at grade 4, the average science score increased in 7 countries and decreased in 5 countries; and among the other 18 countries that participated in both the 1995 and 2007 TIMSS at grade 8, the average science score increased in 5 countries and decreased in 3 countries.

In PISA 2006, U.S. 15-year-old students' average science literacy score of 489 was lower than the OECD average of 500, and placed U.S. 15-year-olds in the bottom third of participating OECD nations. Fifteen-year-old students in 16 of the 29 other participating OECD-member countries outperformed their U.S. peers in terms of average scores.

Technical notes about the data sources, methodology, and standard errors are included at the end of this report.

Joanne has more.

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Cost of education too high when result is ignorance

Ewa Wasilewska:

If, as Aristotle said, "Education is the best provision for old age," there is not much ahead for an increasing number of college graduates.

I don't know what is happening, but grading student exams and college papers is becoming a chore, not the pleasant learning experience it used to be. Every semester seems to prove that more and more students should not be in college because they simply don't care and/or don't have the skills to take and pass courses at any level.

Plagiarism is a huge problem. It seems that every take-home exam and paper is an invitation to googling. Then, the procedure is as simple as "cut and paste," usually from Wikipedia but, if more creative, from the first 10 hits. Some students don't even bother to change fonts or formatting. Some plagiarized my own writing! Others invest their time in one general paper that ends up in a variety of courses regardless of the topic assigned.

After an initial denial, "I didn't do it!" that takes an instructor 10 minutes to 10 days to prove otherwise (university procedures), the next customary response is either "I didn't know," or "I do it all the time and other professors have no problem with my work."

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Wolfram|Alpha Chemistry 101


This week the American Chemical Society (ACS) is holding its Fall 2009 National Meeting & Exposition in Washington, DC, USA. In honor of professional chemists, educators, and students, we're celebrating chemistry this week. If you are attending the meeting and would like a personal introduction to Wolfram|Alpha or the technology behind it, drop by the Wolfram Research booth, #2101.

Wolfram|Alpha contains a wealth of chemistry data, and provides you rapid computations that ensure accuracy and save time. Wolfram|Alpha is also an incredible learning tool, especially for new chemistry students looking for ways to learn, understand, compare, and test their knowledge of chemistry basics. Many of the topic areas found on an introductory or advanced course syllabus can be explored in Wolfram|Alpha.

Need to compute how many moles are in 5 grams of iron? Query "how many moles are in 5 grams of iron?", and Wolfram|Alpha quickly computes your input and returns a result, along with unit conversions.

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Schools fight families over autism service dogs

Lindsey Tanner:

Like seeing-eye dogs for the blind, trained dogs are now being used to help autistic children deal with their disabilities. But some schools want to keep the animals out, and families are fighting back.

Two autistic elementary school students recently won court orders in Illinois allowing their dogs to accompany them to school. Their lawsuits follow others in California and Pennsylvania over schools' refusal to allow dogs that parents say calm their children, ease transitions and even keep the kids from running into traffic.

At issue is whether the dogs are true "service dogs" - essential to managing a disability - or simply companions that provide comfort.

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NEA Slams Obama's School Reform Plan

Jay Matthews:

Here's a dispatch from my colleague Nick Anderson on the national education beat:

The nation's largest teachers union sharply attacked President Obama's most significant school improvement initiative on Friday evening, saying that it puts too much emphasis on a "narrow agenda" centered on charter schools and echoes the Bush administration's "top-down approach" to reform.

The National Education Association's criticism of Obama's $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" initiative came nearly a month after the president unveiled the competitive grant program, meant to spur states to move toward teacher performance pay; lift caps on independently operated, publicly funded charter schools; and take other steps to shake up school systems.

The NEA's statement to the Department of Education came a week before the end of the public-comment period on the administration's proposal, and it reflected deep divisions over the White House's education agenda within a constituency largely loyal to the Democratic Party.

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Following High School Football


NPR is kicking off a new project Friday. Sports correspondents Tom Goldman and Mike are going to take the field with high school football teams across the country this season. They will go to practices and games, hit the weight room and sit in the stands with the boosters.

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Urban schools use marketing to woo residents back

Zinie Chen Sampson:

Most students try not to think about school during the summer. But a number of them took to the streets on a sweltering August day to talk up public education to people who might normally enroll their children in private or parochial schools.

Clad in T-shirts promoting "The Choice," about 100 students, parents and administrators went door-to-door on a recent Saturday, asking Richmond homeowners to give their neighborhood schools a second look. Joining them was Virginia's first lady Anne Holton, a product of city schools.

The $50,000 campaign by a school system still trying to rebound from a long history of racial segregation and white flight is an example of efforts under way in several cities to retain students. School districts are highlighting improvements to halt declining head counts so they can retain their funding, especially in light of drastic state budget cuts.
"People are still stuck with perceptions of yesteryear, and are not really aware of what we have to offer today," Richmond Superintendent Yvonne Brandon said. "It's not perfect, but be a part of the solution and become invested now."

Like other urban school districts, Richmond, where 88 percent of students are black, 7 percent are white, and 71 percent are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, has struggled on many fronts.

More here.

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Jeff Raikes talks about first year as Gates Foundation CEO

Kristi Heim:

Jeff Raikes has kept a pretty low profile in his first year as chief executive of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The man who built Microsoft Office now runs the largest private foundation in the world, which gives out more than $3 billion a year from an endowment of $30 billion.

Raikes recently talked about the fallout of the economic crisis on the foundation, the importance of risk taking and failure in philanthropy, and his experience working with Melinda Gates, which he said has been the most fun. He spoke at a breakfast last week sponsored by the Puget Sound Business Journal. (I couldn't get in, but thanks to the Seattle Channel I was able to watch it here).

Not a lot of what he said was new, but he did reveal some insights from his first year, including how serious the stock market plunge hit the Gates Foundation.

"The biggest impact by far is on our partners and the people that our partners and we strive to serve," he said. "It's one of those things if you think about it you get a little depressed."

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Latino groups back Milwaukee Schools Mayoral takeover proposal; opponents rally at church

Georgia Pabst & Jessa Garza:

Two leading Latino organizations voiced support for the takeover of Milwaukee Public Schools proposed by Gov. Jim Doyle and Mayor Tom Barrett, while nearly 150 people rallied against the plan Friday at a north side church.

Darryl D. Morin, Wisconsin director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said his organization spent the last two years holding seminars on local educational issues and decided to endorse the proposal after evaluating various options.

But he also called for a mandatory reauthorization for the takeover so that voters could determine whether the new system is working.

"There's an educational crisis in Milwaukee, and the primary question is how long will we wait," he said. "It's time to rise up together and say now is the time. Milwaukee can't afford to fail its future."

He was joined by Maria Monreal-Cameron, president and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin, who said the city stands at a crossroads.

"We need to try something different because the current educational system is broken, and we need to fix it," she said.

Their endorsement of the proposed takeover is the first organized public support for the plan, which has drawn fire from many, including School Board President Michael Bonds.

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August 22, 2009

Wisconsin again rated poorly in efforts to improve schools

Alan Borsuk:

There it was again last week: A chart from a reputable national education organization that put Wisconsin at the top of the list, provided you were standing on your head.

The New Teacher Project, a private, nonprofit organization that has done a lot of work with Wisconsin and Milwaukee education, created a scorecard of the chances of each state to win some of the $4.35 billion to be given out by the U.S. Department of Education to places where there are bold, well structured plans to improve low-performing schools.

Wisconsin had the worst scorecard of all 51 candidates (including the District of Columbia).

A few weeks ago, there was a report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a program created by the federal government, on the racial gaps in reading and math achievement for fourth- and eighth-graders. The gaps were generally wider in Wisconsin than anywhere else. The scores of African-American students were lower in Wisconsin than in any other state - Mississippi, Louisiana, you name it.

A couple of years ago, Education Sector, a nonprofit organization, rated the states on how they were dealing with the No Child Left Behind education law. Wisconsin was rated as doing the best job in the country of evading the consequences of the law. The organization called it the Pangloss index, after a fictional character who believed everything was in its best possible condition even when it wasn't. We were the most Panglossian state, so to speak.

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Schwarzenegger's plan would reshape education in California

Jason Song & Jason Felch:

The state's powerful teachers unions criticize the governor's sweeping proposals, including merit pay for teachers. The plan would help qualify the state for Obama administration funds.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called on legislators Thursday to adopt sweeping education reforms that would dramatically reshape California's public education system and qualify the state for competitive federal school funding.

The governor's proposed legislation, to be considered during a special session that ends by Oct. 5, was met almost immediately by criticism from the powerful state teacher unions, which called Schwarzenegger's plans rushed and unnecessary.

While Schwarzenegger's goal is to boost California's chances to qualify for $4.35 billion in federal grants, known as "Race to the Top," many of his proposals go far beyond those needed for eligibility, and embrace the Obama administration's key education reform proposals.

Schwarzenegger's reforms include:

  • Adopting a merit pay system that would reward effective teachers and give them incentives to work at low-performing campuses;
  • Abolishing the current cap on the number of charter schools that can open every year;
  • Forcing school districts to shut down or reconstitute the lowest-performing schools or turn them over to charter schools' independent management;
  • Allowing students at low-performing campuses to transfer to a school of their choosing;
  • Requiring school districts to consider student test data when evaluating teachers, something the federal government believes is prohibited under state law.

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Michelle Rhee in Washington, DC

Jane Renaud, Cat McGrath & David Wald:

The lack of sustained leadership has plagued the Washington, DC public school system for decades. Our nation's capital, home to fifty thousand students, boasts one of the worst school districts in the country. Two thirds of students are far behind in reading, in math, three quarters.

In June 2007 new mayor Adrian Fenty assumed control of the ailing school system, firing the incumbent superintendent and replacing him with Michelle Rhee. Some questioned her lack of experience managing a public school system. Others felt she was exactly what was needed - a change agent from outside the district. In July the city council unanimously voted her in. Since then she has plotted a deliberate, and frequently controversial, course.

This series follows Michelle Rhee's attempts to reform one of the most challenged school districts in America. Can Rhee provide a model of reform for the entire country, delivering on her promise of an excellent education for every child?

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Tech tips for term time

Paul Taylor:

Over the next month or so, high school and college students across the world will return to the classroom or begin higher education courses for the first time.

In the past they would have taken pens, paper and textbooks but today's backpacks are laden with laptops, smartphones and other electronic devices.

The choice facing students and their parents is often bewildering so I set out to sift through the options and identify some of my favourite devices for the next generation of scholars.

When my eldest children went to university a decade ago they took with them a desktop PC, printer and a cheap mobile phone. But today most students prefer a laptop for everyday use, and perhaps an all-in-one machine for the dorm along with a multi-function printer, copier and scanner. For communications they want Skype or another low-cost messaging service such as SightSpeed or ooVoo .

In terms of handsets, bragging rights go to those packing a latest-generation smartphone such as Apple's iPhone, BlackBerry's Curve, or HTC's Google Android-powered Magic. Alternatively, students want a text-centric handset with a full qwerty-keyboard such as Nokia's N97 or the Windows Mobile-powered Danger Sidekick .

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Adding Personality to the College Admissions Mix

Robert Tomsho:

For years, colleges have asked applicants for their grade-point averages and standardized test scores.

Now, schools like Boston College, DePaul University and Tufts University also want to measure prospective students' personalities.

Using recently developed evaluation systems, these schools and others are aiming to quantify so-called noncognitive traits such as leadership, resilience and creativity. Colleges say such assessments are boosting the admissions chances for some students who might not have qualified based solely on grades and traditional test scores. The noncognitive assessments also are being used to screen out students believed to be at a higher risk of dropping out, and to identify newly admitted students who might need extra tutoring.

Big nonprofits that administer standardized admissions tests, including the College Board, the Educational Testing Service and ACT Inc., are also getting in on the trend. ETS, for instance, which administers the Graduate Record Examination, or GRE, recently unveiled a "personal potential index" designed for schools that want to replace traditional letters of recommendation for prospective grad students with a standardized rating.

"There is quite a bit of demand for these [noncognitive] instruments," says David Hawkins, director of public policy for the National Association of College Admissions Counseling. Educators say the use of such assessments is likely to grow as some schools search for new tools to recruit more minority and low-income students. At the same time, budget pressures are forcing public institutions in states like California and Florida to find new tools for selecting incoming students.

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U.S. vs. China: Thoughtful Chinese Author Says U.S. Schools are Better

Jay Matthews:

In my debates with American high-tech entrepreneur Bob Compton, I argue that U.S. schools are way ahead of the Chinese, and likely to stay there, at least in the production of creative, job-producing go-getters like Bob. Bob says I am not seeing what a great threat the rapidly improving Chinese education system is to our global economic superiority. Now we have a new book, "Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization," by someone who knows more about this than either Bob or me: Michigan State education professor Yong Zhao.

Just one of his chapters, number 4, "Why China Isn't a Threat Yet," is worth the $27 cost of the book. Born and raised in China himself, Zhao (pronounced Jow) describes in detail what our schools are doing well, and not so well, and does the same with China. He concludes that we are still ahead in developing creative thinkers. The Chinese won't be able to catch up until they do something about---don't laugh--their awful college entrance tests.

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August 21, 2009

A Partial Look (School Climate) at the Outbound Madison School District Parent Survey

Samara Kalk Derby:

Madison school district parents dissatisfied with local schools got a boost after a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision which trumped state law and made it easier for students living in the district to attend schools in other districts, a practice known as open enrollment.

The case was brought by Seattle parents who challenged the use of race in assigning students to schools, arguing it violated the Constitution's right of equal protection. The ruling was celebrated by those who favor color-blind policies, but criticized by civil rights groups as a further erosion of Brown vs. Board of Education, the landmark 1954 case that outlawed school segregation.

Last year it became easier in Madison, and in school districts across the country, for white students to transfer even if it meant increasing the district's racial imbalance.
After a flood of local students left the district last year, Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad decided to investigate why.

"We had an interest in knowing ideas from people that had made the decision for open enrollment," Nerad says. "We are attempting to learn from those experiences to see if there are some things as a school district that we can constructively do to address those concerns."

To that end, the district surveyed households of district residents who left Madison schools and transferred to another district for the 2008-09 school year to find out why the families left. The majority of parents who took their kids out of the Madison school district last year under open enrollment said they did so for what the district classifies as "environmental reasons": violence, gangs, drugs and negative peer pressure. Other reasons were all over the map. Many cited crowded classrooms and curriculum that wasn't challenging enough.

Only a few responses pointed directly to white flight.

The Private/Parochial, Open Enrollment Leave, Open Enrollment Enter, Home Based Parent Survey, including School Board discussion, can be found here. David Blask comments.

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2009-2010 Read On Wisconsin Book Club Reading List

Via email:

Dear Read On Wisconsin! Book Club Members,

Welcome to the 2009-2010 school year!

We are pleased to announce that we have finalized the book selections! Thanks to the hard work of our Literacy Advisory Committee (LAC), we have decided on wonderful collections for all age groups. Each submission was carefully considered, and we feel that our assortment features inspiring books that will both enrich and entertain students. We think that you will all be very pleased with these engaging and inspiring choices!

We look forward to hosting Reading Days at the Residence this upcoming school year. Please check this website often for dates and details. We remind you that for each book, the LAC has developed discussion questions. Please encourage your students to be active participants in the student web log. As always, we welcome any questions or feedback regarding the book club or Reading Days.

On Wisconsin!

Jessica Doyle
First Lady of Wisconsin

Ashley Huibregtse
Assistant to the First Lady

ead on Wisconsin! Selections 2009 - 2010

SEPTEMBER Preschool: Link and Rosie's Pets & Link and Rosie Pick Berries by Sharron Hubbard Primary: Sumis' First Day of School Ever by Soyung Pak Intermediate: Planting the Trees of Kenya by Claire A Nivola Middle School: Three Cups of Tea: Young Reader's Edition by Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin High School: In Defense of Food by Michael Pollen & Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama

OCTOBER Preschool: Same, Same by Martha Joceyln & Actual Size by Steve Jenkins Primary: Colorful World by Cece Winans Intermediate: Just In Case by Yuyi Morales Middle School: After Tupac and D. Foster by Jacqueline Woodson High School: Fortunes of Indigo Skye by Deb Caletti & The Good Liar by Greg Maguire

NOVEMBER Preschool: My Colors, My World/ Mis colores, Mi Mundo by Maya Christina Gonzales Primary: Bintou's Braids by Sylviana A. Diouf Intermediate: Silent Music by James Rumford Middle School: Red Glass by Laura Resau High School: Nation by Terry Pratchett

DECEMBER Preschool: Old Bear by Kevin Henkes Primary: One Thousand Tracings by Lita Judge Intermediate: The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron Middle School: How To Steal a Dog By Barbara O'Connor High School: Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

JANUARY Preschool: Elephants Never Forget by Anushka Ravishankan Primary: Little Night/ Nochecita by Yuyi Morales Intermediate: Knuckleheads by Jon Scieszka Middle School: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman High School: Box Out by John Coy

FEBRUARY Preschool: Dance With Me by Charles R Smith Jr Primary: The Two Mrs. Gibsons by Toyomi Igus Intermediate: Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson & Henry's Freedom Box by Ellen Levine Middle School: Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson High School: A Hope in the Unseen by Ron Suskind

MARCH Preschool: Birds by Kevin Henkes Primary: You Cannot Take a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum by Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman Intermediate: Mountain Wolf Woman by Diana Young Holiday Middle School: The London Eye by Siobhan Dowd High School: Jerk, California by Johnathan Friesen

APRIL Preschool: Haiku Baby by Betsy Snyder & Monsoon Afternoon by Kashmira Sheth Primary: Before John Was a Jazz Giant by Carol Weatherford Intermediate: Hate That Cat By Sharron Creech Middle School: Diamond Willow by Helen Frost High School: Surrender Tree by Mararita Engle

MAY Preschool: Will Sheila Share by Elivia Savadier Primary: How to Heal A Broken Wing by Bob Grahm Intermediate: No Talking by Andrew Clemente Middle School: Seer of Shadows by Avi & The Postcard by Tony Abbot High School: Bite of A Mango by Mariah Kamara

SUMMER Preschool: Duck Rabbit by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld & Scoot by Cathryn Falwell Primary: Chicken of the Family by Mary Amato Intermediate: Dussie by Nancy Springer & Boys of Steel by Marc Tyler Nobleman Middle School: Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney & When you Reach Me by Rebecca Stead High School: Name of The Wind by Patrick Rothfuss & Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Madison Firefighter's Union New 2 Year Contract

Mayor Dave Cieslewicz:

Yesterday a two year contract agreement with city firefighters was ratified by the union membership. It's a good deal for both the union and the city and its taxpayers. The agreement, which still needs to be approved by the City Council, calls for what is essentially a two year pay freeze with a modest 3% increase at the end of the contract period in 2011.

Other levels of government are using furloughs (which are essentially pay cuts) and layoffs to cut their budgets, but I think the city should take a different approach. After all, the city provides many basic direct services that will have a very noticeable impact for our customers if they are cut back. We can't shut down the fire department or the police department for one day a month. We can't just not pick up the garbage for a week. It's far better for our residents if we can manage our way through these tough budget years while keeping our city staff intact to the greatest extent that we can. But if we're going to do that, then we'll need cooperation from our unions on wage and benefit settlements.

That kind of cooperation is exactly what we got from Local 311. The firefighters gave us a responsible start to negotiations with the other dozen unions that represent city employees. I said from the start of this recession that we need to approach our challenges with the understanding that we're all in this together. This settlement is a very strong indication that we're moving in that direction.

The Madison School District (Board member Johnny Winston, Jr. is a firefighter) and Madison Teachers Union are still working on a new contract. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.

There are at least two interesting challenges to an agreement this year:

  1. The elimination of "revenue limits and economic conditions" from collective bargaining arbitration by Wisconsin's Democratically controlled Assembly and Senate along with Democratic Governer Jim Doyle:
    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.
  2. The same elected officials eliminated the QEO, a 3.8% cap (in practice, a floor) on teacher salaries and wages in addition to "step" increases based on years of experience among other factors:
    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.

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Harvard, Ivy Leagues Bust Tuition Cost Bubble:

John Wasik:

A high-priced college may not be worth the price of admission.

As the economy forces more students out of the classroom and graduates into under- or unemployment, a college enrollment bubble may be starting to deflate.

The recession, combined with rising college costs, has accelerated a college affordability crunch that is exacerbated by shrinking family incomes, diminished home equity and reduced household wealth.

As many as one-third of all private colleges surveyed by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (Complete Report) said they expected enrollment to drop in the next academic year.

Almost 40 percent of those colleges said some of their students dropped out due to personal economic reasons and a quarter said full-time attendees switched to part time. Half said families had to cut back their expected contributions as the value of college savings plans dropped 21 percent last year.

The job market is so awful that I have encountered several graduates this summer who weren't able to line up full-time employment, even though they had sound academic records. Some are even "taking the year off" or doing internships.

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Education Secretary Criticizes Steep Rise in College Costs

Jack Kadden:

In an interview to be broadcast on the Tavis Smiley program on PBS, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan predicts that as tuition continues to rise, students will increasingly turn to schools that are "smarter and more creative" about lowering the cost of a college education.
But let me tell you Tavis, what I think is going to happen is parents of students are really smart, and those schools where tuition is going up exponentially high, folks have a lot of options out there. You've seen some other universities be smarter and more creative and go to three-year programs, and go to no-frills programs, I think you are going to see them capture a larger share of the marketplace. Again, parents of students are going to vote with their feet and when costs are skyrocketing, we think those colleges are going to pay a price for it.
Mr. Duncan also describes the Obama administration's efforts to make a college education more accessible, including more money for Pell grants, Perkins loans and tuition tax credits.

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Performance Management in Portfolio School Districts

Robin Lake & Paul Hill, via a Deb Britt email:

Under pressure from state standards-based reform and No Child Left Behind, and with increasing competition from schools of choice, urban school districts are looking for ways to offer a high-performing mix of schools that meet the diverse needs of their communities.

Many districts see themselves as portfolio managers, operating some schools in the traditional way, hiring independent groups to run other schools, and holding all schools accountable under the same performance standards.

Portfolio management requires school districts to do three things they were not designed to do: judge the performance of individual schools, decide which are effective enough to continue supporting, and decide whether to shore up struggling schools or create new ones. Districts currently adopting a portfolio strategy, partially or fully, include New York, Chicago, New Orleans, Denver, Philadelphia, Hartford, and the District of Columbia. Many other districts are considering the strategy.

Performance Management in Portfolio School Districts provides ideas for portfolio school districts and others that are trying to manage schools for performance. Based on studies of other government agencies and businesses that have shifted from inputs- to performance-based accountability, this report:

Complete report: 1.3MB PDF.

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California Governor proposes merit pay for educators

Jason Song & Jason Felch:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced this morning a special legislative session focusing on education that he hopes will establish merit pay for teachers, allow students at low-performing schools to transfer to other campuses and use data to track students and educators.

