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September 30, 2009

Severson / McKenna on the Madison School District, Madison Teacher Union Agreement & Budget

24MB mp3. Notes and links on the recent, tentative agreement between the Madison School District and Madison Teachers, Inc.

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Latest issue of MMSD Today: Madison School District teachers experts in system of math instruction

Dawn Stiegert @ The Madison Metropolitan School District:

The national mathematics conference on Cognitively Guided Instruction (CGI) had a strong Madison School District presence, with teachers there as presenters and attendees.

MMSD teachers involved with the Expanding Math Knowledge grant had the opportunity to attend the conference this summer in San Diego. EMK was a two-year grant funded by the WI Dept. of Public Instruction. The MMSD Dept. of Teaching and Learning collaborated with the UW-Madison College of Education to provide continued and expanded math education for approximately 40 teachers in grades 3-5.

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Learning About Learning Design

Joshua Kim:

Most everything I know about learning design I learned from my former colleague Frances Rowe, Director of Instructional Design at Quinnipiac University Online. The QUOnline team has launched a new blog called Digital Pedagog.

Digital Pedagog is a gorgeous group blog. A great example of the power of team blogging. All the contributors to Digital Pedagog are experts within different domains of learning design and online/hybrid learning.

Beyond getting you to look at Digital Pedagog, my goal is start a conversation about the composition of your learning technology team. Does your team include a combination of professionals with formal training in learning design working in conjunction with people with higher ed. teaching experience?

Academic technology groups benefit having teams made up of people with wonderfully diverse backgrounds. Many of us come from the teaching side, while others come from media production, programming, or design. This diversity is terrific. But our teams need to include members who have received graduate level academic training in learning design, pedagogy, and learning theory.

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Massachusetts Charter Decisions Made to Rescue Governor from "Political Cul de Sac"

Mike Antonucci:

t's a complex story out of Massachusetts with a simple payoff: The state secretary of education wants charter school authorizations to be based on political considerations, and not on their educational merits.

It begins with reporter Patrick Anderson of the Gloucester Daily Times using a public records request to find a February 5 e-mail from Secretary of Education Paul Reville, Gov. Deval Patrick's school adviser, to Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester. Gov. Patrick, like many other governors, found religion in charter schools soon after the Obama administration made them a centerpiece of Race to the Top funding. But which charter school applications would be approved, and which rejected, seems to be less of an academic concern and more of a matter of political pressure. Here's the full text of the e-mail:


Hope all's well and warm in AZ. I appreciated our talk today and your openness and flexibility. This situation presents one of those painful dilemmas. In addition to being a no-win situation, it forces us into a political cul de sac where we could be permanently trapped. Our reality is that we have to show some sympathy in this group of charters or we'll get permanently labeled as hostile and they will cripple us with a number of key moderate allies like the Globe and the Boston Foundation. Frankly, I'd rather fight for the kids in the Waltham situation, but it sounds like you can't find a solid basis for standing behind that one. I'm not inclined to push Worcester, so that leaves Gloucester. My inclination is to think that you, I and the Governor all need to send at least one positive signal in this batch, and I gather that you think the best candidate is Gloucester. Can you see your way clear to supporting it? Would you want to do the financial trigger even in light of likely stimulus aid?

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Schools Push Hits the Road

Neil King:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan invited an odd pair of allies to classrooms in this city to help tout his multibillion-dollar bid to shake up the country's education system: the liberal Rev. Al Sharpton and the conservative former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

"These two guys don't agree on 96% of everything else, but they do agree on the need for dramatic educational reform," Mr. Duncan said.

As the Obama administration forges ahead with the most ambitious federal intervention in education in decades, Mr. Duncan, the former Chicago schools superintendent, needs whatever political support he can get.

The administration plans in just months to distribute $4.3 billion under its new Race to the Top program to help states set new testing standards, boost teacher quality and help rescue or close thousands of the country's worst-performing schools.

The plan has come under fire from powerful teachers unions, which were big backers of President Barack Obama during last year's campaign but are resistant to altering rules for hiring and firing teachers. Some conservatives, meanwhile, are wary of expanding Washington's grip on local school systems.

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An Internship From Your Couch

Jonnelle Marte:

Natalie Ann Roig completed a marketing internship last spring--while riding the bus, sitting on her parents' couch and lounging at home in pajamas.

The internship, in which she worked 15 hours a week researching and blogging about corporate workplace benefits, was virtual--she needed only a computer and Internet access. Ms. Roig, a senior at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, never even met her boss, in Atlanta.

"I didn't have to dress up. I didn't have to sit at a cubicle for hours," says Ms. Roig, a senior studying graphic design. "It was more like work at your own pace and get the work done."

Virtual internships, while relatively rare, are becoming more common, career experts say, fueled by improving technology and the growth of social media. They are most popular among small to midsize companies and online businesses. More than one-fourth of 150 internships posted on, a site that connects small businesses with part-time workers, are labeled virtual, where the work typically involves researching, sales, marketing and social-media development.

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EPA Tells Schools To Test Aging Caulk


Hundreds of school buildings across the U.S. have caulk around windows and doors containing potentially cancer-causing PCBs, the Environmental Protection Agency said.

The danger to students is uncertain, and EPA doesn't know for sure how many schools could be affected. But the agency is telling schools that they should test old caulk and remove it if PCBs turn up in significant amounts.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said PCBs remain in schools and many other buildings built before the chemicals were banned in the late 1970s.

"We're concerned about the potential risks associated with exposure to these PCBs, and we're recommending practical, common-sense steps to reduce this exposure as we improve our understanding of the science,'' Ms. Jackson said in a news release.

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Stubborn charter school critics can't handle the truth

Thomas Carroll:

"Facts are stubborn things," John Adams advised.

With the release of a study showing New York's charter schools are a big success - a study chock-full of stubborn facts - critics of charter schools in New York ought to be learning a lesson.

That's wishful thinking; the critics are simply adjusting their talking points to ignore a reckoning with the increasingly persuasive reality that charter schools are good for kids.

The most important finding of the new study - led by Prof. Caroline Hoxby of Stanford University, in collaboration with colleagues from the Wharton School and the National Bureau of Economic Research - is that "a student who attended a charter school for all of grades kindergarten through eight would close about 86% of the 'Scarsdale-Harlem achievement gap' in math and 66% of the achievement gap in English," with students attending for shorter periods of time realizing "commensurately smaller" gains.

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September 29, 2009

Getting dads more involved in education

Concord Monitor:

Why are dads taking on more household chores and child-rearing duties than ever before? The first and best answer is necessity. More moms are working outside the home than in generations past, in turn nudging men into roles their fathers and grandfathers had little need to contemplate.

But this new household order was not constructed on the stench of dirty diapers alone. Changes in attitudes and priorities have strongly contributed to the revolution.

Similar changes will be needed to bring about the kind of change championed by Education Secretary Arne Duncan at a "Conversation on Fatherhood" forum in Manchester last week. Duncan and others involved with the initiative kicked off by President Obama in June are doing a good job of stressing the need for fathers to be involved in their kids' education. Now educators and those who benefit from a well-educated populace (in short, everyone) need to help turn schools into an environment where fathers feel welcome and competent.

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Wisconsin Open Enrollment Study

Amy Hetzner:

Spending more, adding extracurricular activities and increasing the percentage of students deemed advanced on state tests could help Wisconsin school districts that want to attract more students through the state's open enrollment program.

Those are some of the main conclusions of a new study examining student transfers between 2003 and 2007 under the state's public school choice program. [Open Enrollment SIS links.]

"There's a lot of surveys saying parents want this or they want that, but when they actually have to take their kid and drive them to school, that reveals what they really want in a school district," said David Welsch, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and lead author of the study, which is slated for publication in the Economics of Education Review.

Under the state's open enrollment program, which has been in effect for more than a decade and now serves more than 28,000 students, students can attend any public school district in Wisconsin so long as there is room and they provide their own transportation. State aid - nearly $6,500 this school year - accompanies each open enrollment transfer.

One of the most striking findings in the recent study was that students were more likely to transfer from districts with higher property values and lower tax rates to districts that spend more per pupil. For every $100 difference in spending per student, a higher-spending district could expect about 1.7% more incoming transfers.

Wisconsin Open Enrollment: Part Time / Full Time.

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Measuring Progress At Shaw With More Than Numbers

Jay Matthews:

On July 11, Brian Betts, principal of the District's Shaw Middle School at Garnet-Patterson, was at Dulles International Airport about to leave for a vacation in Spain. He was feeling good. His first year running a school whose students struggle with poverty and neighborhood strife had gone well, he thought. Quarterly test results were encouraging. Attendance was up. Parents were happy. Some of his staff had gone so far as to enroll their children at Shaw.

His cellphone rang. "Principal Betts? This is Chancellor Rhee."

"Hi, chancellor," he said.

"I wanted you to know that I am looking at the DC-CAS scores," the D.C. schools chancellor said, "and you're not going to be happy."

"Okay," Betts said. Uh-oh, he thought.

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Reading Incomprehension

Todd Farley:

LAST week, Education Secretary Arne Duncan acknowledged standardized tests are flawed measures of student progress. But the problem is not so much the tests themselves -- it's the people scoring them.

Many people remember those tests as lots of multiple-choice questions answered by marking bubbles with a No. 2 pencil, but today's exams nearly always include the sort of "open ended" items where students fill up the blank pages of a test booklet with their own thoughts and words. On many tests today, a good number of points come from such open-ended items, and that's where the real trouble begins.

Multiple-choice items are scored by machines, but open-ended items are scored by subjective humans who are prone to errors. I know because I was one of them. In 1994, I was a graduate student looking for part-time work. After a five-minute interview I got the job of scoring fourth-grade, state-wide reading comprehension tests. The for-profit testing company that hired me paid almost $8 an hour, not bad money for me at the time.

One of the tests I scored had students read a passage about bicycle safety. They were then instructed to draw a poster that illustrated a rule that was indicated in the text. We would award one point for a poster that included a correct rule and zero for a drawing that did not.

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Milwaukee Public Schools needs to pick up the pace in reading

Alan Borsuk:

Maybe this is the biggest problem facing Milwaukee Public Schools: A panel of national experts ripped reading programs overall in the city, saying they were ineffective, out of date, uncoordinated, led by teachers who were inadequately prepared and who were really doing nothing much to help struggling readers.

Maybe this is the biggest problem facing MPS: That report came nine months ago and the in-the-classroom response so far has been to set four priorities for this school year of breathtaking modesty. Maybe a year from now, there will be big changes, officials say.

We're talking about reading. Reading. The core skill for success in just about any part of education and in life beyond school. A sore point for MPS for at least a couple decades. Last year, 40% of MPS 10th-graders rated as proficient in reading in state tests, a number in line with a string of prior years.

"The status quo will need to be changed - sometimes dramatically," said the report from a three-person review team brought in by the state Department of Public Instruction as part of its efforts under federal law to push change in MPS. The report was issued last December, calling for an overhaul of the way reading is taught in MPS - the curriculum used, the way teachers are trained, the way the whole subject is handled from top to bottom.

Since then, an MPS work group was named. The work group got an extension on the time it had to give a draft plan to the DPI. The draft plan was submitted. DPI officials gave some feedback. MPS officials revised their plan. DPI officials took awhile to respond with requests for more changes. It's late September now. A plan has not been approved. There's a meeting scheduled in early October.


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Mr. Duncan and That $4.3 Billion

New York Times Editorial:

With sound ideas and a commitment to rigorously monitor the states' progress, Education Secretary Arne Duncan has revitalized the school-reform effort that had lost most of its momentum by the closing days of the Bush administration.

His power to press for reforms was dramatically enhanced earlier this year when Congress gave him control of $4.3 billion in grant money -- the Race to the Top fund -- that is to be disbursed to the states on a competitive basis. Mr. Duncan will need to resist political pressure and special pleadings and reward only the states that are committed to effective and clearly measurable reform.

Mr. Duncan's exhortations, and the promise of so much cash, have already persuaded eight states to adopt measures favorable to charter schools, which Mr. Duncan rightly sees as crucial in the fight to turn around failing schools.

To be eligible for the money, every state must also show how student performance will be factored into their systems for evaluating teachers. And Mr. Duncan has asked the states to come up with plausible plans to turn around failing schools -- so-called dropout factories -- and to better serve minority students.

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Charter Success Poor children learn. Teachers unions are not pleased.

Washington Post Editorial:

OPPONENTS OF charter schools are going to have to come up with a new excuse: They can't claim any longer that these non-traditional public schools don't succeed. A rigorous new study of charter schools in New York City demolishes the argument that charter schools outperform traditional public schools only because they get the "best students." This evidence should spur states to change policies that inhibit charter-school growth. It also should cause traditional schools to emulate practices that produce these remarkable results.

The study, led by Stanford University economics professor Caroline M. Hoxby, compared the progress of students who won a lottery to enroll in a charter school against those who lost and ended up in traditional schools. The study found that charter school students scored higher on state math and reading tests. The longer they stayed in charters, the likelier they were to earn New York state's Regents diploma for high-achieving students.

Most stunning was the impact that the charters had on shrinking the achievement gap between minority and white students. "On average," the study found, "a student who attended a charter school for all of grades kindergarten through eight would close about 86 percent of the 'Scarsdale-Harlem achievement gap' in math and 66 percent of the achievement gap in English." Researchers were careful not to draw conclusions, but they highlighted a correlation to practices such as a longer school day, performance pay for teachers, more time spent on English and effective discipline policies.

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Testing times for students

Rebecca Knight:

H arvard Business School is doing it. So is Stern . Sloan and Stanford have been doing it for several years and next year, Wharton will do it, too.

A growing number of business schools are giving applicants the option of taking the GRE (Graduate Record Exam), a standardised test used by a wide range of graduate schools, as an alternative to the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) - the prevailing standardised exam used for admission to MBA programmes.

Schools want to attract a more diverse applicant pool, including dual-degree students, younger applicants, women, international students and applicants who were not previously laser-focused on business studies.

"It's driven by business schools trying to expand their market of good students, not a defect with the GMAT," says John Fernandes, president and chief executive of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business , the industry body.

The GREmeasures verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking and analytical writing skills. It is used by a variety of advanced education programmes and markets itself to students considering a range of professional options. The GMAT, also measures basic verbal, mathematical and analytical writing skills and is billed as a tool that "helps business schools assess the qualifications of applicants for advanced study in business and management".

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Dan Nerad gets creative on Madison schools budget

Lynn Welch:

It's easy to feel a bit sorry for Madison school officials as they grapple with ways to close a $12 million gap in state funding.

"It sounds like this came out of left field, so I don't think anyone can be faulted for not imagining that something like this could happen," says Chan Stroman, a Madison parent with one child attending elementary school and two at a virtual school.

But feelings may change in December, school watchers say, when tax bills land in mailboxes and everyone starts to feel the pain.

The district proposes hiking property taxes -- $82.50 for owners of $250,000 homes. This and other solutions stress a school-community partnership, a balance between educational responsibility and fiscal fitness that has become the hallmark of superintendent Dan Nerad's administration.

Indeed, it's hard to talk about the current financial situation facing Madison's schools without hearing an opinion on how Nerad, who began his tenure in July 2008, is managing the situation.

Madison spends about 10% more per student than Dan Nerad's former District - Green Bay. Madison's student / staff ratio is about 7, while Green Bay's is 8. It will be interesting to see what, if any substantive program reviews occur locally, something that the New Superintendent and Board have promised to do. Details here.

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Property taxes, education rank high in New Jersey

Kevin Post:

The property tax burden falls on area homeowners more heavily than almost anywhere else in the nation.
In fewer than 2 percent of counties in the U.S. do property taxes take a bigger bite out of homeowners' incomes than they do in Atlantic County.

The chief reason is that, as reported earlier this week, New Jersey has the highest property taxes in the nation, according to the Tax Foundation in Washington, D.C. And in southern New Jersey, incomes are significantly lower than in the northern part of the state.
So while area residents can at least be glad that their taxes are not as high as in northern New Jersey - which has six counties among the top 10 most taxed in the nation - relatively high property taxes locally consume a big share of income.

Atlantic County, for example, has the 15th highest property tax burden out of 776 U.S. counties with populations of at least 65,000, according to the Tax Foundation. The median county homeowner must pay 6.8 percent of annual income to cover property tax.
All of the region's counties are in the top 15 percent - and most much higher - for property taxes paid and percentage of income required to pay the taxes.

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September 28, 2009



2009 Dates: October 16 (Friday Afternoon Pre-Conference) and October 17 (Saturday Conference)

CONFERENCE PROGRAM & REGISTRATION: Go to Green Charter School Conference Program & Registration Links at Northland College.

Connections Human & Natural: What Does It Mean To Be An Educated Person? by William Cronon, Professor of History, Geography, & Environmental Studies, U.W. - Madison

Revitalizing Public Education: Let Teachers Lead the Learning by Joe Graba, Founding Partner, Education / Evolving, forty year professional career in public education most recently as Dean of Hamline University's Graduate School of Education

SMART By NATURE: Schooling for Sustainability is a new book from the Center for Ecoliteracy . It describes the significance of the emerging green schools sector across the country.

"Smart by Nature is must reading for teachers, school administrators, parents, and the concerned public," writes leading environmental educator David W. Orr. "It is an encyclopedia of good ideas, principles, and case studies of some of the most exciting developments in education."

The Green Charter Schools Network and River Crossing Environmental Charter School are featured in Smart By Nature. "We're all concerned about the environment and sustainability," says Jim McGrath, GCSNet President. "That's why we're doing it -- because, really, what could be more important than preparing young people for a sustainable future."

The book documents with firsthand accounts the success stories of green PK-12 schools in preparing students for future environmental challenges. Smart By Nature is 184 pages with 70 photos, charts and illustrations for $24.95 paper from UCPress.

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Oakland campus caters to refugees, immigrants The international high school provides an alternative to newcomers, some of whom have never been in a classroom

Anna Gorman:

Samuel Kanwea showed up for what should have been his freshman year in high school illiterate, malnourished and exhausted from years of living in a refugee camp in Ivory Coast. His family had never been able to afford the luxury of education, so he spent his early teenage years collecting firewood and selling fish.

When the Liberian refugee started school in Oakland at the age of 17, it was the first time he had set foot in a classroom.

"Everyone was speaking English and it confused me," said Kanwea, a lanky student with a wide smile. "And I felt scared because I think that I was the only one who didn't know how to read."

New immigrants and refugees have long posed challenges for educators in the United States, but Kanwea and others like him present unique problems because they are often strangers to traditional schools. Academic issues are only one facet of their adjustment. Not only must educators teach them English and move them toward graduation, but they also must counsel many students grappling with the trauma of wars, persecution or poverty.

While most school districts in California place newcomers directly into traditional campuses or short-term English-language programs, Oakland Unified School District offers them an alternative campus -- and the option to stay there until graduation. The Oakland International High School opened in 2007 to educate the city's recent refugees and immigrants, and now enrolls about 220 students from around the world, including from Yemen, Mongolia, Russia, Ghana and Honduras.

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Schools becoming more 'tolerant' as 'zero tolerance' rules end

Matt Peterson:

School officials don't take it lightly when a student brings a knife to campus.

But when they draw no distinction between a Bowie and a bread knife, discipline can go awry.

This year, schools throughout North Texas are implementing a new state law that ends such "zero tolerance" policies. Under House Bill 171, administrators now must consider mitigating factors such as intent and self-defense when doling out punishment.

That's welcome news for Robert Hess, whose son Taylor was briefly expelled from L.D. Bell High School in Hurst after a bread knife fell out of a 20-year-old cutlery set bound for Goodwill, and was found in his truck bed on campus.

"That certainly would have saved us an awful lot of trouble," said Hess, who holds no ill will toward school administrators over the 2002 incident. "They were bound by their own rules that they had written to dole out this ridiculous punishment, which was one year in alternative education."

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New York City Charter School Study

Jonathan Gyurko:

Stanford University economist Caroline Hoxby released yesterday an update to her 2007 study of charter schools in New York City.1 In the study, she compares the state examination results of students enrolled in the City's charter schools (i.e. those students "lotteried-in") to the results for those students who applied to a charter but were not selected for admission (i.e. the "lotteried-out"). In many respects, this is a good approach as it aims to account for the possibility that charters enroll more motivated families and that it is this motivation, rather than any particular charter school effect, that is the cause of stronger student achievement.

Hoxby's findings are encouraging: by the third grade, the average charter school student was 5.8 points ahead of the lotteried-out counterpart in math and was 5.3 points ahead in English Language Arts.2 As Hoxby follows students' achievement from 2001 to 2008, she also finds that the average charter school student gained 3.6 more points each year in math and 2.4 more points each year in ELA. For an average charter student continuously enrolled in grades four through eight, the effect is larger with annual gains of 5.0 points in math and 3.6 in ELA above the performance of the lotteried-out student. (Last year, nine charters enrolled students across all of these grades.)

To put this in some context, Hoxby explains that the difference between a student not meeting standard and meeting standard is about 31 points in math and 44 points in ELA. She also points out that, on average, students in neighboring and affluent Scarsdale typically out-perform students in New York City by 35 to 40 points. In this context, Hoxby claims that the compounded gains for an average student continuously enrolled in third to eighth grade in a charter nearly closes the "Harlem-to-Scarsdale" achievement gap and implies -- going outside of her dataset -- that the trend will continue.

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When the Cool Get Hazed

Tina Kelley:

Girl-on-girl bullying or hazing is old news by now, for anyone who has seen "Mean Girls" or "Heathers" or "Gossip Girl": popular girls organize a perfectly-coiffed and designer-clothed gang; fringe girl is targeted; bullies use their meanness and power to further marginalize fringe girl and reassert their status.

But news of a "slut list" at a top-ranked New Jersey high school last week highlighted two disturbing points: the increasingly explicit and sexual nature of the taunts, magnified by the Internet. And, in another twist, the perception that allegations of promiscuity -- however fictional -- are a badge of honor, a way into the cool group, and not a cause for shame.

The result is a 180-degree reversal of what a "slut list" might have meant, especially when the parents of these girls were growing up.

That the list and other hazing went on for more than 10 years at Millburn High School in New Jersey was only half the shock to parents and the national news media who set up cameras outside the school, which includes students from the affluent Essex County towns of Millburn and Short Hills. The repercussions to officials for allowing it to go on, only lightly checked over that time, are still playing out.

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Disruptive Innovation: Nature's Scitable Replaces Life Sciences Textbooks

Patty Seybold:

Just over a year ago, Nature Publishing Group's new Education Division quietly launched the Beta of a revolutionary idea: Replace expensive textbooks with a free collaborative learning space for science. went live in January, 2008 and has quickly become a magnet for serious students of genetics (the first field that Nature is addressing).

Now, a year after its beta, is alive and well. Students and faculty from all over the world are actively using Scitable's resources to teach and learn about genetics.
What can you do on Scitable?

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Books that introduce kids to art and artists

Susan Faust:

How wild and wonderful imaginings are realized in architecture is the subject of Building on Nature: The Life of Antoni Gaudí, written by San Francisco author Rachel Rodríguez and illustrated by Julie Paschkis (Holt; 32 pages; $16.99; ages 5-8). Curvy structures such as the Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona "sparkle and glitter and whisper with joy," according to this charming portrait of their Catalonian designer.

Stylized gouache art pays playful homage to Gaudí, his work and the natural world that taught him about light and form. And in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when "green" was just a color, he practices recycling. Broken dishes and tiles morph into fantastic surfaces that embody the value-added confluence of imagination and innovation.

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How To Remake Education

New York Times Magazine:

Beyond Testing

The single biggest problem in American education is that no one agrees on why we educate. Faced with this lack of consensus, policy makers define good education as higher test scores. But higher test scores are not a definition of good education. Students can get higher scores in reading and mathematics yet remain completely ignorant of science, the arts, civics, history, literature and foreign languages.

Why do we educate? We educate because we want citizens who are capable of taking responsibility for their lives and for our democracy. We want citizens who understand how their government works, who are knowledgeable about the history of their nation and other nations. We need citizens who are thoroughly educated in science. We need people who can communicate in other languages. We must ensure that every young person has the chance to engage in the arts.

But because of our narrow-minded utilitarianism, we have forgotten what good education is.

Ravitch is a historian. Her book ''The Death and Life of the Great American School System'' will be published in February.

Do Away With B.A.

Discredit the bachelor's degree as a job credential. It does not signify the acquisition of a liberal education. It does not even tell an employer that the graduate can put together a logical and syntactically correct argument. It serves as rough and unreliable evidence of a degree of intelligence and perseverance -- that's it. Yet across much of the job market, young people can't get their foot in the door without that magic piece of paper.

As President Obama promotes community colleges, he could transform the national conversation about higher education if he acknowledges the B.A. has become meaningless. Then perhaps three reforms can begin: community colleges and their online counterparts will become places to teach and learn without any reference to the bachelor's degree; the status associated with the bachelor's degree will be lessened; and colleges will be forced to demonstrate just what their expensive four-year undergraduate programs do better, not in theory but in practice.

Murray is the W. H. Brady scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of ''Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America's Schools Back to Reality."

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Burlington Township School Superintendent on Elementary Students Singing About President Obama

Christopher Manno:

By now, we're sure that you are aware of a video placed on the Internet that has been reported heavily by the media. The video is of a class of students singing a song about President Obama.

Over the past two days we have been able to learn more about this situation and would like to provide you with some additional information. The song was one of eight skits performed during a February 2009 program that included second grade classes. Parents attended the program which took place on February 27, 2009. The other skits in the program included Groundhog Day, Chinese New Year, Abraham Lincoln, Valentine's Day, George Washington, Mardi Gras, and Dental Health Month. The song about President Obama was in recognition of Black History Month. We have been informed that the lyrics of the song were sent home with the children in advance of the assembly, which was the teacher's normal procedure. There were no concerns or complaints prior to, during, or after the program.

On March 23, 2009, an author visited the Young School as part of the school's Women's History Month recognition. As is usual procedure, parents were notified prior to the visit and invited to attend. The author presented two assemblies during which she read from two of her books. She also met with the Teen Book Club at our high school and did an evening book signing for parents and children. The author was accompanied by two individuals. After the first assembly on March 23rd, the class that performed the song at the February assembly about President Obama provided a special performance for the author, since one of the books she wrote was about Barack Obama. We were informed by a representative of the author that one of the individuals who accompanied the author video recorded the performance. School staff had no knowledge of the recording.

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September 27, 2009

The charter school problem: Results are much less positive than a new study suggests

Diane Ravitch:

Charter schools are not a panacea for our education problems. The recent study by Caroline Hoxby of Stanford University concludes that disadvantaged students who attended charter schools in New York City for nine years, from kindergarten through eighth grade, can close most of what she calls the "Scarsdale-Harlem achievement gap." Hoxby does not say how many students completed nine years in a charter school - a key detail, as the city had only about a dozen small charters in 2000.

The results are impressive, but they are not typical of charter schools across the nation.

Nationally there are about 4,600 charter schools enrolling 1.4 million students. They run the gamut from excellent to abysmal. Even their most ardent supporters recognize that they vary widely in quality. Chester Finn, whose Thomas B. Fordham Institute sponsors charter schools in Ohio, wrote, "Some of the best schools I've ever been in are charter schools, some of which are blowing the lid off test scores in such vexed communities as Boston, New York and Chicago. And some of the worst - and flakiest - schools I've ever been in are charter schools."

Much more on Diane Ravitch here.

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Adopted Chinese daughters seek their roots

Patti Waldmeir:

We have all seen them: adorable Chinese girls holding the hands of their (usually elderly, often overweight, but definitely doting) Caucasian parents, strolling the streets from New York to New South Wales, growing up in a white, white world, far away from the land and culture where they were born.

In some ways, they are a permanent blot on the image of China: surplus daughters the country couldn't care for, unintended consequences of the 30-year-old "one-child" policy that led to the abandonment of hundreds of thousands if not millions of female infants at birth. But now, as the balance of global economic and political power shifts subtly in favour of China, Beijing is reaching out to all these lost daughters - and welcoming them back home.

China has invited thousands of foundlings back to their birthplaces for government-sponsored "homeland tours" which, like last year's Beijing Olympics or next year's Shanghai World Expo, give the country a chance to show off to the world. On one level, what the Chinese adoption authorities call "root seeking tours" - filled with extravagant expressions of love and kinship and lavish gifts for the returning orphans - are a transparent public relations exercise aimed at raising money for Chinese orphanages, justifying the decision to export surplus children and countering decades of unfair international criticism that Chinese people "hate girls".

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Public Sector Reform: Detroit Mayor's Tough Love Poses Risks in Election

Monica Davey:

Gone are the cheery promises of earlier city leaders about how Detroit is on the way back. How some new project downtown is surely just the first sign of a renaissance afoot. How things are not so bad.

Instead, Dave Bing, Detroit's mayor of five months, delivers grim news by the day.

Detroit's bus service will be cut, he said, and 230 city workers will be laid off next week. Those layoffs are among more than 400 since he took office, and more are possible.

Within a week, he is expected to announce how he will -- through elimination, consolidation, outsourcing -- shrink a city bureaucracy built for an earlier, booming Motor City.

"We've got to focus on being the best 900,000 populated city that we can be and stop thinking about 'We can turn the clock back to the 1950s and '60s,' " he said, referring to a time when the city, still the 11th most populous in the nation, was nearly twice as big. "That era is gone."

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The Challenge of High School to College Transition

Dean Hubbard:

There is a dichotomy between the aspirations of high school students to attend college and their success once in college. Annually, over 90 percent of the nation's 2.5 million high school graduates indicate a desire to go to college, and 72 percent of them actually enroll in some form of postsecondary education within two years after graduation. Despite such high levels of aspiration and motivation, once on campus over half of those who matriculate require remedial work. Worse yet, a staggering 41 percent never complete either a two- or four-year degree (Kirst and Venezia, From High School to College). But these data understate the problem because only 68 percent of high school freshmen complete high school on time. Thus, the other 32 percent are not in the pool from which the 90 percent number is calculated (Kuh and McCarthy "Are Students Ready for College? What Student Engagement Data Say." Phi Delta Kappan Vol. 87 No 09). Moreover, other data show that 10 years after their freshmen year in high school, only 18 percent of students have completed a baccalaureate degree (Gorden "Accommodating Student Swirl", Change Magazine Vol. 36 Issue 2). Together, these figures reveal a growing personal and national tragedy that challenges educators at all levels.

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West Portal immersion program still thriving

Jill Tucker:

It was 1984 when a handful of San Francisco parents embarked on a controversial education experiment to open the first Chinese immersion public school program in the nation.

The idea was to immerse the students in Cantonese from the first day of school, teaching them math, science and other subjects in Chinese and gradually increasing English skills along the way. Success would mean that by the time the children finished elementary school, they would be grade-level literate in both languages.

The pioneering venture, which operates at West Portal Elementary's kindergarten through fifth grades, was launched as U.S.-China relations were just warming. Today, it has become one of the school district's shining stars, gaining steady popularity among families and setting an example for similar programs in San Francisco and across the country.

This year, there were 34 spots for incoming kindergarteners and 446 families trying to get one in the first round of applications, according to district officials.

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Generous bequest has Pasadena magnet school asking: Who?

Seema Mehta:

Joyce Stallfort Davis leaves $440,011 for scholarships at Blair International Baccalaureate School. Officials don't remember her but learn she worked at the school in the 1960s.

The mystery began in July when an attorney called Blair International Baccalaureate School and told it to be on the lookout for a large check. Two weeks ago, officials at the Pasadena magnet school opened a letter that contained a bequest of $440,011 from a woman named Joyce Stallfort Davis, who died last year at age 81.

Officials were thrilled, but there was one problem: No one knew who Davis was.

"I've worked at Blair for 34 years and had never heard of her," said Dianne Moore, secretary of student services and counseling at Blair.

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Madison Homeschool families replicate space station

Amelia Vorpahl:

A group of 13 Madison-area kids and their families replicated the International Space Station at Elver Park Friday, using over a mile of plastic tape, and spanning nearly two soccer fields.

The six families who participated in constructing the two-dimensional model are part of a network of homeschooled children and their parents in the Madison area. Each family chose sections of the space station to research and construct, and then made signs explaining their parts' size and function.

David Dexheimer, activity organizer and parent of one of the children participating, said the goal of the project was to teach the kids about how the space station works. He said he came up with the idea a few weeks ago by looking at a NASA educational website.

"I've always been into space stuff and so is my daughter," Dexheimer said. "This just worked into our curriculum well, in terms of all the math and science you need."

The families arrived at the park around 8:30 a.m. and started constructing the model with plastic barricade tape, secured to the ground with golf tees.

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UK Schools waste millions - report


Millions of pounds of taxpayers' money is being wasted in the Department for Children, Schools and Families, an internal government report suggests.

The report, by former WH Smith chief executive Richard Handover, has been seen by BBC One's Politics Show.

It claims civil servants and head teachers appear to have no idea what value for money means and calls for 40,000 teaching assistant jobs to go.

Schools Secretary Ed Balls has said £2bn could be cut from his department.
However, last week, he appeared to rule out the sort of job losses proposed by Mr Handover.

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September 26, 2009

In Search of The Real Michelle Rhee

Marc Fisher:

W hen Michelle Rhee was a teenager -- long before anyone imagined she would ever spend her career trying to turn America's inner-city public schools into something more like the elite private school she attended back in Ohio -- she was a stellar student, a good field hockey player and a kind, caring friend. But she already had the mouth for which she has become infamous. She said what was on her mind, even if it stung. Finally, one day, her mother had just had it with her daughter's blunt, even brusque, manner. Inza Rhee said to Michelle, "What is wrong with you? You just don't care what people think of you!"

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10 Ways to Pick The Right District

Jay Matthews:

We say we are buying a house. But for most of us parents, the house is not the whole story. It is the local public school we are investing in, and sometimes it can be a very daunting financial and personal decision.

In the early 1990s, when my journalist wife was making what seemed to me big bucks as a television producer, we could afford to live in Scarsdale, N.Y. That village's public schools cost us about as much in real estate taxes as the tuition at the private schools our kids had attended in Pasadena, Calif. Fortunately, we got what we paid for in Scarsdale. That is not always the case.

How do parents evaluate the schools their children may attend and escape the heartbreak of buying a great house that turns out to be in the attendance zone of a flawed school? Here are 10 ways to make the right choice, in descending importance. Feel free to re-prioritize them based on your personal tendencies:

1. Go with your gut. This sounds unscientific, but I don't care. After you have analyzed all the data and had the conversations outlined below, you still have to make a decision. Consider how you react emotionally to a school. Consult your viscera. If you're not feeling it, don't send your kids there. They will sense you have doubts at a time when they need to believe that this is the place for them.

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Turning grand education plans into reality will take preparation, speed and ruthlessness

The Economist:

SINCE Labour came to power in 1997 proclaiming education its priority, one grand policy after another has foundered. Schools were told to run themselves--but forbidden to do the things that matter most, such as paying good teachers more. Parents were encouraged to choose schools--but with too few attractive ones to choose from, many were rejected by the schools they selected. They were urged to lobby local government for new schools--but were largely ignored when they did so. A total of two "parent-promoted" schools actually opened.

The opposition Conservatives, who are on course to form the next government, will be making much of their own grand plans for schools at their party conference beginning on October 4th. Citing Sweden's "free-school" reforms of the 1990s as their model, they say they will smash the state's monopoly by funding new schools, to be run by charities or groups of parents, as generously as state ones. Michael Gove, their schools spokesman, reckons that 220,000 new places--as many as 500 schools--might be made available during their first term in office. The policy could see new suppliers responding to demand, innovating and competing to drive up standards. It could be a revolution.

Or it could be another almighty flop. Among the pessimists is Anders Hultin, an architect of Sweden's reforms and co-founder of Kunskapsskolan, the country's largest chain of free schools. He now works for GEMS, a Dubai-based chain of commercial schools operating in nine countries, including Britain. Of Sweden's 1,000-odd free schools, three-quarters are run for profit, he points out--but the Tories, afraid of the charge that they plan to hand little children over to big business, would ban schools from making profits. "I think it is a tactical decision," says Mr Hultin. "But it will surely mean fewer schools opening."

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Hungry for China business, Singapore is busily making Mandarin its first language

Nopporn Wong-Anan:

A cacophony of Mandarin and English echoes through the streets of Singapore's Chinatown as crowds of shoppers buy mooncakes and other seasonal delicacies to mark the Mid-Autumn Festival.

English has long united the ethnically diverse city state, but Singapore's leaders now foresee a time when Mandarin will be its dominant language and they are aggressively encouraging their citizens to become fluent in Chinese.

"Both English and Mandarin are important because in different situations you use either language. But Mandarin has become more important," says Chinatown shopkeeper Eng Yee Lay.

Hit hard by the global slowdown, Singapore is seeking to leverage the language skills of its ethnic Chinese majority to secure a larger slice of the mainland's rapidly expanding economic pie.

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The Power of Good Schools: For Many Buyers, Education Rules -- And It Shows in Area Home Prices

Barbara Ruben:

In their quest to move out of their rented Rockville townhouse and buy a single-family home, Lisa Hollaender and her husband, Laurent, first considered the Carderock Springs neighborhood of Bethesda, then moved on to Potomac and later explored Olney. They also ventured across the Potomac to Vienna. But they haven't been to a single open house, let alone made an offer.

Hollaender is first finding the school she considers best suited for her son, who is both very bright and physically challenged.

"Ultimately school fit is number one, house location a far second," said Hollaender, whose son recently started kindergarten. The family has decided to stay put in Rockville this year and send him to a private school, but that's a temporary solution. "We cannot continue to pay for private school, plus buy our 'dream home,' " Hollaender said.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Attack high tax burden on Wisconsin homes

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

If you own a home or business in Wisconsin, you already know your property taxes are high.

But now it's official.

So let's keep the pressure on government at all levels to try to ease the burden.

Wisconsin has the ninth highest property tax in the nation, a nonprofit research group reported this week. The Tax Foundation, based in Washington, D.C., used new Census Bureau data to rank the best and worst real estate tax burdens across the country.

Wisconsin's median property tax last year was $2,963, compared to the national median of $1,897, the group reported.

When home values are factored in, Wisconsin moves up the list to fourth highest among the 50 states. By this measure, our burden is almost twice as heavy as the national median.

Notes and links from former Madison Mayor Paul Soglin along with Paul Caron. WISTAX:
Wisconsin's two largest taxes, the income tax and property tax, generate more than $15 billion for state and local governments.

In 2008, income tax collections totalled $6.71 billion. At 3.3% of personal income, Wisconsin's income tax collections ranked 10th highest nationally. On a per capita basis ($1,137), the Badger state was 13th.

Recent income tax law changes reduced the capital gains exclusion from 60% in 2008 to 30% in 2009 and added a fifth tax bracket (7.75%). In 2008, the top tax rate was 6.75%

Ted Kolderie urges "dramatic change" in the public sector.

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Needlessly expensive school clothes are trying parents' patience

The Economist:

ASDA offers one for £55 ($90), Matalan for £49, and British Home Stores for £69 (including a shirt, tie and leather shoes). For a teenager needing to look smart, high-street retailers provide suits at a reasonable price. But not all pupils are allowed to shop around.

Johnny, aged 16, was told to return to his private school this autumn in a "charcoal wool two-piece with a fine blue pinstripe". It is available only from the school outfitters, and costs a cool £210. His father, Edward, a writer for The Economist, spent the summer arguing with the school about the uniform. "I don't object to his being nicer and more intelligent than I am," he says. "But I draw the line at his being more expensively dressed."

Parents and teachers usually like uniforms: they stop rich children from showing off, in theory inspire a proud work ethic and in practice keep gang colours outside the gates. But state schools that ape ancient private ones by adopting fancy uniforms have had a mixed reception. It is not the clothes that raise hackles, but specifying their source.

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I'll Make My Reading Logs Optional Says Virginia Teacher

Sara Bennett:

The post that has generated the most Comments ever is I Hate Reading Logs by FedUp Mom. If you scroll through, you'll notice that teachers have chimed in, some rethinking their own homework practice, others defending it. I was particularly struck by the openness of a teacher from Virginia, who found the post while looking for a reading log, and ended up rethinking logs altogether.

I also thought the teacher made a very good point about the importance of keeping all discussions between teacher and parent as cordial and as respectful as possible.

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September 25, 2009

Madison School District & Madison Teachers Union Reach Tentative Agreement: 3.93% Increase Year 1, 3.99% Year 2; Base Rate $33,242 Year 1, $33,575 Year 2: Requires 50% MTI 4K Members and will "Review the content and frequency of report cards"

via a kind reader's email (200K PDF):

The Madison Metropolitan School District and Madison Teachers Inc. reached a tentative agreement Tuesday evening on the terms and conditions of a new two-year Collective Bargaining Agreement for MTI's 2,600 member teacher bargaining unit. Negotiations began April 15.

The Contract, for July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2011, needs ratification from both the Board of Education and MTI. The Union will hold its ratification meeting on Wednesday, October 14, beginning at 7:00 p.m. at the Alliant Energy Center, Dane County Forum. The Board of Education will tentatively take up the proposal in a special meeting on October 19 at 5:00 p.m.

Terms of the Contract include:

2009-2010 2010-11

Base Salary Raise - 1.00% Base Salary Raise - 1.00%
Total Increase Including Benefits - 3.93% Total Increase Including Benefits - 3.99%
Bachelor's Degree Base Rate $33,242 Bachelor's Degree Base Rate $33,575

A key part of this bargain involved working with the providers of long term disability insurance and health insurance. Meetings between MTI Executive Director John Matthews and District Superintendent Dan Nerad and representatives of WPS and GHC, the insurance carriers agreed to a rate increase for the second year of the Contract not to exceed that of the first year. In return, the District and MTI agreed to add to the plans a voluntary health risk assessment for teachers. The long term disability insurance provider reduced its rates by nearly 25%. The insurance cost reductions over the two years of the contract term amount to roughly $1.88 million, were then applied to increase wages, thus reducing new funds to accomplish this.

The new salary schedule increase at 1% per cell, inclusive of Social Security and WRS, amount to roughly $3.04 million. Roughly 62% of the salary increase, including Social Security and WRS, was made possible by the referenced insurance savings.

Key contract provisions include:

    Inclusion in the Contract of criteria to enable salary schedule progression by one working toward the newly created State teacher licensure, PI 34. Under the new Contract provision, one can earn professional advancement credits for work required by PI 34.
  • Additive pay regarding National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, i.e. an alternative for bargaining unit professionals who are not teachers (nurses, social workers, psychologists, et al) by achieving the newly created Master Educator's License.

  • Continuance of the Teacher Emeritus Retirement Program (TERP).

  • The ability after retirement for one to use their Retirement Insurance Account for insurance plans other than those specified in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. This will enable one to purchase coverage specific to a geographic area, if they so choose, or they may continue coverage with GHC or WPS - the current health insurance providers.
    For elementary teachers, the frequency and duration of meetings has been clarified, as have several issues involving planning time. All elementary teachers and all elementary principals will receive a joint letter from Matthews and Nerad explaining these Contract provisions.

  • For high school teachers who volunteer for building supervision, there is now an option to enable one to receive compensation, rather than compensatory time for the service. And there is a definition of what "class period" is for determining compensation or compensatory time.

  • For elementary and middle school teachers, MTI and the District will appoint a joint committee for each to study and recommend the content and frequency of report cards.
    For elementary specials (e.g. art, music) teachers, the parties agreed to end the class and a half, which will mean that class sizes for specials will be similar to the class size for elementary classroom teachers.

  • For coaches, and all others compensated on the extra duty compensation schedule, the additive percentage paid, which was frozen due to the State imposed revenue controls, will be restored.

  • School year calendars were agreed to through 2012-2013.

  • Also, MTI and the District agreed to a definite five-year exemption to the Contract work assignment clause to enable the District to assist with funding of a community-based 4-year-old kindergarten programs, provided the number of said 4-K teachers is no greater than the number of District employed 4-K teachers, and provided such does not cause bargaining unit members to be affected by adverse actions such as lay off, surplus and reduction of hours/contract percentage, due to the District's establishment of, and continuance of, community based [Model III] 4-K programs. (See note below.)

MTI Executive Director John Matthews said that he was glad that the parties were able to successfully resolve several matters which were raised in negotiations. In all, 67 Contract provisions were amended or created in this year's bargaining.

Superintendent Daniel Nerad said, "I am very pleased that we have reached this tentative agreement after an extensive period of bargaining. We have addressed a significant number of contract language related items. A key example lies in the area of elementary planning time. Of greatest significance to the District is an agreement over language that would allow for the implementation of a four-year-old kindergarten program."
"Also, in working with MTI we have been able to provide a salary increase, in part, as a result of reductions in health care costs. I appreciate working with John Matthews in accomplishing these insurance savings. I look forward to presenting this tentative agreement to the Board of Education in the near future."
John Matthews said, "But the economic provisions do not adequately reward those who have made the Madison schools among the best in the country. With the State usurping local control as regards to school funding, this is a matter that the State must fix; there is nothing local school boards can do, given the State's heavy hand. The State must realize that their funding formula for education is inadequate, and that it is causing the dissolution of the great education once available to Wisconsin children. That must be fixed and it is up to the Governor and the Legislators to do it."

For more information and to coordinate interviews, contact:
MMSD: Ken Syke, 663-1903 or Joe Quick, 663-1902
MTI: John Matthews, 257-0491

There are three models for how 4-K instruction is delivered, i.e., where and by whom:
Model I - in a school district site and by district-employed teachers
Model II - in preschool/child care centers and by district-employed teachers
Model III - in preschool/child care centers and by center-employed teachers

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Bad Title, Mind-Changing Book

Jay Matthews:

We education writers receive many books in the mail with terrible titles, real slumber-time stuff. Here are some on my bookshelf: "Learning and Understanding: Improving Advanced Study of Mathematics and Science in U.S. High Schools";| "Rethinking High School Graduation Rates & Trends"; and "SREB Fact Book on Higher Education."

Those volumes proved to be pretty good, as evidenced by the fact that I didn't throw them out. I mention this because on top of that stack is a new book that sets the record for largest gap between quality of work and liveliness of title.

It is "Schoolhouses, Courthouses, and Statehouses: Solving the Funding-Achievement Puzzle in America's Public Schools" by Eric A. Hanushek and Alfred A. Lindseth| I forced myself to read it because it was on the agenda of a conference I was attending.

I'm glad I did. It is enlightening, maddening, hopeful, frustrating and amazingly informative, all in just 411 pages. I don't like admitting this, but it even changed my mind on a hot issue, the connection between U.S. schools and U.S. economic success.

I probably would have read "Schoolhouses, Courthouses, and Statehouses" cq that serial comma eventually, because Hanushek is one of the bad boy economists who have been providing some of the most provocative education research. I don't know Lindseth, an attorney and national expert on school finance law, but the chapters on that subject were very good, and comprehensible, so he also deserves some credit.

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Unions Criticize Obama's School Proposals as 'Bush III'

Nick Anderson:

To the surprise of many educators who campaigned last year for change in the White House, the Obama administration's first recipe for school reform relies heavily on Bush-era ingredients and adds others that make unions gag.

Standardized testing, school accountability, performance pay, charter schools -- all are integral to President Obama's $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" grant competition to spur innovation. None is a typical Democratic crowd-pleaser.

Labor leaders, parsing the Education Department's fine print, call the proposal little more than a dressed-up version of the No Child Left Behind law enacted seven years ago under Obama's Republican predecessor.

"It looks like the only strategies they have are charter schools and measurement," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. "That's Bush III." Weingarten, who praises Obama for massive federal aid to help schools through the recession, said her 1.4 million-member union is engaged in "a constructive but tart dialogue" with the administration about reform.

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Alameda School District Master Plan

Alameda, California:

At the March 24th Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Vital proposed to the Board that together they begin a Master Plan process, to be completed by December. The result of the process will be a detailed plan that will provide the district a clear road map for decision-making over the next several years.