The governor also wants the legislature to abolish a law that bars the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations. Under federal guidelines, states that prohibit the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers cannot apply for $4.35 billion in education stimulus money known as Race to the Top funding.

Some California educational leaders have said federal officials are misinterpreting state law, but Schwarzenegger vowed to do everything necessary to make sure California qualifies for the federal funding.

"This is an incredible opportunity for our students and our schools," he said at a press conference in Sacramento.

Not all of Schwarzenegger's proposals apparently would have to be passed by the Legislature to be implemented, but the governor said he hoped state lawmakers could finish their work by early October so the state could meet the deadline to apply for federal funds.

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South Park meets Harvard Business School

Simon Daniel:

Sometimes you aim for the moon and get surprisingly close. This summer I'm at Nasa Ames research centre in California, attending Singularity University, a new institution that aims to educate "a cadre of leaders" about the rapid pace of technology and to address humanity's grand challenges, such as climate and health (

The university is the brainchild of Peter Diamandis, who founded the X-Prize challenge to encourage private spaceflight, and Ray Kurzweil, a futurist in exponential technologies. It is supported by Google, Nasa and ePlanet Ventures.

I'm part of the inaugural "student" class of 40 entrepreneurs and scientists from around the world, selected from more than 1,200 applications.

The nine-week course promises lectures and discussions with some of the world's best technologists (such as internet pioneers Vint Cerf and Bob Metcalfe), Nobel laureates and NGO leaders to share ideas, undertake practical experiments and build businesses. The goal is ambitious - to work out how technology could help a billion people within 10 years.

Arriving at the campus, housed on Federal land, I pass through the nearby town of Mountain View, which is adorned with university flags emblazoned with messages such as "How would you feed a billion people?"

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Ivy League Schools Learn A Lesson in Liquidity

James Stewart:

Just a year ago, in the midst of the subprime meltdown, many of the nation's top universities and colleges were reporting significant gains. This year, the University of Pennsylvania is being hailed for Ivy League-leading results--with a decline of 15.7% for its fiscal year ended in June.

Results from other schools are still trickling in, but Harvard University has said it is expecting to report a drop of 30%, and Yale University about 25%. Considering the size of these endowments, these are staggering losses in absolute terms--many billions in the case of both Harvard and Yale.

Students soon will be heading back to larger classes, curtailed extracurricular activities and cheaper dining-hall fare. But the results are also of more than academic interest to investors like me, who have to some degree modeled their portfolios on the diversified asset-allocation model pioneered by Yale's chief investment officer, David Swensen. What I refer to as the Ivy League approach for individuals calls for diversification along similar lines as the large university endowments--equities (domestic and foreign), fixed income, and real assets (which includes commodities and real estate), but with a much higher allocation to so-called nontraditional asset categories: emerging-market equities and debt, energy and commodities. Yale allocated just 10% to U.S. equities and 4% to fixed income, with 15% in foreign equities and 29% in so-called real assets as of June 30, 2008.

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Families, Activists Rally to Restore 216 Rescinded Washington, DC Tuition Vouchers

Michael Birnbaum:

Classes in District public schools start Monday, and 216 students are hoping they won't have to go back. About 70 parents, children and activists joined Thursday in front of the U.S. Department of Education to encourage Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to award vouchers to help the students pay for private school.

The students, who were offered vouchers worth as much as $7,500 toward tuition from the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program this spring before Duncan rescinded them in the face of the program's uncertain future, were left to find placements in public and charter schools. Some families have complained that by the time the vouchers were rolled back, there were few spots available at competitive public schools.

"We're hoping that Secretary Duncan is going to look out the window so he can see how strongly the parents support it," said Virginia Walden Ford, executive director of D.C. Parents for School Choice, one of the groups that organized the protest. "They just put families into a bad situation."

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August 20, 2009

Stars Aligning on School Lunches

Kim Severson:

ANN COOPER has made a career out of hammering on the poor quality of public school food. The School Nutrition Association, with 55,000 members, represents the people who prepare it.

A meal from the cafeteria at P.S. 89 in Manhattan does not contain processed food.
Imagine Ms. Cooper's surprise when she was invited to the association's upcoming conference to discuss the Lunch Box, a system she developed to help school districts wean themselves from packaged, heavily processed food and begin cooking mostly local food from scratch.

"All of a sudden I am not the fringe idiot trying to get everyone to serve peas and carrots that don't come out of a can, like that's the most radical idea they have ever heard of," she said.

The invitation is a small sign of larger changes happening in public school cafeterias. For the first time since a new wave of school food reform efforts began a decade ago, once-warring camps are sharing strategies to improve what kids eat. The Department of Agriculture is welcoming ideas from community groups and more money than ever is about to flow into school cafeterias, from Washington and from private providers.

"The window's open," said Kathleen Merrigan, the deputy secretary of agriculture. "We are in the zone when a whole lot of exciting ideas are being put on the table. I have been working in the field of sustainable agriculture and nutrition all my professional life, and I really have never seen such opportunity before."

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A Last-Minute Dash for Tuition

Melissa Korn:

Weeks or even days before classes start, hundreds of thousands of college students nationwide still don't know whether they'll be able to cover their tuition bills this year.

In Michigan, the state legislature continues to battle over the Michigan Promise Grant, a merit award of up to $4,000 given to 96,700 students. The State Senate recently passed a bill to cut it entirely and eliminate another $56 million in need-based aid for this school year.

In Illinois, the need-based Monetary Award Program was halved last month, leaving about 145,000 students without a spring-semester payout. The full award used to total nearly $5,000.

In Utah, the state cut the tuition subsidy to 40% from 75% in its New Century Scholarship, a merit program in which students earn their associates degrees while in high school.

And in Pennsylvania, a state budget impasse is leaving 172,000 students unsure what funding they will get from the state Higher Education Assistance Agency. The maximum award is slated to be $4,700 for students who attend in-state schools.

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Lost in Immersion: Speaking French on the Web

Katherine Boehret:

If you've ever learned a foreign language, you know the vast difference between completing workbook activities and speaking with others. The latter experience can involve sounding out unfamiliar accents or guttural pronunciations and, though intimidating, is ultimately more rewarding. By immersing yourself in a language and navigating through situations, you learn how to speak and eventually think in that language.

Rosetta Stone has long used visual learning without translations by pairing words with images --one of the ways a baby learns to speak. For the past week, I've been testing its newest offering: Rosetta Stone Totale (pronounced toe-tall-A), which is the company's first fully Web-based language-learning program. It aims to immerse you in a language using three parts: online coursework that can take up to 150 hours; live sessions in which you can converse over the Web with a native-speaking coach and other students; and access to Rosetta World, a Web-based community where you can play language games by yourself or with other students to improve your skills.

Totale costs a whopping $999, so if you aren't serious about learning a language it's a tough sell. Rosetta Stone says this program is comparable to an in-country language-immersion school. The company's most expensive offering before Totale was a set of CDs (lessons one, two and three) that cost $549, included about 120 hours of course work and had no online components.

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Wisconsin Ranks 3rd in ACT Testing

Amy Hetzner & Erin Richards:

Wisconsin maintained its third-place ranking on the ACT college admissions test, with this year's graduating high school seniors posting an average composite score of 22.3 for the third year in a row, according to data scheduled to be released Wednesday.

That average placed Wisconsin behind only Minnesota and Iowa among states where the ACT was taken by a majority of the Class of 2009.

But within the state's scores were causes for concern. The average composite score - the combined performance on the ACT's English, math, reading and science tests - for African-American students fell from 17 to 16.8. With the average composite score for Wisconsin's white students at 22.9, the state had one of the largest gaps between the two racial groups in the nation.

According to a report from ACT Inc., such scores indicate only 3% of the state's African-American test-takers are ready for college in all four tested areas, compared with 33% of white students. In Milwaukee Public Schools, spokeswoman Roseann St. Aubin said 6% of district test-takers were deemed college-ready in all four areas.

"Overall, Wisconsin students did well on this national test," state schools Superintendent Tony Evers said in a news release. "However, the results show areas for improvement."

Average composite scores on the ACT, the most popular of the two main college admissions tests in Wisconsin, varied from district to district in the Milwaukee area.

Because the ACT is a voluntary test, schools' average scores can vary based on the number of students who take it from one year to the next. An increase in test-taking usually leads to a score drop.

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Search for teachers goes overseas


School districts from Maryland to California are turning their focus outside the United States to fill certain teaching jobs. Gigi Douban reports from Birmingham, Ala.

This just in: Next month, President Obama will appear in a back-to-school special with American Idol Kelly Clarkson and basketball star LeBron James. The 30-minute documentary will air on Viacom stations like MTV and BET. It's part of an education initiative by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation called "Get Schooled."

Of course, to get schooled, you need to have a qualified instructor. And you'd figure in this job market there'd be plenty of teachers vying for every slot. But from Maryland to California, school districts are turning their focus overseas to fill certain teaching jobs. From Birmingham, Ala., Gigi Douban reports.

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College-Entrance Test Scores Flagging

Robert Tomsho:

Only about a quarter of the 2009 high school graduates taking the ACT admissions test have the skills to succeed in college, according to a report on the exam that shows little improvement over results from the 2008 graduating class.

The Iowa City, Iowa-based ACT said 23% of this year's high school graduates had scores that indicated they were ready for college in all four ACT subject areas, or had at least a 75% chance of earning a grade of C or better in entry-level courses. Last year, a similar ACT analysis found that 22% of the class of 2008 was college-ready.

"We're not making the progress we need to be making," said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, an advocacy group focused on boosting high-school graduation rates. "The only way you improve these numbers and get them higher is by improving your secondary schools."

About 1.48 million of the 3.3 million members of the high school class of 2009 took the ACT, typically in their junior year. ACT said its report was based on comparing students' ACT test scores in English, reading, math and science with the grades they earned in related courses during their first year in college.

Much more on the 2009 ACT here.

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New Madison Principals


The Madison Metropolitan School District is gearing up for the start of school with some new faces in the principal's office.
The district named Mary Kelley the interim principal at Madison East High School. Kelly will hold the position for the 2009-2010 school year. She has previously worked as a middle school principal for eight years in the district, and the last four at Black Hawk Middle School.

She succeeds Alan Harris, who recently resigned for a position in Racine.

Elsewhere, Carlettra Stanford was appointed interim principal at Gompers Elementary and Black Hawk Middle Schools. Stanford has worked in the district for 13 years -- the last two as a principal at Gompers. She's also held an elementary teaching position and Title 1 facilitator.

As the K-8 principal at both Gompers and Black Hawk, she will oversee adjoining schools, according to a district release.

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Rejected Milwaukee voucher schools sue

Erin Richards:

Eleven organizers who planned to open new voucher schools this fall but were rejected by the recently formed New Schools Approval Board have sued State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers and Marquette University.

In a lawsuit filed this month, the organizers contend that Evers and Marquette University violated the due process clause of the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment by turning over the legislative authority to approve voucher schools to a private party, the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette.

The school organizers are asking for an injunction restraining Evers from enforcing the new provisions passed by the Legislature this summer that tightened regulations on schools within the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, or voucher program.

Those provisions required that plans for new voucher schools be approved by the New Schools Advisory Board, part of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning, which is led by voucher and charter school advocate Howard Fuller.

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Connecting Anxious Parents and Educators, at $450 an Hour

Susan Dominus:

If you're going to do something, do it right.

Such has been the longstanding philosophy of Suzanne Rheault, a 39-year-old mother of two who now lives with her family downtown. A Type-A -- make that A-plus -- overachiever, even by New York standards, she skated competitively as a kid, finished M.I.T. in three and a half years, and tested out of a chunk of her courseload at Columbia Business School. She conquered the marathon.

She logged long hours and worked on holidays for Morgan Stanley, once flying, with pneumonia and against doctor's orders, across the country for a technology conference (she paid with a burst eardrum). After marrying and having children, she kept up a grueling schedule, typically traveling two weeks a month.

The key to her success in picking stocks, she always felt, was extensive research. Then came the personal challenge that defied all research, her own Moby Dick: getting her daughter into private school. No Excel spreadsheet would unlock the formula that would guarantee results; all her expertise in statistics and economics failed her.

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US Education Secretary Duncan Phones Eau Claire School Administrator

Christena O'Brien:

Returning home Friday from the Twin Cities, Chris Hambuch-Boyle didn't hesitate answering her cell phone - even though the call was coming from an unknown number.

To the surprise of the longtime Eau Claire school district educator, the caller on the other end was U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

"He said, 'Hi, Chris. This is Arne Duncan,' " she recalled after Monday night's school board meeting. "I was flabbergasted that he'd even call."

Hambuch-Boyle spent about the next 10 minutes talking with Duncan about Eau Claire, Gov. Jim Doyle and state support for public schools in Wisconsin.

It wasn't their first time talking. Hambuch-Boyle, vice president of the Eau Claire Association of Educators, was among a group of educators sitting behind Duncan last month as he spoke at the National Education Association's annual meeting and representative assembly in San Diego. When he finished, she ran after him, yelling "Mr. Secretary! Mr. Secretary!"

"He said, 'Homework?' " recalled Hambuch-Boyle, who was waving several "Save Our Schools" postcards in her hand, "and I said, 'No, a present from Wisconsin.' "

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August 19, 2009

Study Finds That Online Education Beats the Classroom

Steve Lohr:

A recent 93-page report on online education, conducted by SRI International for the Department of Education, has a starchy academic title, but a most intriguing conclusion: "On average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction."

The report examined the comparative research on online versus traditional classroom teaching from 1996 to 2008. Some of it was in K-12 settings, but most of the comparative studies were done in colleges and adult continuing-education programs of various kinds, from medical training to the military.

Over the 12-year span, the report found 99 studies in which there were quantitative comparisons of online and classroom performance for the same courses. The analysis for the Department of Education found that, on average, students doing some or all of the course online would rank in the 59th percentile in tested performance, compared with the average classroom student scoring in the 50th percentile. That is a modest but statistically meaningful difference.

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What You Should Consider Before Education Graduate School

Eddy Ramirez:

If you're thinking about going into teaching, take heed of this message from Katherine Merseth, a senior lecturer and director of the teacher education program at Harvard University: "The dirty little secret about schools of education is that they have been the cash cows of universities for many, many years, and it's time to say, 'Show us what you can do, or get out of the business.'"

Merseth, who spoke at an event in Washington, D.C., this week as part of a panel about how to improve teacher quality, was not trashing her employer, to be sure. Nor was she discouraging aspiring teachers from going to graduate school. Merseth was taking aim at institutions that produce ill-prepared teachers and yet insist on holding a monopoly in awarding teaching degrees. "It's high time that we broke up the cartel," she said. "We need to hold graduate schools of education more accountable." Merseth says that of the 1,300 graduate teacher training programs in the country, about 100 or so are adequately preparing teachers and "the others could be shut down tomorrow."

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2009 ACT National & State Scores; 30% of Wisconsin Students Meet all 4 ACT College readiness Benchmarks (23% Nationally)


Each year, ACT releases both national and state-specific reports on the most recent graduating senior high school class. These reports assess the level of student college readiness based on aggregate score results of the ACT® college admission and placement exam.

The foundation of this annual report is empirical ACT data that specify what happens to high school graduates once they get to college or work based on how well they were prepared in middle or high school. ACT believes that, by understanding and utilizing this data, states and districts across the country can help advance and promote ACT's mission of college and career readiness for all students.

The ACT is a curriculum-based measure of college readiness. ACT components include:

Tests of academic achievement in English, math, reading, science, and writing (optional)
High school grade and course information
Student Profile Section
Career Interest Inventory

The ACT:
Every few years, ACT conducts the ACT National Curriculum Survey to ensure its curriculum-based assessment tools accurately measure the skills high school teachers teach and instructors of entry-level college courses expect. The ACT is the only college readiness test designed to reflect the results of such a survey.

ACT's College Readiness Standards are sets of statements intended to help students, parents and educators understand the meaning of test scores. The standards relate test scores to the types of skills needed for success in high school and beyond. They serve as a direct link between what students have learned and what they are ready to do next. The ACT is the only college readiness test for which scores can be tied directly to standards.

Only the ACT reports College Readiness Benchmark Scores - A benchmark score is the minimum score needed on an ACT subject-area test to indicate a 50% chance of obtaining a B or higher or about a 75% chance of obtaining a C or higher in the corresponding credit-bearing college courses, which include English Composition, Algebra, Social Science and Biology. These scores were empirically derived based on the actual performance of students in college. The College Readiness Benchmark Scores are:

Individual state reports can be found here.

The 2009 national profile: 110K pdf (Wisconsin PDF). 2009 Wisconsin Report.

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Madison ACT scores beat state, national average but fall slightly

Gayle Worland:

Even as Madison's most recent high school seniors continued to outperform their state and national peers on the ACT test, districtwide scores among the class of 2009 edged slightly downward from past years, according to test results released Wednesday.

Sixty-nine percent of Madison's 12th-graders last year took the ACT college admissions test, receiving an average composite score of 24.0 out of a possible 36. The composite score for Wisconsin was 22.3, unchanged from the past two years. Nationally, the average composite score was 21.1.

The largest gain among ethnic groups in Madison was among Asian-Americans, whose average composite score rose from 22.3 to 23.4 this year. Black students' scores declined, from 19.2 to 18.4. Hispanic students' scores also dropped, from 21.7 to 21.4, and white students' scores fell, from 25.4 to 25.0, the district reported.

Over the past 15 years, ACT scores in the district have ranged from 23.5 in 1994-95 to 24.6 in 2006-07.


Thirty percent of Wisconsin test-takers met all four ACT benchmark scores, compared with 23 percent nationally.

Much more on the ACT here.

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The Adolescent Politics of Virtual Education

Tom Vander Ark:

In 1995, I was sure that the explosion of the web would result in a good deal of online learning competition -- and fast. I may have been right about the first but not the second. It took a dozen years for online learning to get big and competitive, but it is finally a force to be reckoned with. Next month there will be close to two million students learning online at home and at school.

Back then I was superintendent in Federal Way Washington, between Seattle and Tacoma. We were a founding district in Microsoft's Anytime Anywhere Learning initiative and began rolling out laptop programs to all of our secondary schools. The brave new world of education blending the best of online and onsite learning seemed right around the corner.

In September 1996, we opened the Internet Academy, the nation's first K-12 virtual school. It was a bootstrapped operation; a group of intrepid teachers staying a day ahead of the kids and testing the application of the state's seat time requirements.

Enrollment quickly grew to over 1,000 students with about half new to public education (i.e., home and private school students) with an even split between students seeking acceleration and those seeking credit recovery. For most of a decade, Internet Academy had Washington's virtual space to itself.

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Cap on Virtual Schools Jeopardizes Wisconsin's Eligibility for Federal Education Funds

Brian Fraley:

Online public charter schools (or virtual schools) are charter schools under contract with a school board in which all or a portion of the instruction is provided through means of the Internet, and the pupils enrolled in and instructional staff employed by the school are geographically remote from each other.

Virtual schools have become an incredibly popular option throughout the country. In Wisconsin, thousands of families from Green Bay to Lancaster, from Racine to Rhinelander and other communities in every county in the state, have chosen to enroll their children in these unique and innovative public schools. School districts across Wisconsin (including those in Grantsburg, Appleton, Monroe, Fredonia, Waukesha and McFarland) currently offer or are exploring this option.

But in Wisconsin, even though online public charter schools are successful and embraced by parents, teachers and administrators alike, access to this innovation is rationed.

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Special-Education Stigmatization
School vouchers may be the best way to curb abuse of public funds.

Marcus Winters & Jay Greene:

Federal law first insisted in 1975 that public schools educate disabled students. Since then, the portion of students receiving special education services has increased 64%. Today, 13.5% of all public school students have been diagnosed with a disability. Special education, it turns out, is no longer particularly special at all.

Taxpayers pay a substantial price for the growth in special education. In New York state, for instance, in 2007, the average special education student cost $14,413 more to educate than a regular-enrollment student.

What has produced such rapid growth in the percentage of American students identified as disabled? Don't worry--it's not "something in the water."

Better means of identification explain part of special education's expansion. However, a growing body of research points to a less benign cause: Schools see a financial incentive to designate low-achieving students as disabled, while they may not actually be disabled at all.

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Grand Rapids Teacher Union Ratifies Contract

Kym Reinstadler:

The Grand Rapids Education Association has ratified a four-year tentative labor agreement with the Grand Rapids school district.

The contract was approved 727-236, with one ballot thrown out.

The Grand Rapids Board of Education has a special meeting to consider the contract at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at the district's administration building, 1331 Franklin St. SE.

After informational meetings last week, several teachers said they were frustrated the pact includes no retroactive salary increase for the two years they worked without a contract and a modest 2 percent salary raise for the coming school year.

Many are also dismayed the contract does not cap class sizes, language they say claim they sought to include.

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Free education for Thai disabled

Bangkok Post:

All disabled people will be entitled to free education to the level of graduating with a bachelor's degree starting next year, Education Minister Jurin Laksanavisit said on Tuesday.

Mr Jurin said this was a resolution made by the Committee on Education for the Disabled.

The disabled will be entitled to free education to the bachelor's degree level in either state-run or private universities.

They will not have to pay tuition or other fees to the universities where they study. Their expenses will be covered by the offices of he Basic Education Commission and the Higher Education Commission, he said.

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Dangling Money, Obama Pushes Education Shift

Sam Dillon:

Holding out billions of dollars as a potential windfall, the Obama administration is persuading state after state to rewrite education laws to open the door to more charter schools and expand the use of student test scores for judging teachers.

That aggressive use of economic stimulus money by Education Secretary Arne Duncan is provoking heated debates over the uses of standardized testing and the proper federal role in education, issues that flared frequently during President George W. Bush's enforcement of his signature education law, called No Child Left Behind.

A recent case is California, where legislative leaders are vowing to do anything necessary, including rewriting a law that prohibits the use of student scores in teacher evaluations, to ensure that the state is eligible for a chunk of the $4.3 billion the federal Education Department will soon award to a dozen or so states. The law had strong backing from the state teachers union.

Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Tennessee and several other states have moved to bring their laws or policies into line with President Obama's school improvement agenda.

Kevin Carey has more.

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Nigeria: Outdated Curricula, Challenge to West Africa Education - UNESCO

Aisha Umar:

The problem of education in Sub-Saharan Africa is due to outdated curricula and minimal sustainable reforms undertaken since independence, the Director, Regional Bureau of Education (BREDA) UNESCO, Mrs. Ann-Therese Ndong-Jatta, has said.

Speaking at a regional workshop held yesterday in Abuja on Revitalising Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) provision in the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) region, she said: "It is unfortunate that there is a bifurcation if not undervaluing of skills development in the provision of education.

This, she said, "has resulted in school graduates without skills, and led to the present disenchantment among young people who are loosing faith in education system and political leadership to address their needs."

Education minister Sam Egwu said regular curriculum review, followed by appropriate staff development and the expansion of the knowledge base on information and communication technology, are vital ingredients in reversing the situation.

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The education business: Lapdesks

Maria Karaivanova:

Imagine you are nine years old, you go to school, it's winter. You enter the unheated classroom and sit on your chair or on the floor. And then you start your daily lessons.

But wait - you don't have anything to write on. You don't have a desk... 

I have just had a life-altering experience. I helped with the handover ceremony of 385 desks at the King Zwelithini primary school in the impoverished black township of Soweto, only 20 minutes from Johannesburg's glossy financial district. The ceremony was masterminded by Lapdesk in Johannesburg, where I am now an intern.

I heard about Lapdesk on my first day of class at Harvard Business School, when I was handed a case study about the company.

But why, I asked myself, were we focused on a South African company whose goal was to eradicate classroom desk shortages throughout Africa, by making desks out of recyclable plastic? Why was I not learning about a Fortune 500 company?

After the discussion I realised why: there are 80m children in Africa without a desk and Lapdesk is addressing this social problem with a private-sector proposition.

More here.

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August 18, 2009

Washington, DC School Choice Advocates Step Up Campaign

Tim Craig:

School choice advocates are gearing up for a final push this week to try to get U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to reverse his decision to rescind scholarships for 216 low-income District students.

The advocates, led by D.C. Parents for School Choice and DC Children First, are planning radio, newspaper and Internet ads. The advocates, who have formed, are also holding a vigil at noon Thursday outside the U.S. Department of Education.

The campaign, billed as a major escalation of their efforts, is designed to get Duncan to reinstate the scholarships before the school year begins.

"Time is truly running out for Secretary Duncan to reverse his disastrous decision and to save these 216 children," said former Ward 7 D.C. Council member Kevin Chavous, a Democrat who is heading up efforts to save the students' scholarships. "Scholarship money is already available for the 216 students and there is no law or regulation preventing them from accessing these scholarships. Secretary Duncan needs to show the nation that this administration is serious about reforming education."

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Do Teachers Need Education Degrees?

New York Times via a Doug Newman email:

In a Room for Debate forum in June on the value of liberal arts master's degrees, one group of readers -- teachers and education administrators -- generally agreed a higher degree was well worth the investment. They pointed out that pay and promotion in public schools were tied to the accumulation of such credentials and credits, specifically from colleges of education.

But current teacher training has a large chorus of critics, including prominent professors in education schools themselves. For example, the director of teacher education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Katherine Merseth, told a conference in March that of the nation's 1,300 graduate teacher training programs, only about 100 were doing a competent job and "the others could be shut down tomorrow." And Obama administration officials support a shift away from using master's degrees for pay raises, and a shift toward compensating teachers based on children's performance.

Should the public schools reduce the weight they give to education school credentials in pay and promotion decisions? Is this happening already, and, if so, what is replacing the traditional system for compensating teachers?

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The Cheese Is Not the Only Difference

Mike Antonucci:

NEA affiliates in California and Wisconsin seem to have different attitudes about their state laws banning student data being used to evaluate teachers. The Obama administration has been insisting that those laws be eliminated or altered before the states can be eligible for Race to the Top funds.

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Teacher salaries raising eyebrows

Jim Siegel & Catherine Candisky:

Some ask if educators are sharing the pain

As scores of Ohioans are seeing their paychecks frozen, cut or taken away, pressure is mounting on teachers unions and school administrators who continue enjoying healthy raises to share in the sacrifice.

While 60 percent of schools are getting a cut in state aid over the next two years, and the rest will see annual increases of less than 1 percent, pay raises for teachers top 5 percent in some districts once all the automatic pay bumps are included.

In light of state workers and many other government-paid employees already taking concessions, such raises are getting the attention of weary taxpayers in many school districts, particularly those asking voters to approve higher taxes.

State Superintendent Deborah Delisle told The Dispatch that it's time for "a reality check in every single community to see what we are able to sustain."

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Still time to fix Wisconsin school finance

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

School finance reform should be at the top of Gov. Jim Doyle's to-do list before he leaves office.

Reform won't be easy.

Yet fixing the state's broken system of paying for public education has always been a monumental task. That's why so many politicians -- Democrats and Republicans -- have largely ignored it for so long.

Doyle, who announced Monday he won't seek a third term, has advantages in pressing for major change now, even if he's viewed as a lame duck.

The Democratic governor won't have to fear the political repercussions of reform because he's leaving anyway. And his fellow Democrats who control the Legislature might be happy to let Doyle take ownership of the thorny and complicated issue. Then Doyle can be the fall guy if special and local interests balk at difficult yet necessary state decisions.

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August 17, 2009

Madison School Board Talented & Gifted (TAG) Plan Discussion & Approval

There were several public appearances [4.1MB mp3 audio] Monday evening related to the Madison School District's Talented & Gifted plan. TJ Mertz, Kris Gomez-Schmidt, Janet Mertz (not related) and Shari Galitzer spoke during the public appearance segment of the meeting. Their comments begin at 3:13 into this mp3 audio file.

The School Board and Administration's discussion can be heard via this 6MB mp3 audio file. The previous week's discussion can be heard here. Madison United for Academic Excellence posted a number of useful links on this initiative here.

Finally, the recent Private/Parochial, Open Enrollment Leave, Open Enrollment Enter, Home Based Parent Surveys provides a useful background for the interested reader.

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Hard-Hit Schools Try Public-Relations Push

Stephanie Simon:

Public schools in the U.S. have added professional marketing to their back-to-school shopping lists.

Financially struggling urban districts are trying to win back students fleeing to charter schools, private schools and suburban districts that offer open enrollment. Administrators say they are working hard to improve academics -- but it can't hurt to burnish their image as well.

A bus in Washington, D.C., carries an ad for the city's public schools, which have seen enrollment plunge from nearly 150,000 students in 1970 to less than 50,000 last year. The district spent $100,000 this spring on a campaign that also included radio spots in an effort to win back students who have left public schools. The ads include quotes from students who say they are glad they stayed in public school.

So they are recording radio ads, filming TV infomercials and buying address lists for direct-mail campaigns. Other efforts, by both districts and individual schools, call for catering Mexican dinners for potential students, making sales pitches at churches and hiring branding experts to redesign logos.

"Schools are really getting that they can't just expect students to show up any more," said Lisa Relou, who directs marketing efforts for the Denver Public Schools. "They have to go out and recruit."

Administrators working on the public-relations push say the potential returns are high. State funding for public schools is based on attendance, so each new student brings more money, typically $5,000 to $8,000 per head. In addition, schools with small enrollments are at constant risk of being shuttered in this recession, and full classrooms help.

Some districts also hope a better image will entice more local business sponsorship and persuade voters to support school levies and bond issues

Substance, such as a rigorous curriculum, strong school leadership, extensive education options (languages, arts, science and math, among others) will always be better than simple pr/marketing/advertising efforts. General Motors tried re-brand their business repeatedly over the past few decades.

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Age-Old Problem, Perpetually Absent Solution: Fitting Special Education to Students' Needs

Jay Matthews:

Miguel Landeros is a lanky, well-spoken 12-year-old about to begin seventh grade in Stafford County. He is severely learning disabled, with reading, writing and math skill levels at least two years below his peers, and needs special teaching, according to a licensed clinical psychologist at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore and other specialists.

Last February, Stafford officials refused to accept that evaluation and left him in regular classes. He performed poorly, failing all core subjects. Recently, they promised to give him more specialized services, but not the ones the experts who examined him say he needs.

I admit that education writers in general, and I in particular, write very little about learning disabilities and the many failures of federally mandated public school programs to help students who have them. I often say the cases are so complicated I have difficulty translating them into everyday language, and even then readers struggle to understand.

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An Interview with Diane Ravitch

John Merrow:

The Obama Administration and nearly every state have now endorsed national or common standards. Is this a good thing? Or is now the time to get worried, the logic being that, when 'everyone' is for something, the rest of us should watch out?

I have favored common standards for a long time. When I worked for Bush I in the early 1990s, I helped to launch federally funded projects to develop voluntary national standards in the arts, English, history, geography, civics, economics, science, and other essential school subjects. Some of the projects were successful; others were not. The whole enterprise foundered because a) it was not authorized by Congress, and b) it came to fruition during the transition between two administrations and had no oversight, no process of review and improvement. So, yes, I believe the concept is important.
However, I worry about today's undertaking, first, because it will focus only on reading and mathematics, nothing else; and second, because I don't know whether the effort will become a bureaucratic nightmare. But I won't prejudge the outcome. I will hope for the best, and hope that today's standardistas learned some lessons from what happened nearly two decades ago.


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Teach for America: Elite corps or costing older teachers jobs?

Greg Toppo:

In 2007, fresh out of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Chris Turk snagged a coveted spot with the elite Teach For America program, landing here at Cherry Hill Elementary/Middle School in a blue-collar neighborhood at the city's southern tip. For the past two years, he has taught middle-school social studies.

One recent afternoon, during a five-week "life skills" summer-school course, Turk tells his five students that their final project, a movie about what they've learned, has a blockbuster budget: $70.

"We can go big here," he says. "We can go grand."

He might as well be talking about the high-profile program that brought him here.

Despite a lingering recession, state budget crises and widespread teacher hiring slowdowns, Teach For America (TFA) has grown steadily, delighting supporters and giving critics a bad case of heartburn as it expands to new cities and builds a formidable alumni base of young people willing to teach for two years in some of the USA's toughest public schools.

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B.C. university adds grade worse than F

Stuart Hunter:

There are two new scarlet letters in academia.

Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., recently introduced a grade called FD to deal with cheaters.

The letters stand for failure with academic dishonesty.

Rob Gordon, the university's director of criminology, said the FD grade was introduced to catch cheaters who use the Internet and was part of a larger package of reforms "relating to student misconduct issues and honesty."

"It is a penalty that can only be imposed by department heads, not by individual professors," Gordon, acting chairman of the university's senate committee on academic integrity, said Thursday.

"It would be used in egregious cases of academic dishonesty."

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At Sinclair Community College, Focus Is Jobs

Steven Greenhouse:

When Todd Sollar was laid off after 11 years at General Motors, he enrolled at Sinclair Community College in downtown Dayton to study robotics.

"Hopefully, with a degree I'll be marketable for a job," said Mr. Sollar, 32, who has overcome his nervousness about not fitting in because of his age. In fact, he is thriving, getting A's and B's, far better than in high school where he said officials had wrongly pegged him as having a learning disability.

As legions of displaced autoworkers and others face the prospect that their onetime jobs may be gone forever, many like Mr. Sollar will need training for a fresh start.

And perhaps the best place for them will be community colleges, long the workhorses of American higher education, workhorses that get little respect. In an unforgiving economy, these colleges provide lifelines not only for laid-off workers in need of a new career, but for recent high school graduates who find that many types of entry-level jobs now require additional skills.

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School spotlight: Program provides taste of medical research

Pamela Cotant:

West High School student Tulika Singh spent part of her summer studying epilepsy in rodents -- an experience that made her feel like a contributor to research being conducted at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.

Singh, who will be a senior this year, was one of 15 students in a Research Apprentice Program based at the school.

"Tulika (was) basically doing the work that college undergrads do for research experience and credits during the year," said Dr. Thomas Sutula, neurology department chairman. He said apprentices are part of the team for the summer.

Singh, who wrote a research paper and presented it, was involved in a study of how genes influence epilepsy. Her mentor was Craig Levenick, senior research specialist.

"It's just absolutely cool," Singh said of the experience.

In its 29th year, the seven-week Research Apprentice Program is designed to help increase diversity in science and health professions. The program is geared toward incoming juniors and seniors from Dane County high schools. It's based on academic performance and an interest in medicine.

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A Hand Up for Students Facing a Mountain of Debt

Ron Lieber:

The biggest problem for consumers of American higher education is that many of them must take on a mountain of debt to get the degree they want. That intimidating quandary has inspired some unique, though often unsuccessful, attempts to make student loans more affordable over the years.

One of the most innovative sprang from a handful of trailblazers, including an economist who later won a Nobel and some entrepreneurs barely out of school themselves, who tried to persuade undergraduates to sell a portion of their future income to investors in exchange for money for college. Critics fretted about "indentured servitude," and the idea never amounted to much.

Others have tried to let strangers finance students' fixed-rate loans via Web sites. The idea of "peer to peer" lending hasn't gained much traction either so far.

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Swine flu vaccinations likely to be offered in Dane County public schools

Gayle Worland:

In Dane County, vaccinations for the H1N1 virus likely will be offered to students at public schools this fall -- but stay tuned for details.

The Dane County Immunization Coalition -- a broad group of health providers that also includes school district representatives -- will meet Tuesday to discuss logistics for administering the vaccine, which isn't expected to arrive here until mid- or late-October, said Judy Aubey of the Madison-Dane County Public Health Department.

The coalition, Aubey said, will look to guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to determine who should be first in line for immunizations, which are given in two doses, 21 to 28 days apart. Unlike the seasonal flu vaccine, which traditionally focuses on the old and the young, the priority groups for H1N1 immunizations include pregnant women, adults in regular contact with infants under 6 months old, health care workers and children and young adults ages 6 months through 24 years.

So schools could be key players, Aubey said. "There are 80,000 kids in Dane County schools and we certainly don't have the numbers to carry this ourselves," she said. "We are going to need help."

Since April, the Madison school district has been communicating closely with the health department on swine flu issues, and that partnership will continue into the fall and beyond, said Freddi Adelson, health services coordinator for the district.

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Newt Gingrich, Al Sharpton won't hold back on education tour

Mark Silva:

Reporting from Washington - Here's an unlikely trio for a road tour:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan plans to take the Obama administration's vision of educational improvements, innovation and the "challenges facing America's school systems" on a multi-city tour. And he's taking former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) as well as the Rev. Al Sharpton, civil rights leader and onetime Democratic presidential candidate.

Duncan, who met with Gingrich and Sharpton earlier this year, called them "two of the most candid people I have ever known."

"They are willing to challenge conventional thinking, and I can absolutely promise some provocative conversations on education reform."

The tour starts Sept. 29 in Philadelphia, heads to New Orleans Nov. 3, then Baltimore on Nov. 13 -- cities selected for what they can teach others about school reform. The Department of Education plans to add other stops, including a rural venue.

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August 16, 2009

You Need Teachers for School Reform

Marietta English:

Critics of public education love to point fingers. But condemning teachers unions ("Pay Your Teachers Well," Review & Outlook, Aug. 3) is not only counterproductive to reform, it aims at the wrong target.

School improvement is only possible with the buy-in of teachers, whose collective voices are brought together by their unions. And many unions, notably the two you single out, have initiated a number of successful reforms.

The Baltimore Teachers Union has been deeply involved in efforts to strengthen teaching and learning in city schools, where students have posted double-digit gains the past several years. We are pleased that improvements also are taking place at the KIPP school you highlight. Contrary to your assertion, the union seeks only to have KIPP honor its agreement to pay teachers for their time worked. No other extended-day school in Baltimore has refused to do so.

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More on the Madison School District's Proposed Talented & Gifted Plan

Gayle Worland:

The new program would help meet the needs of students through better identification and enrichment.

Lorie Raihala had planned for her kids to attend public school -- but over the years, the lack of programming for talented and gifted students proved too frustrating.

"We tried very hard for six years to make it work for them, and we're very supportive of the public school system, so we really wanted it to work," Raihala said. But it affected their emotional well-being, that their needs weren't being met in the classroom."

So Raihala's children moved to a private school. And Raihala joined a group of parents pushing for a commitment by the Madison School District to improve programming for its talented and gifted, or TAG, students.

That group will score a victory Monday night when a plan drafted by the district that would overhaul how TAG students are identified and supported through their school careers comes before the Madison School Board. The three-year plan would replace current TAG policy, which has been out of compliance with state statutes since 1990.

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Life is transformed

Financial Times Editorial:

Genetic engineering is beginning to live up to its name. Over the past 30 years it has meant transferring existing genes, one at a time, between organisms. Now - under the banner of "synthetic biology" - scientists are using the principles of systems engineering to transform whole organisms and potentially even to create novel forms of life.

Synthetic biology is sufficiently different from old-style genetic engineering to need a new system of regulation and governance, plus a fresh effort by its practitioners to tell the public what they are up to. Enormous benefits could flow from their work - practical pay-offs, such as new medicines and biofuels, as well as scientific insights into the nature of life.

But there are serious concerns too. First is bio-safety. Synthetic biology involves the production of novel living organisms that are self-replicating and potentially uncontrollable if something goes wrong.

Such fears were voiced in the mid-1970s when scientists first discovered how to snip a piece of DNA out of one organism and splice it into another. Indeed everyone in the field agreed to a voluntary moratorium on genetic engineering while they considered the safety consequences. Soon work resumed and, to this day, no serious accident can be blamed on the genetic manipulation of microbes.

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Tulsa Public Schools Proposal to the Gates Foundation

Tulsa Public Schools:

America is at a crossroads. After leading the way in universal primary and secondary education, the academic achievements of American students have fallen behind those in many other countries. Over half of these deficiencies come as a result of the wide achievement gaps that exist along racial/ethnic and socio-economic lines. Tulsa Public Schools (TPS) represents just one of many American school districts combating the challenges of deficient academic performance.

Tulsa Public Schools believes that the best weapon in the battle to bring about greater academic success and college-readiness in the American student is an effective teacher. It is eager to seize the opportunity to become a model and catalyst for change for the rest of the nation.

TPS will swiftly implement its Teacher Effectiveness initiative with the support of a Gates' partnership but is determined to execute this initiative in the absence of a Gates' partnership if necessary. The plan outlined below was developed out of the painstaking work of dozens of teachers, principals, and central office employees. Three Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association officers were intimately involved in every step of the development process. The TPS Board of Education is enthusiastically supportive and will make all necessary changes to local regulations to enable the full implementation. Likewise, Oklahoma legislative leadership and senior executives at the Oklahoma State Department of Education have committed to promoting changes in state law and practice necessary to make these strategies possible. Moreover, local business leaders and philanthropists have pledged to generate local funding support.

View the complete Tulsa proposal here (7MB PDF).

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A Real-Life School Of Rock


Do you really need to go to school to learn about rocking out? Many musicians might say no: Lock yourself in your room with a bunch of records and a guitar, put in your days on the road playing in scummy clubs, and you'll master the craft eventually.

Or, starting this Monday, you could go to the real-life "school of rock" -- the brand-new Academy of Contemporary Music at the University of Central Oklahoma. The program has true rock cred -- it was started by Steven Drozd and Scott Booker, respectively the guitarist and manager of the Flaming Lips, a Grammy-winning rock band.

"The idea here is not that we're just a school of rock," Booker says. "The idea behind this program is really as much about business and learning how the industry works while you're learning to play better."

Unlike the original Academy of Contemporary Music in Guildford, England, the University of Central Oklahoma ACM offers an actual college degree. Booker adds, "not only are you taking general ed, but you're also taking aural skills and music theory and those things that anyone who's getting a music degree has to take."

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Bullies: They can be stopped, but it takes a village.

Alan Kazdin & Carlo Rotella:

Let's say you find out that your child is being bullied by a schoolmate. Naturally, you want to do something right now to make it stop. Depending on your temperament and experience, one or more of four widely attempted common-sense solutions will occur to you: telling your child to stand up to the bully, telling your child to try to ignore and avoid the bully, taking matters into your own hands by calling the bully's parents or confronting the bully yourself, or asking your child's teacher to put a stop to it.

These responses share three features:

1) They all express genuine caring, concern, and good intentions.
2) You will feel better for taking action.
3) They are likely to be ineffective.

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More on the Madison School District's $12M Budget Deficit


A multimillion-dollar budget shortfall means major decisions are afoot for Madison Metropolitan School District officials.
The district's school board is getting a first look this week at how to deal with a budget massively in the red, and Superintendent Dan Nerad gave a breakdown on Friday on the proposal being put forward.

Overall the district is facing a $12 million shortfall in the next school year. Nerad said that he has a plan to address it. He said he thinks the proposal will affect learning and taxpayers as little as possible.

Nerad said he has had his staff hard at work scouring the district budget, trying to find out how to mitigate two major changes in state funding. The first is a nearly $3 million drop in the revenue cap and the second is a 15-percent cut in state aid.

"We're really pushing to say what's out there, where can we make these budget decisions and I'm looking from this point forward and I've been here for a year, and we feel real good about these options," Nerad said.

To cover the loss in revenue cap funding, district officials are contemplating taking $300,000 from its contingency fund and adjusting budget amounts for elementary teachers' salaries and substitute teacher days. The district came in under budget in the new teachers hired this year and fewer sub days have been used, WISC-TV reported.

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Hong Kong School drug tests will go ahead, Henry Tang says

Martin Wong:

The voluntary school drug test would go ahead in Tai Po as scheduled at the end of the year despite reservations about it in various sectors, the chief secretary said yesterday.

Speaking after attending an anti-drug seminar for secondary teachers in Kowloon, Henry Tang Ying-yen said he had heard the community's different opinions about the plan.

"Our current goal is still to have [the pilot project] launched at the end of the year," he said. "We still have plenty of time ... when we can discuss details of the programme and how to improve it."

His comment came a day after the Professional Teachers' Union said schools should have more flexibility over when and how to conduct the drug-testing programme.

Three youth groups - the Youth Union, the Hong Kong Christian Institute and Ytalk! - have accused the government of not planning the scheme properly and urged students in Tai Po to boycott it. Social workers and the Catholic Church have also raised concerns about the programme, saying more resources should be deployed for it.

Mr Tang said: "We are serious about the scheme and will allocate an appropriate level of resources so it can be carried out successfully."

Deputy Education Secretary Betty Ip Tsang Chui-hing told yesterday's seminar she believed many students and parents supported the test.

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August 15, 2009

Milwaukee Schools' Power struggle likely to be messy

Alan Borsuk:

The decision by Gov. Jim Doyle and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett last week to push for giving Barrett control of some major aspects of Milwaukee Public Schools will prompt a historic, intense and almost surely messy test of the body politic of the city and the state when it comes to education issues.

Here's an early guide on what to watch for when it comes to body parts and their role in the debate:

• Spine: Any major change in the status quo around here takes a lot of backbone - this is Milwaukee, after all. Making a change as controversial as this will take an especially large amount of determination. Are Doyle and Barrett willing to put that much of their spines into this fight?

Are opponents such as the Milwaukee teachers union sufficiently determined to fight a powerful list of backers, including not only Doyle and Barrett but major business leaders, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and state school superintendent Tony Evers?

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Cold Prospects

The Concord Review
13 August 2009

Today's Boston Globe has a good-sized article on "Hot Prospects,"--local high school football players facing "increasing pressure from recruiters to make their college decisions early."