Our school district faces many challenges ahead, and important and difficult decisions about facilities, programs and staffing will have to be made. These decisions will impact all of our community so it is imperative that students, families, and staff - as well as the overall Alameda community - participate in the Master Plan process and face these challenges together.

Related: The Madison School District's Strategic Planning Process.

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The pedagogy of the privileged

The Economist

Business schools have done too little to reform themselves in the light of the credit crunch.

THIS has been a year of sackcloth and ashes for the world's business schools. Critics have accused them of churning out jargon-spewing economic vandals. Many professors have accepted at least some of the blame for the global catastrophe. Deans have drawn up blueprints for reform.

The result? Precious little. Business schools have introduced a few new courses. Students at Harvard Business School (HBS) have introduced a voluntary pledge "to serve the greater good" among other worthy goals, which about half of this year's graduates embraced. But for the most part it is business schooling as usual.

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"Dramatic Change in the Public Sector"

Ted Kolderie:

The Route Out of Minnesota's Fiscal Crisis: "We Can Change 'the Way We Do Things'"

A response limited to cutting-and-taxing would destroy Minnesota. To offset the disadvantages of our cold, remote location we sell a quality state at a high but reasonable price. This is a fragile balance. We could easily lose what attracts people to come here and to stay. And the fight would poison our politics; tear the state apart.

We do a pretty good job upgrading our physical infrastructure. And we do think about productivity in the private economy. But we lack a program for productivity in the public sector.

Much more on Ted Kolderie here.

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How Safe Is Your College?

The Daily Beast:

The Yale murder has heightened concerns about campus security. The Daily Beast crunches the numbers and ranks the 25 schools with the biggest crime problems.

The shocking murder of Yale doctoral student Annie Le had virtually every parent of a college student asking themselves the same question this week: Will my child be safe on campus?

Almost universally, that answer is yes. Statistics for campus crime--80 percent of which involve students both as perpetrator and victim--generally pale when compared to the general population, and university safety has been improving as parental pressure and federal laws have increased transparency.

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Considering e-Book Formats

Peter Wayner:

Steve Jordan, a self-published science fiction novelist, has to make lots of decisions. Although most of them involve plot points, narrative arcs and character development, Mr. Jordan has the added burden of deciding how to deliver the stories he creates to his online audience.

Some of those readers own dedicated devices like's Kindle, some plow through his books on smartphones, some use laptops and maybe a few even employ desktop PCs left over from the last century. (In true sci-fi fashion, Mr. Jordan doesn't publish his novels on paper.)

The options are proliferating quickly for readers and the authors they love. While devices like the Kindle, the Apple iPhone and the Sony Reader get much of the attention, practically any electronic device capable of displaying a few lines of text can be adapted as a reader. The result has been a glut of hardware, software and e-book file formats for readers to sift through in searching for the right combination.

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September 24, 2009

Revised Madison School District Strategic Plan Posted

via a kind reader's email:

September 21, 2009 Revision: 900K PDF.

Comments on the District's website.

Madison School Board President Arlene Silveira's email on the latest version and upcoming board discussions:

Good afternoon everyone,

The proposed action plans for the strategic plan are now on the district web site.

Please go to the home page (, click on bullet for Strategic Planning;
click on "Read and comment on the proposed Strategic Plan - Sept. 21, 2009"
Click on "Strategic Plan (proposed) Sept. 21, 2009"

The action plans start on page 30. The Board had requested additional support information. The Administration has added performance measures for each of the strategies. In addition, the plans are cross-referenced to the top critical issues that you identified as a group in your strategic planning meetings. The Board had also asked for a review of the wording for clarity and to lessen the use of educational jargon; a review of priorites to lessen the number of priorities one in the first year; and identification of the connections between various action items as well as connections to oterh plans presented to and/or approved by the Board.

The Board has a meeting scheduled for September 29 at 6:00pm to review/discuss the action plans. If you have any comments prior to that meeting, you can reply on the web or send me an email. I will ensure the Board sees your comments.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Best regards,


Letter from Madison School Board members Ed Hughes and Marj Passman on the revised Strategic Plan:

This Tuesday evening, September 29, the School Board will be having a last and, hopefully, final discussion on the Strategic Plan.

Even though the plan has evolved somewhat since our initial meetings, we think that you will find that it represents the spirit and essence of all your efforts.

You may share your views with the Board, Tuesday at 6:00 P.M., in the Doyle Auditorium.

If you would like to read the plan, please go to

and click on the bullet for Strategic Planning.

It will be good to see you again.

Ed Hughes and Marj Passman

Committee Chairs

MMSD Planning and Development Committee

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

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Do Charters 'Cream' the Best?

Wall Street Journal:

'Creaming" is the word critics of charter schools think ends the debate over education choice. The charge has long been that charters get better results by cherry-picking the best students from standard public schools. Caroline Hoxby, a Stanford economist, found a way to reliably examine this alleged bias, and the results are breakthrough news for charter advocates.

Her new study, "How New York City's Charter Schools Affect Achievement," shows that charter students, typically from more disadvantaged families in places like Harlem, perform almost as well as students in affluent suburbs like Scarsdale. Because there are more applicants than spaces, New York admits charter students with a lottery system. The study nullifies any self-selection bias by comparing students who attend charters only with those who applied for admission through the lottery, but did not get in. "Lottery-based studies," notes Ms. Hoxby, "are scientific and more reliable."

According to the study, the most comprehensive of its kind to date, New York charter applicants are more likely than the average New York family to be black, poor and living in homes with adults who possess fewer education credentials. But positive results already begin to emerge by the third grade: The average charter student is scoring 5.8 points higher than his lotteried-out peers in math and 5.3 points higher in English. In grades four through eight, the charter student jumps ahead by 5 more points each year in math and 3.6 points each year in English.

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Online High Schools Test Students' Social Skills

Paul Glader:

Tatyana Ray has more than 1,200 Facebook friends, sends 600 texts a month and participated in four student clubs during the year and a half she attended high school online, through a program affiliated with Stanford University.

Although top public and private high schools abound in her affluent area of Palo Alto, the 17-year-old originally applied to the online school because she and her parents thought it looked both interesting and challenging. She enjoyed the academics but eventually found she was lonely. She missed the human connection of proms, football games and in-person, rather than online, gossip. The digital clubs for fashion, books and cooking involved Web cams and blogs and felt more like work than fun. Last winter, Ms. Ray left the online school and enrolled at a local community college for a semester.

As online high schools spread, educators are ramping up efforts to counter the social isolation that some students experience. At the same time, sociologists and child psychologists are examining how online schooling might hinder, or help, the development of social skills.

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Performing Arts Center at Menlo-Atherton High School - opening soon

Linda Hubbard Gulker:

Finishing touches are underway in advance of the opening of the new Performing Arts Center at Menlo-Atherton High School the second weekend in October, highlighted by a performance by Music@Menlo's Artistic Directors, cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han, and special guest Anthony McGill, principal clarinetist of New York's Metropolitan Opera. The center - built in collaboration with the City of Menlo Park - includes a 492-seat theater, lobby, box office, rehearsal and practice rooms, and stagecraft workshop for production of scenery and props.

According to Sequoia Union High School District spokesperson Bettylu Smith, the 31,000-square-foot, 65-foot-high building is inspired by the beauty of the historical grove of Valley Oak trees on campus and has been carefully designed and landscaped to create a tree house-like environment and the impression it is following the contours of an already existing hillside.

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Judgement Day for Universities?

The Economist:

IN YESTERDAY'S Link exchange, I linked to a Henry Farrell post on the economics of 3D-movies, in which Mr Farrell quoted an old piece of his:
Perhaps the most interesting part of the book [Tyler Cowen's "">Good and Plenty"] is one that goes on a tangent from Cowen's main argument - his discussion of how changes in the ability of producers to enforce copyright are likely to affect cultural production. Here, he argues that the likely consequences will differ dramatically from art form to art form. Simplifying a little, he adapts Walter Benjamin to argue that there is likely to be a big difference between art forms that rely heavily on their "aura," and art forms that can be transformed into information without losing much of their cultural content. The former are likely to continue to do well - they aren't fundamentally challenged by the Internet. In contrast, forms of art which can be translated into information without losing much of their content are likely to see substantial changes, thanks to competition from file sharing services. Over time, we may see "the symbolic and informational" functions of art [becoming] increasingly separate," as the Internet offers pure information, and other outlets invest more heavily in providing an "aura" and accompanying benefits of status that will make consumers more willing to pay for art (because it is being produced in a prestigious concert hall, exhibited in a museum etc).
I think this is a very nice insight that is likely to prove true. It's not always so easy to determine what kinds of what forms of expression fall into which category, however. I believe that many newspaper producers long believed that the "aura" of reading the newspaper--having the physical item in one's hands--was an important part of news consumption. This may have been true to some extent, but the advantages of information digitisation overwhelmed the aura, with obvious consequences.

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National Academic Standards: The First Test

New York Times:

The first official draft of proposed national educational standards was released on Monday, a joint project of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The curriculum guidelines detail math and English skills that all students should have by the end of high school. Forty-eight states (Texas and Alaska are the holdouts) have signed on to the effort, called the Common Core Standards Initiative, to write the standards. This is one step on a long road: there is a 30-day comment period, and then the panel convened by the governors association will work on grade-by-grade standards from kindergarten onward.

What are some strengths and weaknesses of the new proposal? What are the obstacles to adopting common curriculum standards? Should this be a national goal, or should education reform efforts be directed elsewhere?

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The Decline of the English Department

William Chace:

During the last four decades, a well-publicized shift in what undergraduate students prefer to study has taken place in American higher education. The number of young men and women majoring in English has dropped dramatically; the same is true of philosophy, foreign languages, art history, and kindred fields, including history. As someone who has taught in four university English departments over the last 40 years, I am dismayed by this shift, as are my colleagues here and there across the land. And because it is probably irreversible, it is important to attempt to sort out the reasons--the many reasons--for what has happened.

First the facts: while the study of English has become less popular among undergraduates, the study of business has risen to become the most popular major in the nation's colleges and universities. With more than twice the majors of any other course of study, business has become the concentration of more than one in five American undergraduates. Here is how the numbers have changed from 1970/71 to 2003/04 (the last academic year with available figures):

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Lies My Parents Told Me

Science Blog:

Parents say that honesty is the best policy, but they regularly lie to their children as a way of influencing their behavior and emotions, finds new research from the University of Toronto and the University of California, San Diego.

Surprisingly little scholarship has been published on the subject of parental lying, so Gail Heyman, professor of psychology at UC San Diego, Diem Luu, a former UCSD student, and Kang Lee, professor at the University of Toronto and director of the Institute of Child Study, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, set out to explore the under-researched phenomenon. They asked U.S. participants in two related studies about parents lying to their children -- either for the purpose of promoting appropriate behavior or to make them happy.

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September 23, 2009

Read the Whole Book

The Concord Review

22 September 2009

For the last seven or eight years, I have been trying to get funding for a study of the assignment of complete nonfiction (i.e. history) books in U.S. public high schools. No one seems to be interested in such a study, but I have come to believe, from anecdotes and interviews, that the majority of our public high school students now graduate without ever having read a single complete nonfiction book, which would seem to be a handicap for them as they encounter college reading lists in subjects other than literature.

I am told that students in history classes do read excerpts, but those are a pale shadow of the complete work, and they do not discover, unless they read on their own, the difference between an excerpt and the sweep of an entire book.

For example, if high school students hear anything about Harry Truman, they are usually asked to decide whether his decision to drop the atomic bomb was right or wrong.

They miss anything about what he did when he was their age or younger. David McCullough worked on his Pulitzer-Prize-winning Truman for ten years, and here is an excerpt about HST when he was ten:

"For his tenth birthday, in the spring of 1894, his mother presented him with a set of large illustrated volumes grandly titled in gold leaf Great Men and Famous Women. He would later count the moment as one of life's turning points." p. 43

and in high school: "He grew dutifully, conspicuously studious, spending long afternoons in the town library, watched over by a white plaster bust of Ben Franklin. Housed in two rooms adjacent to the high school, the library contained perhaps two thousand volumes. Harry and Charlie Ross vowed to read all of them, encyclopedias included, and both later claimed to have succeeded...History became a passion, as he worked his way through a shelf of standard works on ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome...'Reading history, to me, was far more than a romantic adventure. It was solid instruction and wise teaching which I somehow felt I wanted and needed.' He decided, he said, that men make history, otherwise there would be no history. History did not make the man, he was quite certain." p. 58

Most of our high school students would have no idea that Harry Truman worked on the small family farm from 1906 to 1914:

"Harry learned to drive an Emerson gang plow, two plows on a three-wheeled frame pulled by four horses. The trick was to see that each horse pulled his part of the load. With an early start, he found, he could do five acres in a ten-hour day"...."Every day was work, never-ending work, and Harry did 'everything there was to do'--hoeing corn and potatoes in the burning heat of summer, haying, doctoring horses, repairing equipment, sharpening hoes and scythes, mending fences...Harry's 'real love' was the hogs, which he gave such names as 'Mud,' 'Rats,' and 'Carrie Nation.' Harry also kept the books...." pp. 74, 75

Perhaps this time on the farm toughed him for his job as commander of artillery Battery 'D' in World War I: "Harry called in the other noncommissioned officers and told them it was up to them to straighten things out. 'I didn't come here to get along with you,' he said. 'You've got to get along with me. And if there of you who can't, speak up right now, and I'll bust you right back now.' There was no mistaking his tone. No one doubted he meant exactly what he said. After that, as Harry remembered, 'We got along.' But a private named Floyd Ricketts also remembered the food improving noticeably and that Captain Truman took a personal interest in the men and would talk to them in a way most officers wouldn't." pp. 117-118

And in the United States Senate, investigating waste, fraud and abuse: "Its formal title was the Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program, but from the start it was spoken of almost exclusively as the Truman Committee...'Looks like I'll get something done,' Harry wrote to Bess."..."His proposal, as even his critics acknowledged, was a masterstroke. He had set himself a task fraught with risk--since inevitably it would lead to conflict with some of the most powerful, willful people in the capital, including the President--but again as in France, as so often in his life, the great thing was to prove equal to the task." p. 259

All of these quotes are from David McCullough's Truman, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992. The book is 992 pages long and there are some other great 'excerpts' in it, of course. My point is to show a bit of how much our high school students might miss in trying to understand the man who made the decision to drop the atomic bomb if they don't read the whole book. Some will say 992 pages is too much for high school students, who have work and sports and extracurricular activities as well as 5-6 hours a day of electronic entertainment already. I would just argue that if students now can take calculus and chemistry, and in some cases, even Chinese, they ought to be able to spend as much time on a complete nonfiction book as they do at football or basketball practice, even if their reading of a complete book is spread out over several weeks. Reading a complete nonfiction (history) book will not only help to prepare them for college (nonfiction) reading lists, it will also give them a more complete glimpse into one of our Presidents, and after reading, for example, Truman, they should have a better understanding of why someone like David McCullough thought writing it was worth ten years of his life, and why the Pulitzer committee thought it should receive their prize.

"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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When Less Is More

Scott Jaschik:

For years now, applicants to highly competitive colleges have complained that they feel that they must do more and more to demonstrate why they should be admitted.

This year, following a pattern that had already taken hold among less competitive institutions (for different reasons), some institutions are asking a little less of applicants, at least when it comes to how much they have to write. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is replacing a longer essay (500 words) with several short questions of about 200 words. The University of Pennsylvania has decided to combine two essay questions about the student's fit into the institution into one, saving students maybe 200 words.

For book-writing academics, 200 words here or there may seem irrelevant. But the admissions officers behind the decisions say that they are asking for less out of the view that they may learn more about applicants by not overwhelming them with so many questions. They also said that it may be time for admissions deans to balance more carefully what they would like to know about applicants -- and the demands on applicants' time.

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Brutality on the Bus

Mrs. Cornelius:

I imagine you've probably heard about this by now:
The [Belleville, Illinois] School Board on Monday handed out the harshest punishment allowed to two students accused of violent attacks on another boy on a school bus last week, saying it was sending a message by expelling the two boys for the rest of this year and all of next.

Board President Curt Highsmith said the kind of violence caught on the school bus' surveillance camera and shown widely on TV and the Internet has "never been tolerated and never will be tolerated" in the Belleville Township High School District.

The video taken a week earlier by a camera on the bus showed a 17-year-old Belleville West High School student get on the bus and look for an open seat. He took a seat next to another teen, who after a few moments attacked the victim, punching him in the head several times. At one point, the attacker held the victim by the neck with one hand while he punched his face with the other.

A few minutes after that beating ended, another student argued with the victim and then punched him in the face several times. Each time, other students intervened in an effort to stop the attacks.

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New US education standards proposed

Nick Anderson:

n advisory panel unveiled a proposal yesterday that details the math and English skills every student ought to have by the end of high school, the first step toward what advocates hope will become common standards that help the United States regain world academic leadership.

In math, for example, students would be able to solve systems of equations; find and interpret rates of change; and adapt probability models to solve real-world problems.

In English language arts, they would be able to analyze how specific word choices shape the meaning and tone of a text; develop a style and tone of writing appropriate to a task, purpose and audience; and respond constructively to advance a discussion and build on the input of others.

The proposal, posted at, was drafted over the summer by a group that included specialists affiliated with organizations that oversee the SAT and ACT college admissions tests, as well as Achieve Inc., a nonprofit standards advocacy group based in Washington.

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Charter Schools Pass Key Test in Study

John Hechinger & Ianthe Jeanne Dugan:

New York City students who win a lottery to enroll in charter schools outperform those who don't win spots and go on to attend traditional schools, according to new research to be released Tuesday.

The study, led by Stanford University economics Prof. Caroline Hoxby, is likely to fire up the movement to push states and school districts to expand charter schools -- one of the centerpieces of President Barack Obama's education strategy.

Among students who had spent their academic careers in charter schools, the average eighth grader in Ms. Hoxby's study had a state mathematics test score of 680, compared with 650 for those in traditional schools. The tests are generally scored on a roughly 500 to 800 scale, with 650 representing proficiency.

Ms. Hoxby's study found that the charter-school students, who tend to come from poor and disadvantaged families, scored almost as well as students in the affluent Scarsdale school district in the suburbs north of the city. The English test results showed a similar pattern. The study also found students were more likely to earn a state Regents diploma, given to higher-achieving students, the longer they attended charter schools.

Jennifer Medina, via a kind reader's email:
Students who entered lotteries and won spots in New York City charter schools performed better on state exams than students who entered the same lotteries but did not secure charter school seats, according to a study by a Stanford University economist being released Tuesday.

Charter schools, which are privately run but publicly financed, have been faring well on standardized tests in recent years. But skeptics have discounted their success by accusing them of "creaming" the best students, saying that the most motivated students and engaged parents are the ones who apply for the spots.

The study's methodology addresses that issue by comparing charter school students with students of traditional schools who applied for charter spots but did not get them. Most of the city's 99 charter schools admit students by lottery.

The report is part of a multiyear study examining the performance of charter schools in New York City by Caroline M. Hoxby, a Stanford economist who has written extensively about her research on charter schools and vouchers.

Complete 2MB PDF report, via Rick Kiley.

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Skills Set Proposed For Students Nationwide

Nick Anderson:

Experts convened by the nation's governors and state schools chiefs on Monday proposed a set of math and English skills students should master before high school graduation, the first step toward what advocates hope will become common standards driving instruction in classrooms from coast to coast.

The proposal aims to lift expectations for students beyond current standards, which vary widely from state to state, and establish for the first time an effective national consensus on core academic goals to help the United States keep pace with global competitors. Such agreement has proven elusive in the past because of a long tradition of local control over standards, testing and curriculum.

In math, the proposal envisions that students would be able to solve systems of equations; find and interpret rates of change; and adapt probability models to solve real-world problems. In English language arts, they would be able to analyze how word choices shape the meaning and tone of a text; develop a style and tone of writing appropriate to a task and audience; and respond constructively to advance a discussion and build on the input of others.

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Resist the Pedagagogical Far Right

Robert Nash:

This fall I will be starting my 41st year as a professor at a so co-called "Public Ivy" institution. Some of my colleagues ask me if I'll ever retire. Whenever I give my stock response -- "They'll have to carry me out of here in a box, and bury me on the main university green before I retire" -- my colleagues look at me as if I'm crazy. Perhaps from their perspective I am, but from my own view, I'm very sane. I love the life of academe, in spite of its irritating intellectual rigidities, its sometimes lethal, passive-aggressive competitiveness, its deeply entrenched resistance to change, and, worst of all, its over-the-top superiority complex. Still, I'm here to shout to the world that academe has been good to me, and I consider myself lucky to be a professor. But it is my teaching that fills me up the most, and it is my teaching that has provided the lasting memories.

The past few years I've been reading a lot about teaching and learning as preparation for writing a book on how to help students create meaning both inside and outside the classroom. Most of the work I've read, with a few remarkable exceptions, resounds with critique, regrets, complaints, settling old scores with some perceived enemy, and, worst of all, with belligerent put-downs of millennial and quarterlife students. For many of these authors, today's college students are lazy, preoccupied, unmotivated, poorly prepared, distracted, politically correct, and, above all, "entitled." In a word, students today are "unteachable."

These scholars go on to say that if the academy is to save itself, it must return to the older ideals of a reduced elective curriculum, a stringent, no-prisoners-taken grading policy, an uncompromising commitment to the tried-and-true academic research methodologies, and, most of all, a no-nonsense, lecture-only, close-textual-analysis, stick-to-the-facts/research approach to reading and writing. "Rigor" is the catchword for these writers. Sadly, in the aftermath, "rigor mortis" could very well become, if it hasn't already, the catchword for students.

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September 22, 2009

Norman, OK School District Gifted Education Plan

Norman Public Schools:

The District shall provide appropriate educational services for "gifted and talented children" who give evidence of high performance capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, musical, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic areas, and who require learning opportunities or experiences not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop such capabilities. These educational experiences will be provided at each school through site-developed programs, which are in alignment with the mission of the District's Gifted Education Plan and goals of that plan.
Related: The Madison School District's new Talented & Gifted Plan.

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State politics could block Detroit's chance for educational progress

Amber Arellano:

magine if, in a strange twist, Michigan was holding up the city of Detroit's progress.

It would be a shocking, right? After all, for decades the state's business and civic establishments and chattering classes (myself included) have blathered on about how Detroit and its schools and its dysfunctional leadership have dragged down the economic growth of the state and metropolitan region and harmed their social viability and global reputation. It's a painfully true statement, except now there's an exception to that rule.

To the surprise of many, Detroit could be held back by the state when it comes to educational progress, or at least the strategic policymaking needed to make that happen.
While the Detroit Public Schools' emergency financial manager Robert Bobb and his impressive administration appear to be well-prepared to compete for President Barack Obama's Race to the Top competitive education stimulus money, Lansing is stuck in an ideological battle, threatening to risk Michigan's application to win hundreds of millions for Michigan schools. Just six months ago, the opposite seemed to be true. Detroit was mired in a self-created swamp of corruption and low performance. Michigan, meanwhile, led by progressive state Superintendent Mike Flanagan, was putting itself in position to woo U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who has more money at his disposal to transform American education than any other education secretary has in decades, if ever.

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US Drops Case Against Vang Pao; Madison Elementary School Was, At One Time Name for the Exiled Hmong Leader

Jesse McKinley:

he federal government said Friday that it had dropped all charges against the exiled Hmong military leader Gen. Vang Pao, who had been accused of plotting to overthrow the Communist government in his native Laos.

The announcement came after a grand jury in Sacramento issued a new indictment on Thursday against a dozen men accused of conspiring to give money, arms and other support to insurgents in Laos, and violations of the Neutrality Act.

Ten of the 12 defendants, all of whom live in California, had been charged in a 2007 indictment that named Gen. Vang Pao, as a ringleader in the plot. The new indictment replaces the previous one.

Much more on Vang Pao and the Madison School District here.

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Defining 'College Ready,' Nationally

Doug Lederman:

That too many young people come out of high school ill-prepared for college or the work force is little disputed. The questions of why that's so and how to fix the situation, however, have too often resulted in finger pointing, with many college faculty members complaining that high schools are asking too little of their students and high school officials saying that colleges send mixed signals about what they want students to be able to do.

The stagnation and even deterioration created by that logjam has contributed to the situation in which the United States now finds itself: sliding down the list of countries in the proportion of young adults with college credentials, prompting President Obama and others to propose investing tens of billions of dollars to get more people into and out of college. But despite a lot of talk, the "holy grail" solution to the preparation problem -- better aligning high school and college curriculums so that more students leave K-12 ready to do college work or with work-ready skills -- has often seemed out of reach.

Today represents a milestone, though, for a potential breakthrough that could have major implications for higher education. The Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association have released common standards for core curriculums in mathematics and reading and writing that, because of a confluence of events, could create a set of widely embraced national (but not federal) standards for what high school students need to know to be "college ready" or to have the skills to enter the work force. (Comments are invited through October 21.)

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New Life Where Towns and Teams Are Dying

Jere Longman:

Last Friday, as on all football Fridays at state champion Canadian High School, a black-and-gold flag flew along Main Street outside the City Drug Soda Fountain. A painted sign spelled out Wildcats on the window at Treasure's Beauty Salon. Up the street, at the Hemphill County Courthouse, Sally Henderson showed off the paw-print design on her black-and-gold fingernails.

Until a nail salon opened over the summer in this tiny, wealthy and ambitious Panhandle town, Henderson drove 45 miles to Pampa or 100 miles to Amarillo to have her nails done for football games and holidays.

"My husband is so glad I don't have to drive anymore," said Henderson, 52, a cheery administrative assistant to the county judge and the wife of the county sheriff. "I'd stop and do Wal-Mart, and every time I got my nails done, I'd spend $300."

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Live Blogging from the Millburn Schools Meeting

Tina Kelley:

"I keep hearing about how administrators and teachers and everybody to blame, but I'm not hearing a word about parents in the community." There was applause from the back of the room.

She spoke about her experience when her son was bullied, and administrators did their best, but when she approached parents about their children's behavior, she was immediately ostracized. "I was shunned from their circle, the PTO, everything else, and I felt that message loud and clear," she said. She spoke of a woman she had heard of who was happy that her daughter made the slut list, because it ensured that she was popular, and other parents complaining about having to shop for camouflage one weekend, the clothes certain freshman girls had been instructed to wear. "Where are your brains?" Ms. Pasternak asked.

"I'm really speaking to you guys as a community, yes you should put together a task force," she said. "But why do let these people dominate our community? We shouldn't. We should say you're wrong, your kids are not the popular ones and you are definitely not popular." (People laughed at that.)

Millburn Schools.

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British Employers Say University Students Should Pay More


University students should pay higher interest rates on their government-backed support loans and expect higher tuition fees in future in order to plug a gap in higher education funding, employers said on Monday.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said the government should save 1.4 billion pounds a year by removing its interest rate subsidy from student loans and reinvest the money in university teaching and research.

Maintenance grants should be restricted to the poorest students while a rise in the 3,200-pound-a-year cap on tuition fees looked "inevitable."

It noted that universities believed an increase to 5,000 pounds a year would not lead to a decline in student demand while raising an extra 1.25 billion pounds in annual income.

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Madison schools' new rules for 'backpack mail' shut out some

Gayle Worland:

The Madison School Board has clamped down on just who can and cannot advertise through the school district's backpack mail system, a change that has some parents feeling relieved - less "junk mail" for the recycling bin - and others worried they're missing out.

Tucked in a folder, backpack mail, which regularly heads home with Madison's elementary school students, still includes school announcements, notes from the teacher, field-trip permission slips and perhaps bills for unpaid lunch accounts. And plenty of ads for nonprofits such as the YMCA, Children's Theater of Madison and Madison Youth Choirs remain.

But gone are the fliers touting for-profit offerings, such as private tutoring, after-school care, music lessons, karate classes, ballet lessons and kid-friendly commercial gyms.

The policy change adopted last month stems from concerns that a growing amount of backpack mail was taking too much staff time, said School Board president Arlene Silveira.

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September 21, 2009

Business can play a role in education, says World Bank boss

Harry Patrinos:

Whether education is best provided by the public or private sector should cease to be an ideological issue, with decisions made purely on the basis of which is the best quality and most cost-effective option, says the World Bank's lead education economist.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Harry Patrinos, co-author of The Role and Impact of Public-Private Partnerships in Education, a report published by the World Bank, said that he believes there is a much greater role for business in education generally, subject to strict conditions.

Mr Patrinos said that, despite Britain pioneering public-private partnerships (PPPs) to build new school infrastructure under schemes such as the Private Finance Initiative over the past decade, real progress will only be made when private suppliers are allowed to hire and fire teachers and manage schools themselves.

"Education is a social investment, as well as a private investment. There is and will always be a government responsibility, but that doesn't have to mean ownership of schools," he said.

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Wauwatosa, WI trade school works on employability skills

Amy Hetzner:

Two by two, the students sit at tables in what once was a medical clinic. Next door to the single classroom is their break room. Down the hall, a conference room awaits more permanent furniture.

Much about the Tosa School of the Trades says "work" - not just the building, but the charter school's curriculum as well.

"We want to be kind of almost like a job, because what we're working on is employability skills as well as 21st century skills," said Principal Jason Zurawik, who doubles as an associate principal at Wauwatosa East High School.

The Wauwatosa School District's newest school, which opened this year to 14 students in the basement of a district building on W. North Ave., represents a resurgence of the idea of the vocational high school. Like those schools of old, its students learn trade skills alongside core subjects such as English, math, social studies and science.

But Zurawik also sees the school as training students in what educators refer to as 21st century skills - problem solving, critical thinking, teamwork, self-direction - that will allow them to adapt to different jobs later on.

And as a result, its teachers see the school as the way education should be heading.

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Parents say Mass. puts low priority on education for gifted children

Taryn Plumb:

At age 3, Aurora Ghere began to read. Now 6, she delves into books that are usually fifth-grade fare, recently finishing "The Call of the Wild'' and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.''

She can also, her mother boasts, count to 1,000.

When the Gheres lived in Maryland, a screening in her school district identified Aurora as a gifted child.

But Green Meadow School in Maynard, where Aurora is in first grade, lacks programs geared toward gifted children. Though administrators have been supportive of Aurora's needs, her mother thinks schools in her town and elsewhere should do more.

"We could care less if our children got into Harvard or MIT,'' said Ghere. "We just want them to love school. School should be a joy.''

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Elite Schools Don't Make Elite People

Jay Matthews:

I promised a high school counselor in California I would update a very old online column whose printout on her wall is too faded to read. It asked a question I think students immersed in college visiting and application writing should consider: Where did your heroes go to college?

Most of us want our lives to have meaning. We want to add value, at least in some small way. We want to be admired.

What college do you go to for that? Where did the people we look up to get their degrees? Often it's not the best-known schools.

Let's look at government and business leaders. (I know. They have their flaws. But we are just getting started.) The past four presidents graduated from Columbia, Yale, Georgetown and Yale. But the four before them attended somewhat more modest institutions: Eureka, the U.S. Naval Academy, Michigan and Whittier.

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Proposed Madison Superintendent Review Guidelines

Madison School District [284K PDF]:

The annual Superintendent evaluation should serve as a positive, objective process for promoting the goals, values, and progress of the district. It is based on the Superintendent's job description and is one tool used by the Superintendent/Board Leadership Team for informed change and continued improvement of the district.

The Board will identify and approve a timeline for the formal evaluation to review the performance of the Superintendent and the Board/Superintendent Leadership Team on an annual basis. The Board will identify the following under the timeline: a date for the formal evaluation meeting, a date for the end-of-year progress report meeting, a due date for the interim progress report from the Superintendent, a date for a Board/Superintendent Leadership and a date for the end-of-year progress meeting.

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A difficult lesson in tough love

Mrs. Moneypenny:

Do you keep phone numbers? I meticulously store contact details for everyone I meet, however random, and make notes of what they do and where I met them. My other modus operandi when meeting people is always to try to be as polite and helpful as possible (within reason).

Hence, I found myself giving up an hour or so earlier this year to cast an eye over the business strategy of a small enterprise. On meeting the people behind the business, I discovered that it was a rehabilitation clinic, and one of the people presenting to me was a very impressive addiction counsellor, and herself a recovering alcoholic.

And that is where I sat up and took notice, because I have a close relative who is alcohol-dependent. It is not Mr M or any of the cost centres, but it is someone very dear to me. Those of you who have someone in their family who is alcohol- or drug-dependent will know how emotionally scarring this is. You love them, you want to help, you try to help, but they are living in another world. In their world, they are not addicts; they believe that they could give up at any time. They always have an excuse. Something is always just around the corner that will fix their problems - if only they could meet the right person/get the right job/have the right amount of money, everything would be fine. Nothing and no one ever prepared me for the self-delusion of the alcoholic. Every time they say they are going to get help, your hopes rise; and invariably they end up being crushed again

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September 20, 2009

Real Governance Change in the Milwaukee Public Schools?

Alan Borsuk:

WTMJ-TV (Channel 4) led its 10 p.m. news one night a few weeks ago with a story that the Milwaukee School Board had voted to spend up to $250,000 to fight the idea of giving control of the school system to Mayor Tom Barrett.

In the report, board member Tim Petersons told people who support the idea, "You're calling people who voted for us incapable of making the right decisions." And board member Larry Miller said, "We will resist the anti-democratic nature of this declaration."

But democracy is an interesting subject when it comes to the School Board. In reality, Petersons won his first race for the board in 2007 as the only person on the ballot from a district covering the northwest side. Miller was the only person on the ballot when he won his first bid in April in a district covering much of the east side and near south side.

Voter turnout in the election in April, which included hotly contested races for the state superintendent of public instruction and a seat on the state Supreme Court, was just less than 10% citywide. In the February primary election, which included two contested School Board primaries, turnout was 4.3%.

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Cursive writing may be fading skill, but so what?

Tom Breen:

Charleston resident Kelli Davis was in for a surprise when her daughter brought home some routine paperwork at the start of school this fall. Davis signed the form and then handed it to her daughter for the eighth-grader's signature.

"I just assumed she knew how to do it, but I have a piece of paper with her signature on it and it looks like a little kid's signature," Davis said.

Her daughter was apologetic, but explained that she hadn't been required to make the graceful loops and joined letters of cursive writing in years. That prompted a call to the school and another surprise.

West Virginia's largest school system teaches cursive, but only in the 3rd grade.
"It doesn't get quite the emphasis it did years ago, primarily because of all the technology skills we now teach," said Jane Roberts, assistant superintendent for elementary education in Kanawha County schools.

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Teachers find Obama not the friend they had expected

Rob Hotakainen:

When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed merit pay for teachers and lifting the cap on charter schools, the head of the California NAACP stood by his side.

And when the Los Angeles school board voted to approve a plan that could turn over a third of its schools to private operators, Latino members and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa led the charge.

The nation's public school teachers are feeling the squeeze from all sides these days, and some of the heat is coming from unlikely sources: minorities and longtime Democratic allies.

One of them is President Barack Obama, who is irking teachers by suggesting that student test scores be used to judge the success of educators.

The pressure is particularly intense in California, where U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan says the state has "lost its way" with public schools.

In an attempt to improve California's schools, the Obama administration is threatening to withhold federal stimulus money if the Golden State does not rescind a state law that prevents the state from tying test scores to teacher performance.

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Initiative Focuses on Early Learning Programs

Sam Dillon:

Tucked away in an $87 billion higher education bill that passed the House last week was a broad new federal initiative aimed not at benefiting college students, but at raising quality in the early learning and care programs that serve children from birth through age 5.

The initiative, the Early Learning Challenge Fund, would channel $8 billion over eight years to states with plans to improve standards, training and oversight of programs serving infants, toddlers and preschoolers.

The Senate is expected to pass similar legislation this fall, giving President Obama, who proposed the Challenge Fund during the presidential campaign, a bill to sign in December.

Experts describe the current array of programs serving young children and their families nationwide as a hodgepodge of efforts with little coordination or coherence. Financing comes from a shifting mix of private, local, state and federal money. Programs are run out of storefronts and churches, homes and Head Start centers, public schools and other facilities. Quality is uneven, with some offering stimulating activities, play and instruction but others providing little more than a room and a television.

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A Look at Teacher Compensation in Oshkosh

Adam Rodewald:

Oshkosh teachers received annual salary raises that averaged more than 3 percent per school year over the past five years, according to an analysis by The Northwestern.

The analysis examined the salaries of 420 full-time teachers who were continuously employed by the Oshkosh Area School District from 2004 to 2008 and did not have significant changes in duties, which would skew salary increases.

The results show those teachers received raises averaging 4.4 percent in 2008 for an average salary of $52,171. That doesn't account for the value of their benefits, which average another $35,800.

In the past five years, the teachers' average pay, excluding benefits, increased 16 percent, from $44,884 to $52,171 due to "step" increases in pay that are given based on experience and professional development. That represents an average annual raise of 3.06 percent at a time when teachers' unions argued that state bargaining rules stagnated salary increases.

Teacher pay and benefits are likely to come under more scrutiny as Wisconsin struggles with a growing $6.6 billion budget deficit, which could force the state to further cut aids to local schools, forcing more of the funding burden to local property tax payers. Gov. Jim Doyle's budget also contains a provision to repeal the state's Qualified Economic Offer rule, which allows school boards to avoid contract arbitration by offering a 3.8 percent salary and benefit increase.

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A day at the museum - how much do children actually remember?

Julien Gross:

Museum corridors are often populated by clipboard-bearing school children enjoying a day away from the classroom. These museum trips seem like a good idea, but how much do children really learn from their day out? According to Julien Gross and colleagues, young children actually remember a great deal, especially if they are given the chance to draw as they recount their museum experience.

Fifty-eight lucky New Zealand school children, aged approximately six years, were taken for a day visit to the Royal Albatross Centre and Historic Fort in Dunedin. One to two days later, the amount of information recalled by the children depended to a large degree on how they were tested. Asked to freely recall the visit, the children remembered a significant amount of factual and trivial, "narrative" information, uttering an average of ten factual clauses. Crucially, this amount of factual recall doubled when they were allowed to draw at the same time as they recounted the day's events. By contrast, the children performed relatively poorly when given a traditional comprehension test in the form of 12 questions.

A second study largely replicated these findings with a second group of children who were tested on their memory for the museum visit after seven months. The amount of information they recalled remained substantial but was reduced, as you'd expect after a longer delay. Also, the benefit of drawing now only affected recall of narrative information, not facts.

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September 19, 2009

Remedial burden falls on community colleges

Robert Channick:

In Illinois' community colleges, fewer students finish two-year programs in two years, while many flounder in remedial classes before dropping out.

Drawn by low tuition and open admissions, a growing number of students headed back to school at Chicago-area community colleges. For Kyle Perez and thousands of entering freshmen, it may be a little further back than planned.

Coming up short on a standardized math placement exam before beginning classes at Harper College in Palatine, the 18-year-old football player was disappointed to learn he would have to take a full year of remedial algebra and geometry.

"I'm going to be in a high school class, paying the same amount as I would for college," said Perez, a 2009 Rolling Meadows High School graduate. "I'm not going to be getting any college credits for this. It's going to slow me down a little."

An estimated 20 percent of the record number of full-time students enrolled in the state's 48 community colleges in the spring semester were forced to take remedial courses, officials said.

As a result, students are taking longer to earn two-year degrees and more are getting discouraged and dropping out, prompting efforts in Illinois and around the country to better align the curricula of high schools and community colleges.

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Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction statewide value added project results (Including the Madison & Milwaukee Public Schools)

Kurt Kiefer, Madison School District Chief Information Officer [150K PDF]:

Attached is a summary of the results form a recently completed research project conducted by The Value Added Research center (VARC) within the UW-Madison Wisconsin Center for Educational Research (WCER). Dr. Rob Meyer and Dr. Mike Christian will be on hand at the September 14 Board of Education meeting to review these findings.

The study was commissioned by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI). Both the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) and Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) were district participants. The purpose of the study was to determine the feasibility of a statewide value added statistical model and the development of state reporting and analysis prototypes. We are pleased with the results in that this creates yet one more vehicle through which we may benchmark our district and school performance.

At the September 14, 2009 Board meeting we will also share plans for continued professional development with our principals and staff around value added during the upcoming school year.

In November we plan to return to the Board with another presentation on the 2008-09 results that are to include additional methods of reporting data developed by VARC in conjunction with MPS and the DPI. We will also share progress with the professional development efforts.


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Fixing the Teacher Certification Mess

Jay Matthews:

I have no doubt our system for certifying teachers is broken. On Aug. 24, I wrote|| about a first-rate Prince George's County teacher who was nearly fired because of official confusion over his certification credits. These are courses he must take to keep his job, but the people in charge had given him conflicting information about how many, and which, courses he needed. Since then, scores of educators have sent me their own horror stories---some of which I collected in another column on Sept. 7.

What do we do about this? Many readers have sent their ideas. But it's not going to be easy. Injecting common sense into the process threatens the way our education schools teach and the way our school districts hire. Those powerful interest groups show little willingness to change. But the acidic frustrations expressed by people who contacted me are, thankfully, corroding the resistance to innovation.

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New School Uses Games As Teaching Tools

Alex Wawro:

The first school in America with a teaching philosophy based on game design opens in downtown Manhattan next month, and the mission statement promises to employ the "design principles of games to create highly immersive, game-like learning experiences for students."

Quest to Learn is the brainchild of NYC non-profit Institute of Play, and with funding from the Parson's School of Design and a number of independent donors like the Gates Foundation the school promises to instruct students "through an innovative pedagogy that immerses students in differentiated, challenge-based contexts," acknowledging that "game design and systems thinking [are] key literacies of the 21st century."

What that means in common English is that students will ditch chalkboards and class periods in favor of a laptop in every classroom and four 90-minute "domain" blocks centered around the study of a new concept or idea. Some examples cited in a recent Economist article include "Sports for the Mind" (game vernacular and design,) "The Way Things Work" (basic science) and "Codeworlds" (a fusion of English and math.)

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Gray Claims Fenty Just Wants to Fire Unionized Teachers

Bill Turque:

D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray angrily accused the Fenty administration Thursday of seeking to "scapegoat" the council for impending public school budget cuts announced this week and called the reductions a pretext for firing unionized teachers.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee announced late Wednesday that the District would be forced to lay off teachers as part of an estimated $30 million to $40 million cut in the $770 million public school budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. They said the reductions are needed to close a spending gap created when the council approved a round of cuts to the city budget July 31.

Gray (D), who has left open the possibility of an election challenge to Fenty next year, said the mayor and chancellor were attempting to deflect responsibility for cuts in a budget that the mayor signed last month without any mention of possible teacher layoffs.

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September 18, 2009


Don Regina, via hard copy (The text is "OCR'd):

Good evening, everyone. I did not mean to burden you with more paper; after all, in life there is so much paperwork, but my administrators urged all teachers to present such a document to you. In my career I have observed that teachers feel somewhat anxious about tonight, but I don't know why.

Tonight we are together for the first of three meetings, the other two being parent-teacher conferences. It seems we are here for different purposes. You care enough to hurry from work, forego a leisurely dinner, and spend a few hours here. Perhaps you are curious about what I look like, or how I dress (by the way, I am out of uniform-I rarely wear a coat and only don a tie once a week), the way I have decorated my room, what this course is about, and if I am knowledgeable, intelligent, and articulate enough to teach effectively. In other words, is it safe for you to turn your child over to me for forty-five minutes every day. But in Twenty-first Century America two lesser but very powerful gods, named "Things to Do" and "Hurry Up" harry us mercilessly, so you must base your first impressions on these brief encounters. Wouldn't it be more relaxing if we could sit around a table over coffee and share ideas and concerns? I am here to tell you who I am and my teaching goals and philosophy. In short, I want not to make myself look good but to speak truly and simply, not to put my best foot forward but my real foot forward. Despite our seemingly different purposes, you and I are here for the same reason: we are involved in the education and development of your child and my student. Whether we agree or disagree and regardless of your reactions to what I do or don't do, let us always remember we are the most influential allies in that essential and crucial process, and permit our alliance to set the tone for our relationship.

My name is Don Regina, and I am ( ) years old. I, and my son . . attended this school, so like you I believe in a private, values oriented education. I hold a Bachelor of Arts degree from St. Michael's College in Vermont, a Masters Degree in British and American literature from the UW-Madison, and a Lifetime License from the Department of Public Instruction. Yes, I am a lifer. I have taught English here at Edgewood High School for ( ) years-this is my only post-and advise the school newspaper and coach the boys cross country team.

My profession has changed somewhat in the last thirty years. When you and I were in high school, we read and wrote about the classics-A Tale of Two Cities, Crime and Punishment, and Silas Marner. During the Seventies in college I argued with my fellow student teachers about the relative or apparent merits of something called independent study. And now my subject is called Language Arts. Despite all the superficial changes and glitsy gimmicks, and the history of education is loaded with gimmicks, we are and always will be studying the two Rs-reading and writing. So, unlike math or foreign language teachers, we English teachers must fight on two fronts.

It is not surprising, then, that I have two major goals. First, I must teach students to read carefully and perceptively. They must know what happened and what the author said in the text, and use that knowledge to understand characters such as Macbeth, John Proctor from The Crucible, or Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice. They should interpret symbols such as Robinson Crusoe's island, James Joyce's Dublin, or Mark Twain's river town, Dawson's Landing, in Puddn Head Wilson. And, most importantly, they should understand the theme or message the author is conveying. What is Jonathan Swift saying about humanity in Gulliver's Travels? How is F. Scott Fitzgerald portraying his generation in The Great Gatsby? What is Alice Walker expressing about the plight of women in The Color Purple?

My second goal is multi-faceted: to teach students to write competently. They should organize and clearly express their ideas in fully developed paragraphs and complete sentences using appropriate words. And they should 3 master writing's nuts and bolts: correct spelling, grammar, usage, and punctuation. As you can see, this is a daunting task.

I can sum up my teaching philosophy, gleaned from my experience, in several points. First, I take as my ideal Chaucer's Oxford Clerk, who would gladly learn and gladly teach. Every encounter in the classroom is a chance to teach something, be it the meaning of a word, the importance or faith in life, or what to do when and electrical appliance fails to work. I think reading should totally engage your intelligence. Parents see a child moving her eyes over an open book. What they cannot see is whether that child's mind is attentive and alert to the text so he or she can retain and comprehend it. I value the hard but rewarding work of learning because you sharpen your mind by absorbing, contemplating, and drawing conclusions from information. Next, a teacher should not only challenge but also help students to succeed, because when we work hard and succeed we feel better about ourselves and are motivated to achieve our potential. I have learned that high school students are like eggs: it doesn't take much to damage their fragile personalities, even if they act hard boiled. So while I must be firm, direct, and definite, I must not be angry, sarcastic, or overly critical. In a classroom discussion every student should participate rather than letting a few answer all the questions, so I call on people by name and everyone feels involved; they even forget themselves and start volunteering answers. I strongly believe that in an English class students should not only read poems, novels, and plays but also learn about authors' lives and times. Any piece of literature starts with a man or woman seated at a table, pen in hand, trying to express something. But what an author says results from all the personal, social and even historical forces at play during the moments of inspiration. Literature is not produced in a vacuum. I mean, why did Anne Bradstreet and Edward Taylor, two devout Puritans, write those poems?

Finally, I have learned to trust my common sense and ignore my need to be right when making decisions. If there wasn't enough time for the test, then allow more time and make a shorter test next time. If the test results are not what they should be, then I must make an allowance for that problem. And if I make a mistake (that's right, teachers make mistakes) then I do what I can to rectify it and then move on. After all, toxic emotions are useless. Finally, I must act with compassion and accomodate students with special needs, but to do so I must know what those needs are. If your child-is struggling with a learning disability or emotional illness, please tell me about it as soon as possible-not after the quarter or semester has ended and irreparable damage has been done-- so that I can take effective steps to help the student succeed. I will hold in strictest confidence whatever you tell me.

Thanks to Don for allowing me to post his words here. I added links to some of the referenced works and cleaned up the OCR scan errors.