That's right, it is not the colleges that are getting pressure from outstanding students seeking admission based on their academic achievement, it is colleges putting pressure on high school athletes to get them to "sign" with the college.

The colleges are required by the AAU to wait until the prospect is a Senior in high school before engaging in active recruiting including "visits and contact from college coaches," and, for some local football players the recruiting pressure even comes from such universities as Harvard and Stanford.

Perhaps Senior year officially starts in June, because the Globe reports that one high school tight end from Wellesley, Massachusetts, for example, "committed to Stanford in early June, ending the suspense of the region's top player."

The University of Connecticut "made an offer to" an athletic quarterback from Natick High School, "and a host of others, including Harvard and Stanford, are interested," says the Globe.

In the meantime, high school football players are clearly not being recruited by college professors for their outstanding academic work. When it comes to academic achievement, high school students have to apply to colleges and wait until the college decides whether they will be admitted or not. Some students apply for "Early Decision," but in that case, it is the college, not the athlete, who makes the decision to "commit."

Intelligent and diligent high school students who manage achievement in academics even at the high level of accomplishment of their football-playing peers who are being contacted, visited, and recruited by college coaches, do not find that they are contacted, visited, or recruited by college professors, no matter how outstanding their high school academic work may be.

In some other countries, the respect for academic work is somewhat different. One student, who earned the International Baccalaureate Diploma and had his 15,000-word independent study essay on the Soviet-Afghan War published in The Concord Review last year, was accepted to Christ Church College, Oxford, from high school. He reported to me that during the interview he had with tutors from that college, "they spent a lot of time talking to me about my TCR essay in the interview." He went on to say: "Oxford doesn't recognize or consider extra-curriculars/sports in the admissions process (no rowing recruits) because they are so focused on academics. So I thought it was pretty high praise of the Review that they were so interested in my essay (at that time it had not won the Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize)."

There are many other examples from other countries of the emphasis placed on academic achievement and the lack of emphasis on sports and other non-academic activities, perhaps especially in Asian countries.

One young lady, a student at Boston Latin School, back from a Junior year abroad at a high school in Beijing, reported in the Boston Globe that: "Chinese students, especially those in large cities or prosperous suburbs and counties and even some in impoverished rural areas, have a more rigorous curriculum than any American student, whether at Charlestown High, Boston Latin, or Exeter. These students work under pressure greater than the vast majority of U.S. students could imagine...teachers encourage outside reading of histories rather than fiction."

That is not to say that American (and foreign) high school students who do the work to get their history research papers published in The Concord Review don't get into colleges. So far, ninety have gone to Harvard, seventy-four to Yale, twelve to Oxford, and so on, but the point is that, unlike their football-paying peers, they are not contacted, visited and recruited in the same way.

The bottom line is that American colleges and universities, from their need to have competitive sports teams, are sending the message to all of our high school students (and their teachers) that, while academic achievement may help students get into college one day, what colleges are really interested in, and willing to contact them about, and visit them about, and take them for college visits about, and recruit them for, is their athletic achievement, not their academic achievement. What a stupid, self-defeating message to keep sending to our academically diligent secondary students (and their diligent teachers)!!

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

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Format War Clouds E-Book Horizon

Geoffrey Fowler:

Thinking about making the leap to digital books? First, you'll need to add a jumble of new lingo to your dictionary: .epub, pdb, BeBB, and Adobe Content Server 4, just to name a few.

The burgeoning marketplace for e-books is riddled with inconsistent and incompatible formats. That means there's often little guarantee that an e-book you buy from one online store, like the new Barnes & Noble store, will work on popular reading devices like's Kindle or Sony's Reader.

In fact, most popular reading devices and e-book stores use proprietary formats. Amazon only sells Kindle-format books (called ".azw"), which can only be viewed on its Kindle e-reader and with software Amazon has made for Apple's iPhone. Barnes & Noble uses a proprietary format (called ".pdb"), which can only be read with software the bookseller has made for PCs, iPhones and BlackBerrys.

That's why Sony won applause from some e-book watchers by announcing Thursday that its e-book store was switching from a proprietary format called BeBB to Epub, an open standard put together by an industry group called the International Digital Publishing Forum. Sony's Reader has long been able to open files in the Epub format.

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The case against national school standards: Obama's push would homogenize education even further

Andrew J. Coulson:

President Obama recently announced a $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" fund that he and Education Secretary Arne Duncan will use, among other things, to "reward states that come together and adopt a common set of standards and assessments." Duncan has championed uniform national standards as a key to educational improvement since taking office. "If we accomplish one thing in the coming years," he said back in February, "it should be to eliminate the extreme variation in standards across America."

That goal now seems within reach.

Both the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers recently stepped forward to lead the charge, and 46 states are already behind them. The day may soon come when every student in the country is expected to master the same material at the same age.

Let's hope that day never comes.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Dane County Expects Higher Property Tax Growth

Matthew DeFour:

For only the second time in 13 years, Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk said she won't be able to hold property tax growth to her self-imposed index.

Coupled with the value of existing Dane County residential property this year dropping $700 million, or 2 percent, that means homeowners may see a higher county property tax increase than usual.

County property tax increases have been relatively low in recent years because of the county's tremendous growth and Falk's practice of increasing the property tax levy by the rate of population growth plus inflation. But the index for next year would be based on inflation of 0.75 percent and population growth of 0.44 percent, or 1.19 percent -- "the lowest in recent memory," Falk wrote to the County Board.

If she stuck to the limit, the total tax levy would increase $1.4 million. But next year, Human Services faces $2 million in state cuts and the Sheriff's Office costs $1 million more just to maintain services.

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American High Education is Sliding Lower & Lower

Steve Salerno:

You may have heard about Trina Thompson. Unable to find work, she's suing her alma mater, Monroe College, to recover $70,000 in tuition. The Thompson case may not turn out to be the precedent-setter that some theorize, because Monroe makes unusually bold promises to students about post-college success.

But the sad truth is this: Practically all colleges are failing their students nowadays, and in most cases at far greater expense than Monroe failed Thompson.

Historically, criticism of education in America has targeted grade-school and secondary education. Indeed, perhaps the best thing about the K-12 is that in these polarized times, it is the great uniter: Maligned by liberals and conservatives, Christians and Jews, Red Sox fans and Yankee fans, and just about everyone else in the grand American cultural stew.

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Technical colleges foresee big growth

Amy Hetzner:

Technical colleges throughout the state are bracing for a fall enrollment boom, spurred by unemployed workers who need retraining and students looking for affordable alternatives to four-year universities.

The schools got a glimpse of the heightened demand last year when Blackhawk and Mid-State technical colleges were flooded with new enrollment, giving them double-digit percentage increases for the year. Overall enrollment for the Wisconsin Technical College System increased about 3.2% in 2008-'09, according to system spokeswoman Morna Foy.

But that was then.

"I think it's not going to be too far off to say we're expecting enrollment increases this year about 10% statewide, and that's pretty significant," Foy said.

Final numbers won't be apparent at the state's 16 schools until mid-September, when classes have started and students have settled in for the semester.

But most technical colleges are girding themselves based on what they've seen so far.

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Doyle, Barrett say mayor should pick Milwaukee Public Schools' leaders

Erin Richards & Larry Sandler:

Gov. Jim Doyle and Mayor Tom Barrett both said for the first time Thursday that achieving significant reform in Milwaukee Public Schools would require the mayor to lead the school system and select the next superintendent.

Mayoral control of the school system - a tactic that experts say has improved the academic and fiscal performance of some other urban districts - has been hinted at in Milwaukee since late spring, but wasn't formally endorsed until Doyle did so Thursday in an interview with a member of the Journal Sentinel's editorial board.

In addition to selecting the superintendent, Barrett said, the mayor should also appoint the School Board. Doyle did not commit to that but indicated he was open to new ways for the School Board to operate.

If done correctly, he added, changes to the governance of MPS could bring significant benefits to the district.

The comments from Doyle and Barrett, which were supported by state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, set off immediate criticism from Milwaukee School Board President Michael Bonds.

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August 14, 2009

Hillsborough schools and teachers' union join hands with Florida voucher advocates to train private school teachers

Tom Marshall:

On a normal day, oil and water just don't mix.

Public schools and teachers' unions don't say nice things about those who support school vouchers, sending kids to private schools with public money. Most of the time, such folks just don't get along.

But Wednesday wasn't a normal day.

In a move that experts are calling nearly unprecedented, the Hillsborough County schools and teachers' union have joined forces with a nonprofit Florida voucher group to help train private school teachers.

Step Up for Students -- which runs the state's tax credit voucher program -- plans to spend at least $100,000 on classes for teachers who serve its scholarship students, among the county's most economically disadvantaged children. The school district and union will provide space in the jointly developed Center for Technology and Education.

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Pa. education board OKs new high-school tests

Peter Jackson:

The state Board of Education on Thursday approved proposed new tests to measure Pennsylvania students' competence to graduate from high school.

The 14-2 vote clears the way for months of regulatory review of the proposed Keystone Exams, including scrutiny by the Legislature, where critics still could block the new requirements if they can muster majority support in both houses.

The Keystone Exams, developed after two years of discussion and revision, would replace the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests now administered in the 11th grade.

Students would take the exams on specific subjects as they complete their course work throughout their high school years , generally grades nine through 12. The scores would count as at least one-third of their final grade.

Proponents say the Keystones would more effectively measure student progress toward meeting statewide academic standards, reducing district-to-district discrepancies evident under the present system, while allowing local districts to substitute their own tests with state approval.

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Detroit School Woes Deepen

Alex Kellogg:

Five employees of the Detroit public school system were charged Wednesday with multiple felonies as part of an investigation into alleged corruption and the loss of tens of millions of dollars in school funds.

The charges come as the Detroit Public Schools is struggling with an estimated budget deficit of $259 million and weighing a potential bankruptcy filing.

Zuma Press
Robert Bobb, emergency financial manager for Detroit Public Schools, shown last week, is expected to decide this month whether to make a bankruptcy filing.
Kym Worthy, the prosecutor for Wayne County, announced the charges Wednesday. If convicted, the accused could face decades of jail time because Michigan law allows harsh penalties for public officials found guilty of wrongdoing.

The allegations include eight felony embezzlement charges against a district administrative staffer and a high-school teacher's aide who together allegedly embezzled more than $50,000. Another clerical worker at an elementary school was charged with writing checks and withdrawing roughly $25,000 of the district's money. The smallest alleged crime was related to a food-services employee accused of stealing more than $400 of lunch money at another elementary school.

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Expanding the Charter Option

Anne Marie Chaker:

Andrea Byrd, mother of two boys, had enough with her son's school. After she and her older son, Andrae, moved from Mississippi to Memphis a year ago, the formerly straight-A student "started dumbing himself down," she says, to fit in with the other boys at his new school.

"I needed to get my child into a school where there were high expectations," Ms. Byrd says. A charter school had recently opened nearby, but the 34-year-old single mom hesitated over getting an application since Tennessee law required her son to either be considered low-performing--which he wasn't--or attend a low-performing school--which he didn't--in order to get in. But all that changed a few weeks ago, when the state enacted a law for charter schools to also include students from low-income families. Two weeks ago, Ms. Byrd went into the Power Center Academy for an application. Later that same day, she got a call to say Andrae had been accepted.

The U.S. Education Department is engaged in a high-pressure campaign to get states to lift limits on charter schools through a $4 billion education fund, Race to the Top, that encourages more charters as one of the criteria for states to qualify for a piece of the pie. A total of 40 states and the District of Columbia permit charter schools.

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August 13, 2009

EDITORIAL: Revolutionize the classroom

Palm Beach Post:

We hope that the Palm Beach County School District gets the $120 million grant it's seeking from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. But first we need to deal with the infamous "70 percent" number.

In charts and text, the grant application says several times that only 30 percent of the district's 13,000 teachers are "effective." Which means that 70 percent must be "ineffective." Last week, Laura Green of The Post reported those percentages. Of course, teachers have been outraged.

In a "Management Letter" to employees, Superintendent Art Johnson blamed the media. He said it was "unfortunate" that The Post article "left teachers to believe that 70 percent of PBSD teachers are ineffective." He said that conclusion was based on a statistic in the application "which indicated that only 30 percent of PBSD reading and math teachers taught students who achieved MORE than a year's growth in the same year."

Dr. Johnson's blame-shifting is disingenuous. His explanation of the statistics is not in the Gates application, so Ms. Green could not have reported it based on that document. Rather than blame The Post, Dr. Johnson should have accepted responsibility for the confusion and moved on.

And now, we will move on - to the proposal itself. The remainder of the district's application contains remarkable candor and worthy goals. It also hints at - but does not nail down - how to achieve those goals. The foundation's money and a hefty chunk from the district would help provide those specifics.

A big goal is to close racial achievement gaps. The graduation rate for white students is 87 percent, but it's 20 points lower for Hispanics and 30 points lower for African-Americans - in a majority-minority district.

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Pittsburgh schools polish final pitch for big Gates grant

Joe Smydo:

Invited by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to compete for half a billion dollars in teacher-effectiveness grants, Tulsa Public Schools in Oklahoma put about 80 people to work on a proposal.

Pittsburgh Public Schools, also invited to apply, invested hundreds of employee hours on its plan and worked so closely with outside technical advisers, McKinsey and Co., that it gave them office space at district headquarters in Oakland.

Hillsborough County Public Schools in Florida assembled focus groups of teachers, administrators and community members to gather input for a proposal, which has been through nine or 10 drafts.

The proposals had to be turned in by Friday, but the unusually rigorous application process isn't over yet.

In all, 10 invitees -- most of them urban districts in various stages of broad improvement campaigns -- will meet Wednesday in Seattle to make presentations to Gates officials. Then they'll wait to see who is selected for prestigious Gates funding -- and wonder whether Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and his wife will have a hand in the decision-making.

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Little Hearts, Big Problems
Few Drugs or Devices to Treat Cardiovascular Disease Are Designed With Children in Mind

Ron Winslow:

Matthew Emmerling was just three days old and barely home from the hospital when his mother noticed his feet were unusually cold to the touch. Hours later, doctors determined that he was born with a critically narrowed aortic valve that prevented his heart from getting an adequate supply of blood to the rest of his body. He was in shock, and without quick intervention, his life was in danger.

To avoid risky open-heart surgery on the infant, doctors figured they could thread a tiny balloon into his heart and inflate it to stretch open the obstructed valve. The problem was that a balloon designed and approved to treat heart defects in patients as tiny as Matthew didn't exist. Instead, Robert Beekman, a pediatric cardiologist at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, chose an angioplasty balloon that normally serves a different function: opening up clogged kidney arteries in adults.

The adult kidney balloon "is the right size for a newborn's aortic valve, so we use it," Dr. Beekman says. But, he adds, using a device in small children that wasn't designed for that purpose puts them at heightened risk for procedural complications and medical errors.

Matthew's situation highlights an enduring reality for children born with life-threatening heart defects: Hardly any of the myriad drugs and devices developed for the multibillion-dollar market for cardiovascular disease are designed with kids in mind. Children with heart disease represent too small a segment of that market to justify companies' investing the time and resources needed to develop specialized products. Litigation worries over products intended for children--and the challenge of conducting clinical trials for treatments often administered to newborns--are other impediments.

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Three Peas in a Pod

Aaron Pallas:

Mike Bloomberg's comments at Monday's press conference announcing plans to extend a test-based promotion policy to grades four and six were eerily reminiscent of Arne Duncan's and Joel Klein's reactions to two reports on social promotion released by the Consortium on Chicago School Research in 2004. The Chicago Consortium, an independent research group studying Chicago schools, examined the effects of promotional gates at the third-, sixth- and eighth-grade levels. (I reviewed one of the draft reports at the request of the Consortium.) The findings were unequivocal: Test-based retention did not alter the achievement trajectories of third-graders, and sixth-graders who were retained had lower achievement growth than similar low-achieving students who were promoted. Implementing the eighth-grade promotional gate reduced overall dropout rates slightly, but clearly lowered the likelihood of high school graduation for very low achievers and students who were already overage for grade at the time they reached the gate.

David Herszenhorn, writing in the New York Times at the time, described a Chicago press conference releasing the reports. He quoted Arne Duncan, then the chief executive of the Chicago public schools, as saying, "Common sense tells you that ending social promotion has contributed to higher test scores and lower dropout rates over the last eight years ... I am absolutely convinced in my heart, it's the right thing to do." Herszenhorn delicately noted that Duncan made claims about the promotional policies that were not supported by the two reports. "While the report drew no such conclusion," he wrote, "[Duncan] credited the tough promotion rules for improvements in the system as a whole, including better overall test scores, higher graduation and attendance rates and a lower overall dropout rate."

In the same article, Herszenhorn suggested that NYC Chancellor Joel Klein had "seemed to push aside the findings." He cited a statement by Klein that, "The Chicago study strongly supports our view that effective early grade interventions are key to ending social promotion and preparing students for the hard work they will encounter in later grades." Klein's statement was patently false: the Chicago studies didn't examine early grade interventions. Rather, authors Jenny Nagaoka and Melissa Roderick pointed out that a great many students in Chicago were struggling well before the third-grade promotional gate, suggesting the desirability of early intervention with struggling students.

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Pay Wisconsin teachers for performance

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

"You're finally going to begin to see some innovation in teacher compensation."
-- Gov. Jim Doyle

It's about time.

For too long, Wisconsin public school teachers have earned their pay based on years of service and advanced degrees.

Their performance wasn't a factor.

Finally, it appears, that's going to change, thanks to pressure from President Barack Obama and his reform-minded Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Obama recently announced $4.35 billion in competitive grants for states that propose innovative ways to improve student achievement, especially among disadvantaged students. But to qualify for Obama's "Race to the Top" grants, states must allow local school districts to use student test scores in evaluating teachers -- something Wisconsin law now bans.

Duncan recently called Wisconsin's law "simply ridiculous." And Rep. Brett Davis, R-Oregon, and Sen. Randy Hopper, R-Fond du Lac, introduced legislation Tuesday to repeal the state's silly ban on pay for performance.

No one is suggesting that testing be the only factor in evaluating teachers. Moreover, the focus should be on student progress over time -- not a single test. School districts should compare student performance at the beginning of a school year with their performance at the end to help gauge the effectiveness of teachers and teaching techniques.

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Buckling up on a Janesville School Bus

George Hesselberg:

The first of what will surely be many, many sighs emitted by school children here came at about 10:30 a.m. Wednesday from a serious 7-year-old, Sullivan Saliby, as he buckled his seat belt in a brand new school bus.

That's right, his seat belt.

Sullivan and his sister, Emily, 12, were recruited along with Keaton Eichman, 14, and Kaleb Eichman, 19, to try out the first full-size seat-belt-equipped bus in a Wisconsin school district. The Janesville School District took delivery Wednesday of five school buses, purchased via Van Galder Bus Co.

The buses, Saf-T-Liner C2 models from the Thomas Bus Co. in North Carolina, are the rolling result of an 18-month effort to bring seat belts to school buses in Janesville. Whether the rest of the fleet of more than 30 full-size buses will eventually be similarly equipped has not been decided. Seat belts are not required on full-size school buses.

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Minnesota Education commissioner responds to test results

Minnesota Public Radio:

Education Commissioner Alice Seagren joins Midday to discuss the latest test results, which show more than 1,000 Minnesota schools did not make "adequate yearly progress" under the No Child Left Behind law.

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August 12, 2009

Six States in National Governor's Association Center Pilot Project See Rise in Number of Students Taking and Succeeding on AP Exams

NGA [Complete Report 1.6MB PDF]:

To maintain the competitiveness of America's workforce and ensure that U.S. students are prepared to succeed in college, states increasingly are recognizing the importance of offering a rigorous, common education curriculum that includes Advancement Placement (AP) courses. A new report from the NGA Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) titled Raising Rigor, Getting Results: Lessons Learned from AP Expansion, has demonstrated that it is possible for states to raise rigor and get results at scale by increasing student access to AP courses.

The report looks at the efforts of six states--Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maine, Nevada and Wisconsin--that received funding as part of the NGA Center's Advanced Placement Expansion project toincrease the participation of minority and low-income students in AP courses at 51 pilot high schools in rural and urban school districts.

"Nationwide, hundreds of thousands of smart, ambitious students have the ability, but lack the opportunity, to get a head start on college through AP courses," said John Thomasian, director of the NGA Center. "With nearly two-thirds of jobs in 2014 expected to require at least some college, this report demonstrates that increasing students' participation in challenging coursework bolsters their ability to compete in a highly skilled, 21st century workforce."

Madison East High School ranked "19th in this list of increases in enrollment by pilot school"

Related: Dane County High School AP Course Offerings and proposed Madison School District Talented & Gifted Plan.

Amy Hetzner has more.

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The Madison School District = General Motors?

A provocative headline.

Last Wednesday, Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman spoke to the Madison Rotary Club on "What Wisconsin's Public Education Model Needs to Learn from General Motors Before it is too late." 7MB mp3 audio (the audio quality is not great, but you can hear the talk if you turn up the volume!).

Zimman's talk ranged far and wide. He discussed Wisconsin's K-12 funding formula (it is important to remember that school spending increases annually (from 1987 to 2005, spending grew by 5.10% annually in Wisconsin and 5.25% in the Madison School District), though perhaps not in areas some would prefer.

"Beware of legacy practices (most of what we do every day is the maintenance of the status quo), @12:40 minutes into the talk - the very public institutions intended for student learning has become focused instead on adult employment. I say that as an employee. Adult practices and attitudes have become embedded in organizational culture governed by strict regulations and union contracts that dictate most of what occurs inside schools today. Any impetus to change direction or structure is met with swift and stiff resistance. It's as if we are stuck in a time warp keeping a 19th century school model on life support in an attempt to meet 21st century demands." Zimman went on to discuss the Wisconsin DPI's vigorous enforcement of teacher licensing practices and provided some unfortunate math & science teacher examples (including the "impossibility" of meeting the demand for such teachers (about 14 minutes)). He further cited exploding teacher salary, benefit and retiree costs eating instructional dollars ("Similar to GM"; "worry" about the children given this situation).

Zimman noted that the most recent State of Wisconsin Budget removed the requirement that arbitrators take into consideration revenue limits (a district's financial condition @17:30) when considering a District's ability to afford union negotiated compensation packages. The budget also added the amount of teacher preparation time to the list of items that must be negotiated..... "we need to breakthrough the concept that public schools are an expense, not an investment" and at the same time, we must stop looking at schools as a place for adults to work and start treating schools as a place for children to learn."

In light of this talk, It has been fascinating to watch (and participate in) the intersection of:

Several years ago, former Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater remarked that "sometimes I think we have 25,000 school districts, one for each child".

I found Monday evening's school board meeting interesting, and perhaps indicative of the issues Zimman noted recently. Our public schools have an always challenging task of trying to support the growing range of wants, needs and desires for our 24,180 students, staff members, teachers, administrators, taxpayers and parents. Monday's topics included:

I've not mentioned the potential addition of 4K, high school redesign or other topics that bubble up from time to time.

In my layperson's view, taking Zimman's talk to heart, our public schools should dramatically shrink their primary goals and focus on only the most essential topics (student achievement?). In Madison's case, get out of the curriculum creation business and embrace online learning opportunities for those students who can excel in that space while devoting staff to the kids who need them most. I would also like to see more opportunities for our students at MATC, the UW, Edgewood College and other nearby institutions. Bellevue (WA) College has a "running start" program for the local high school.

Chart via Whitney Tilson.

Richard Zimman closed his talk with these words (@27 minutes): "Simply throwing more money at schools to continue as they are now is not the answer. We cannot afford more of the same with just a bigger price tag".

General Motors as formerly constituted is dead. What remains is a much smaller organization beholden to Washington. We'll see how that plays out. The Madison School District enjoys significant financial, community and parental assets. I hope the Administration does just a few things well.

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The Best Colleges

David Ewalt & Hana Alberts:

Forbes' list of public and private colleges and universities ranks the best schools--from the students' point of view.

The best college in America has an 11:30 p.m. curfew. It doesn't allow alcohol in the dorms, which must be kept meticulously clean. Students have to keep their hair neat, their shoes shined, their clothes crisply pressed. They also receive a world-class education, at no cost, and incur no debt--except for a duty to their country.

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10 online textbooks ready for use in California classrooms

Seema Mehta:

Painting online textbooks as a boon to student achievement and school district coffers, state Education Secretary Glen Thomas announced today that 10 free digital high school math and science textbooks are ready to be used in California classrooms.

The likelihood of students tapping them when schools open in a couple of weeks is slim, because of school districts' textbook-adoption policies and teacher training needs, but Thomas said the move marks the first step in something that will revolutionize education in California.

"This is a groundbreaking initiative," he told more than 100 representatives of schools, technology companies and others gathered at the Orange County Department of Education. "We think that technology is one of the ways to reform and improve education."

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A Hard Lesson for Teachers

Dana Mattioli:

Widespread layoffs caused by tight school budgets are forcing thousands of teachers out of the classroom, in some cases, permanently. Many are taking other jobs or considering changing careers, even as they anxiously hope to be recalled.

When school begins this month, as many as 100,000 of last year's teachers won't have jobs, resulting in an overall drop in education jobs in the U.S., estimates Carmen Quesada, director of field operations for the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers' union.

That's a jolt to people drawn to teaching in part for its recession-proof reputation. The number of people working in local education has increased every year since 1983, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That streak is now in jeopardy: Local schools employed fewer people overall, including nonteachers, in July, the latest month available, than in July 2008. The majority of the layoffs have involved nontenure teaching positions, with cuts determined by seniority.

Judith Franco is among those affected. She taught typing and business technology at Westglades Middle School in Parkland, Fla., for two years before being laid off in June--one of 394 teachers laid off by the Broward County Public Schools.

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Out of College at 17, and en Route to Law School at 19: A Father's Perspective

Jacques Steinberg:

We've published more than 100 comments on our post yesterday about Kate McLaughlin, the California teenager who has already graduated from college and is en route to law school.

Some of you applauded her accomplishments, and her family's willingness to allow her to fast-track her education. Others saw it as too much too soon. And still others weighed in on whether the law was an appropriate career choice. Many of you wrote that you could identify with Ms. McLaughlin.

Missing from the conversation -- other than in the original article in the Orange County Register -- were the voices of Ms. McLaughlin and her parents. Earlier today, though, we received a comment sent by Kate's father, John McLaughlin. We then had a brief phone conversation in which he told me that some of the criticisms posted by readers echoed those that have been lobbed at the family for much of his daughter's life.

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Admissions 101: College Pitfalls for Poor Students

Jay Matthews:

It's conventional wisdom that talented, but underpriveleged, students are often turned away from college for lack of funds. Jay Mathews tried to dispell that idea in a column this week. He asked for readers to throw out examples of such students. No one wrote in.

Jay wrote the real challenge for needy students is not getting into school, but staying in once the scholarship and aid money runs short. Jay proposed investing money to keep these kids in school. The column has generated a significant amount of email and Jay has thrown the topic open for discussion over at Admissions 101:

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Milwaukee boarding school plan revived, tweaked

Erin Richards:

When a proposal for a public boarding school in Milwaukee failed to win financial support from state lawmakers this summer, the concept of a college preparatory boarding school for local, urban teens appeared dead.

But now, Milwaukee Board of School Directors President Michael Bonds is reviving the idea, with a twist:

He wants to open a boarding school for 150 high school students next fall that would operate as a charter school by an organization other than MPS. The district would provide funding for the day school, while the charter school would handle the costs of supervision and instruction outside of normal academic hours.

"It's an opportunity to provide at-risk kids an environment that's conducive to learning," Bonds said. "We would have to put out a (request) to see what kinds of proposals are out there. There may be models of boarding schools that are feasible academically and economically."

Members of the School Board's Innovation/School Reform committee will vote on Bonds' boarding school resolution Tuesday. It would put the board on record for supporting the idea and ask for outside proposals.

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August 11, 2009

Picking junior's teacher: Should parents weigh in?

Diana Marszalek:

After doing some research, including sitting in on classrooms, Valerie Gilbert thought she knew which third-grade teacher would be perfect for her son, Stanley.

Impressed by that teacher's creative, visually stimulating style, the Berkeley, Calif., mother lobbied on Stanley's behalf. "I did my best to make my opinion known," Gilbert said.

The school, however, placed Stanley in a different class. And to his mother's surprise and delight, the year wound up being so successful for him that Gilbert said she is approaching his pending entry into fourth grade in a new way: by vowing to stay out of the process.

"I'm learning to be more open-minded," she said.

With parents becoming increasingly involved in their children's lives and educations, Gilbert's foray into her son's classroom placement process is not unique, particularly around this time of year when anxieties about the coming school year run high.

Ms. Cornelius has more.

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Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, educational kingmaker

Nia-Malika Henderson:

When Arne Duncan was the head of the Chicago public schools, one of the calls he dreaded most came from a certain federal bureaucracy -- the Department of Education.

"It wasn't a call about teaching kids to read," Duncan recalled. "It was a call about a compliance report or something."

Now Duncan sits atop the Education Department -- meaning he's the one making those calls to school systems across the country, hoping to reshape education and the role of the federal government in what traditionally has been a state and local effort.

With nearly $5 billion in stimulus funds at his disposal, Duncan has the chance to be a sort of educational kingmaker, doling out money to states as he sees fit. He's also got something intangible but just as important -- a close friend in the White House, in President Barack Obama.

And that's a combination that some are saying could end up making Duncan the most powerful education secretary in the history of the job.

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Wealthy Suburbs Accept Low-Income Homes

Nick Timiraos:

Westchester County, a mostly affluent suburb outside New York City, agreed Monday to build hundreds of affordable housing units in heavily white communities, part of a settlement that could challenge other U.S. counties to expand housing for minorities.

The settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Housing and Urban Development ended a $180 million federal lawsuit brought by the Anti-Discrimination Center of Metro New York, a nonprofit housing group in New York, over Westchester's responsibility to enforce fair housing laws.

Westchester, which runs along New York City's northern boundary, will spend more than $50 million over the next seven years to build or acquire 750 homes, including at least 630 in cities with few minorities.

Federal housing officials portrayed the settlement as a warning sign they would step up enforcement on communities that accept federal money for housing redevelopment.

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"School Answering Machine Message"

Via a kind reader's email. mp3 audio.

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Pilot math project involves SRI, USF and Helios Education Foundation

Tampa Bay Business Journal:

SunBay Digital Mathematics, a math education pilot project, began this week in Pinellas County.

The Helios Education Foundation and the Pinellas County School District are partnering with SRI International and the University of South Florida's College of Education in a project to set the direction for middle school mathematics, a release said.

The one-year project involves 15 seventh-grade teachers in seven Pinellas schools. They will attend workshops and monthly meetings focused on using technology-based curriculum based on advanced math concepts.

The Pinellas Education Foundation is the fiscal agent for funding the project.

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Monona Grove School District "Tentative" Goals

Peter Sobol:

The board met 7/22 to discuss district goals for the coming year. The tentative goals, which we will be discussing at Wednesday's board meeting are currently:

1) Achieve measureable increase in student achievement in core academic areas using these assessments: DIBELS, MAP , WKCE, EXPLORE, PLAN and ACT.

2) Develop measures ot assess student achievement in Encore areas and electives.

3) Align curriculum, instruction and assessment wiht standards/skill in core academic areas as defined by DIBELS, MAP , WKCE, EXPLORE, PLAN and ACT.

4) Close the achievement gaps with attention to race, ethnicity and socio economic status, using measureable assessments provide DIBELS, MAP , WKCE, EXPLORE, PLAN and ACT and reduce disproportionality with regard to placement of minority students in special edcuation.

Monona Grove School District.

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MPS struggling to create stable corps of principals

Alan Borsuk:

To be a successful principal, Julia D'Amato says, you need to be "a 29-baller."

That's someone who can juggle 29 balls at the same time, not dropping any of them. That's what it feels like to run a school, says D'Amato, principal of Reagan High School, the south side school she has led from birth in 2003 to the top bracket of Milwaukee high schools now.

It's hard to find people who can juggle like that.

And it's hard for Milwaukee Public Schools to find top-notch people to lead approximately 200 schools.

As a new school year approaches, MPS is struggling with creating a strong, stable corps of principals. How so?

More than 20% of elementary and kindergarten-through-eighth-grade schools have someone different at the helm now than a year ago, and turnover in recent years has, in general, been high. MPS officials say there are 58 principals with three years of experience or less, almost one-third of the total.

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August 10, 2009

$11,654,078 Additional Madison School District Spending Via the Federal Taxes & US Treasury Borrowing ("Stimulus")

Madison School District Superintendent Dan Nerad [838K PDF]:

As part of Federal Stimulus funding iliat will be made available the district will receive American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds to be used over a two year period.

These funds are in IDEA, IDEA EC and Title 1.

Program Costs/FundingiConsultation Service Employment Contract

The district has prepared a two year funding proposal along with a budget analysis for 2009-10 and 2010-11 for each of the sources for your review. The proposal amounts are as follows:

IDEA - $6,199,552
IDEA EC - $293,082
Title I - $5,161,444

Salary Savings
The funding proposals would increase FTE's and include funding sources during the two year period of the ARRA funds

The proposal includes quite a bit of professional development, such as $400,000 for dual language immersion, $1.48M for 4K staff and $456,000 for 4K furniture and $100,000 for talented & gifted assessment.

Plan B, without 4K spending, includes $1,150,000 for professional development in the following areas: Topics include universal design, differentiation, mental health,
inclusive practices, autism, and quality IEPs.

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The growth of home-schooling
Barack Obama could hasten the spread of educating children at home

The Economist:

THE first thing you notice about Karen Allen's house is that it is spotless. Even in her teenage boys' bedrooms, not a thing is out of place. And her boys, Thomas and Taylor, are polite and engaging. Your correspondent found himself being grilled about his travels by a boy who had clearly Googled him. In this household, every chance to learn something new is eagerly seized, explains Mrs Allen.

The Allens are home-schoolers. Instead of sending their children to a public (non-fee-paying) or private school, they teach them at home. They are far from alone. A generation ago, home-schooling was rare and, in many states, illegal. Now, according to the Department of Education, there are roughly 1.5m home-schooled students in America, a number that has doubled in a decade. That is about 3% of the school-age population. The National Home Education Research Institute puts the number even higher, at between 1.8m and 2.5m.

Why do people teach their children at home? Many of the earliest were hippies who thought public schools repressive and ungroovy. Now they are far more likely to be religious conservatives. At a public school, says Mrs Allen, her boys would get neither much individual attention nor any Christian instruction. At home they get plenty of both.

In a 2007 survey by the Department of Education, 88% of home-schooling parents said that their local public schools were unsafe, drug-ridden or unwholesome in some way. Some 73% complained of shoddy academic standards. And 83% said they wanted to instil religious or moral values in their children--a number that has risen from 72% in 2003.

I think the article overplays the religious angle.

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District Wide Dual Immersion Proposal for the Madison Public Schools

Click for a larger version, or download one page pdf document here.


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Local Program Teaches Teenagers How To Join Workforce


Despite good news this past week about the nation's unemployment rate, the job market remains tough.

But one group in particular - teenagers - is facing harder prospects than ever.
In fact, the employment rate nationwide for 16- to 19-year-olds is only about 29 percent, which is the lowest recorded rate for teens in history.

Now a local group, Common Wealth Development, is hoping to change teenagers' employment fortunes.

One local employed teen, LaFollette High School senior Cieria Childress, finds bagging groceries at Metcalfe's Sentry to be a pleasure.

In the six months since she landed her job, Childress has learned many life lessons - including simply being thankful to be employed.

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The truth about grit
Modern science builds the case for an old-fashioned virtue - and uncovers new secrets to success

Jonah Lehrer:

It's the single most famous story of scientific discovery: in 1666, Isaac Newton was walking in his garden outside Cambridge, England - he was avoiding the city because of the plague - when he saw an apple fall from a tree. The fruit fell straight to the earth, as if tugged by an invisible force. (Subsequent versions of the story had the apple hitting Newton on the head.) This mundane observation led Newton to devise the concept of universal gravitation, which explained everything from the falling apple to the orbit of the moon.

There is something appealing about such narratives. They reduce the scientific process to a sudden epiphany: There is no sweat or toil, just a new idea, produced by a genius. Everybody knows that things fall - it took Newton to explain why.

Unfortunately, the story of the apple is almost certainly false; Voltaire probably made it up. Even if Newton started thinking about gravity in 1666, it took him years of painstaking work before he understood it. He filled entire vellum notebooks with his scribbles and spent weeks recording the exact movements of a pendulum. (It made, on average, 1,512 ticks per hour.) The discovery of gravity, in other words, wasn't a flash of insight - it required decades of effort, which is one of the reasons Newton didn't publish his theory until 1687, in the "Principia.

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Property Tax Implications of the Madison School District 09/10 Budget Deficit

Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad [100K PDF]:

The 2009-11 State of Wisconsin Biennial budget created two issues for the Madison Metropolitan School District as it relates to the 2009-10 budget. The two main issues are from a reduction in the amount of revenue the school district is projected to receive in 2009-10 and a reduction in the amount of state aid the school district is projected to receive in 2009-10.

The amount of revenue the district is projected to lose amounts to $2,810,851 for the 2009-10 school year compared to the preliminary budget approved by the board of education, This amount is due to the decrease in numerous categorical aids the school district receives annually and the reduction of the per pupil increase from $275 per child to $200 per child.

The amount of state aid the school district is projected to lose is in 2009-10 is approximately $9.2 million, Under current revenue limit laws, for every dollar of state aid lost, the school district would have the ability to increase taxes by that same amount. Over the past month, administration has worked to mitigate the tax impact due to the loss in state aid.

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Duncan on Chicago School Violence

Mary Mitchell:

.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan got a painful reminder last week that not enough has been done to save schoolchildren from violence.

On July 25, Christina Waters, 18, was shot in the head in the 8700 block of South Wood after leaving a picnic.

Waters' best friend, Kris Owens, was wounded in the attack. Waters remains in a coma, fighting for her life.

Duncan was in Florida, heading for Chicago, when people started calling and e-mailing him about the tragedy.

Waters had attended Ariel Community Academy, a small school founded by John W. Rogers Jr., head of Ariel Investments. The school is part of the Ariel Education Initiative, which Duncan led before becoming the Chicago Public Schools CEO.

Best friends since childhood, Duncan and Rogers went to see Waters together.

Duncan was in town to discuss the U.S. Department of Education's "Race to the Top" fund. The will award states an unprecedented amount of money to dramatically overhaul schools.

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KIPP 15th Anniversary Gala Photos, Videos, Notes & Links and The Case for School Reform

Knowledge is Power Program

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August 9, 2009

A middle school for the artist

Jessica Jordan:

An educational dream pitched by three Hall County teachers takes flight Monday when 120 students and six teachers come together for the first day of school at the da Vinci Academy.

The pilot program provides innovative learning opportunities for gifted students with a penchant for the arts and sciences. But that's only half of the reason it's making a splash with educators across the Southeast. The program also will operate at about 60 percent to 70 percent of the cost per student compared to a traditional middle school, Hall County school Superintendent Will Schofield said.

Though states have made unprecedented cuts to public school funds, educators are trying to make the most of every penny while pushing programs that engage students and get results.

Schofield said the da Vinci Academy is a great example of how schools can do more with less.

"I think it truly is some Renaissance thinking is these difficult times," he said. "It's the exciting side of chaotic and difficult times.

That's when you see the best in people and that's when you see the worst in people, and I think what we're seeing is the best in terms of innovative thinking, new ways of doing something that we've done the same way for a long time.

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Madison School District Elementary Math Curriculum Purchases

Superintendent Dan Nerad [64K PDF]:

MMSD has begun a three-year implementation plan to achieve an equitable and balanced mathematics program at tbe elementary level. The plan was developed and refined through collaboration with teachers, Instructional Resource Teachers and principals over the course of the past several years. The plan includes the materials described below (details via this 64K PDF),

With the attached order, MMSD has provided each classroom teacher in the District with a Learning Mathematics in the Primary/Intermediate Grades instructional guide and the set of teacher resources from the Investigations program. The third component of the teacher materials is Teaching Student Centered Mathematics by John Van de Walle, which is in place in most classrooms but will continue to be ordered using ELM or Title I funds, as necessary. Additional professional resources have been or are being purchased at the building level to create a library available for all staff to access as needed. Those resources include Primary Mathematics textbooks and teacher guides, Thinking Mathematically and Children's Mathematics by Thomas Carpenter, Teaching Number series from Wright, among other recommended titles.

MMSD has provided all Title I schools with the Primary Mathematics (Singapore) workbooks and Extra Practice workbooks for the 2009-2010 school year. All manipulatives have been ordered for Title I schools over tbe past two years and are in place. Non-Title I schools have been and will continue to use ELM funds to purchase tbe student components for the implementation of a balanced mathematics classroom.


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As Classrooms Go Digital, Textbooks Are History

Tamar Lewin:

At Empire High School in Vail, Ariz., students use computers provided by the school to get their lessons, do their homework and hear podcasts of their teachers' science lectures.

Down the road, at Cienega High School, students who own laptops can register for "digital sections" of several English, history and science classes. And throughout the district, a Beyond Textbooks initiative encourages teachers to create -- and share -- lessons that incorporate their own PowerPoint presentations, along with videos and research materials they find by sifting through reliable Internet sites.

Textbooks have not gone the way of the scroll yet, but many educators say that it will not be long before they are replaced by digital versions -- or supplanted altogether by lessons assembled from the wealth of free courseware, educational games, videos and projects on the Web.

"Kids are wired differently these days," said Sheryl R. Abshire, chief technology officer for the Calcasieu Parish school system in Lake Charles, La. "They're digitally nimble. They multitask, transpose and extrapolate. And they think of knowledge as infinite.

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Oregon's a slow starter in race to better schools

The Oregonian:

Public school systems, like cross-country teams, are only as good as their slowest runners.

Oregon has to remember that as it toes the starting line in the Race for the Top, a competition for $4 billion in stimulus money the Obama administration is offering to states that demonstrate they are ready to adopt serious school reforms, and run with them.

As hard as it is to admit, that doesn't sound much like Oregon. This is a state where the Democratic Legislature, urged on by the state teachers union, just passed a law blocking the expansion of popular virtual charter schools. It's a place where charter schools, performance pay for teachers and other reforms strongly supported by President Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, are disdained by most of the educational establishment.

Yes, there are Oregon schools, and some entire districts, doing creative, impressive things. The Oregonian's Betsy Hammond last week described the tremendous effort by teachers and administrators that led Clackamas High School to become the largest high school in Oregon to reach every federal performance target. There are many other pioneering, innovative efforts in places such as Redmond, Forest Grove, Sherwood, Beaverton and Tillamook

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Who's holding royal flush in MPS superintendent search?

Alan Borsuk:

The Milwaukee School Board took its stand last week on how it will play Superintendent Draw, the big-time game of poker coming up for Milwaukee schools:

With a lot of money in the pot and the usual players at the table.

But the politics and atmosphere surrounding the search for a school chief could be overshadowed by an even bigger and more colorful game: MPS Hold 'Em, in which the battle is over who calls the shots when it comes to directing the state's largest and most challenging school system.

MPS Hold 'Em has been brewing for months, particularly since the release of a consultant's report in April that described MPS as a poorly run business. That triggered talk of a mayoral takeover of MPS or other changes in the system.

Now it is shaping up that MPS Hold 'Em will either come to a head soon or the game will cease for at least the foreseeable future.

Why is MPS Hold 'Em linked to Superintendent Draw? Two reasons:

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The fruitful alliance of Arne Duncan and Rupert Murdoch

Elizabeth Green:

The New York Post patted its own back today, hard, for helping the state renew the mayor's control of the public schools. The surprising thing is that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined in, thanking the newspaper, owned by the ambitious Rupert Murdoch, for its "leadership" and "thoughtfulness."

New York City newspapers have a proud tradition of waging campaigns both on and off the editorial page, and then congratulating themselves when they hit their marks. But having a cabinet member for a sitting president join the cheering is more unusual.

"I think that must be out of context, that Arne Duncan is giving the Post credit for mayoral control," the president of the principals' union, Ernest Logan, said when I called to ask his impression.

Richard Colvin, who directs the Hechinger Institute for education journalism at Columbia University, said he found the whole news story baffling. "It reads like nothing I've ever seen. It reads like the worst kind of back-patting, self-congratulatory press release that has no perspective whatsoever," he said.

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Speaking of Fine Arts: 2009 Suzuki Camp @ UW-Stevens Point

2009 Suzuki Performance University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point from Jim Zellmer. Aber Suzuki Center.

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August 8, 2009

Madison Public Schools' Arts education gets needed support

Anne Katz & Barbara Schrank, co-chairwomen, MMSD Arts Task Force, via a kind reader's email:

Kudos and thanks to the Madison School District Board of Education and Superintendent Dan Nerad for their support of arts education opportunities for all students, with additional thanks to members of the Arts Education Task Force.

The task force of art teachers and citizens has worked since 2007 with Board members and administrative and teaching staff on a plan that supports, enhances and sustains arts education in Madison's public schools. The Board approved the plan on July 20.

In adopting the plan, the Board showed support of the arts as a priority for a quality public education.

The process took hard work by committee members, administrative and teaching staff and input from over 1,000 community members who have been thoughtful, inquisitive and dedicated to nurturing students' talent and creativity through the arts. These plans will move forward with leadership, support and a strong partnership between the district and the community.

We are proud to live in a community with educational leaders who understand that arts and creativity are essential components of a 21st century education.