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Literacy in Schools: Writing in Trouble

Surely if we can raise our academic standards for math and science, then, with a little attention and effort, we can restore the importance of literacy in our public high schools. Reading is the path to knowledge and writing is the way to make knowledge one's own.
17 September 2009

by Will Fitzhugh
Source: Member Contribution
Topics: Writing Conventions

[originally published in the New Mexico Journal of Reading, Spring 2009]

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

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

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

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

"High school is a wonderful time of self-discovery, where teens bond with several groups of friends, try different foods, fashions, classes and experiences, both good and bad. The end result in May of senior year is a mature and confident adult, ready to enter the next stage of life."
It is obvious that this "Excellent" high school writer is expressing more of his views on his own high school experience than on anything Herman Hesse might have had in mind, but that still allows this American student writer to score very high on the NAEP assessment of writing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the NCTE report has more to teach us:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are some exceptions. Since 1987, I have published 846 [868] exemplary history research papers by high school students from 44 states and 35 other countries. Their average length has been about 5,500 words, although in a recent [Spring 2009] issue (#77), the average length of the papers, including endnotes and bibliography, was 7,927 words.

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

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

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

Not one of the new state academic standards asks whether students have read a single nonfiction book in high school or written a single serious research paper. All the attention is on what can be easily tested and quantified, so the skills of academic reading and writing are left out, and our students pay the price for this neglect.

In 1776, Edward Gibbon, in the first volume of his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, wrote about the importance of academic reading and writing:

"...But all this well-laboured system of German antiquities is annihilated by a single fact, too well attested to admit of any doubt, and of too decisive a nature to leave room for any reply. The Germans, in the age of Tacitus [56-120AD], were unacquainted with the use of letters; and the use of letters is the principal circumstance that distinguishes a civilised people from a herd of savages incapable of knowledge and reflection. Without that artificial help, the human memory soon dissipates or corrupts the ideas intrusted to her charge; and the nobler faculties of mind, no longer supplied with models or with materials, gradually forget their powers; the judgment becomes feeble and lethargic, the imagination languid or irregular. Fully to apprehend this important truth, let us attempt, in an improved society, to calculate the immense distance between the man of learning and the illiterate peasant. The former, by reading and reflection, multiplies his own experience, and lives in distant ages and remote countries; whilst the latter, rooted to a single spot, and confined to a few years of existence, surpasses, but very little, his fellow-labourer the ox in the exercise of his mental faculties. The same, and even a greater difference will be found between nations than between individuals; and we may safely pronounce that, without some species of writing, no people has ever preserved the faithful annals of their history, ever made any considerable progress in the abstract sciences, or ever possessed, in any tolerable degree of perfection, the useful and agreeable arts of life...."
No doubt he would be as appalled as our college professors are now to see the incompetence of our high school graduates who have not been asked to read and write before college.

Surely if we can raise our academic standards for math and science, then, with a little attention and effort, we can restore the importance of literacy in our public high schools. Reading is the path to knowledge and writing is the way to make knowledge one's own. If we continue to ignore them as we do now, it will not be good for our economy, or for any of the "useful and agreeable arts of life" for our students.

Will Fitzhugh is Editor of The Concord Review and has written and lectured extensively on the assessment of writing and writing skills. He can be reached at: 730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24, Sudbury, Massachusetts USA, by phone at 978-443-0022; or 800-331-5007, and his website and e-mail are:;

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Threatening School Reform Which D.C. Council members want to go back to the bad old days?

Washington Post Editorial:

IN UNDERTAKING reform of D.C. schools, officials two years ago wisely prescribed a limited role for the school board. Sentimentality about the city's first elected body protected it from elimination, but officials recognized its absolute failure in serving the interests of children. Yet already the D.C. Council seems to want to give the board more prominence.

The council, returning from summer break next week, will try to override Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's Aug. 26 veto of budget language appropriating nearly $1 million to the State Board of Education. It was the second time the mayor vetoed the measure because of fears that increased autonomy could lead to the board meddling in school operations. Five votes are needed to sustain the mayor's veto, and unfortunately, it appears that some council members are buying the notion that this is a minor matter that won't threaten Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's reforms. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D), proponent of the change who is also mulling a challenge to Mr. Fenty next year, argues that the board's role in setting citywide educational standards and policy is not being enlarged.

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21st Century Skills - Critical thinking? You need knowledge

Diane Ravitch:

THE LATEST fad to sweep K-12 education is called "21st-Century Skills.'' States - including Massachusetts - are adding them to their learning standards, with the expectation that students will master skills such as cooperative learning and critical thinking and therefore be better able to compete for jobs in the global economy. Inevitably, putting a priority on skills pushes other subjects, including history, literature, and the arts, to the margins. But skill-centered, knowledge-free education has never worked.

The same ideas proposed today by the 21st-Century Skills movement were iterated and reiterated by pedagogues across the 20th century. In 1911, the dean of the education school at Stanford called on his fellow educators to abandon their antiquated academic ideals and adapt education to the real life and real needs of students.

In 1916, a federal government report scoffed at academic education as lacking relevance. The report's author said black children should "learn to do by doing,'' which he considered to be the modern, scientific approach to education.

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Don Tapscott:

In the industrial model of student mass production, the teacher is the broadcaster. A broadcast is by definition the transmission of information from transmitter to receiver in a one-way, linear fashion. The teacher is the transmitter and student is a receptor in the learning process. The formula goes like this: "I'm a professor and I have knowledge. You're a student, you're an empty vessel and you don't. Get ready, here it comes. Your goal is to take this data into your short-term memory and through practice and repetition build deeper cognitive structures so you can recall it to me when I test you."... The definition of a lecture has become the process in which the notes of the teacher go to the notes of the student without going through the brains of either.

In his Edge feature "Gin, Television, and Cognitive Surplus", Clay Shirky noted that after WWII we were faced with something new: "free time. Lots and lots of free time. The amount of unstructured time among the educated population ballooned, accounting for billions of hours a year. And what did we do with that time? Mostly, we watched TV."

In "The End of Universal Rationality", Yochai Benkler explored the social implications of the Internet and network societies since the early 90s. Benkler has been looking at the social implications of the Internet and network societies since the early 90s. He saw the end of an era:

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'Bonus culture' entering schools


An unwelcome bonus culture is creeping into head teachers' pay, diverting funds from the classroom, a teachers' leader is warning.

Head of the ATL union Dr. Mary Bousted is critical of what she says are highly paid school leadership roles which have little to do with children's education.

Every pound of bonus paid above school leadership pay scale was a pound less for books and equipment, she says.

The government said the level of pay should reflect heads' responsibilities.
'Super duper heads'

Some school governing bodies have advertised six figure salaries to attract good candidates to run schools and others are reported to have offered golden hellos.

Speaking at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers fringe at the TUC Congress in Liverpool, Dr Bousted said her union did not object to heads being paid a fair wage for a demanding and increasingly insecure job.

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Beyond Textbooks - Andy Chlup Discusses Digital Learning Models


There was a large touch of irony in an August NY Times post discussing the demise of a fixture in the world of education, the school textbook. The article, In a Digital Future, Textbooks Are History, predicts the death of an industry that is becoming "antiquated" with each passing tech innovation.

Though always considered exceedingly expensive, textbooks were once considered as fundamental to the classroom learning experience as the teacher. These tombs were the source of knowledge, the drivers of curriculum, and the teacher's most important resource.

But all that has changed in the digital world. According to experts, there are two critical factors.

First, there is the assessment of the value (learning produced per dollar) of these texts:

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75 Percent of Oklahoma High School Students Can't Name the First President of the U.S.


Only one in four Oklahoma public high school students can name the first President of the United States, according to a survey released today.

The survey was commissioned by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs in observance of Constitution Day on Thursday.

Brandon Dutcher is with the conservative think tank and said the group wanted to find out how much civic knowledge Oklahoma high school students know.

The Oklahoma City-based think tank enlisted national research firm, Strategic Vision, to access students' basic civic knowledge.

"They're questions taken from the actual exam that you have to take to become a U.S. citizen," Dutcher said.

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That, my friends, is what totalitarianism is all about: Education in Venezuela

Thomas P.M. Barnett:

Last time Hugo started screwing with the schools, he got himself a coup attempt in response. Since then he's spent a ton of time and money and police effort to try and eliminate all such enemies.

A new August law shoved through the rubber-stamp Parliament "already has the opposition talking of civil disobedience."

Naturally, this will be an American plot, because any such spontaneous popular civil disobedience could ONLY come as a result of American meddling, and not the bad actions of dictators nor their fed-up and brutalized citizens.

Teaching will be structured now according to "Bolivarian doctrine." Hmm, sounds promising all right. The ruling socialist party will run all the schools through their community store fronts known as "communal councils." The central gov will directly determine who gets into college and will take control of the training of teachers.

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Blocking the schoolhouse door

New York Post:

Minority kids try to enter a school. Angry adults scream at them and try to block their path.

Little Rock, 1957?

Try New York City, 2009.

That was the shocking scene last week at a Harlem building shared by a traditional public school, PS 123, and a charter school, Harlem Success Academy 2.

Charter schools are public schools -- but they're mostly free of burdensome union rules. And they regularly outperform traditional schools, which is why parents are desperate to get their kids into charters.

And why it was ironic to see protesters (mostly teachers-union members) handing out flyers decrying the supposedly "separate and unequal" system that charters create.

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September 17, 2009

Second Annual Wisconsin Charter School Awards Gala

Via an Ingrid Beamsley email:

On November 6th, 2009, the Wisconsin Charter Schools Association is hosting the second Annual Charter School Awards Gala. Once again, it will be at the famous Turner Hall in Milwaukee. This year it will be even bigger and better than last year. Of course, there will be great food and drink and a wonderful band. However, this year we're kicking it up a notch with a red carpet, interviews, and photographs, all to introduce our brand new Charter Schools short film.

This event is about more than getting together and having fun (as important as that is). It is the event to honor not only the excellence of the award nominees and winners?but of the whole charter school community.

Charter schools provide a choice in education for Wisconsin's families and help Wisconsin's public school system improve the quality of education for all students with innovative curriculums.

Go to to secure your spot.

If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to email or phone Ingrid Beamsley at or 608-261-1120.

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Minneapolis, St. Paul will grapple with what to pay new superintendents

Tom Weber:

Two of Minnesota's three largest school districts will spend a lot of time in coming months looking for new leadership.

St. Paul will replace Superintendent Meria Carstarphen, who left this summer, and Minneapolis is replacing Bill Green, who will step down after this year, when his contract ends.

Each district will try to find the best person, but they'll also have to figure out what to pay and how that compensation will be structured.

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Innovative math program boosts scores at O.C. schools

Seema Mehta:

In the airy computer lab at Romero-Cruz Elementary School in Santa Ana, 11-year-old Davis Nguyen quickly completed math problems. Each correct answer let an animated penguin named JiJi take steps across a bridge. The computer game looked simple, but backers say it is part of an innovative and powerful new way to teach math, and standardized test results released Tuesday appear to back up their claims.

Across the state, schools saw a 4.5% increase in the number of elementary students scoring "proficient" or "advanced" in math. But 64 Orange County elementary schools that took part in a math program created by the nonprofit MIND Research Institute saw a nearly 13% increase in the number of students scoring in those top levels.

The achievement buoyed the schools' rating as well.

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Seattle schools may lower grade-point requirement for graduation

Linda Shaw:

Seattle Public Schools may do away with a nearly decade-old requirement that all students earn a C average to graduate, and an even-older policy that athletes maintain a C average to play on school teams.

If the School Board approves recommendations endorsed by Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson, as well as most district high-school principals and counselors, a D average will be good enough to earn a high-school diploma. Student athletes would need to pass five of six classes with D grades or better.

District officials understand there are concerns about relaxing standards at a time when everyone from President Obama on down is pushing for higher expectations for U.S. students.

And when surveyed by the district last year, a majority of Seattle parents and students preferred to keep the C-average requirement.

But district officials, who plan to talk about the proposal at a School Board meeting tonight, insist they're not watering down expectations, and the change would mirror what most other districts require.

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Muslims Press for School Holidays in New York City

Suzanne Sataline:

Muslims groups here are pressing city officials to close public schools on two of the faith's holiest days, just as schools do for major Jewish and Christian holidays. But the groups have yet to persuade the man in charge of New York City schools, Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Muslim groups have asked the city to cancel classes on Eid Ul-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, and Eid Ul-Adha, which marks the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

New York is one of many public-school systems now struggling with appropriate ways to recognize religious holidays for a diverse population. An estimated 100,000 Muslim children are enrolled in New York City schools, about 10% of the enrollment.

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Overseas Study Is Down, and the Economy Takes the Blame

Karin Fischer:

For the first time in more than a decade, American colleges are reporting a drop in the number of students traveling overseas to study, and the economy is to blame.

Nearly 60 percent of colleges and independent study-abroad providers surveyed by the Forum on Education Abroad said enrollments had fallen from the previous year. Public colleges and outside providers were more likely to experience enrollment dips and reported the biggest declines, the survey found.

In another sign of stress for the programs, sixty percent of respondents said their budgets had been cut in the past year.

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September 16, 2009

The Real School Indoctrination Scandal

Will Wilkinson:

While opposition to Barack Obama's recent "study hard and stay in school" speech perhaps was not grounded in sober assessments of the facts, it did have roots in a much more plausible suspicion: that public schools are rigging tomorrow's politics by indoctrinating kids today. Such fears formed the basis of a special Fox News report--"Do You Know What Textbooks Your Children Are Really Reading"--hosted by the journalist and pundit Tucker Carlson. According to Carlson, the efforts of textbook writers to avoid language that might reinforce ethnic and gender stereotypes suggest an insidious plot. "Entire chunks of the English language have been banned from the classroom, liquidated in a PC purge," Carlson writes in a companion article at

What's worse, according to Carlson, is the "hard-edged propaganda that now suffuses history textbooks. A thorough cover-to-cover reading of almost any high school history text leaves you with the impression that the United States is at best embarrassing, and at worst a menace to world peace."

If you ask me, the United States' unjustified invasion and occupation of Iraq makes it a menace to world peace almost by definition. And the history of the United States is at least embarrassing. That European colonists and the U.S. government savagely murdered indigenous Americans, stole their land, and pushed them onto reservations is not a fiction ginned up to confuse American kids. Nor was this country's brutal history of slavery and racial apartheid some kind of lie designed to shame junior Americans. These horrors of history are real and they really are shameful.

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Does homework work?


School's back, and so is Big Homework. Here's what my 7th grade daughter has to do tonight:

1 Math review sheet
1 Science essay
French vocab for possible quiz
History reading and questionairre
English reading and note-taking

About two hours, give or take. This is considered a pretty light load, so as to ramp up gently. Over the next few weeks, it will get up to three hours or more.

Most of us give very little thought to this long-lived combination. School and homework seem as interconnected as cars and gasoline. Kids need homework to get smarter -- right? It's supposed to be how they pick up a good work ethic.

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Teacher Contract Agreement with the Kent, Washington School District

Kent (Washington) School District:

September 13, 2009
At about 7:00 p.m. tonight, the KEA and KSD bargaining teams reached a tentative agreement. As part of our agreement, both sides agreed that neither side would discuss specific details of the Tentative Agreements until the KEA Leadership has the opportunity to present the Tentative Agreements to their members for ratification. The KEA leadership will present the contract terms to its members at 7:30 a.m., Monday, September 14, at Kentlake High School.

Superintendent Vargas commented, "On behalf the KSD Board of Directors, I want to congratulate and thank the two bargaining teams for their tremendous effort and success during this most challenging time. We are excited about moving forward together with our Kent Education Association partners and our entire school community. Our focus is students and their success--they are the reason we are here."

September 12, 2009
The KSD and KEA bargaining teams have been negotiating throughout today and this evening. The teams have exchanged proposals as they work to achieve resolution.
The proposals are displayed in the menu to the right. The process is ongoing. Please continue to monitor this website for updates.
The page includes links to numerous school district proposals along with a Judge's order.

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Obscure database is key to U.S. educational funds for California

Jason Felch & Jason Song:

California's chance to receive hundreds of millions of federal educational dollars may rest heavily on an obscure and long-neglected piece of education infrastructure: a statewide data system that tracks students, teachers and administrators year to year.

Such education systems are expensive, complex and do not win elections for politicians. But experts say they are essential to learn how much of the nearly $60 billion that California spends on K-12 education makes a difference, a fact that student achievement tests only hint at.

Last month, California rolled out the first component, a student database known as CalPADS. It will eventually make it possible to measure what works and what doesn't in classrooms throughout the state. The second major component, a teacher and administrator database known as CalTIDES, will not come online until 2011.

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The Chicago School District's New Online Assessment System

Alexander Russo:

After months of whispers about an expensive new assessment program being considered by the Huberman administration, here is -- thanks to several friends of the blog -- a bit of hard information.

They're going with Scantron, it's going to be computer-adaptive (more on that later), there was a "thorough" RFP process, and they're rolling it out starting with elementary schools first (this fall).

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School offers free office space in return for teaching students about enterprise

Julian Simmonds:

The idea is the brainchild of Sean Hickey, head of business and enterprise at the new Milton Keynes Academy, which has just opened its doors to over 1,200 11-to-18 year-olds.

The academy, which is sponsored by the Edge education foundation, has offered the Bristows free office space in return for four hours a week working with the students on projects and mentoring. The brother and sister team pay for their phone bills but everything else - including business rates - is covered by the school.

Mr Bristow, 35, said: "The initial attraction was the free office space. That drew us in but when we looked into it and went through the interview process we knew there would be some sort of trade off. We learnt what we would have to give back to the school and that actually made it more attractive. They want it to be quite informal. There's not a set agenda. It's how can we help and get involved, mentoring small groups and setting small projects."

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Newly Empowered NYC Education Panel, Looking Like the Compliant One of Old

Javier Hernandez:

It had been derided as a committee of puppets, a rubber-stamp board with no clear power or purpose. So when word came from Albany over the summer that the Panel for Educational Policy would have greater power over the New York City schools, some thought things might be different.

The old days, however, did not seem far behind at the panel's first meeting of the school year on Monday: The "ayes" were nearly unanimous, and friction was virtually nonexistent.

Last month, lawmakers broadened the board's powers when they renewed Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's control of the schools, giving the panel oversight over contracts and school closings.

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Verona High students accessorize with student IDs

Pamela Cotant:

This fall, students at Verona High School are sporting a new fashion accessory - their student ID cards.

The cards, which feature the student's name, photograph, bar code, student number, grade and bus icon, are attached to lanyards the students are required to wear around their necks.

"I like the band," freshman Adam Amato said of the ID and lanyard. "(It) is kind of cool."

Amato said the ID card can be an annoyance, but he understands that the new policy is designed to protect students.

"When I came in here I thought it was kind of stupid. Who wants to wear their name tag all day?" he said. "I'm fine with wearing it now."

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Wages tie up Colorado school deals

Jeremy Meyer:

Nearly a month into the school year and teachers in several Front Range districts are still working without a contract.

"We have more locals that have not been able to settle than is typical for this time of year," said Deborah Fallin, spokeswoman for the Colorado Education Association. "Usually, most of the contracts are settled before school starts."

Colorado teachers have not waged a strike for 15 years -- since Denver teachers struck for five days in 1994.

No one expects a strike this year, but teachers unions from Pueblo to Greeley are battling their districts over contract offers they say are unfair.

Districts say they have less money this year, citing plummeting state revenues and an overall financial crisis.

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Green teen reaps rewards of eco-friendliness

Julian Guthrie:

Marin County teenager Erin Schrode is a bit like Elle Woods, the gorgeous and bubbly character in "Legally Blonde." Like Woods, Schrode is beautiful and vivacious - and not to be underestimated.

Where Woods, played by Reese Witherspoon, campaigned in the "Legally Blonde" sequel to outlaw animal testing in cosmetics, Schrode is on a crusade to get harmful chemicals out of beauty products.

The 18-year-old - who moonlights as a model and was recently featured in Seventeen magazine - has testified before the California Legislature, helped found a national coalition called Teens Turning Green, and started an eco-friendly body care line now sold in Whole Foods stores nationwide.

At the end of August, the "ultimate green girl," as she calls herself, was one of five teenagers from California honored for her activism and impact. She received $36,000, to be applied to college or to her activist work.

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September 15, 2009

Schools of Hope Tutor Training

There will be a "Schools of Hope" tutor training workshop on Tuesday, September 29th, at 4:00 p.m. at Memorial H.S. (218 Gammon Rd).

This training is free and open to the public. Returning and new tutors are invited to attend!

Workshops for all grade levels will include:
Tutoring Literacy
Tutoring Math
Engaging Reluctant Learners
Working with English Language Learners


4:00-4:30 -- Registration

4:30-6:15 -- Workshops

6:15-6:30 -- Break/Light Dinner

6:30-7:25 -- Workshops

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ESL Students to Use iPods for Reading

Kate Cerve:

At most Beaufort County public schools, iPods and other portable music players are banned from classrooms and hallways.

But at Hilton Head Island Middle School and others with high numbers of students with limited English skills, teachers use the devices to help students learn to read.

Five county schools will use iPods in their English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes this year to tailor instruction to students with different levels of English proficiency.

Hilton Head Island Middle School bought a set of 30 iPods last year, and Bluffton High, H.E. McCracken Middle in Bluffton, Red Cedar Elementary in Bluffton and Hilton Head Island School for the Creative Arts elementary school will receive sets this year.

The school district paid about $200 for each iPod Touch using federal money earmarked for ESOL students, said Sarah Owen, the district's ESOL coordinator. The district's contract with Apple Computer Inc., iPod manufacturer, includes training for teachers and a device that can charge and sync about 20 iPods to one computer at the same time.

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Principals Bring Hope To Struggling Schools


Take two schools with failing test scores and students who are below the poverty line, and add two passionate principals to the equation.

It might not equal complete success, but for Chicago's Nash Elementary School and Harvard Park Elementary School in Springfield, Ill., the principals' incredible dedication and persistence helped to turn their schools around.

Principals Tresa Dunbar and Kerry Purcell are the subjects of the new documentary The Principal Story. The documentary explores how the two principals, Purcell with six years of experience and Dunbar with only two years, go about inspiring their staffs, their students and themselves to improve conditions and test results in their schools.

"If you want to turn around troubled schools, schools that are challenged, school that have a majority of low-income students, you really need strong leadership," said Tod Lending, the film's executive producer and co-director, who followed Dunbar and Purcell for a full school year. Lending received a grant from the Wallace Foundation to document the challenges faced by school principals in America.

At the two schools, at least 95 percent of students are at or below the poverty line. At the beginning of the documentary, each of the principals was leading a school that faced tremendous disciplinary problems, including poor attendance and failing test scores.

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Schools Dump Textbooks for Laptops

Rachel Martin & Christine Brouwer:

For generations, school meant books -- lots of books. But not anymore. Around the country, from high school to grad school, textbooks are getting harder to find. Technology has made the library something that can fit into the palm of your hand.

Some schools are doing away with textbooks altogether, turning to computers and even handheld devices such as iPods as educational tools.

Cushing Academy, a private school outside Boston, is dismantling its library altogether, giving away 20,000. Headmaster James Tracy said the decision was simple.

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Calculation That Doesn't Add Up

Scott Jashik:

When critics question the validity of the calculations U.S. News & World Report uses to rank colleges, one answer the editors of the magazine have given is to note that it publishes not only the total rank, but also data on how colleges perform in the various categories that go into the rankings. So a prospective student who cares more about faculty resources or competitiveness or any other factor can see how colleges do there, and judge accordingly.

But if the factor that would-be students and their families care about is a percentage of full-time faculty, you can't count on the numbers about research universities to be correct. The two universities with the top scores in this category (both claiming 100 percent full-time faculty) have both acknowledged to Inside Higher Ed that they do not include adjunct faculty members in their calculations. U.S. News maintains that colleges do count adjuncts (or are told to) so that figure gives a true sense of the percentage of faculty members who are full time. But the two with 100 percent claims are not alone in boosting their numbers by leaving adjuncts out.