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1 Year Summary of Madison's Implementation of "Standards Based Report Cards"

Notes and links on "Standards Based Report Cards" here.
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Proposed Madison School District Talented & Gifted Plan

Madison School District Superintendent Dan Nerad's memo [100K PDF] on the Proposed Talented & Gifted Plan [1.2MB PDF]:

Wisconsin Administrative Rule 8.01 (2)(t)2 states that each school district shall establish a plan and designate a person to coordinate the gifted and talented program. The previous Talented and Gifted (TAG) Plan approved by the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) Board was in 1991. 2008-09 highlighted several independent yet related events which served to underscore both the urgency of and District-wide benefit for an updated Plan. Among the events that converged to result in the need to update the Talented and Gifted Plan were:
  • Superintendent Dr. Daniel Nerad was hired in July 2008. Dr. Nerad recognized the need for addressing the issues related to Talented and Gifted programming;
  • The last TAG Plan (1991) approved by the District was found by the DPI to be out of compliance;
  • An increase in open enrollment leaving the District spurred conversation regarding strategies to attract and retain students;
  • Families leaving the District were surveyed to gather information regarding their reasons for leaving MMSD. A desire for improved Talented and Gifted programming was one of several emerging themes; and
  • A new Strategic Plan was developed through extensive community involvement. The Strategic Plan clearly demands a rigorous and challenging education for all students.
Process In response to the events described above, the Superintendent charged the Teaching & Learning TAG Division to develop a process to create an updated Plan. The TAG Division met on a regular basis to define major areas for improvement in alignment with the National Association for Gifted Children standards. A Talented and Gifted Advisory Committee comprised of 30 members was convened in early spring. This group met five times between February and June to provide input and critique the evolving draft. The Superintendent and TAG Coordinator hosted a community input session on March 26. Senior Management, Instructional Council and Principals reviewed drafts and provided input. In order to ensure a timely and high quality Plan, a subcommittee of the Talented and Gifted Advisory Committee was invited to continue to work with TAG staff to complete the Plan during June and July.

There have been significant challenges in the process leading to the development of the enclosed plan. These challenges include communication, changes in leadership and an evolving level of District and community trust in MMSD's commitment to providing high quality education for all stUdents. Overcoming these challenges is an on-going process, one captured in the language of the plan with respect to continual improvement. Although there are aspects of current MMSD talented and gifted programming that are sound and valued, the need for overall structural improvements and re-vitalization is recognized byal!.
In addition to the TAG Division staff, we sincerely appreciate the members of the TAG Advisory Committee for their extraordinary gift of time and dedication toward creating this plan. Special recognition goes to TAG Advisory Subcommittee members Kerry Berns, Bettine Lipman, Laurie Frost, Chris Gomez Schmidt and Carole Trone for their continuing support and input through the final draft of this plan.

MMSD Strategic Planning The enclosed TAG Plan aligns, supports and strengthens important aspects of the Strategic Plan. In particular, the TAG Plan undergirds District-wide efforts to: enhance assessments to guide appropriate levels of instruction; accelerate learning for all students; embed differentiation as core practice in all classrooms; and map and develop a comprehensive and articulated curriculum K-12 in order to increase curricular rigor for all students.

Executive Plan Summary Based upon the framework set forth by the National Association for Gifted and Children standards and areas identified by MMSD for improvement, eight key goal areas addressed in this Plan are:

Goal 1. Comprehensive Identification Process. Develop and maintain an equitable and inclusive identification process for students who exhibit gifted characteristics in the 5 domains.

Action Steps -Expand repertoire of assessment tools and improve use and implementation of existing tools. Ensure identification process is non-biased and serves to equitably identify students from underserved populations

Goal 2. Programming Options for Identified Students. Design and implement a continuum of systematic and continuous K-12 curricula and programming options in the five domains of giftedness in order to meet individual student needs.

Action Steps -Increase curricular rigor in all classes and increase advanced course options at the secondary level. Develop District-wide consistent grouping practices.

Goal 3. Individualized Student Planning. Develop and maintain a Differentiated Education Plan (DEP) for each identified student that systematically records assessments and plans.

Action Steps -Design a DEP with expanding capability for each TAG domain and corresponding program options.

Goal 4. Socio-emotional Support. Develop and maintain a system for meeting the socio-emotional needs of identified students.

Action Steps -Research, develop and collaboratively pilot non-academic supports to address the socio-emotional needs of identified students including underserved populations.

Goal 5. Professional Development. Facilitate the design and implement professional development opportunities for teachers, administrators and staff to support research-based best practices, expand the knowledge of current talented and gifted research and Wisconsin state laws and dispel misconceptions about talented and gifted education and students.

Action Steps -Facilitate collaborative professional development for target audiences including administrators and teacher leaders at all levels.

Goal 6. Use of Available Technology -Expand relevant technological capabilities to increase ease and efficiency of identification, creation and maintenance of DEP's and monitoring program accountability.

Action Steps -In collaboration with Research and Evaluation, design and implement an electronic DEP to interface with student data.

Goal 7. Consistent and Effective Communication Develop and maintain consistent and effective systems for communicating about talented and gifted education throughout the District and community.

Action Steps -Design Resource Guide, enhance web-based communications and provide regular updates to target audiences.

Goal 8. On-going Program Evaluation -Conduct an on-going evaluation to ensure program effectiveness and program alignment with the MMSD Strategic Plan, State of Wisconsin statutes and administrative rules and the National Association for Gifted Children standards.

Action Steps -Design an evaluation process to determine quality and effectiveness of TAG programming. Provide review and updates to target audiences at specified intervals.

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August 7, 2009

East High School Principal Steps Down Harris Takes Job In Racine School District

Via a kind reader's email:

Alan Harris has stepped down as principal at East High School.

Harris is taking a job in the Racine School District, WISC-TV reported.

Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Dan Nerad said he will look at all available candidates, including an interim candidate, as school starts in 26 days.

Harris was the third principal at East High School since the spring of 2002, when the late Milt McPike retired after 23 years there.

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An Education Lived

David Steiner [PDF], via a kind reader's email:

Two lucky accidents served to take this education out of the realms of the ordinary.

First, the Perse had, years earlier, been home to a remarkable teacher of English who had invented something called the "mummery system." The English classrooms had as a result been converted into mummeries--small theatres complete with stages, costumes, lights, and sound. Four mornings a week, half the class would perform scenes from Shakespeare while the other half would watch and then critique. On some of these days, we would instead have to recite poems or engage in debates with our classmates. On the fifth day we would discuss other readings or study grammar. I owe much to those many hours of oral presentations--it gave me the skills I would one day use in the Oxford Union Society, and a life-long ease with the demands of public speaking. More importantly, acting Shakespeare gave us a familiarity with those plays that went well beyond what was available through reading alone.

The second piece of luck was our history teacher, one "Charlie T," a gentleman of indeterminate age, whose grimy ancient gown trailing halfway down his torn tweed jacket belied a mind of brittle precision, extraordinary passion, and relentlessly demanding standards. Only once in the seven years in which I studied with Mr. T. did I see him use notes (during a lecture on some military campaigns in Turkey). His memory for detail rivaled any I have ever encountered, and his ability to weave these details into compelling accounts left an indelible impression. Several of Mr. T.'s students would later become noted historians--one of international renown. While my pre-O level years--marred by dyslexia--passed with no sign of academic distinction, Charlie T.'s teaching produced a hint of better to come.

David Steiner is the new New York State Commissioner of Education.

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Depth vs. Breadth

Jason Sterlace:

The school year is approaching, and teachers around the nation are trying not to think too much about tweaking our courses for the next go-round. Most of us have been blowing it off for months and we really have to give it some thought here in early August. Part of my current focus is inspired by an article printed in the Washington Post this past February. Jay Matthews wrote on the age old educators' debate of breadth vs depth:
The debate goes like this: Should they focus on a few topics so students have time to absorb and comprehend the inner workings of the subject? Or should they cover every topic so students get a sense of the whole and can later pursue those parts that interest them most?

The truth, of course, is that students need both. Teachers try to mix the two in ways that make sense to them and their students. But a surprising study -- certain to be a hot topic in teacher lounges and education schools -- is providing new data that suggest educators should spend much more time on a few issues and let some topics slide.

One of the (probably) unintended side effects to standardized testing is that teachers get together to parse the numbers and figure out what they can afford to skip over in our subjects. Standardized tests become predictable to some degree, enough that teachers can figure out which chapters are valued and which ones are not. In fact, that's the whole point--make sure that every teacher knows what chapters are considered the most important. Make sure they know to cover those topics well.
via Jay Matthews.

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Charter Schools Eschew Teacher Tenure

Danielle Williamson:

The agreement between teachers and management at the North Central Charter Essential School is similar to one that may be found at almost any traditional public school. There is a salary scale with lanes and steps, and stipends for extra duties. Some teachers serve as representatives for the larger group in a "collaborative bargaining process."

Absent from the school's teachers' employee handbook, however, is a clause that gives veteran teachers job protection. "Professional status," more commonly known as tenure, doesn't exist there. Everyone is an employee at will, and a teacher of 10 years can be dismissed as easily as a first-year educator.

"If a teacher is not a fit, we have to be honest about that," said Patricia May, principal of the Fitchburg school. "That's not working for anybody."

Having no union affiliations appears to be working for the area's charter schools. Despite a full-court press from the state's second largest teachers union, charter schools in Central Massachusetts haven't hopped onto the union bandwagon. Statewide, only one charter school has signed up with the American Federation of Teachers in the two years the organization has been approaching charters, which are publicly financed but operate outside of school districts.

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Toddler to Teen, Decor That's Not a Chore

Terri Sapienza:

Very soon, parents everywhere will start gearing up for a new school year: plotting schedules, reorganizing desks and going though drawers and closets to remove items their children no longer use. In some cases, parents may find that it's not only clothes their children have outgrown, it's their bedroom, too.

Pastels, primary colors, firetrucks and fairy princesses: all sensible choices for a baby or toddler's room but not so cool for a tween or teen. Unfortunately, a makeover every few years isn't budget-friendly. Nor is it practical, says D.C. designer Annie Elliott. "If you're running around with kids, you're not going to have the energy to update their rooms," she says. "You're just going to be too exhausted to want to deal with it."

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F in Exams

Richard Benson:

Q: What happens to a boy when he reaches puberty?
A: He says goodbye to childhood and enters adultery.

Q: How can you prevent milk turning sour?
A: Keep it in the cow.

We've all been there. You've been studying hard, the day of the BIG test arrives, you turn over the paper, and 'what the *&%@ does that mean?!' Not a clue.

Some students, rather than admit defeat, choose to adopt a more creative approach to answering those particularly awkward exam questions.

Packed full of hilarious examples, this book will bring a smile to the face of teachers, parents and students alike - and anyone who's ever had to sit a test.

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Confucianism at large in Africa

Bright B Simons:

A features writer for the Economist once insisted that the Mandarin character for Africa means "wrong continent". This is perhaps because there is a perception that the teachers have frequently been wrong-headed about Africa, and have tended to get it wrong whenever they have moved out of their comfort zones in trading and infrastructure development.

Such a view is not entirely right, and China has in recent years taken great pains to show the world that it is a well-rounded emerging power with a complete strategy for engagement in places like Africa.

Its Confucius institutes are an interesting feature in this show of sophistication. The Hanban - the Chinese National Office for teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language - began spreading them from 2004 when it set up the first one in the South Korean capital of Seoul.

Top Chinese officials have made no effort to disguise the propaganda value they perceive in the spread of the institutes, but so far very little in the way of a coherent strategy has emerged as to how they can be integrated into the mainstream of Chinese foreign policy, which nowadays is driven, as everyone knows, by a mercantilist view of global politics and economics. Africa has not been spared this ambiguity.

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'Obama Effect' at school: Black parents volunteer, expect more

Greg Toppo:

A new survey suggests that President Obama's victory last November had a positive effect not just on the academic expectations of black Americans -- it may have raised parents' interests in volunteerism.
The "Obama Effect," documented last winter, showed that Obama's rise during the 2008 presidential election helped improve African Americans' performance on skills tests, which helped narrow a black-white achievement gap.

In the new findings, African-American parents of children in K-12 schools say they're much more likely to volunteer in a classroom this fall, in effect narrowing a volunteering gap.

The survey, being released today by GreatSchools, a San Francisco non-profit that promotes parental involvement, finds a jump of 37 percentage points in the portion of African-American parents who say they'll volunteer in their child's school -- 60% vs. 23% a year ago.

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August 6, 2009

Quick! Tell Us What KUTGW Means

Stephanie Raposo:

Kate Washburn didn't know what to make of the email a friend sent to her office with the abbreviation "NSFW" written at the bottom. Then she clicked through the attached sideshow, titled "Awkward Family Photos." It included shots of a family in furry "nude" suits and of another family alongside a male walrus in a revealing pose.

After looking up NSFW on Web site that provides definitions of Internet and texting terms--she discovered what it stood for: "Not safe for work."

"If I would have known it wasn't safe for work, I wouldn't have taken the chance of being inappropriate," says Ms. Washburn, 37 years old, a media consultant in Grand Rapids, Mich.

As text-messaging shorthand becomes increasingly widespread in emails, text messages and Tweets, people like Ms. Washburn are scrambling to decode it. In many offices, a working knowledge of text-speak is becoming de rigueur. And at home, parents need to know the lingo in order to keep up with--and sometimes police--their children.

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Milwaukee Public Schools targeted in complaint over instruction of English as second language

Georgia Pabst:

Milwaukee Public Schools is not complying with civil rights law in effectively teaching English to Spanish-speaking students, according to a federal complaint filed by the League of United Latin American Citizens of Wisconsin.

The complaint, filed at the Office of Civil Rights in the U. S. Department of Education office in Chicago, claims MPS and the Milwaukee School Board are not complying with the Civil Rights Act.

The district receives federal funds for teaching English to students who speak another language, and the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that school districts must help such students overcome language barriers so they can succeed in all of their classes, said Darryl Morin, state director of LULAC.

"LULAC of Wisconsin has serious concerns regarding the education theory, programming and resources allocated to these efforts at MPS," he said.

Morin said MPS has used uncertified and unqualified teachers in the program.

The U.S. Department of Education confirmed that its Office of Civil Rights has received the complaint. Jim Bradshaw, a spokesman for the department in Washington, D.C., said the office is evaluating the complaint to determine whether an investigation is appropriate. The evaluation process should take about a month, he said.

MPS spokeswoman Roseann St. Aubin said district officials can't comment because they just received the complaint Tuesday and have not reviewed it.

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IB Teacher Takes Risks, With Impressive Results

Jay Matthews:

The nation's most important education policymakers are holding news conferences these days. President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have announced that they want states to strengthen their standards so more students will be ready for college. Dozens of governors have signed on to a plan to align their states' required high school courses so all graduates are prepared for the shock of big papers and two-hour exams at the college of their choice.

Yet in my experience, the most effective work getting high-schoolers ready for higher education is being done by classroom teachers in a thousand different ways as they adjust their rules and experiment with ideas. The innovative teachers I know would laugh if anyone suggested that they call a news conference. They are just trying stuff, they say.

To get a taste of this stealth reform, step into Room 252 at J.E.B. Stuart High School in Fairfax County. That's where Bill Horkan works. The 44-year-old math teacher is a busy man. He is married, with three children ages 6, 8 and 9. His school has the largest portion of disadvantaged students in the county -- 58 percent are low-income. Many of them yearn for a good education, but learning is hard, and math is a particularly daunting challenge.

What has the overburdened Horkan done about this? Last year, he loaded up Room 252 with even more students taking one of the most challenging math courses for students like his -- International Baccalaureate Math Studies. Designed for students who are not planning to major in college math or science, the course offers advanced math topics related to technology.

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Brain Emotion Circuit Sparks As Teen Girls Size Up Peers

Science Daily:

What is going on in teenagers' brains as their drive for peer approval begins to eclipse their family affiliations? Brain scans of teens sizing each other up reveal an emotion circuit activating more in girls as they grow older, but not in boys. The study by Daniel Pine, M.D., of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), part of National Institutes of Health, and colleagues, shows how emotion circuitry diverges in the male and female brain during a developmental stage in which girls are at increased risk for developing mood and anxiety disorders.

"During this time of heightened sensitivity to interpersonal stress and peers' perceptions, girls are becoming increasingly preoccupied with how individual peers view them, while boys tend to become more focused on their status within group pecking orders," explained Pine. "However, in the study, the prospect of interacting with peers activated brain circuitry involved in approaching others, rather than circuitry responsible for withdrawal and fear, which is associated with anxiety and depression."

Pine, Amanda Guyer, Ph.D., Eric Nelson, Ph.D., and colleagues at NIMH and Georgia State University, report on one of the first studies to reveal the workings of the teen brain in a simulated real-world social interaction, in the July, 2009 issue of the Journal Child Development.

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Michelle Rhee: Partnering With City Year DC to Tackle Dropout "Catastrophe"

Alice Korngold:

Washington, D.C.'s public school system has 45,000 students and an abysmal dropout rate of about 50%, typical of large cities. With a goal to remedy this dropout "catastrophe" (Gen. Colin Powell's term), while being constrained by a tight economy, D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee is looking to--in her words--"leverage opportunities for the greatest change."

To this end, Rhee believes that one of the best investments that D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) has made in the past year is its partnership with City Year DC. In 2008/09, City Year corps members proved themselves in a pilot program in 4 of Washington's most challenging elementary schools.

Jeff Franco, Executive Director of City Year DC explained that "we offered to help the Chancellor to solve her worst headaches." After rigorous training, corps members coached, tutored, and mentored children in grades K to 2, and successfully demonstrated that they could help improve children's reading ability. This achievement will be instrumental in changing the life trajectory of these kids--ultimately increasing the likelihood that they will graduate from high school, go to college, and later, earn greater incomes.

"I've been thrilled with the results of this first year," Rhee told me. So thrilled that she and Franco plan a "feeder pattern" strategy to have corps members continue working with these same children all through elementary school, middle school, and high school, while also expanding City Year's involvement with additional schools. The end game: reduce the dropout rate.

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For Today's Graduate, Just One Word: Statistics

Steve Lohr:

At Harvard, Carrie Grimes majored in anthropology and archaeology and ventured to places like Honduras, where she studied Mayan settlement patterns by mapping where artifacts were found. But she was drawn to what she calls "all the computer and math stuff" that was part of the job.

"People think of field archaeology as Indiana Jones, but much of what you really do is data analysis," she said.

Now Ms. Grimes does a different kind of digging. She works at Google, where she uses statistical analysis of mounds of data to come up with ways to improve its search engine.

Ms. Grimes is an Internet-age statistician, one of many who are changing the image of the profession as a place for dronish number nerds. They are finding themselves increasingly in demand -- and even cool.

"I keep saying that the sexy job in the next 10 years will be statisticians," said Hal Varian, chief economist at Google. "And I'm not kidding."

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Fixing D.C.'s Schools: The Charter Experiment

Dan Keating & Theola Labbe-DeBose:

A 2008 Post review finds that charter schools are outperforming public schools.
As part of the program's ongoing series focusing on education, host Michel Martin talks to Kavitha Cardoza, a reporter for NPR member station WAMU-FM in Washington, D.C.

Cardoza explains a significant development in the education world: recent test scores of public school children in the nation's capital notably surpassed their charter school counterparts, adding yet another layer to the national debate on the value of charter schools vs. public schools.

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August 5, 2009

Scholarships 101: How to fund an education after high school

Marnie Ayers:

Getting an education is vital to financial stability and future success but the cost of education beyond high school continues to rise. Luckily Federal Student Aid offers financial aid programs that help millions of students attend college, universities and trade schools each year.

The billions of dollars of help from Federal Student Aid is administered by the U.S. Department of Education and comes in the forms of grants such as the Pell and National SMART Grant and work-study and low interest loans such as the Federal Perkins Loan and the Stafford Loan. Some grants require a cumulative GPA of 3.0 while loans have interest rates around 5%.

Each year, millions of students benefit from federal financial aid programs. For information on programs you might qualify for visit or call 800-4Fed-Aid. Applying for federal aid is free and the application is called FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Free help is available throughout the application process. The College Scholarship Fraud Protection Act protects people from financial aid fraud.

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Education reforms will never work unless teaching attracts more high-fliers

The Economist:

"I SET up a Fantasy Football competition between some of my toughest pupils," one young man explains. "They get goal-keeping points for good attendance, and defence points for behaving well. Good punctuation and spelling translate into their midfield performance, and coming up with good ideas, into attack." Around the room, pens scribble furiously. "Pupil X hated me," a woman tells the group; she describes how she changed that with weekly phone calls to his parents and postcards praising his (intermittent) good behaviour. More notes are made.

This is the Teach First summer institute: six weeks in Canterbury, a southern cathedral city, at the end of which nearly 500 new university graduates will teach full-time, for £15,000 ($24,500) a year, in some of England's toughest schools. The 360 who started the programme last year are here too, handing on to the raw recruits their tips for coping with bad behaviour and keeping lessons fresh, and demonstrating to their tutors what they have learned. In another year, those old hands will be qualified teachers, trained on the job and in tutorials and summer schools.

Recruiting the right kind of teachers has been difficult in England for some time, and though recession has brought temporary relief, the task is getting bigger as those hired to teach the baby boom near retirement. Head teachers, worn down by constant official policy changes and an avalanche of paperwork, are retiring early. A study in 2007 by McKinsey, a consultancy, concluded that countries whose students perform well tend to recruit teachers from the top of the class. But a recent report by Politeia, a think-tank, found that the bar for getting into teacher training in England is, by international standards, unusually low. Trainee teachers can resit basic literacy and numeracy tests as often as they like--and 13% need at least three goes at the latter. Around 1,200 each year graduated with the lowest class of degree, a third.

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REACH day Wednesday; Pay Your Teachers Well; NO MORE 'SCHOOL'S OUT FOR SUMMER'; comment; A New School Leader in New York; Dollars for Schools; A DC Schools Awakening; Bronx Principal's Tough Love Gets Results; TFA Young Professionals event

1) A final reminder to please join me (Wednesday) at the REACH Awards Day from 10-12:30 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 1,200 student have earned nearly $1 MILLION in REACH Scholar Awards! (An additional $500,000 or so is going to their schools and educators.) Tomorrow 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) A spot-on editorial in yesterday's WSJ, which underscores the point I've been making for a long time: one shouldn't get angry with unions for advancing the interests of their members -- that's what they're supposed to do! -- but it's critical to understand that their interests and what's best for children are often FAR apart... Pay Your Teachers Well Their children's hell will slowly go by.