Some colleges that do so say that they read the instructions from U.S. News that way, and others say the magazine is itself inconsistent, in effect inviting them to do so. Others just leave the adjuncts out and don't indicate that unless asked.

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USDA Urges Schools, Hospitals, Others To 'Buy Local'


The U.S. Department of Agriculture is launching a campaign to encourage schools, hospitals, jails and other institutions to buy food from local producers. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has been trying to get Americans to eat more fruit and vegetables as a way to combat obesity. The campaign also aims to provide income for small farms and boost the economies in rural areas.

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NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children

Ashley Merryman & Po Bronson:

Parents often rely on two things when they go about the complex business of raising children: instinct and conventional wisdom. When instinct and the culture's knowledge about caring for babies don't magically kick in, new parents suffer a panic commonly referred to as "nurture shock."

San Francisco writer Po Bronson and Los Angeles journalist Ashley Merryman play off this term for the title of their fascinating new book, "NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children." The jolt they're delivering is that much of the conventional wisdom about children and child rearing is based on outdated theories and studies often influenced by incorrect assumptions and wishful thinking.

The good news is that scientific research over the past 10 years has illuminated our understanding of how children develop and behave. But because these significant findings have been overlooked, unenlightened practices in parenting, education and public policy persist. The authors, who have collaborated on articles about the science of parenting for New York and Time magazines, throw open the doors on this research to create a book that is not only groundbreaking but compelling as well. Even if you don't have children, or your kids are grown, you should find the revelations about how the brain works and the rigors and frustrations of the scientific process captivating.

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Parents fight use of new psych meds for kids

Martha Rosenberg:

As newly approved drugs harm and even kill children, more parents are fighting back.

The most dramatic moment for the 70 doctors and 200 spectators attending June FDA hearings about approving new psychiatric drugs for children came when two bereaved mothers approached the open mike.

Liza Ortiz of Austin, Texas, told the advisory panel her 13-year-old son died of Seroquel toxicity in an ICU days after being put on the antipsychotic. "His hands twisted in ways I never thought possible," she said.

Next was Mary Kitchens of Bandera, Texas, who described Seroquel's lasting effects on her 13-year-old son Evan after being given the antipsychotic without her knowledge or permission by a residential treatment center.

But for Kitchens the most dramatic moment came after the hearings when she approached Dr. Robert Temple, the FDA's director of the Office of Drug Evaluation, who had officiated on the panel.

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September 14, 2009

U.S. sweetens tax credits for higher education expenses

Kathy Kristof:

Parents: Save those education receipts.

For the first time -- and for a limited time -- upper-middle-income parents will be able to take advantage of huge tax breaks for paying college bills.

This is thanks to a law that temporarily supplants the Hope Tax Credit with the far more lucrative and inclusive American Opportunity Tax Credit.

What's this law and how can you take advantage of it?

The American Opportunity Tax Credit is one of several generous tax breaks that were passed into law in February as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, aimed at stimulating the U.S. economy.

It provides a federal income tax credit equal to 100% of the first $2,000 in qualified education expenses and 25% of the next $2,000 in expenses per student for qualified families.

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Dallas magnet school rank in top of Texas public schools

Holly Hacker:

Several Dallas ISD magnet campuses are among the best public schools in Texas, based on a new set of rankings that considers everything from test scores to class sizes to graduation rates.

The School of Science & Engineering and School for the Talented & Gifted were the No. 1 and No. 2 high schools in the state, according to Children at Risk, a Houston nonprofit group. Also cracking the top 10 was the School of Government, Law & Law Enforcement. All three campuses are housed at the Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Center in Oak Cliff.

In prior years, Children at Risk ranked only schools in the Houston area, but expanded to the rest of the state this year.

Many organizations try to pinpoint top campuses, including Newsweek's list of the nation's best high schools, the state's school rating system and a host of education think tank reports. The Children at Risk study ranks Texas elementary, middle and high school campuses based on more measures than most.

For example, Newsweek picks the best high schools solely on the number of students who take Advanced Placement exams. The state determines quality based on test scores and dropout rates.

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Hillsborough (Florida) schools in line for $100 million-plus grant

Sherri Ackerman:

The Hillsborough County school district is in line for a grant that could top $100 million and fund a program school officials hope would ensure almost every student in America graduates from high school.

Hillsborough is one of five nationwide finalists for grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Winners will be announced in mid-November. The other finalists include Pittsburgh; Memphis, Tenn.; Omaha, Neb.; and a group of charter schools in Los Angeles.

"We believe we have it," Hillsborough schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia said last week.

If so, it would be "the largest grant ever given to a public school district," she said.

The district signed off last week on a memorandum of understanding with the Seattle-based foundation -- the last step before final confirmation, Elia said. Foundation spokesman Chris Williams said it is possible all five finalists will receive money from the Empowering Effective Teachers grant, but award amounts have not been set.

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Obama, Education, DC Vouchers & Senator's School Choices

Las Vegas Review Journal:

Give Mr. Obama credit for much of what he said, and continues to say, about educational reform. In rhetorical defiance of that major Democratic Party constituency, America's unionized schoolteachers, Mr. Obama deserves credit for talking a good game on merit pay, charter schools, and breaking down the "tenure" barrier that bars removal of ineffective educators.

Unfortunately, in a now familiar pattern, Mr. Obama does not fare as well when one examines his actual actions, in contrast to his rhetoric.

If Mr. Obama favors innovation designed to increase competition and the range of educational options, particularly for underprivileged kids, why on earth did he stand silent on the sidelines last winter as senators from his own party took the fledgling, highly celebrated Washington, D.C., voucher program out behind the barn and shot it?

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8 Things I learned this Week

Valerie Strauss:

1) America's two richest universities--Harvard and Yale--did not come out looking so rich or so smart when it was reported that they each lost about 30 percent of their endowments last year due to lousy investments. The median college endowment decline was 18 percent.

2) Cockroaches are not the only animals that can live for some time without their heads.

I had known before about the roach (from a stint I did helping with KidsPost) But, as I was researching something for The Post's new Education Page, I learned the roaches aren't alone in this stunning feat of nature.

The male praying mantis, for example, apparently stays alive during copulation after the female bites off its head. Enough said.

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Should Isaac Use Savings or Debt for College?

Stephen Kreider Yoder and Isaac Yoder:

STEVE: I was checking our family bank-account balance online one night this summer, when my eyes slid down to another account, lower on the bank Web page.

"Interest Checking," it said, and beside the account number was an astounding dollar figure -- much bigger than I expected. It was Isaac's bank account.

"You should think about adding some more of this money to your Roth IRA," I told him as he worked at the desk next to me, preparing for college by organizing his most precious asset -- the music files on the family computer.

"Hmm," came the noncommittal reply. I knew how the debate would go next.

As we wrote earlier, The Wall Street Journal pays Isaac for his half of this column. Last year, he agreed to invest part of that in a retirement fund so he has a head start later in life.

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Students burn midnight oil at Boston college

Rodrique Ngowi:

Community college professor Kathleen O'Neill was setting the ground rules for her psychology students when she came to an issue she didn't normally have to address.

"What do we do if you fall asleep?" she asked. "What's a nice way to gently wake you up? Tap you on the head? Would you want your neighbor to just nudge you?"

Fair question, considering O'Neill's class begins just before midnight and runs until 2:30 a.m.

This semester, Bunker Hill Community College is offering two classes on the graveyard shift in a move to accommodate an unprecedented boost in enrollment attributed to the struggling economy as people look to augment their job skills without having to pay the tuition costs of more expensive schools.

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Democrats sit on both sides of debates on Milwaukee mayoral control, performance pay

Alan Borsuk:

What does it mean to be a Democrat when it comes to education? Does it mean you stand for sticking pretty much to the way things are now, except for adding more money? Or does it mean calling for some big changes in the way things are done?

Those aren't just philosophical questions. They point to one of the most interesting and significant things to watch as the political thunderstorms build over Milwaukee Public Schools, the state Capitol and the national education world.

In the debate over mayoral takeover of MPS, so far, it's Gov. Jim Doyle and Mayor Tom Barrett against an array of Milwaukee political and community figures. Almost all of the people on both sides are Democrats.

Use of student performance data in evaluating teachers is almost sure to be a hot issue in the fall session of the Legislature. It's a good bet Doyle will be on one side and the teachers unions on the other. Again, all Democrats.

The nationwide push for performance pay for teachers, for more charter schools, and for stiffer accountability - it's President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan doing the pushing, with resistance from the education establishment, especially teachers unions. And almost all of the cast are Democrats.

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School book ban raises censorship concerns in PR

Manuel Ernesto Rivera:

Several university professors in Puerto Rico are protesting a decision to ban five books from the curriculum at public high schools in the U.S. territory because of coarse language.

The Spanish-language books previously were read as part of the 11th grade curriculum, but proofreaders this year alerted education officials about "coarse" slang, including references to genitalia in "Mejor te lo cuento: antologia personal," by Juan Antonio Ramos.
Also among the banned books is the novel "Aura" by Carlos Fuentes of Mexico, one of Latin America's most prominent contemporary writers. The other four authors affected are from Puerto Rico.

Magali Garcia Ramis, a communications professor at the University of Puerto Rico, expressed concern Saturday about how books are being evaluated by the island's Department of Education.

"This kind of mentality rejects everything that is art and only associates sexuality with inappropriateness," Garcia Ramis said.

Department of Education spokesman Alan Obrador could not be reached, and the Puerto Rico Teachers Association also was unavailable.

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Gingrich & Sharpton on Tour for Education Reform


Host Scott Simon speaks with Republican former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Reverend Al Sharpton about President Obama's health care speech to Congress, U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson's outburst and their upcoming education reform tour. The duo has joined forces with Education Secretary Arne Duncan to push cities to fix failing schools. The tour will make stops in Philadelphia, New Orleans and Baltimore.

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September 13, 2009

Math illiteracy

This site continues to mention math curricula challenges from time to time, and as long as I am around, and have community math experiences, it will continue to do so.

I try to visit Madison's wonderful Farmer's Market weekly. This past weekend, I purchased some fabulous raspberries from an older Hmong couple. Their raspberries are the best. Unfortunately, while I made my purchase, they asked how much change I was due, something I saw repeated with other buyers. They periodically have a younger person around to handle the transactions, or a calculator.

Purchasing tickets at high school sporting events presents yet another opportunity to evaluate high schooler's basic, but ESSENTIAL math skills. A Dane County teenager could not make change from $10 for three $2 tickets recently. I have experienced this at local retail establishments as well.

Unfortunately, the "Discovery" approach to math does not appear work....

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A Virtual Revolution Is Brewing for Colleges

Zephyr Teachout:

Students starting school this year may be part of the last generation for which "going to college" means packing up, getting a dorm room and listening to tenured professors. Undergraduate education is on the verge of a radical reordering. Colleges, like newspapers, will be torn apart by new ways of sharing information enabled by the Internet. The business model that sustained private U.S. colleges cannot survive.

The real force for change is the market: Online classes are just cheaper to produce. Community colleges and for-profit education entrepreneurs are already experimenting with dorm-free, commute-free options. Distance-learning technology will keep improving. Innovators have yet to tap the potential of the aggregator to change the way students earn a degree, making the education business today look like the news biz circa 1999. And as major universities offer some core courses online, we'll see a cultural shift toward acceptance of what is still, in some circles, a "University of Phoenix" joke.

This doesn't just mean a different way of learning: The funding of academic research, the culture of the academy and the institution of tenure are all threatened.

K-12 spending will not continue to increase at the rate it has over the past twenty years (5.25% annually in the case of the Madison School District). Online education provides many useful learning opportunities for our students. While it is certainly not the "be all and end all", virtual learning can be used to supplement and provide more opportunities for all students. Staff can be redeployed where most effective (The budget pinch, flat enrollment despite a growing metropolitan area along with emerging learning opportunities are two major reasons that the Madison School District must review current programs for their academic and financial efficiency. Reading recovery and reform math are two useful examples).

Related: K-12 Tax & Spending Climate, the coming reset in state government spending and the Madison School District's planned property tax increase. TJ Mertz on the local budget and communications.

Jeff Jarvis has more.

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Foreign Languages Fall as Schools Look for Cuts

Winnie Hu:

IN Edgemont, a high-performing Westchester school district, children as young as 7 could recite colors and days of the week in Spanish, but few if any learned to really converse, read or write. So this fall, the district canceled the Spanish lessons offered twice weekly at its two elementary schools since 2003, deciding the time and resources -- an estimated $175,000 a year -- could be better spent on other subjects.

The software replaced three teachers.

Class consolidation in Yonkers resulted in the loss of four foreign-language teaching positions, and budget cuts have cost Arlington, N.Y., its seventh-grade German program, and Danbury, Conn., several sections of middle school French and Spanish.

And in New Jersey, the Ridgewood district is replacing its three elementary school Spanish teachers with Rosetta Stone, an interactive computer program that cost $70,000, less than half their combined salaries.

"There's never a replacement for a teacher in the classroom," said Debra Anderson, a Ridgewood spokeswoman. "But this was a good solution in view of the financial constraints."

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Trying to Save for the Kids' College? It's a Bear

Stacey Bradford:

If the bear market has kept you from setting money aside for your child's college education, you're not alone.

Because of the economic crisis, 47% of parents are saving less or aren't saving at all for their kids' education, according to a Gallup survey released in May by student-loan provider Sallie Mae.

While not saving for that degree may have felt like a smart move while the stock market was crashing, the need to fund your kid's college account has only grown. For the 2008-2009 school year, the average cost of attending a four-year public school for in-state residents -- including tuition and room and board -- rose 5.7% to $14,333, according to the College Board. The cost was up 5.6% to $34,132 for a private university. (These numbers aren't adjusted for inflation.)

Meanwhile, the value of 529 college-savings accounts sank 21% last year, according to Boston consulting firm Financial Research, leaving families with far less tuition money than they had counted on. A 529 plan is a tax-advantaged investment plan offered by individual states.

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South Korea's Latest Export: Its Alphabet

Choe Sang-Hun:

South Korea has long felt under-recognized for its many achievements: it built an economic powerhouse from the ruins of a vicious war in just decades and, after years of authoritarian rule, has created one of Asia's most vibrant democracies.

Now, one South Korean woman, Lee Ki-nam, is determined to wring more recognition from the world with an unusual export: the Korean alphabet. Ms. Lee is using a fortune she made in real estate to try to take the alphabet to places where native peoples lack indigenous written systems to record their languages.

Her project had its first success -- and generated headlines -- in July, when children from an Indonesian tribe began learning the Korean alphabet, called Hangul.

"I am doing for the world's nonwritten languages what Doctors Without Borders is doing in medicine," Ms. Lee, 75, said in an interview. "There are thousands of such languages. I aim to bring Hangul to all of them."

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Obama's Chat with 9th Graders

Los Angeles Times:

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. So this is the first day of high school?


THE PRESIDENT: Wow. I'm trying to remember back to my first day of high school. I can't remember that far back. But it is great to see all of you here. I'm really proud of my Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, who is just doing a great job trying to create an environment where all of you can learn. And I know it's a little intimidating with all these cameras around and all this --

SECRETARY DUNCAN: Don't pay any attention to them.

THE PRESIDENT: -- so just pretend that they're not there.

Here's the main reason I wanted to come by. As Arne pointed out, when I was growing up, my dad wasn't in the house. We weren't poor, but we weren't rich. My mother had to.... really hard, so sometimes my grandparents had to fill in. And my wife, Michelle, who all of you have seen -- the First Lady -- her dad worked in a -- as a -- basically in a blue-collar job, an hourly worker. Her mom worked as a secretary. And they lived in a tiny -- they didn't even live in a house, they lived upstairs above her aunt's house. And so neither of us really had a whole lot when we were growing up, but the one thing that we had was parents who insisted on getting a good education.

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September 12, 2009

Dead Letters Everyone has terrible handwriting these days. My daughter and I set out to fix ours.

Emily Yoffe:

f you have school-age children, you may have noticed their handwriting is terrible. They may communicate incessantly via written word--they can text with their heads in a paper bag--but put a pen in their hands and they can barely write a sentence in decent cursive. It's not going to be easy to decipher one either, if they think cursive might as well be cuneiform.

My daughter is in the eighth grade, and I realized several years ago that her rudimentary block-letter printing was actually never going to improve because handwriting had been chopped from the school curriculum. Children today learn basic printing in first and second grade, then get cursory instruction in cursive in the third grade--my daughter was given a cursive workbook and told to figure it out herself. She dutifully filled in every page, but she never understood how these looping letters were supposed to become her handwriting, so they never did.

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Is the best school the right school?

Lisa Freedman:

Antique dealer Antonia White is sitting exhausted on a sofa. She's just returned from yet another three-hour stint looking at secondary schools for her 10-year-old daughter Clare. "I'm shattered," she says. "It's stressful and boring. All the chemistry labs look the same and all the parents look like people we wouldn't want to know."

Her comments will strike a chord with thousands of other parents this autumn, as September and October are peak season for secondary-school open days (parents need to be on the ball as the dates are often only listed on the school's website, sometimes at the last moment). For the next few weeks, those with children approaching the next stage of their school career (both in the state and private sector) will be making their way along packed corridors, trying to spot the "best" school for their child. It can be an uncomfortable process - at some popular London secondaries the queues stretch down the street. (The public school system still has its main entrance point at 13, after prep school.)

Ideally, anyone looking for a school from age 11 should begin the search when their child has just started Year 5. This helps whittle down the choices before the final year at primary school (Year 6). Drawing up a shortlist when a child is 9 or 10 also allows for a year of coaching for 11-plus exams for selective state and private schools.

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Kaplan Virtual Education Expands Online Learning Options for Florida Students


aplan Virtual Education (KVE) today announced partnerships with three school
districts to launch part- and full-time online learning options for students
throughout Glades, Polk and Miami-Dade counties this fall. Last year, the
Florida Legislature required school districts to offer full-time virtual
programs starting during the 2009-10 school year. The virtual public school
options will provide middle and high school students with a variety of online
courses that feature individualized instruction and an engaging curriculum.

The partnerships will provide online learning alternatives for:

* Sixth through 12th grade students in the Glades County School District
* Sixth through 12th grade students in the Miami-Dade County Public School
* High school students in the Polk County Public School District

"Kaplan Virtual Education is excited to offer Florida students an education
solution that provides rigorous, high-quality courses that can be tailored to
meet their unique needs and prepare them for success in the 21st century," said
Charles Thornburgh, president of Kaplan Virtual Education. "Through these
partnerships, students can get one-on-one attention from teachers, take
advantage of engaging learning tools and study virtually anywhere at any time
via the Internet."

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How to Survive Our Worst Schools

Jay Matthews:

was intrigued by a story on the front page of the Post Aug. 9 Written by my colleague Robin Givhan, it focused on a White House internship program for D.C. students that included a recent high school graduate named Clayton Armstrong. Despite his background, he had won the prestigious summer job and a place in the freshman class at the University of Arizona.

The article was so good I wanted to know more. I wondered how Armstrong acquired his obvious academic skills, given that he had graduated from Ballou High School. D.C. has some fine public high schools, but most are bad, and Ballou in my view is the worst. It is part of what is the worst, or next to worst (Detroit is in the running) urban school district in the country.

This year, only 23 percent of Ballou students reached proficiency or above on the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System tests. As far as I can tell, no Ballou student has ever passed an Advanced Placement test.

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Shorewood parents fear impact of suspensions on students' college admissions

Tom Kertscher:

The Shorewood High School students who are fighting suspensions for toilet papering the school grounds can expect that some colleges would consider the suspensions in weighing the students' applications.

But it's unclear whether a one-day suspension would be an important factor weighed by an admissions office, and many colleges don't ask about suspensions, according to admissions officials.

Five seniors were suspended for the first day of school last week for engaging in the decades-long tradition of hanging toilet paper on the campus just before the start of classes. They also were issued $177 disorderly conduct tickets by police.

Parents of four of the five seniors, each 17, have said they plan to ask that the suspensions be expunged from their sons' school records, partly because they fear the suspensions could affect the boys' college admission and scholarship applications. The parents also are angry that no wide-scale announcement was made to let families know that toilet papering would lead to disciplinary action this year, even though such an announcement had been made before the previous school year.

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Dropouts Seek a Boost From Equivalency Exams

S. Mitra Kalita:

A growing number of Americans are taking high school equivalency tests in their hunt for any leg up in a bleak labor market.

Adult-education centers across the country report backlogs and waiting lists for prep courses cramming dozens of topics and years of lessons into weeks or months. But the potential for a better job and pay that drives many to seek a General Educational Development diploma comes with a caveat: The certificate generally is of limited value unless students use it as a stepping-stone to further education.

In 2008, the number of people taking the test for their GED diploma grew 6.6% to 777,000 from a year earlier, according to the American Council on Education, which administers the test. Between the first quarters of 2008 and 2009, three states -- Louisiana, New Hampshire and North Carolina -- and the District of Columbia saw at least a 20% rise in the number of test-takers.

The growth has come as the job market has worsened, especially for those with limited education. The unemployment rate in August for people lacking a high-school diploma was 15.6%, compared with 9.7% for high-school graduates without any college, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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September 11, 2009

High School Research Paper Lightens Up

Denise Smith Amos:

"The more students are able to do in research and writing in high school, the more they've got a nice leg up."

At the mere mention of research papers, Kelly Cronin's usually highly motivated Summit Country Day Upper School students turn listless. Some groan. The Hyde Park Catholic school requires all high school students to write lengthy research papers each year on history, religion or literature.

Cronin's sophomores write history papers. They pick a topic in late September and by May they'll have visited libraries, pawed through card catalogs, and plumbed non-fiction books and scholarly articles.

They'll turn in 200 or so index cards of notes. They'll write and revise about 15 pages.

Cronin gladly grades 35 or more papers with such titles as "The Role of the Catholic Church in European Witchcraft Trials'' and "Star Trek Reflected in President Johnson's Great Society.''

"It's time-consuming," she says. "It takes over your life. But I'm not married, and I don't have any kids."

But most high school teachers aren't like Cronin and most schools aren't like Summit. At many high schools across the country, the in-depth research paper is dying or dead, education experts say, victims of testing and time constraints.

Juniors and seniors still get English papers, says Anne Flick, a specialist in gifted education in Springfield Township. "But in my day, that was 15 or 20 pages. Nowadays, it's five."

High school teachers, averaging 150 to 180 students, can't take an hour to grade each long paper, Cronin said.

The assignment may not be necessary, says Tiffany Coy, an assistant principal at Oak Hills High in Bridgetown. "Research tells you it's not necessarily the length; it's the skills you develop," she said.

But some educators disagree.

"Students come to college with no experience in writing papers, to the continual frustration of their professors," said William Fitzhugh, a former high school teacher who publishes The Concord Review, a quarterly in Massachusetts that selects and publishes some of the nation's best high school papers. [from 36 countries so far]

"If we want students to be able to read and understand college books and to write research papers there, then we must give students a chance to learn how to do that in a rigorous college preparatory program. That is not happening," he said.

Teachers see the problem. Fitzhugh's organization commissioned a national study of 400 randomly selected high school teachers in 2002 that showed:

-95% believe research papers, especially history papers, are important.

-62% said they no longer assign even 12-page papers.

-81% never assign 5,000-word or more papers.

Cronin and others blame the testing culture. Standardized tests, the ACT and SAT, don't require research or lengthy writing. And Advanced Placement puts pressures on teachers and students to pass year-end tests for college credit, although some courses do include essays.

"The emphasis on testing in this country has stifled writing," Cronin wrote in "TV pundits want to talk about the latest survey that shows what percentage of high school students can't put the Civil War in the correct decade. States want to grade schools and teachers based on tests that often just want rote memorization."

Angela Castleman, who heads the English department at Simon Kenton High in Independence, agrees to an extent. Teachers are assigning writing to help students get into college, but "our greater mission is to prepare them for what's ahead" once in college, she said.

Students think nothing of texting hundreds of words a day to friends but balk at writing thousands for a research paper--until college.

Achieve Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based education reform group, surveyed nearly 1,500 high school graduates and 300 college instructors in 2005. Among graduates at college:

-56% felt they left high school with inadequate work and study habits.

-35% felt they left with gaps in writing.

-40% felt they left with gaps in research skills.

Among college instructors, 62 percent were dissatisfied with high school grads' writing and 50 percent with their research skills, Achieve's study found.

"We may gripe and we may whine, but we know we need to do" research papers, said Melissa Ng, a Summit junior.

Bobby Deye, a junior at Xavier University, said he learned writing at a private high school in Florida, beginning with five pages on the Bermuda Triangle.

Now, facing his first 20-page paper in theology, he wishes he had been challenged more.

At the University of Cincinnati, most of the 3,000 freshmen take an English placement test and land in English Composition classes, said Joyce Malek, director of the program at UC's McMicken College of Arts and Sciences.

"I can't fault the K-12 schools," she said, "because we don't get enough writing across in the curriculum at the university level either...The more students are able to do in research and writing in high school, the more they've got a nice leg up."

Until Sharon Draper left teaching to write books in 1997, she was known at Walnut Hills for assigning 10-page papers. Students wore "I survived the Draper Paper" T-shirts.

Now, despite access to computers and software that make papers easier to write and footnote, students are writing fewer pages, she said, but they can still learn to locate and use scholarly sources and structure their notes and writing.

"If I were king of education, all seniors would have to know how to do a research paper," Draper said.

At Miami University, freshmen come with a wide range of skills, said Martin P. Johnson, an assistant history professor. Generally, they'll get assigned long research papers later in college, he said.

But it's up to professors to motivate them, he said.

"Students often display strong knowledge and analysis," he said. "When they do not, I think it is likely more a question of how hard they have worked more than not being ready or prepared in a general way to be able to do the work.

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2 new L.A. arts high schools are a study in contrasts

Mitchell Landsberg:

The schools opened for business this week, one on a $232-million shiny new campus, the other in rented space in a small church. Both have high hopes.

One occupies $232 million worth of serious architecture on a promontory overlooking downtown Los Angeles. The other rents cramped space in a South L.A. church.

One has an address that shouts prestige, with neighbors that include the city's Roman Catholic cathedral and the Music Center. The other is across the street from an apartment building for the recently homeless.

Two new high schools for the arts debuted this week -- a rare enough feat in a down economy. Despite the vast differences in their circumstances, it may be too early to say which of the two has the most potential to nurture the next generation of artists and performers.

The Los Angeles Unified school at 450 N. Grand Ave., perched across the 101 Freeway from the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, was years in the making and is housed on one of the most expensive and widely praised campuses in the nation. Yet it is only now shaking off more than a year of controversy and false starts in its launch to become the flagship of the district. The Fernando Pullum Performing Arts High School at 51st Street and Broadway may have the feel of something hastily thrown together out of spare parts, but it is led by one of the city's most respected music educators and has the support of such big-name artists as Kenny Burrell, Jackson Browne, Bill Cosby and Don Cheadle.

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In Syracuse, Biden & Geithner promote education's importance

William Kates:

Getting into college and being able to pay for it are essential to staying on the middle-class track, Vice President Joe Biden told a college audience Wednesday.

"The president and I believe there is no better ticket to the middle class than a college education," Biden told about 1,000 people inside Goldstein Auditorium at Syracuse University, where he attended law school.

Biden appeared along with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Education Secretary Arne Duncan as part of the White House Task Force on Middle Class Families. The task force has held town hall-style meetings across the country focusing on raising the living standards of middle-class, working families.

During Wednesday's forum, Biden reviewed proposals and reforms the administration believes will make a college degree more attainable for working families.

The administration wants to simplify the financial aid application process, extend eligibility to more students and provide more money for direct student aid while extending tax credits to working families with students.

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O.C. school district, ACLU settle suit over 'Rent'

Seema Mehta:

Newport-Mesa Unified School District agrees to provide harassment and discrimination prevention training after students threatened a girl who appeared in the play and used slurs to describe another.

An Orange County school district where varsity athletes threatened to rape and kill the lead actress in a student production of the musical "Rent" has agreed to provide harassment and discrimination prevention training to Corona del Mar High School students, teachers and administrators and other district officials, according to a legal settlement announced Wednesday. The Newport-Mesa Unified School District will also apologize to the former student.

Because of the settlement, "no one else will have to go through what I went through," said Hail Ketchum, 17, the victim who, along with family members, identified herself for the first time on Wednesday. She is a freshman studying theater at Loyola Marymount University. "I hope the students at Corona del Mar High School will learn from my experience that it's possible to stand up for what is right and prevail."

The campus made headlines across the nation earlier this year when its principal canceled "Rent: School Edition" because of concerns about its content. It was later reinstated. Officials with the American Civil Liberties Union, who sued the district in March, said the controversy over the tale of struggling artists that includes gay characters and some with AIDS was just one example of official tolerance of misogyny and homophobia on campus.

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The value of education: Obama's message good for any classroom

Greg Jordan:

Tuesday I went to Bluefield Intermediate School and watched as fourth-grade students did something that just didn't happen when I was their age -- listen to the president of the United States.

President Obama urged them and other students across the country to stay in school and strive to succeed despite any adversity fate threw their way. He recounted his own struggles to acquire an education, and spoke about how education was a vital part of finding success.

He stayed off controversial topics such as health care and bills like cap and trade, and kept driving home the fact that students needed to take advantage of their opportunities to get an education.

The sight of those children getting to see a live broadcast of the president's speech brought to mind that time so many years ago when I first heard the word "president." Things have really changed.

Greg Toppo:
Obama to kids: 'You can't drop out of school and into a good job'

President Obama delivered a pointed message to U.S. students Tuesday, telling high-schoolers in a packed Washington-area school gymnasium, "I expect you to get serious this year."
Ignoring a simmering controversy among political opponents over the planned speech, which was broadcast live coast-to-coast, Obama exhorted students at Wakefield High School to stay in school, ask for help when they need it and resist giving up when school gets difficult. "You can't drop out of school and into a good job. You've got to work for it and train for it and learn for it."

Wall Street Journal:
A Real Education Outrage

President Obama's speech to students this week got plenty of attention, and many conservatives looked foolish by fretting about "indoctrination." They would have done far more good joining those who protested on Tuesday against the President's decision to shut down a school voucher program for 1,700 low-income kids in Washington, D.C.

"It's fundamentally wrong for this Administration not to listen to the voices of citizens in this city," said Kevin Chavous, the former D.C. Council member who organized the protest of parents and kids ignored by most media. Mr. Chavous, a Democrat, is upset that the White House and Democrats in Congress have conspired to shut down the program even though the government's own evaluation demonstrates improved test scores.

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September 10, 2009

Growing 'Authentic' College Applicants

Dan Golden:

As America's newest graduates were packing for college, high school juniors spent their final summer vacation in anything but a relaxed state. Many juniors and their families look on these months as a last chance to pad a growing list of extracurricular activities and experiences that will be meticulously outlined when they fill out college applications in the fall.

Unfortunately, many of these decisions remain driven by perceived "brand value" based on myth, cohort pressures, and word of mouth. As a high-school-based counselor who has many conversations each year with college-bound students, I would like to suggest an antidote to the many unhealthy pressures and groundless expectations: growing "authentic applicants."

Authentic applicants take the long view of an educational journey, as they look at what the college years will actually contribute in the form of skills, knowledge, and values to their goal of living a meaningful life. They avoid getting locked into the quest for a "dream school," a path that would restrict their options. They consider their families' finances, and they research all the options available, including some little-known ones available at the least-expensive schools. At the same time, they don't shy away from a selective school that's right for them simply because it doesn't fit their budgets.

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Across 30 Nations, Public Spending on Higher Education Pays Off, Report Says

Aisha Labi:

The full impact of the global economic crisis on higher-education systems is still unclear, but as national economies struggle to recover their footing and unemployment levels remain high, "the incentives for individuals to stay on in education are likely to rise over the next years," says a new report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The report, "Education at a Glance 2009: OECD Indicators," is the latest in an annual series that analyzes data on the education systems in the group's 30 member countries, which include many European democracies, as well as Australia, Canada, Japan, Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Turkey, and the United States.

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Reeducating unions

LA Times:

Even with signs that the U.S. economy might be stirring, this is a strained Labor Day for the many Americans who are going without raises, and whose hours are being cut at the same time that they are asked to take heavier workloads -- and especially for those who are without employment.

Teachers find themselves in all these categories, across the nation and right here, where the dire financial condition of the Los Angeles Unified School District has led to layoffs or demotions from regular teaching to substitute, and where class sizes will be larger and other cutbacks will reduce salaries. On a bigger scale, the unions that brought teachers better pay, benefits and job security find themselves at a tipping point, their power under threat in ways that seemed barely possible a few years ago.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose 2005 proposal to modify teacher tenure was brought down by the full-on might of the California Teachers Assn., is now calling for a change in state law that would allow teachers' performance reviews to be linked to test scores. And there is barely a political peep to be heard about it; the Obama administration has demanded such changes if California is to receive a share of new education funding. Obama and his Education secretary, Arne Duncan, openly admire high-performing charter schools and reform-minded superintendents such as Michelle Rhee of Washington, who is working to revamp tenure rules there.

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Lesson Plans, 2009

Timothy Egan:

You're in third grade, back to school in Texas. Shoes are too tight. Your new shirt is scratchy. And the strange kid sitting next to you -- how's he going to get that pencil out of his nose?

The teachers tell you to file into the gym. They turn on a television. Here comes President Obama. Boorrrrrring. Do you have to listen to this? Is there some kinda test afterward?

Some people in your part of the country didn't want you to hear the president of the United States. It's indoctrination. Socialism. Cult of personality. Stuff you'll learn about on cable news shows.

"This is something you'd expect to see in North Korea or Saddam Hussein's Iraq," says Oklahoma State Senator Steve Russell.

Obama starts talking. He says, "If you quit on school, you're not just quitting on yourself, you're quitting on your country."

And then he says, "No one is born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work."

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Roberts Addresses US Education Secretary

Gina Good:

School Superintendent Rob Roberts was in Carson City last week, where he definitely knows his way around the capitol building, meeting regularly with legislators and Gov. Jim Gibbons.

Two weeks ago, Roberts was in Las Vegas to attend an invitation-only conference, attended by school superintendents along with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Congresswoman Dina Titus, D-Nev., and Nevada Senate Majority Leader, Democrat Steven Horsford along with other dignitaries.

Roberts was the only superintendent asked to address Duncan. "Now, let me tell you about Nye County," Roberts began.

He made the most of the opportunity, telling the secretary of the challenges of educating students in rural communities and the problems encountered with deep budget cuts.

He challenged the legislators to spend one day with him walking the schools. He said a prior speaker spoke in platitudes about a Las Vegas magnet school, Valley High School, where there are highly qualified teachers in every subject, teaching honors classes.

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Trench Warfare on the Board of Ed

Peter Meyer:

I couldn't believe it.

John, the new board of education president, had just proposed that we move "Old Business" to the beginning of our meetings.

I had spent roughly a year-and-a-half arguing that it made no sense to put Old Business at the end of each school board meeting, which usually arrived about 10pm, the third hour of these star chambers of modern public education. By then, most people, including the lone reporter, had gone home. That, of course, was the point: Old Business was dirty laundry, things not done. Why flaunt it?

I had gotten nowhere with my arguments because my colleagues on the school board thought I was the devil. I was the infamous "rogue" board member, the person that school board associations give seminars about. Not a team player. The local paper wrote an editorial about me that prompted a friend, after church, to remark, "I've seen kinder things said about murderers."

In fact, I had slipped on to the school board as a write-in candidate, after a stealth, two-day campaign waged only by email.

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Therapy in Preschools: Can It Have Lasting Benefits?

Sue Shellenbarger:

Like all children, Perry Cunningham, age 4, wants friends. But until recently, he lacked the social skills to reach out to other kids.

When Perry tried to make a friend at his New Haven, Conn., preschool this year, he mimicked a move he had seen his 15-year-old brother make with his buddies--he gave another, much bigger child a playful shove. The big guy's response: A punch in the face, leaving Perry with a bloody nose.

Courtney Morse Costello is a mental-health consultant at Beary Cherry preschool.
In many classrooms, Perry might simply have been regarded as a troublemaker. But Barbara Giangreco, a mental-health therapist who works in child-care centers and preschools, understood that he was just trying to be friendly, and worked with his mother and teacher on helping him use words to reach out to other kids. All the adults involved agree that Perry's social skills have improved significantly. He is making friends, and while he still has conflicts with other kids sometimes, he knows how to apologize and make peace.

The idea of assigning mental-health workers to child-care centers and preschools is jarring; I was skeptical when I first heard the idea. Children so small shouldn't need mental-health help, it seems, and having therapists or counselors working in classrooms seems to risk stigmatizing them with labels, or simply interfering with the innocence of childhood.

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September 9, 2009

Colleges Are Failing in Graduation Rates

David Leonhardt:

If you were going to come up with a list of organizations whose failures had done the most damage to the American economy in recent years, you'd probably have to start with the Wall Street firms and regulatory agencies that brought us the financial crisis. From there, you might move on to Wall Street's fellow bailout recipients in Detroit, the once-Big Three.

But I would suggest that the list should also include a less obvious nominee: public universities.

At its top levels, the American system of higher education may be the best in the world. Yet in terms of its core mission -- turning teenagers into educated college graduates -- much of the system is simply failing.

Only 33 percent of the freshmen who enter the University of Massachusetts, Boston, graduate within six years. Less than 41 percent graduate from the University of Montana, and 44 percent from the University of New Mexico. The economist Mark Schneider refers to colleges with such dropout rates as "failure factories," and they are the norm.

The United States does a good job enrolling teenagers in college, but only half of students who enroll end up with a bachelor's degree. Among rich countries, only Italy is worse. That's a big reason inequality has soared, and productivity growth has slowed. Economic growth in this decade was on pace to be slower than in any decade since World War II -- even before the financial crisis started.

So identifying the causes of the college dropout crisis matters enormously, and a new book tries to do precisely that.

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Employers Needed for First Annual Job and Career Fair at West High School

via email:

Does your business employ high school students or individuals with a high school diploma?

On Thursday, October 8, from 9:00 AM until 2:30 PM, West High School will host a job and career fair with a focus on employment opportunities during and after high school. West High is looking for employers who provide job and career opportunities for students in high school and individuals with a high school diploma.

This job fair is intended to provide both students and staff information about job and career opportunities for individuals with a high school diploma. Additionally, as a result of attending this job fair, students may obtain employment, arrange internships, set up job shadowing experiences, or network with potential employers.

For a $35.00 entry fee per business, West High will provide tables and chairs, a steady stream of 50 to 75 high school students per hour, a break room, volunteers to provide breaks and to assist with set up and take down, and a sit down meal and snacks provided by their culinary arts students.

For more information and a registration form, contact Jonathan Davis, transition teacher, at (608) 516-9512 or by e-mail at

This is a good idea.

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Will Universal Preschool Help Poor Kids? Education Next Issue Cover

Chester Finn:

Chester E. Finn, Jr. talks with Education Next about the contradictions behind the push for for universal preschool.

For more on this topic by Chester E. Finn, Jr., please see The Preschool Picture in the Fall 2009 issue of Education Next.

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What the Public Thinks of Public Schools

Paul Peterson:

Yesterday President Barack Obama delivered a pep talk to America's schoolchildren. The president owes a separate speech to America's parents. They deserve some straight talk on the state of our public schools.

According to the just released Education Next poll put out by the Hoover Institution, public assessment of schools has fallen to the lowest level recorded since Americans were first asked to grade schools in 1981. Just 18% of those surveyed gave schools a grade of an A or a B, down from 30% reported by a Gallup poll as recently as 2005.

No less than 25% of those polled by Education Next gave the schools either an F or a D. (In 2005, only 20% gave schools such low marks.)

Beginning in 2002, the grades awarded to schools by the public spurted upward from the doldrums into which they had fallen during the 1990s. Apparently the enactment of No Child Left Behind gave people a sense that schools were improving. But those days are gone. That federal law has lost its luster and nothing else has taken its place.

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National Standards

The Concord Review & The National Writing Board

8 September 2009

Specific, detailed, universally-accepted national standards in education are so vital that we have now had them for many decades--in high school sports. Athletics are so important in our systems of secondary education that it is no surprise that we have never settled for the kind of vague general-ability standards that have prevailed for so long in high school academic aptitude tests. If athletic standards were evaluated in the way the SAT measures general academic ability, for example, there would be tests of "general physical fitness" rather than the impressive suite of detailed measures we now use in high school sports.

The tests that we require in football, basketball, track and other sports are not called assessments, but rather games and meets, but they test the participants' ability to "do" sports in great detail--detail which can be duly communicated to college coaches interested in whether the athletes can perform in a particular sport.

These two different worlds of standards and assessment--athletics and academics--live comfortably side-by-side in our schools, usually without anyone questioning their very different sets of expectations, measures, and rewards.

The things our students have to know when they participate in various athletic activities are universally known and accepted. The things they have to do to be successful in various sports are also universally known and accepted across the country.

The fact that this is not the case for our academic expectations, standards, and rewards for students is the reason there has been so much attention drawn to the problem, at least since the Nation at Risk Report of 1983.

At the moment there are large efforts and expenditures being brought to bear, by the Department of Education, the Education Commission of the States, the Council of Chief State School Officers, many state governments, and others, for the development of academic National Standards for the United States.

There has been, and will continue to be, a lot of controversy over what novels students of English should read, what names, dates and issues history students should be familiar with, what languages, if any, our students should know, and what levels of math and science we can expect of our high school graduates.

The Diploma to Nowhere Report, released by the Strong American Schools Project in the summer of 2008, pointed out that more than one million of our high school graduates are enrolled in remedial courses each year when they get to the colleges which have accepted them. It seems reasonable to assume that the colleges that accepted them had some way of assessing whether those students were ready for the academic work at college, but perhaps the tools for such assessment were not up to the universal standards available for measuring athletic competence.

One area in which academic assessment is especially weak, in my view, is in determining high school students' readiness for college research papers. The Concord Review did a national study of the assignment of research papers in U.S. public high schools which found that, while 95% of teachers surveyed said research papers were important, or very important, 81% did not assign the kind that would help students get ready for college work. Most of the teachers said they just didn't have the time to spend on that with students.

Imagine the shock if we discovered that our student football players were not able to block or tackle, in spite of general agreement on their importance, or that our basketball players could not dribble, pass, or shoot baskets with any degree of competence, and, if, when surveyed, our high school coaches said that they were sorry that they just didn't have time to work on that with their athletes.

Whatever is decided about National Standards for the particular knowledge which all our students should have when they leave school, I hope that there is some realization that learning to do one research paper, of the kind required for every International Baccalaureate Diploma now, should be an essential part of the new standards.

If so, then we come to the problem of assessing, not just the ability of students to write a 500-word "personal essay" for college admissions officers, or to perform the 25-minute display of "writing-on-demand" featured in the SAT writing test and the NAEP assessment of writing, but their work on an actual term paper.

As with our serious assessments in sports, there are no easy shortcuts to an independent assessment of the research papers of our secondary students. Since 1998, the National Writing Board, on a small scale, has produced three-page reports on research papers by high school students from 31 states and two Canadian provinces. Each report has two Readers, and each Reader spends, on average, one hour to read and write their evaluation of each paper. Contrast this with the 30 papers-an-hour assessments of the SAT writing test. The National Writing Board process is time-consuming, but it is, in my biased view, one serious way to assess performance on this basic task that every student will encounter in college.

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US university dividend 'highest in world'

David Turner:

The value of a university education for male students in the US in terms of future earning power is double the rich country average, research by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development suggests.

A male graduate in the US can expect to earn $367,000 extra over his lifetime compared with someone who has merely completed high school.

The income boost for men is higher than for any other country in the world and double the rich-country average of $186,000, suggesting that in the US going to college is particularly key to high earnings.

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L.A. Schools Chief Sees Woes as Catalyst

Lauren Schuker:

This city's school district is the second largest in the nation, with nearly 700,000 students. But it has far fewer dollars per student than other major urban districts. Overcrowding and teacher turnover are among the worst in the country.

As new city schools Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines prepares on Wednesday to start his first full year at the helm, his strategy for a turnaround is to emphasize those very points.

By shining a spotlight on some of the most egregious failings of the city's schools, Mr. Cortines said he hopes to create enough transparency, embarrassment and even outrage to break a logjam among the school board, city leadership and local teachers union that has stymied past attempts at change.

Mr. Cortines also wants to break a taboo against evaluating teachers' performance and has threatened to reorganize the city's worst schools. "I want this district to be data-driven and transparent about everything," he said. "That means that sometimes we're not going to look so good. But let me tell you, if we're going to improve, we need to know where we are."

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The Helicopter Parents Are Hovering on Facebook

Elizabeth Bernstein:

David Rivera recently had someone "unfriend" him on Facebook: His own child.

For months, Dr. Rivera, an obstetrician in Lombard, Ill., had been exasperated that his 25-year-old son, Nate, often complained he was broke and asked for money, yet posted photos of himself on Facebook taken at bars, restaurants, movies and concerts.

Dr. Rivera says he tried to talk to his son, a senior in college, about his spending habits, but his son refused to listen. Frustrated, he finally wrote on his son's Facebook wall: "I can see what you are blowing your money on, so don't come whining to me about money."

"I think they figure that their friends are watching but we're not, because they think we are old and decrepit and we barely know how to turn the computer on," says Dr. Rivera, 54-years-old, of being a parent.

In the new era of helicopter parenting, more and more parents and kids are meeting up, and clashing, on Facebook, MySpace and other social-networking sites.

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12,000 Teacher Reports, but What to Do With Them?

Jennifer Medina:

As the city's students return to school on Wednesday, thousands will enter classrooms led by a teacher that the Department of Education has deemed low performing on internal reports. But in a sign of how complicated and controversial the reports are, many teachers never received them, and there are no plans to release them to parents.

The reports use standardized test scores to monitor how much teachers have helped students improve from one year to the next and whether they are successful with particular groups of children, such as boys or those who have struggled for years.

During the last school year, education officials distributed some 12,000 reports that considered how well teachers did in educating students, producing a report for any teacher who taught fourth through eighth grade for the last two years. The reports put New York at the center of a national debate over ways to measure the effectiveness of individual teachers and the role that test scores should play in the evaluations.

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A $5 Billion Bet on Better Education

Albert Hunt:

Over these next few weeks, 56 million American kids will start kindergarten through 12th grade. Even before an assignment or test is handed out, Education Secretary Arne Duncan has a grade for the system: B.

"We've stagnated," Mr. Duncan says of the U.S. educational system. "Other countries have passed us by."

Few dispute that. An evaluation by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ranked the United States 18th among 36 countries in secondary education. Almost 25 percent of U.S. students fail to graduate from high school on time; in South Korea, it's 7 percent.

More money, in the absence of structural reform (in my mind, more charters to start with) will not work. Two useful articles here and here.

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Private sector investing in charter schools

David Twiddy:

Charter schools, already seeing a surge in students, are getting attention from another group - private investors.

Entertainment Properties Inc., known mostly for sinking its money into movie theaters and wineries, recently bought 22 locations from charter school operator Imagine Schools for about $170 million. The real estate investment trust acts as landlord, while Imagine operates the schools and is using the investment to expand its chain of 74 locations.

"They really are an effective source of long-term financing that we can rely on and enables us to do what we're best at, which is running schools, and do what they're best at, which is long-term real estate ownership," said Barry Sharp, chief financial officer for Arlington, Va.-based Imagine. "It's a good fit."

Charter school supporters hope the move by Kansas City-based Entertainment Properties is the first of many such partnerships as they deal with increased interest from parents but not more money to build or expand their facilities.

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New campaign questions reliance on testing

Greg Toppo:

If public schools were baseball teams, says Sam Chaltain, Americans wouldn't have a clue who should be in the playoffs.
That's because our current rating system relies heavily on a single set of test scores for nearly 50 million students, showing how a sample of them perform on a one-day math or reading test each spring.

To Chaltain, director of the Washington-based think tank Forum for Education & Democracy, that's like picking playoff teams based on one game's box score.