The conflicting interests of teachers unions and students is an underreported education story, so we thought we'd highlight two recent stories in Baltimore and New York City that illustrate the problem.
The Ujima Village Academy is one of the best public schools in Baltimore and all of Maryland. Students at the charter middle school are primarily low-income minorities; 98% are black and 84% qualify for free or reduced-price school meals. Yet Ujima Village students regularly outperform the top-flight suburban schools on state tests. In 2006, 2007 and 2008, Ujima Village students earned the highest eighth-grade math scores in Maryland. Started in 2002, the school has met or exceeded state academic standards every year--a rarity in a city that boasts one of the lowest-performing school districts in the country.

Ujima Village is part of the KIPP network of charter schools, which now extends to 19 states and Washington, D.C. KIPP excels at raising academic achievement among disadvantaged children who often arrive two or three grade-levels behind in reading and math. KIPP educators cite longer school days and a longer school year as crucial to their success. At KIPP schools, kids start as early as 7:30 a.m., stay as late as 5 p.m., and attend school every other Saturday and three weeks in the summer.

However, Maryland's charter law requires teachers to be part of the union. And the Baltimore Teachers Union is demanding that the charter school pay its teachers 33% more than other city teachers, an amount that the school says it can't afford. Ujima Village teachers are already paid 18% above the union salary scale, reflecting the extra hours they work. To meet the union demands, the school recently told the Baltimore Sun that it has staggered staff starting times, shortened the school day, canceled Saturday classes and laid off staffers who worked with struggling students. For teachers unions, this outcome is a victory; how it affects the quality of public education in Baltimore is beside the point.

Meanwhile, in New York City, some public schools have raised money from parents to hire teaching assistants. Last year, the United Federation of Teachers filed a grievance about the hiring, and city education officials recently ordered an end to the practice. "It's hurting our union members," said a UFT spokesman, even though it's helping kids and saving taxpayers money. The aides typically earned from $12 to $15 an hour. Their unionized equivalents cost as much as $23 an hour, plus benefits.

"School administrators said that hiring union members not only would cost more, but would also probably bring in people with less experience," reported the New York Times. Many of the teaching assistants hired directly by schools had graduate degrees in education and state teaching licenses, while the typical unionized aide lacks a four-year degree.

The actions of the teachers unions in both Baltimore and New York make sense from their perspective. Unions exist to advance the interests of their members. The problem is that unions present themselves as student advocates while pushing education policies that work for their members even if they leave kids worse off. Until school choice puts more money and power in the hands of parents, public education will continue to put teachers ahead of students.

3) Tom Carroll with a good article in today's NY Post on the importance of extended school years/year-round schooling, esp. for disadvantaged kids:

What is often ignored, however, is that long summer breaks don't affect all students equally. Almost two-thirds of households now include either two working parents or are headed by a single custodial parent who works -- meaning that most children home during summer days aren't in the care of their parents.

For middle- and upper-income families, students are often enrolled in educationally enriching summer camps and programs and have access to books and libraries, computers and trips to museums and concerts.

For less advantaged students, unsupervised settings with little or no academic content are more common -- with predictable setbacks in their academic progress.
Public-charter schools offer a glimpse of the potential impact of lengthening the school year. High-performing urban charter schools almost uniformly offer longer school years to the disadvantaged students they serve, much to their benefit. These schools often post proficiency rates of 90 percent or more in mathematics, science and English.

By the way, this is the professor Malcolm Gladwell quoted in Outliers -- and his "findings" are obvious nonsense:
According to Karl Alexander, the John Dewey professor of sociology at John Hopkins University, "About two-thirds of the ninth-grade academic achievement gap between disadvantaged youngsters and their more advantaged peers can be explained by what happens over the summer during the elementary-school years."
Of course disadvantaged kids are falling behind during the summer, but there's no way this accounts for 2/3 of the achievement gap (if it's more than 25%, I'd be surprised). If anyone knows of any other research in this area, please send it to me.

4) A comment from a friend:
When I taught in the Elizabeth, NJ public schools in the early 1990s, I was blacklisted and isolated by the tenured teachers becasue I stayed after and tutored kids for no extra $. It must have been bad, because they drove me to Wall Street equity research.

5) A great and well-deserved NYT editorial about David Steiner's appointment (too bad it doesn't mention that Teacher U is a collaboration among KIPP, Achievement First and Uncommon Schools):

The New York State Board of Regents, which oversees state education policy, moved New York to the forefront of the national reform movement during the 1990's, when it toughened graduation requirements, strengthened the curriculum and instituted tests to make sure that students were making progress along the way.

The regents took another exciting step this week when they named David Steiner, a noted teacher-training reformer and dean of education at Hunter College in New York City, to the recently vacated post of education commissioner. Mr. Steiner became nationally known earlier in the decade when he bluntly pointed out that traditional schools of education were often hidebound and ill equipped to provide graduates who perform at a high level in the classroom.

He didn't just leave it there. After becoming dean at Hunter in 2005, he helped create a rigorous, highly regarded program known as Teacher U, a certification program for graduates seeking master's degrees. The students teach full time and spend Saturdays on campus being instructed by a faculty that includes teachers, principals and superintendents from high-performing schools.

6) A spot-on Washington Post editorial about Race to the Top:Dollars for Schools
In giving out the money, the administration should hold firm in its commitment to education reform.

Washington Post editorial, Thursday, July 30, 2009
PRESIDENT OBAMA is unabashed in his demand that any state wanting extra educational dollars share in his administration's reform agenda. That means tougher standards, more charter schools and holding teachers accountable. It's encouraging that even before a penny has been doled out, this aggressive stance is forcing states to rethink traditional approaches to education.

Proposed guidelines for the more than $4 billion in the Race to the Top Fund were unveiled last week, with the president and Education Secretary Arne Duncan making clear they don't want more of the same, failed policies -- or politics -- of the past. Armed with the largest amount ever of discretionary funding for K-12 school reform, the administration promises to eschew politics, ideology and the preferences of interest groups for "what works." Criteria for the grants range from how charter schools are funded to whether teacher pay is linked to student achievement. Any doubt that the administration means business is dispelled by its decision to disqualify any state that bars linking student data to teacher evaluations.

The tough requirements -- preceded by equally blunt warnings from Mr. Duncan about what would happen to states that resist change -- seem to be hitting home. Some legislatures, such as those in Rhode Island and Tennessee, have already acted to make their states more hospitable to charter schools. In California, which could lose out because of its regressive policy limiting the use of student data, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has vowed to make the necessary changes to the law so that his state can compete for the grants.

No doubt, though, there will be pushback. There is a review period before the regulations are finalized, and the two largest teachers unions, with their Democratic allies in Congress, have expressed unease. Some states are looking for loopholes to get around the rules. And there are those who think the federal government is overstepping its role and sticking its nose into state business by setting conditions. Congress cannot overrule the administration on how this money -- part of the $100 billion in education aid included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- is awarded, but the worry is that an administration in search of votes to reform health care could compromise education reform. Mr. Duncan, with the president's backing, has shown great resolve in taking his message for change across the country. We trust that neither he nor the president will waver now.

7) A long and interesting article in the Washington Post about the enormous challenges in DC (and elsewhere) of turning around failing high schools:
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan calls it "the toughest work in urban education today" -- fixing neighborhood high schools filled with students who have languished in failing elementary and middle schools.

Ten of the District's 15 high schools are in some form of federally mandated restructuring under the No Child Left Behind Act because of persistent failure to meet annual achievement benchmarks on standardized tests. Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee is looking to outside organizations for help in turning them around.

This summer, Friends of Bedford, which operates a Brooklyn public high school that has become New York City's most successful, has taken control of Coolidge and Dunbar senior high schools. Friendship Public Charter Schools, which serves about 4,000 students on six D.C. campuses, is running Anacostia Senior High School.

Rhee has also started discussions with Steve Barr, founder of Green Dot Schools, which operates Locke Senior High School in Los Angeles, one of the city's largest and most troubled schools, about working in the District. Barr recently toured Eastern High School on Capitol Hill, although District officials said discussions are in an extremely preliminary stage.

Anacostia, Coolidge and Dunbar are all stark examples of the challenge Duncan describes, places where scholarship and discipline flicker weakly at best. Fewer than a third of students read and write proficiently, according to citywide tests. A 2008 review of Dunbar by District officials said, "Evidence of effective teaching and learning was limited to a few individual teachers." On a single day in November, 19 girls were arrested for fighting.

This line troubled me, as it's very hard for me to see how much improvement can be made unless the people leading the turnaround have the power, at least when they take over if not permanently, to remove any/all of the people at the school:
Friendship and Friends of Bedford will face that challenge at Anacostia, Dunbar and Coolidge. Although they have autonomy on matters of curriculum, instruction and teacher professional development, the schools' staff members will remain school system employees, subject to District laws and union rules.
8) A really nice article about a great principal, Edward Tom, at a new magnet high school in the South Bronx that just graduated 84% of its first class, 77% of whom are going to college (the 3-min video is great):
On Friday, President Obama announced a new $5 billion initiative to improve local schools called "Race to the Top." The idea is to encourage more innovation and better teaching.

But in New York's South Bronx one principal has already given his students a head start as CBS News correspondent Russ Mitchell reports.

When the kids change periods at the Bronx Center for Science and Math, principal Edward Tom is waiting in the hall. He's on the sidewalk to greet them every morning. And when school's over he's out there again, often asking students to fix their uniforms.

Tom describes his approach as "tough love."

"I'm not always going to make the decisions that are popular," he said. "But it will be the decision that I feel in my heart would be beneficial to the children and their growth and development."

9) This looks like a fun event (tickets are $75):
Teach For America's New York region is excited to announce their second annual event for young professionals. "An Evening of Cocktails and Live Music" will be held at The Broad Street Ballroom on Thursday, September 24th from 8 p.m. until midnight. The event will benefit Teach For America - New York and is being hosted by a group of young professionals throughout the city. The Café Wha? Band will provide entertainment throughout the evening and all guests will be able to enjoy the open bar and passed hors d'oeuvres. There will also be many great raffles and a few surprises throughout the evening!

Tickets can be purchased here:

Teach For America Contact: Lauren Stout
Phone: 212.279.2666 x277

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Internal NEA Report on Performance Pay Calls for "Creating a Positive

Mike Antonucci:

ver since candidate Barack Obama began promoting the concept of performance pay in 2007, the National Education Association has labored to generate a coherent strategy to stay ahead of the issue. The union realizes a consistent "no, no, no" may be satisfying and direct, but is harmful to its public image and its relationship with moderate Democrats and Republicans alike.

Last year, NEA assigned its teacher quality department to visit six locations that had established alternative compensation models and to interview union officers, members and staff to determine the lessons and pitfalls of various approaches. The results were compiled in a 51-page report (labeled "Not For External Distribution" and "intended for NEA leaders and staff only") titled Alternative Compensation Models and Our Members. I have uploaded the document to EIA's Declassified page.

The six locations were the local school districts of Denver and Eagle County, Colorado, Hamilton County, Tennessee, Helena, Montana, and Manitowoc, Wisconsin, along with the state of Minnesota, which has its statewide Q Comp program.

Reactions to the programs were all over the map, with some teachers loving the new system and others hating it, but a few common sentiments were expressed. The most important of these was the lack of simplicity. Many teachers didn't understand exactly how their pay or bonuses were being generated and were forced to trust the district administrators to correctly apply and compute the pay. This is problematic for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is knowing how much should be in your check each pay period. This complexity makes the clarity of the traditional salary schedule more appealing by comparison.

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Duncan Wields $100 Billion to Make U.S. Schools Like Chicago's

Molly Peterson:

Sue Duncan has taught poor kids at her after-school center on Chicago's South Side for 48 years. She says her son Arne spent seven days a week there as he was growing up.

"It was absolutely formative," Arne Duncan, 44, said of working with his mother. He learned that "kids from totally dysfunctional home situations, total poverty, can do extraordinarily well if we give them a chance."

What he absorbed matters because Duncan is now U.S. education secretary, in charge of improving a public school system that ranks below those of other developed nations in some studies. He's armed with $100 billion in stimulus money from his friend, President Barack Obama, more than twice the budget of any of his predecessors.

"We want to put unprecedented resources out there, but the tradeoff is unprecedented reform," said Duncan, who ran Chicago's public schools before taking on the U.S. job in January. He said in an interview he wants to "fundamentally change the status quo" by raising academic standards, holding states and schools more accountable, and luring "the best and the brightest" into teaching.

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Cramming a Lot Into a Youthful Literary Life

Charles McGrath:

Nick McDonell ought to be an easy person to dislike. He is young, smart, good looking and ridiculously well connected. His father is Terry McDonell, the editor of Sports Illustrated, and he grew up in the kind of gilded New York household where Joan Didion, Jay McInerney and George Plimpton were drop-in guests. His godfather is Morgan Entrekin, the publisher of Grove/Atlantic, who bought Mr. McDonell's first novel, "Twelve," when Mr. McDonell was just 18. He heard news of its acceptance while cruising home in the carpool from Riverdale Country School, where he was president of the student body. Hunter S. Thompson, another family friend, came through with a timely blurb, saying, "I'm afraid he will do for his generation what I did for mine."

Nick McDonell on the New York set of "Twelve," the movie based on his first novel.
If that weren't insufferable enough, Mr. McDonell, now 25, has a third novel, "An Expensive Education," being published on Wednesday by Atlantic Monthly, and "Twelve," meanwhile, is being made into a movie starring Kiefer Sutherland, Chace Crawford and 50 Cent. On your way to meet Mr. McDonell you can find yourself half-hoping that he might be dinged by a pedicab -- not seriously, but enough to give him a limp, say, or an embarrassing facial tic.

As it happens, though, he is the kind 0f overly well-behaved person who waits for the light to change even when there is no traffic. He is also shy, earnest, a little naïve, disarmingly modest, polite almost to a fault. And he writes so well that his connections are beside the point. In The New York Times the book critic Michiko Kakutani said that "Twelve," which is about the downward-spiraling adventures of some druggy New York private-school students over Christmas break, was "as fast as speed, as relentless as acid." "An Expensive Education" ingeniously combines elements of a le Carré or Graham Greene-like international thriller with a campus novel set at Harvard, from which Mr. McDonell graduated in 2007. There are scenes of double-crossing C.I.A. activities in Somalia, as well as of campus rush parties and two cocktail-swilling guys who are famous on campus for ironically wearing tuxedos all the time -- the college-age versions, perhaps, of two adolescent stoners in "Twelve" who are always saying things like "Shiz fo a niz!"

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Hawaii schools' failure to meet benchmarks troubles officials

Loren Moreno:

ducation officials have few explanations for what they consider to be a disturbing trend -- year after year Hawai'i's high schools struggle to make "adequate yearly progress" under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Just three of Hawai'i's 33 regular public high schools were able to demonstrate sufficient progress under the federal mandate this year: Campbell, Kaiser and Kalani.

"It's a multitude of reasons. One is the rigor of the federal mandate. But also, in high school, kids are dealing with a lot of different issues," said Gerald Teramae, principal of Kalani High School. "It's tough. The kids are older, they have different agendas."

While Kalani was one of the high schools to make AYP this year, that doesn't mean the school is not struggling under the federal law, Teramae said.

Ninety percent of Kalani's students demonstrated proficiency in reading, but only 48 percent of its students demonstrated proficiency in math concepts. That's just two points above the state mandated benchmark of 46 percent.

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What have private schools done for (some of) us?

Royal Statistical Society: Significance:

Many parents in Britain make huge financial sacrifices to send their children to private schools. Are those sacrifices worthwhile? What return, if any, do they get? Do their children end up in better careers, earning more, than if they have been educated at the expense of the state?Francis Green, Stephen Machin, Richard Murphy and Yu Zhu examine who exactly benefits from the privileges of the Old School Tie.
Via Mrs. Moneypenny.

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August 4, 2009

Breakthrough Cincinnati:

Believing in the Power of Young People:

Breakthrough Cincinnati is a four year, tuition free academic enrichment program that offers both summer and school year programs for under-served Cincinnati public middle school students. Breakthrough students apply in the fifth grade (sixth and seventh graders are welcome to apply, but spots are limited) and attend through the summer preceding their 9th grade year.

School Year Program

Starting in the fall of 2009, Breakthrough Cincinnati will be offering twice a week tutoring, homework help and academic enrichment lessons for all students who participated in the Summer Academic Session. Breakthrough Cincinnati is actively recruiting talented high school and college students to serve as teachers in this program. Please click on the link on the left-hand side of this page for more information on the school year program, including teacher application forms.

In addition, Breakthrough Cincinnati will be hosting a High School information Night and a Reunion Party in the fall. Information on these events will be mailed home and posted on the News and Events section of this web-site as it becomes available.

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Outsourcing Teaching, Overseas

Elizabeth Redden:

How to teach university degree programs offered overseas is a complicated question. Does a university rely on faculty from the home campus to travel abroad for a year, semester or month at a time to teach, hire a new cadre of faculty at the overseas location, deliver coursework through distance education, or some combination thereof?

In offering B.S. in economics degrees at three partner universities in China and Hong Kong, Utah State University's Jon M. Huntsman School of Business uses a different kind of teaching model, similar in some ways to the three approaches but with a significant, and potentially risky, twist. The programs are based on a lead professor/local facilitator model, in which the professors of record at Utah State rely on local instructors, who are not Utah State employees (but are approved by Utah State departments) to deliver much of the course content on the ground.

The degrees in question are Utah State degrees, as opposed to joint or dual degrees with the partner universities, and the arrangement is described in the business school's 2008-9 annual report thus: "Departments assign 'lead professors' to write the course syllabus, pick the text book and other instructional materials, and to write exams and other assignments for the course. The teaching materials are provided to 'local facilitators' (faculty at our partner institutions) who have been approved by the USU department to deliver the lectures and other course material on-site in China and Hong Kong. Lead professors and local facilitators are in contact each week to make sure that the courses are on-track and to deal with teaching and evaluation issues. Final grades are assigned by the lead professor." In other words, the instructor who interacts with the students face-to-face on a regular basis doesn't have the ultimate grading authority, but the professor back in Utah does.

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Federal Tax Receipts Decline 18%, Dane County (WI) Tax Delinquencies Grow

Stephen Ohlemacher:

The recession is starving the government of tax revenue, just as the president and Congress are piling a major expansion of health care and other programs on the nation's plate and struggling to find money to pay the tab.

The numbers could hardly be more stark: Tax receipts are on pace to drop 18 percent this year, the biggest single-year decline since the Great Depression, while the federal deficit balloons to a record $1.8 trillion.

Other figures in an Associated Press analysis underscore the recession's impact: Individual income tax receipts are down 22 percent from a year ago. Corporate income taxes are down 57 percent. Social Security tax receipts could drop for only the second time since 1940, and Medicare taxes are on pace to drop for only the third time ever.

The last time the government's revenues were this bleak, the year was 1932 in the midst of the Depression.

"Our tax system is already inadequate to support the promises our government has made," said Eugene Steuerle, a former Treasury Department official in the Reagan administration who is now vice president of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. recently spoke with Dane County Treasurer Dave Worzala on the growing property tax delinquencies:
While there aren't any figures for this year, property tax delinquencies have been on a steep climb the last few years, WISC-TV reported.

Delinquencies increased 11 percent in 2006, 34 percent in 2007 and 45 percent in 2008, where there is now more than $16 million in unpaid taxes in the county.

"It affects us in that we have to be sure that we have enough resources to cover county operations throughout the year even though those funds aren't here. And we do that, we are able to do that, but 40 percent increases over time become unsustainable," said Dane County Treasurer David Worzala.

"I can see that there are probably some people that either lost their jobs or were laid off, they're going to have a harder time paying their taxes," said Ken Baldinus, who was paying his taxes Thursday. "But I'm retired, so we budget as we go."

Big portions of those bills must go to school districts and the state. Worzala said the county is concerned about the rise in delinquencies because if the jumps continue the county could run into a cash flow issue in paying bills.

Resolution of the Madison School District - Madison Teachers, Inc. contract and the District's $12M budget deficit will be a challenge in light of the declining tax base. Having said that, local schools have seen annual revenue increases for decades, largely through redistributed state and to a degree federal tax dollars (not as much as some would like) despite flat enrollment. That growth has stopped with the decline in State tax receipts and expenditures. Madison School District revenues are also affected by the growth in outbound open enrollment (ie, every student that leaves costs the organization money, conversely, programs that might attract students would, potentially, generate more revenues).

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:11 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Dumb Money Too many nations are wasting their school spending. Here's how to get it right.

Stefan Theil:

"If we want to become a strong economy again, the best thing we can do is have an educated workforce." Few would object to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's explanation of why Washington is funneling $100 billion to schools and universities as part of February's giant stimulus package. Indeed, other countries are following suit, with Britain, Germany, Canada, China, and others making new education funding part of their anticrisis strategies.

What's far less clear is that this money is going where it's most needed--or likely to have the greatest social and economic payoff. In Germany, the bulk of nearly €10 billion in new school spending is being used to renovate buildings--a bonanza for construction companies and popular with parents and teachers, but unlikely to have much effect on the quality of German graduates. In Britain, Prime Minister Gordon Brown is pushing for more PCs and Web access in schools--another policy that's popular but considered irrelevant by educators. In the United States, a July audit by the Government Accountability Office found that schools were not using the stimulus money to boost student achievement, as promised by Duncan, but to fund their general budgets. And in still other countries, governments are using money to help build new world-class universities--projects that a World Bank study in July warned risk bleeding resources away from more desperately needed areas. "I'm not sure that the people making these decisions even realize the trade-offs involved," says Jamil Salmi, author of the study.

That's particularly unfortunate today, given the economic stakes. According to an April report by McKinsey, the United States' GDP would have been 9 to 16 percent--or $1.3 trillion to $2.3 trillion--higher in 2008 had U.S. high-school graduates attained the average skills of their peers in Canada, Finland, or South Korea. This fall, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) will unveil a similar study in Paris detailing the losses suffered by other laggards. Andreas Schleicher, author of the OECD study, says that "in a whole row of countries, the economic losses of educational underperformance are significantly higher than the costs of the financial crisis." What's worse, he says, countries pay the price for their mistakes year after year.

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Minnesota Teachers Now Have New Opportunity to Start and Run District Schools

Teacher Partenerships:

eacher professional partnerships (TPPs) are formal entities, organized under law (partnerships, cooperatives, limited-liability corporations, etc.), that are formed and owned by teachers to provide educational services. TPPs may enter into contracts to manage entire schools, a portion of a school or to provide some other educational service. Teachers are in charge and they manage or arrange for the management of the schools and/or services provided. The school district is not managing the school; nor is a district-appointed single leader in charge (e.g. a principal).

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Community colleges gaining respect, admissions

Glen Martin:

Because of their emphasis on job skill development and professional certification programs, community colleges have been the traditional province of working people. But as the recession bites deeper, many middle- and upper-class youths are finding their entree to exclusive private colleges or prestigious public universities limited by depleted family funds. The community colleges have become a practical option for the first two years of study for a bachelor's degree.

Jack Scott, the California Community Colleges chancellor and past president of Cypress College and Pasadena City College, cites the tuition cost differential between the first two undergraduate years at the University of Southern California and two years at nearby Pasadena City College.

"Assuming that you're taking transferable courses at Pasadena, you can go to USC your junior year after spending no more than $1,200 total tuition for your freshman and sophomore years," Scott said. "That's compared with roughly $50,000 for the initial two years of tuition at USC. If you lived at home while attending Pasadena, your savings were even greater."

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A Chance to Say Yes The GOP and Obama Can Agree on School Reform

Richard Bond, Bill McInturff & Alex Bratty:

Many issues have created a "politics as usual" atmosphere on Capitol Hill recently, but when it comes to educating our children, it appears President Obama and the Republican Party share some views. This commonality of interest provides the president and the GOP a rare opportunity to cooperate on a major issue.

In a March address on education, the president proposed several reforms, three of which the Republican Party has been championing for years.

First, he called for merit pay for teachers:

"Good teachers will be rewarded with more money for improved student achievement, and asked to accept more responsibilities for lifting up their schools."

Next, he called for removing ineffective teachers:

"Let me be clear: If a teacher is given a chance . . . but still does not improve, there is no excuse for that person to continue teaching. I reject a system that rewards failure and protects a person from its consequences."

Finally, he called for the expansion of public charter schools:

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The First Big Test: Watching Expenses Some Students Clamp Down as They Gear Up

Jonathan Starkey:

Getting that college tuition and housing bill under control is only the first step. Then comes the comforter and refrigerator and textbooks and -- well, the College Board has a list of 118 to-buy items on its off-to-college checklist.

And don't forget the pizza money.

The bill to outfit a freshman can run to thousands of dollars if you're not careful, financial advisers say. As recession losses have whittled down college funds and as part-time jobs have become more elusive, families are finding creative ways to stretch each dollar.

In recent weeks, Sharon Okolicsanyi of Manassas has scoured the Web for deals on a laptop for her daughter, Helena, who will be a freshman at George Mason University. They finally found a bargain: It cost $499, marked down from $700. A security and software upgrade cost $100, and a printer cost $30, marked down from $70.

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Woodside Priory keeps boarding school tradition

Sam Whiting:

At the end of the school day, as their classmates pile into cars for the commute home, 50 students at the Woodside Priory, near Stanford University, turn and lug their backpacks uphill. These 30 high school boys and 20 girls are already home. They call themselves the "dormers," and they are the last of their kind between San Francisco and Monterey.

"I have roommates instead of a mom. It's better, I think," says sophomore Allegra Thomas, 14, as she sits in a vinyl booth in the mock '50s-style diner in her residence hall. It is 5 p.m., which is right about when she would be getting home to the Santa Cruz Mountains, with her mother shuttling.

"Before being in the dorms, I never really had an opportunity to hang out with people after school because it was such a long drive home," says Thomas, who started the Priory as a freshman day student, then became a boarder midyear. "Because I'm on foot, I can do more things around the school, be part of the community. I like the structure. My grades have been better."

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Time for Oregon schools to stretch

John Tapogna:

Will Oregon be among the recipients of the Race to the Top Fund, $4 billion in stimulus package money that the Obama administration has set aside to encourage new ways of teaching?

Lost in the clatter of the health-care debate, President Obama quietly launched his plan to transform America's schools in late July. Fed up with sluggish learning gains and stubborn gaps in achievement between rich and poor kids, the administration has leveraged the stimulus package to create several well-endowed venture funds aimed at entrepreneurial states, school districts and nonprofits eager to test new ways of teaching.

The grand prize is the Race to the Top Fund, $4 billion being dangled in front of perhaps as few as a dozen states. The prospect of being among this elite group of innovators has unleashed a cascade of legislation across the country as lawmakers scrambled to align state laws with the Obama vision. Already the fund has altered the K-12 landscape before it's awarded a single dollar.

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Grabbers - first sentences from new books

San Francisco Chronicle:

I enter the lobby of Claire Nightingale's apartment building, here to tell her I have murdered her only son.

"In This Way I Was Saved," a novel by Brian DeLeeuw

My mother says she can't listen to love songs anymore.

"Not That Kind of Girl," a memoir by Carlene Bauer

One evening, as Shahid Hasan came out of the communal hall toilet, resecured the door with a piece of looped string, and stood buttoning himself under a dim bulb, the door of the room next to his opened and a man emerged, carrying a briefcase.

"The Black Album, a novel (republished with "My Son the Fanatic") by Hanif Kureishi

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August 3, 2009

Bay Area is Biggest Little Italy for Preschools

Patricia Yollin:

Abigail Call corrects her mother's grammar when they speak Italian and has started to teach her father the language, sometimes making up nonexistent words just to toy with him a bit. She is not quite 4 years old.

"When she's by herself with her dolls, she sings all these songs in Italian," said Abigail's mother, Jessica Hall. "I'm a parent, so of course it makes me want to cry - to think that her little brain, in those unprompted moments of alone time, chooses to do that."

Abigail doesn't know it yet, but she is part of a trend.

Italian playgroups, preschools and language centers for children are proliferating in the Bay Area these days in a manner unequaled anywhere in the country, according to Marco Salardi of the Italian Consulate in San Francisco.

"It's just exploding," said Salardi, director of the consulate's office of education. "It's very new. And it's becoming bigger and bigger. It's a very nice surprise."

La Piccola Scuola Italiana on Potrero Hill in San Francisco. Spazio Italiano Language Center in North Beach. The tiny Vittoria Italian Preschool in the Mission District. Girotondo Italian School and Parliamo Italiano, both in Marin County. Mondo Bambini in Berkeley, purchased a few months ago by Girotondo so it can expand to meet a swelling demand in the East Bay.

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The Tradeoff Between Teacher Wages and Layoffs to Meet Budget Cuts

Marguerite Roza via a Deb Britt email:

School districts faced with large budget gaps could avoid some or all teacher layoffs by rolling back salaries. While this option may not work for all districts, a new analysis shows that district officials--and teachers unions--could both serve students and teachers by trimming classroom pay.

Marguerite Roza based her analysis on the fact that 93 percent of school districts in the U.S. negotiate and structure teacher-pay according to a fixed salary schedule, consisting of annual as well as step increases. Step increases average 3.16 percent a year. The annual increase for the salary schedules she calculated at the average Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the 1997--2007 period at 2.87 percent. The total for the two, at 6.03 percent, may not make sense this year, says Roza.

In a simple chart, she provides five possible decision-options showing how, if salaries are rolled back, fewer teachers get laid off and class sizes increase by fewer students.

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Online education comes into its own

Carol Lloyd:

As the job market grows softer and less nourishing than a jelly doughnut, reports show more people are returning to school to immunize their careers and feed their souls. But "school" is not necessarily the idyll of leafy campuses and long afternoons arguing philosophy in oak-paneled rooms.

Online education, long an ugly duckling of the ivory towers of the world, is coming into its swan years.

In its annual report on the state of online education, the Sloan Consortium reported in 2008 that online education continues to grow at a much faster rate than its brick-and-mortar competitors. Anecdotal evidence suggests that 2009's economic woes will only accelerate the pattern.

"We have seen our small university double in size this year," says Scott Stallings, director of marketing and admissions for California InterContinental University, a for-profit "distance education" university in Diamond Bar (Los Angeles County). "I believe this can be attributed to our low cost of tuition and the large influx of students who need their degrees to remain competitive."

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Lessons Learned in School Can Endure a Lifetime

Sandip Roy:

I hated school. On my first day of kindergarten in Calcutta, India, my mother was late picking me up. I stood on the steps with my bag and water bottle, convinced that it was all an elaborate ploy to abandon me.

Amitava, my new classmate, tall, with sticking-out ears, stood next to me, similarly abandoned. Biting our lips, we stood silently, bound by our common misery. By the time our mothers arrived, we'd become friends. When my father had heart problems, Amitava spent the night at the hospital with me. When I left for America, he drove me to the airport. I flew back to India for his wedding.

It was in school that I learned that some lessons can last a lifetime.

Father Bouche taught me that. A pink-faced Jesuit priest from Luxembourg, he was the prefect at my missionary school. He was the terror of generations - both fathers and sons had gotten a taste of his cane. He would be fired in America. He caned. He smoked. He even blew secondhand smoke on the boys. But he taught me to write, to tell stories simply. We spent hours hanging out in his room, rummaging through his books, begging to see the bullet wound in his knee - a memento of World War II.

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Time for tutors to think about getting rid of `exam tips' label

The Hong Kong Standard:

The education sector is well- prepared for the new senior secondary, or NSS, academic structure that will be implemented in the coming school year. So too are tutorial centers - they have already launched promotions to attract students.
Apart from preparatory talks, the centers have been offering free trial lessons. Their focus is on liberal studies, a compulsory subject under the NSS and hence one where tutorial centers expect tough competition as they try to boost enrollment.

Brochures show that the leading tutorial centers have their own selling points on liberal studies.

During the recent Hong Kong Book Fair many publishers offered books and learning materials on the subject.

Tutorial centers were not slow to seize the opportunity either.

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Three-Minute Fiction: Our Winner Is...


In June, we appealed to your inner author, asking you to send us original works of fiction that could be read in three minutes or less. And, man, did your inner authors respond! We received more than 5,000 submissions to our Three-Minute Fiction writing contest.

Now, series guide and literary critic James Wood of The New Yorker has picked our first winner: Molly Reid of Fort Collins, Colo. Reid is waiting tables this summer, but during the school year, she teaches freshman composition and literature at Colorado State University.

Wood says that Reid was an early entrant whose work held strong against the hundreds of stories that followed. The narrator of her piece, "Not That I Care," observes a neighbor repeatedly snatching ducks from the street. The missing ducks become part of the narrator's own reflections on loss.

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August 2, 2009

Wisconsin Governor Doyle going after student performance, federal money

Mark Pitsch:

Gov. Jim Doyle is planning a series of education reforms designed to boost student achievement and help the state compete for billions of dollars in federal school improvement grants.

The changes include better tracking of student performance, using test data to help evaluate teachers and raising high school graduation requirements.

"We're going to be working very hard in my administration with the Legislature, with educators in the state, to put together really, I think, a transformational application that will help Wisconsin education for years to come," Doyle said in a recent interview.

But it's unclear whether the state would even qualify for the federal money -- part of a $4.35 billion program dubbed "Race to the Top" -- because of a state law that bars using student test scores to evaluate teachers.

Draft rules for the program prohibit states that have such laws in place from receiving the money. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan last week called Wisconsin's law "ridiculous."

Wisconsin Representative Mike Huebsch:
Cut education funding by 3 percent. Check.

Make sure teachers' raises aren't jeopardized by the cuts. Check.

Pretend property taxes won't go up. Check.

Begin dismantling Wisconsin's School Choice Program. Check.

Jeopardize Wisconsin's eligibility for new federal education funding. Check.

This is the state of public education in Wisconsin under the leadership of self-proclaimed education governor Jim Doyle and Democrat majorities in the state Senate and Assembly.

Governor Doyle and Democrat lawmakers wrote a state budget that cuts school funding $294 million, raises property taxes $1.5 billion, repeals the Qualified Economic Offer, says local school boards can't consider the recession, job loss rates, and property values when negotiating teacher compensation and makes politically-motivated changes to the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (School Choice).

Now the governor shrugs off reports that Wisconsin won't be eligible to participate in the Obama Administration's Race to the Top grant program, while Democrat lawmakers remain predictably silent. Approximately $4.35 billion will be doled out to states with plans for reforming public education. Under the proposed application guidelines released by the United States Department of Education last week, only Wisconsin, New York and California would be barred from receiving federal funds.

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School spotlight: Summer program combines science and black history

Pamela Cotant:

For the last 14 years, a summer program has found a way to make learning about a particular area of science fun while also exposing elementary and middle school students to blacks who have made a difference in that field.

This year, flight was the theme for the program, called a Celebration of Life. In general, about two-thirds of those in attendance are returning participants like Synovia Knox, who also had four siblings who attended.

"Each year I would leave wanting to be someone else," said Knox, who has attended since third grade. "They just make everyone seem so interesting."

The annual event is one of the programs put on by the African American Ethnic Academy of Madison. The site of the program and its co-sponsor is the BioPharmaceutical Technology Center Institute, the non-profit affiliate of Promega, which offers the use of its Fitchburg facilities.

The program, which is held during the morning for two weeks, is divided into two sessions -- one for students entering grades three through five and another for students going into grades six through eight. A total of 28 students attended this year and the organizers hope the numbers will grow, said Barbara Bielec, who helps run the Celebration of Life as the K-12 program coordinator for the BioPharmaceutical Technology Center Institute.

Promega offered the Madison School District free land in the mid-1990's for a tech oriented Middle School. The offer was turned down and the proposed school eventually became Wright Middle School.

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Is Google Killing General Knowledge?

Brian Cathcart:

General knowledge, from capital cities to key dates, has long been a marker of an educated mind. But what happens when facts can be Googled? Brian Cathcart confers with educationalists, quiz-show winners and Bamber Gascoigne ...

One day last year a daughter of Earl Spencer (who is therefore a niece of Princess Diana) called a taxi to take her and a friend from her family home at Althorp in Northamptonshire to see Chelsea play Arsenal at football. She told the driver "Stamford Bridge", the name of Chelsea's stadium, but he delivered them instead to the village of Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire, nearly 150 miles in the opposite direction. They missed the game.

Such stories are becoming commonplace. A coachload of English schoolchildren bound for the historic royal palace at Hampton Court wasted an entire day battling through congested central London as their sat-nav led them stubbornly to a narrow back street of the same name in Islington. A Syrian lorry driver aiming for Gibraltar, at the southern tip of Spain, turned up 1,600 miles away in the English east-coast town of Skegness, which has a Gibraltar Point nearby.

Two complementary things are happening in these stories. One is that these people are displaying a woeful ignorance of geography. In the case of Stamford Bridge, one driver and two passengers spent well over two hours in a car without noticing that instead of passing Northampton and swiftly entering the built-up sprawl of London, their view continued to be largely of fields and forests, and they were seeing signs for Nottingham, Doncaster and the North. They should have known.

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Scientific Speed Reading: How to Read 300% Faster in 20 Minutes

Tim Ferriss:

How much more could you get done if you completed all of your required reading in 1/3 or 1/5 the time?

Increasing reading speed is a process of controlling fine motor movement--period.

This post is a condensed overview of principles I taught to undergraduates at Princeton University in 1998 at a seminar called the "PX Project". The below was written several years ago, so it's worded like Ivy-Leaguer pompous-ass prose, but the results are substantial. In fact, while on an airplane in China two weeks ago, I helped Glenn McElhose increase his reading speed 34% in less than 5 minutes.

I have never seen the method fail. Here's how it works...

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At School, Lower Expectations Of Dominican Kids

Claudio Sanchez:

Parents and teachers often expect less of students who are the children of Dominican immigrants. This causes their grades and ambitions to suffer.

Now, why some immigrants' children do better in school than others. Yesterday, we heard about the kids of Chinese immigrants and the tensions between what their parents want for them academically and what they want. Today, the achievement gap between Chinese-American students and students of Dominican background. In Boston, researchers have zeroed-in on that gap. They've looked at whether one culture values education more than the other and what role do schools play. NPR's Claudio Sanchez has the second of two reports.

CLAUDIO SANCHEZ: Carmen Merced has had two sons in the Boston Public Schools. Fernando, an eighth grader, and Wildo, her oldest, just finished high school. They were born in Boston and grew up speaking English. In school, though, both were tagged learning disabled. Merced is convinced that it's because they're Latino.

Ms. CARMEN MERCED: (Foreign language spoken)

SANCHEZ: Latinos, even if they know English, are always discriminated, says Merced. It's not something schools even try to hide. Like the time one of Wildo's teachers told him he was never going to amount to anything in life.

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Rent, Read and Return

Stephanie Lee:

Students frequently rent DVDs to watch in their dorm rooms, but soon they may start checking out something much heavier and pricier: textbooks.

Saying they offer an alternative to the textbook industry's bloated prices, a growing number of companies are renting new and used titles at reduced prices. Among them are Chegg, BookRenter and the Follett Higher Education Group, which will test drive a rental service at campus bookstores this fall. They join a number of colleges that have already started their own on-campus programs.

With all of them, the concept is essentially to pay to check out textbooks as if they're out of a library -- only there are more copies and titles, and they can be used for longer periods of time. Through Chegg, for instance, a student searches for a book and rents it for up to a certain number of days, such as up to a quarter or a semester. Users are promised discounts of 65 to 85 percent off the list price, but if they don't return a book on time, they are charged full price. The same punishment applies to doodling in the margins, since the books are meant for reuse. As a disclaimer on Chegg warns: "Highlighting in the textbook is OK -- to a certain extent. Writing in the book is not accepted."

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The Trouble With Twitter

Melissa Hart:

Just before the start of spring term, a friend and colleague in journalism sent an e-mail message to our department: Technology had changed, she wrote; perhaps our reporting curriculum should change with it. She planned to teach with a focus on live blogging and Twitter, and suggested that those students not particularly interested in using the new technology should be tracked into the other reporting class.

That is, my reporting class--one in which we emphatically would not use Twitter.

For those not in the know, Twitter is a microblogging service that allows members to report on what they're seeing, thinking, and feeling by posting comments that are limited to just 140 characters each. You can subscribe to someone's Twitter feed and receive what are called "tweets"--brief bits of information like "Sat through another of Prof. Hart's interminable lectures on the glories of literary nonfiction."

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August 1, 2009

Washington Steps Up on Schools

New York Times Editorial, via a kind reader's email:

The federal government talks tough about requiring the states to improve schools in exchange for education aid. Then it caves in to political pressure and rewards mediocrity when it's time to enforce the bargain. As a result, the country has yet to achieve many of the desperately needed reforms laid out in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 and other laws dating back to the 1990's.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan is ready to break with that tradition as he prepares to distribute the $4.3 billion discretionary pot of money known as the Race to the Top Fund. States that have dragged their feet or actively resisted school reform in the past are screaming about the rigorous but as yet preliminary criteria by which their grant applications will be judged.

President Obama gave fair notice of this shift in a speech earlier this year, when he talked about pressuring the states to do better by the country's 50 million schoolchildren. But Mr. Duncan will need cover from the White House to weather the storm.

The long and detailed list of criteria just released by the administration includes a fine-grained evaluation process under which states get points for reforms they have made and points for changes they promise to make -- and conditional funding that can be revoked if they don't make them. The process finally allows the federal government to reward states that have made progress and to bypass slackers.

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Learn how to draw Garfield on iTunes U

iTunes U:

Thanks to the Virginia Department of Education and the Professor Garfield Foundation, you -- and your kids, of course -- can get an Introduction to Comics on iTunes U. The 15 video episodes encourage children to draw, sculpt, and carve. In fact, Jim Davis -- who created Garfield -- gets the course off to a great start, showing us all how he draws his famous lasagna-loving feline.

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What the SAT-optional Colleges Don't Tell You

Jay Matthews:

I don't much like the SAT. When the SAT-optional movement began to gain momentum a few years ago, I cheered. Dozens of colleges told their applicants that if they didn't want to submit their SAT or ACT scores, they didn't have to. Some restricted this choice to students with high grade point averages, but it seemed to me a step in the right direction.

In my view the SAT does not reflect very well what students learn in high school. It seems more influenced by how much money their parents make. Indeed, SAT prep classes (such as those offered by Kaplan Inc., the Washington Post Company's leading revenue source) give kids from affluent families an advantage.

So I was impressed and pleased when the SAT-Optional movement grew so strong that FairTest (the National Center for Fair & Open Testing), a non-profit group that supports the change, noted that 32 of the top 100 colleges on the U.S. News & World Report liberal arts college list no longer require every applicant to submit an SAT or ACT score.

When I started reading Jonathan P. Epstein's article on SAT-Optional schools in the summer edition of the Journal of College Admissions, I expected a careful history of these developments, with no surprises. Epstein is a senior consultant with Maguire Associates in Boston, who specialize in advising college admissions offices. He is not a journalist, and sees no need to deliver the big news at the top of the story.

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Harvard Schmarvard: A Small College Shines

Jay Matthews:

This will be the first in an occasional series of blog postings on little-known colleges that prove their worth. My 2003 book Harvard Schmarvard argued that the big name schools don't provide a better education than the little name schools. Research indicates that qualities that bring success---persistence, humor, kindness, patience---are acquired before we ever take an SAT test. The brand name schools look good because they lure lots of students with those qualities, but students with similar character strengths who go to unknown schools often do just as well, particularly if they pick colleges with great strengths in areas that interest them.

I tend to ramble about this topic a lot. Parents who write and seek my advice on college selection get an email-full of such Jayisms. In many cases they go away realizing I am a bore. But occasionally I say the right thing, and years later they let me know that. Here is a message I received today from Michael Bledsoe, pastor of the Riverside Baptist Church in southwest D.C. and an adjunct at the Howard University Divinity School. Four years ago, when he and his wife were agonizing over where to send their first child, Kelley, off to college, they read some of my columns and wrote for more advice. Kelley was attracted to Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Ga., I told them that in many ways that school would be better for her than an Ivy League university. In his new message, Bledsoe said this:

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True democracy is not just about taking part

John Kay:

Like most people, I want to eat rich desserts, but do not want to get fat. I want to enjoy a secure retirement, but I do not want to save towards it. I want lower taxes, and I also want better public services. Of course I do. It would be odd if I did not. Irrationality does not lie in wanting inconsistent things. Irrationality is being unwilling to make choices between inconsistent things.

There was a time when crowds would wait for hours for a once in a lifetime opportunity to see and hear William Gladstone. But technology has steadily increased possibilities for the public to participate in the political process. It has not, however, created a corresponding increase in the time the public wants to devote to the political process. If anything, the opposite: by offering so many other ways to spend leisure time and by spreading prosperity, the modern age has reduced the intensity of public commitment to politics.

Many people take the view that more avenues for participation make democracy more real. They are excited by the opportunities offered by the internet: Barack Obama was elected after a campaign that made extensive use of computers and mobile phones. Our leaders blog and twitter, receive online petitions and e-mails, consult focus groups and monitor opinion polls. If the measure of democracy is the frequency of communication between politicians and their voters, then society is steadily becoming more democratic.

But these developments do not make society better governed. If these methods of participation are extensive, they are also superficial. If democracy is about delivering what the electorate wants, it is not clear that policies that respond to every angry headline in the Daily Mail achieve that result. Popular esteem for politicians and public approval of political decisions have declined, not increased. When Winston Churchill was advised to keep his ear to the ground, he commented that the public would not have much respect for leaders observed in that position. Politicians planning appearances on YouTube might reflect on his advice.

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Chinese Immigrants' Kids Play Balancing Role

Claudio Sanchez:

Students whose parents come from China often excel in school, but their educational performance can be affected by cultural tensions at home between their Chinese and American identities.

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