As Congress gears up to reauthorize No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the 2002 law that spells out how federal, state and local governments rate schools and spend billions of dollars, Chaltain is leading a new and unlikely campaign to shift the USA's education conversation away from one-day tests and toward a larger one, focused on "powerful learning and highly effective teaching."

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Christian Girls, Interrupted

Willieam McGurn:

Two Christian girls. Two sets of distraught parents. And two state courts smack in the middle of it.

One of these courts is in New Hampshire, where a judge recently ordered that home-schooled Amanda Kurowski be sent to public school. The order signed by Family Court Justice Lucinda V. Sandler says the 10-year-old's Christian faith could use some shaking up--and that the local public school is just the place to do it. So while the child's lawyers at the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal outfit, filed a motion asking the judge to reconsider, last week Amanda started fifth grade at a local public school.

At about the same time Miss Kurowski was starting school in New Hampshire, a state court in Florida was considering what to do with 17-year-old Rifqa Bary. Miss Bary fled to Florida from Ohio a few weeks back, where she sought refuge with a Christian couple whose church she had learned about on Facebook. She says she ran away from home because her father discovered she'd become a Christian--and then threatened to kill her. On Thursday, Circuit Judge Daniel Dawson ordered the girl and her family to try mediation and set a pretrial hearing for the end of the month.

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September 8, 2009

Obama Speech Good for Wakefield, But I Haven't Changed My Mind

Jay Matthews:

The president's speech at Wakefield High was a wonderful experience for those hard-working students and the school's exceptional staff. I was particularly taken with the president's generosity in answering questions from students before the speech. They will remember this day forever.

But as I said in my much-maligned blog post on Friday, I don't think it was nearly as big a thrill for students who weren't there, but watched it on TV at their own schools. It was a great speech, saying all the right stuff. The president knows exactly what is wrong with our schools, and talks about the solutions more clearly and vividly than I do. But most kids have heard versions of his speech before, and without his physical presence, moment loses a lot of its electricity.

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Image is Everything

Sara Goldrick Rab:

Sunday's New York Times features a Style section article that quite frankly turned my stomach (at least, I'm pretty sure it was the article and not the 6 month old fetus I'm carrying!). It describes a debate over Harvard's decision to sign on to a new, expensive preppy clothing line-- one that charges more than $150 for a shirt, and up to $500 for a sports coat. A variety of opinions are represented, from that of the director of admissions and financial aid ( a former aid recipient himself) to an undergraduate who said, "I think it's good that it's [Harvard's] doing something to make money."

These deals apparently generate about $500,000 per year for the university, which (poor baby) saw its endowment decline by 30% last year. And that money goes to financial aid, so we're not supposed to worry that Harvard's being greedy.

And that's the main issue the reporter tackles--whether the decision to say yes to a clothing line that portrays an elite undergraduate student body conflicts with Harvard's stated goals of expanding diversity. Whether the money raised is enough to cover the additional costs associated with outreach. The "damage" done.

Well, of course it's not! Image, we all know, is everything-- especially when it comes to those families who rely on media for information in the absence of more informed sources. Harvard's biggest obstacles to bringing in more students from disadvantaged backgrounds are: (1) image; (2) cost of attendance; and (3) admissions requirements. The school is trying to conquer the second one with financial aid, by promising to cover all demonstrated need. That sounds great, but the fact is that the number of admitted students with tremendous financial need isn't very substantial-- if it were, the amount of money required to fulfill that promise would be much more forboding.

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The Day In The Life Of A School Principal


High school principals Peter Cahall of Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, D.C., and Walter Jackson of Alief Taylor High School in Houston, take NPR inside a day in the life of their job. They talk about the challenges of wearing many hats to provide visionary and practical leadership for their school.

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Reluctant students of the classics, lend me your earbuds!

Greg Toppo:

Kids, remember this name: Jenny Sawyer.

She may soon be American education's next "It" girl. Actually, make that its first and only "It" girl.

Only 24 and barely out of college, Sawyer has undertaken an audacious task: writing and shooting, with the help of a small band of filmmakers, more than 1,000 free, one-minute videos that help students understand and enjoy commonly assigned classic works of literature.

It'll take two years, thousands of hours on a Boston soundstage and countless outfit changes for Sawyer, the only person appearing on camera.

Her website,, is scheduled to go live Tuesday with the first of 100 or so videos covering 10 universally loved (read: hated) works that teenagers have struggled to appreciate since English teachers first walked the Earth. Titles include: The Scarlet Letter, Of Mice and Men, Great Expectations, Hamlet and To Kill a Mockingbird.

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Fewer Fliers Sent Home as Schools Put More on Web

Winnie Hu:

The back-to-school packets sent to all 7,800 students here in this hamlet on Long Island's North Shore grew thicker each year with dozens of pages of notices, fliers and forms -- adding up to more than $12,000 in postage alone last year.

Students at Commack High School on Long Island. The Commack School District has limited mailings and put back-to-school packets on its Web site.
But this year, amid a lingering recession and increasing online activity, school officials decided to stop the madness. Teachers and principals were given strict instructions: Limit mailings to a single, first-class envelope per student -- and post the overflow on the district's Web site, in a newly created back-to-school section. The savings: $9,000 in stamps plus $12,000 in salaries for clerks who used to spend up to two weeks assembling the packets.

And, for parents like Debra Miller, a shrinking pile of paperwork to keep up with.

"Since the kids have been in school, there's never been a pile less than 12 inches high on my kitchen counter," said Mrs. Miller, a mother of two, who shoves the unsightly pile into a cabinet when she has company. "I can never get out from under the pile, and I'm not alone. We all talk about it."

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Are Dictionaries Becoming Obsolete?

Julia Angwin:

Do we still need dictionaries in the age of Google?

Dictionaries are, after all, giant databases of words compiled by lexicographers who investigate word usages and meanings.

These days, however, Google is our database of meaning. Want to know how to spell assiduous? Type it incorrectly and Google will reply, in its kind-hearted way: "Did you mean: assiduous"? Why yes, Google, I did.

Google then spits out a bunch of links to Web definitions for assiduous. Without clicking on any of them, the two-sentence summaries below each link give me enough to get a sense of the word: "hard working," and "diligent."

Still not satisfied? Fine, click on the Google "News" tab - and you will be directed to a page of links where the word assiduous appears in news stories. Presto, sample sentences and usage examples.

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Certification Of Teachers as Painful Farce

Jay Matthews:

Iwas flooded with e-mails after my Aug. 24 column on high school teacher Jonathan Keiler. Prince George's County officials said he was going to lose his certification because he had not taken enough education school courses, even though he had a law degree and was the only person at his school with the highly regarded National Board Certification. Shortly after I told county and state officials that I was going to write about Keiler's situation, he was told that he had enough courses after all.

That change of tune was maddening to the teachers who wrote me. So were what they considered the uselessness of many education courses they were required to take and the faulty information they often received about the advanced training they did or didn't need. I learned much from them. Here is a sampling:

"I'm a 17-year science teacher in Montgomery County. I was actually fired two years ago for not having the 'right' Advanced Professional Certificate (APC) credits. The online credits I was told would be accepted were denied. I later managed to complete the required credits online from the University of Phoenix -- which was extremely lame but easy to do and is recognized by Montgomery County -- in less than three weeks. By then the deadline had run out and I was fired from my job but rehired as a long-term substitute. Demoralizing to say the least. Financially I took a very big hit."

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The Hunt for a Good Teacher

Stanley Fish:

I would give entering freshmen two pieces of advice. First, find out who the good teachers are. Ask your adviser; poll older students; search the Internet; and consult the teacher-evaluation guides available at most colleges. (As a professor, I am against those guides; too often they are the vehicles of petty grievances put forward by people who have no long-term stake in the enterprise. But if I were a student, I would take advantage of them.)

To some extent your options will be limited by distribution requirements (in colleges that still have them) and scheduling. But within these limits you should do everything you can to get a seat in the class of a professor known for both his or her knowledge of the material and the ability to make it a window on the larger universe. Years later you may not be able to recall the details of lectures and discussions, but the benefits of being in the company of a challenging mind will be yours forever.

Second, I would advise students to take a composition course even if they have tested out of it. I have taught many students whose SAT scores exempted them from the writing requirement, but a disheartening number of them couldn't write and an equal number had never been asked to. They managed to get through high-school without learning how to write a clean English sentence, and if you can't do that you can't do anything.

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Who Controls the Reading List?

Letters to the New York Times:

To the Editor:

As a university literature instructor, I found the idea of allowing middle-school students to choose their own reading lists disturbing.

Would we be so eager to embrace a "choose your own math" or "choose your own history" class?

The answer is no. We expect that students learn the curriculum in those courses whether or not they are "into it." Literature is no different, and literature courses shouldn't be treated as glorified book clubs.

By allowing students to bypass difficult texts or texts that don't seem to relate to their contemporary lives in favor of "Captain Underpants," teachers miss a valuable opportunity to teach them that real scholastic and intellectual growth often comes when we are most challenged and least comfortable.

Lisa Dunick
Champaign, Ill., Aug. 30, 2009

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Don't Alienate Your Professor

Carol Berkin:

Having survived the teenage years of two children, I know how foolhardy it is to offer advice to 18-year-olds. But, after more than three decades of teaching, I do have a few tips for college freshmen everywhere:

Make sure you are in the class you signed up to take. A week spent trying to figure out why the person you thought was your math teacher keeps talking about Renaissance art is a wasted week -- for both of you.

During class, do not: a) beat out a cadence on your desk while the teacher is lecturing; b) sigh audibly more than three or four times during a class period; c) check your watch more than twice during the hour. Do: a) practice a look of genuine interest in the lecture or discussion; b) nod in agreement frequently; c) laugh at all (or at least most) of the professor's jokes.

Do ask questions if you don't understand the professor's point. Do not, however, ask any of the following: "Will this be on the test?" "Does grammar count?" "Do we have to read the whole chapter?" "Can I turn in my paper late?"

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Google's Book Search: A Disaster for Scholars

Geoffrey Nunberg:

Whether the Google books settlement passes muster with the U.S. District Court and the Justice Department, Google's book search is clearly on track to becoming the world's largest digital library. No less important, it is also almost certain to be the last one. Google's five-year head start and its relationships with libraries and publishers give it an effective monopoly: No competitor will be able to come after it on the same scale. Nor is technology going to lower the cost of entry. Scanning will always be an expensive, labor-intensive project. Of course, 50 or 100 years from now control of the collection may pass from Google to somebody else--Elsevier, Unesco, Wal-Mart. But it's safe to assume that the digitized books that scholars will be working with then will be the very same ones that are sitting on Google's servers today, augmented by the millions of titles published in the interim.

That realization lends a particular urgency to the concerns that people have voiced about the settlement --about pricing, access, and privacy, among other things. But for scholars, it raises another, equally basic question: What assurances do we have that Google will do this right?

Doing it right depends on what exactly "it" is. Google has been something of a shape-shifter in describing the project. The company likes to refer to Google's book search as a "library," but it generally talks about books as just another kind of information resource to be incorporated into Greater Google. As Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, puts it: "We just feel this is part of our core mission. There is fantastic information in books. Often when I do a search, what is in a book is miles ahead of what I find on a Web site."

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September 7, 2009

Can Arne Duncan (And $5 Billion) Fix America's Schools?

Gilbert Cruz:

The secretary of education is on fire. He's running up and down a makeshift basketball court in a Kentucky parking lot and has just executed one of those rare flashy moves that also manage to be completely functional: a behind-the-back, no-look pass to a teammate, who cuts backdoor for an easy layup. Moments later, he drains a fadeaway jumper with an opponent dead in his face.

On some weekends, when the rest of Washington is on the back nine or a racquetball court, Arne Duncan (whose first name is pronounced Are-knee) can be found playing in three-on-three street-ball tournaments across the nation. On a muggy, overcast Saturday in late July, while 50 Cent's "I Get Money" blares from a set of speakers, the former head of the Chicago Public Schools pounds the blacktop, alternating between playing intensely and walking off to take calls on his BlackBerry. Almost none of the other ballers know who the white dude with the salt-and-pepper hair is, and even fewer expect him to last long in the tournament. And yet his team goes on to win every game (20-10, 20-6, 18-9, 20-11, 20-10, etc.) and eventually the grand prize of $10,000.

That may sound like a lot of money--Duncan plans to give his share to charity--but it's chump change compared with the kind of cash he gets to play with at work. The economic-stimulus bill passed by Congress in February included $100 billion in new education spending. Of that total, Duncan has $5 billion in discretionary funding. That money alone makes him the most powerful Education Secretary ever. "I had very little--in the single-digit millions," says Margaret Spellings, Duncan's predecessor. "That's millions, with an m."

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Special education: Public schools pressed to pay for private schooling

Bonnie Miller Rubin:

With a new school year upon us, the long-simmering issue of how best to accommodate special education students has been pushed to the forefront by a major U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Parents of students with special needs have the right to seek reimbursement from their districts for private school tuition, even if they did not first try their public school's special education programs, according to the recent ruling.

"This is an extremely important decision," said Matthew Cohen, a Chicago attorney who specializes in disability law. "It makes it clear that school districts ... may be held legally liable for placements that the parents make on their own."

The practical effect on districts is unclear. Some educators fear the ruling will strain already cash-strapped districts and pit parents against one another as they clash over scarce resources. But it's unlikely parents will flock to private schools because they have to pay the cost, then seek reimbursement.

Still, schools should take seriously their obligations to provide services provided under the federal Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), state officials say. Students are entitled to a "free and appropriate public education" under the law, and districts must pick up the tab for private schooling but only if the district's efforts to meet a child's needs have failed.

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Grading education isn't easy

Dennis Willard:

About a decade ago, this newspaper ran a series of articles about the problems facing public education. In those stories, three reporters, myself included, each spent a day following typical fourth-grade students in three different school districts.

In one classroom, the teacher asked students about a spinnaker, and a young man answered by explaining he had seen the sailing ship on a trip to Turkey. In another classroom, when a teacher asked what was the first thing they smelled when they went to the movies, the students fell silent. When the teacher exclaimed, ''popcorn,'' we learned many of the students had yet to step into a theater.

Students arrive at the doorsteps of schools each day burdened with backpacks and often varied experiences and economic backgrounds. They are at different learning levels, and for this reason, it is difficult to fairly assess just how much teaching is going on in individual classrooms and buildings and across districts.

During the same period these articles were appearing, the charter-school movement was starting in Ohio. The early advocates for these quasi-public schools pointed to the poor results in urban districts like Akron and especially Cleveland and proudly proclaimed they could teach these failing children better and cheaper.

Choice alone for parents and students was not the early driving force to start charter schools, and don't let anyone tell you differently. Choice would come later, when the promises to teach cheaper and better were less than fulfilled

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New England Prep School Builds Library Without Books


A New England prep school is getting rid of its traditional library full of books and going digital.

Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, Mass., will give away or toss the 20,000 books in its collection and spend $500,000 on a virtual "learning center," The Boston Globe reported.

The new space will have flat-screen TVs that show information from the Internet, a $50,000 coffee shop with a $12,000 cappuccino machine and study cubicles that can accommodate laptops, according to the paper

School officials have also spent $10,000 on 18 and Sony electronic readers to replace the old library's stacks of books.

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Milwaukee School Board takes key powers from administration

Erin Richards:

After a Milwaukee School Board vote that created a new accountability office, the superintendent and two board members said the restructuring won't improve the efficiency of the bureaucracy and may hurt the district's chances of securing a high-flying new superintendent.

Superintendent William Andrekopoulos strongly opposed the accountability services office proposal, led by School Board President Michael Bonds. Andrekopoulos told the School Board Thursday that it creates a difficult-to-lead "bifurcated system" and takes away from the superintendent key powers, such as heading charter schools and governmental lobbying efforts. He added the plan was not discussed openly with the public or district employees who would be affected.

Changing the district's organization was based on "fundamental misunderstandings of the existing system" and would "distract from the current efforts to improve the district's financial and educational position," he said.

The board approved the new office and job description of its leader Thursday night in a 5-2 vote, with members Jeff Spence and Bruce Thompson opposed and Tim Petersons voting "present." David Voeltner was absent from the special board meeting.

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GeoQUEST teaches history and geology to kids and parents

Pamela Cotant:

As young girls, Kristi Gelsomino and Tia Srachta toured the Cave of the Mounds with their Girl Scout troops from Illinois.

Now, years later, they journeyed back to the site with another mom, Jennifer Carroll, and their daughters who visited the cave with Girl Scout Troop 376 out of St Charles, Ill.

This time, the scouts were participating in a program called the GeoQUEST Walk and Talk for Families, which was started this year

The free program, run by the cave, explores the history of the area and geological features outside the cave itself.

"The GeoQUEST is designed to give back a bit of the history and story of this place without charging them a fee," said Kim Anderson, education coordinator at Cave of the Mounds.

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September 6, 2009

Deja vu: Report of the 1965 Madison School District Math 9 Textbook Committee

1.7MB PDF by Robert D. Gilberts, Superintendent Madison School District, Ted Losby and the Math 9 Textbook Committee:

The mathematics committee of the junior high schools of Madison has been meeting regularly for four rears with one intention in mind -- to improve the mathematics program of the junior high school. After experimenting with three programs in the 7th grade, the Seeing Through Mathematics series, Books 1 and 2, were recommended for adoption and approved in May of 1963.

The committee continued its leadership role in implementing the new program and began evaluation of the 9th grade textbooks available. The committee recommended the adoption of Seeing Through Mathematics, Book 3, published by Scott, Foresman and Company, and Algebra: Its Element and Structure, Book 1, published by Webster Division, McGraw-Hill Book Company, and the Board of Education adopted them on May 3, 1965.

A number of objections to the Seeing Through Mathematics textbooks were made by various University of Wisconsin professors. Dr. R. C. Buck, chairman of the University of Wisconsin Mathematics Department strongly criticized the series. A public objection to the adoption was made at the Board of Education meeting by Dr. Richard Askey of the University Mathematics Department. Later, a formal petition of protest against the adoption of Seeing Through Mathematics, Book 3, was sent to committee members. [related: 2006 Open Letter from 35 UW-Madison Math Professors about the Madison School District's Math Coordinator position]

The sincerity of the eminently qualified professional mathematicians under Dr. Buck's chairmanship was recognized by both the administration and the committee as calling for reconsideration of the committee's decisions over the past three years relative to the choice of Seeing Through Mathematics 1, 2 and 3.

Conversely, the support of the Scott, Foresman and. Company mathematics program and its instruction philosophy, as evidenced by numerous adoptions throughout the country and the pilot studies carried out in the Madison Public Schoolsvindicated that equitable treatment of those holding diametric viewpoints should be given. It was decided that the interests of the students to be taught would be best served through a hearing of both sides before reconsideration.

A special meeting of the Junior High School. Mathematics committee was held on June 10, 1965.

Meeting 1. Presentations were made by Dr. R. C. Buck, Dr. Richard Askey, and Dr. Walter Rudin of the University of Wisconsin Mathematics Department, and Dr. J. B. Rosen, chairman-elect of the University of Wisconsin Computer Sciences Department.

The presentations emphasized the speakers' major criticism of the Seeing Through Mathematics series -- "that these books completely distort the ideas and spirit of modern mathematics, and do not give students a good preparation for future mathematics courses. Examples were used to show that from the speakers' points of view the emphasis in Seeing Through Mathematics is wrong. They indicated they felt the language overly pedantic, and the mathematics of the textbooks was described as pseudo-mathematics. However, it was pointed out that the choice of topics was good the content was acceptable (except for individual instances), and the treatment was consistent. A question and answer session tollowed the presentations.


After careful consideration of all points of view, the committee unanimously recommended:

  1. that the University of Wisconsin Mathematics and Education Departments be invited to participate with our Curriculum Department in developing end carrying out a program to evaluate the effectiveness of the Seeing Through Mathematics series and, if possible, other "modern" mathematics series in Madison and other school districts in Wisconsin;
  2. that the committee reaffirm its decision to recommend the use of Seeing Through Mathematics, Book 3, and Algebra: Its Elements and structure, Book 1, in grade nine with Seeing Through Mathematics, Book 1 and 2 in grades seven and eight, and that the Department of Curriculum Developnent of the Madison Public Schools continue its study, its evaluation, and its revision of the mathematics curriculum; and
  3. that en in-service program be requested for all junior high school mathematics teachers. (Details to follow in a later bulletin).
Related: The recent Madison School District Math Task Force.

Britannica on deja vu.

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How Facebook Ruins Friendships

Elizabeth Bernstein:

Notice to my friends: I love you all dearly.

But I don't give a hoot that you are "having a busy Monday," your child "took 30 minutes to brush his teeth," your dog "just ate an ant trap" or you want to "save the piglets." And I really, really don't care which Addams Family member you most resemble. (I could have told you the answer before you took the quiz on Facebook.)

Here's where you and I went wrong: We took our friendship online. First we began communicating more by email than by phone. Then we switched to "instant messaging" or "texting." We "friended" each other on Facebook, and began communicating by "tweeting" our thoughts--in 140 characters or less--via Twitter.

All this online social networking was supposed to make us closer. And in some ways it has. Thanks to the Internet, many of us have gotten back in touch with friends from high school and college, shared old and new photos, and become better acquainted with some people we might never have grown close to offline.

Last year, when a friend of mine was hit by a car and went into a coma, his friends and family were able to easily and instantly share news of his medical progress--and send well wishes and support--thanks to a Web page his mom created for him.

But there's a danger here, too. If we're not careful, our online interactions can hurt our real-life relationships.

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Why College Costs Rise, Even in a Recession

Ron Lieber:

If you have paid a college tuition bill recently, perhaps the sticker shock has abated and your children have been good enough to friend you on Facebook so you can see what they are doing on your dime.

What probably still lingers, however, is the desire to ask some pointed questions of the people who are doing the educating. Where does all that money go? And why can't the price tag fall for a change?

Earlier this year, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities announced with some pride that the average increase in tuition and fees at private institutions this school year would be the smallest in 37 years -- 4.3 percent, just a little higher than inflation.

Is this where we are supposed to stand up and cheer?

To get some perspective, I set out to find a college president with an M.B.A. and some experience outside the academy. I found one at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa. Its president, Daniel H. Weiss, is an expert in medieval art, but he also worked as a management consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton. So he knows his way around a corporate restructuring.

Cringely ponders education in a "alternate economice universe".

Change is in the air. Simply throwing more money at the current system is unlikely to drive material improvements.

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Equal funding for California's schools
No one really understands the crazy quilt system now in place.

Los Angeles Times:

If there is one bright spot in the state's dismal funding of schools this year, it's that the Legislature is finally paying attention to long-standing and truly nonsensical disparities in the way that money is distributed.

There is no particular pattern to the inequities, except that a handful of the wealthiest school districts receive far more money per student than others, and the differences have nothing to do with what those districts' relative needs are. Rather, the crazy quilt of funding relies on outdated formulas that made little sense when they were devised and make even less sense now.

The Los Angeles and Inglewood school districts, for instance, have similar populations and educational challenges. Yet Inglewood received $1,400 less per student in 2007-08, the last year for which figures are available. And the relatively affluent Capistrano Unified School District in south Orange County got $1,000 less than that, while the well-off Laguna Beach schools received $3,000 more than Inglewood.

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No Child Left Behind testing going online in Hawaii in 2011

Loren Moreno:

The state Department of Education will conduct field studies of an online version of the Hawai'i State Assessment at every school, with plans to replace the paper and pencil test in 2011.

Once the online version of the assessment is fully rolled out in the 2010-11 school year, officials say the testing window will increase from two weeks to nearly eight months, and teachers will be able to administer the test up to three times per student.

The assessment is the state's measurement under No Child Left Behind. Only the best of the three scores will count toward a school's annual NCLB status, known commonly as "adequate yearly progress."

Modeled after the online Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, superintendent Patricia Hamamoto said administering the Hawai'i assessment by computer will allow teachers to get immediate feedback on how their students are understanding math, reading and science standards. It will also allow teachers to see where students might need more help.

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Incompetent teachers

Lexington @ The Economist:

I'VE finally got round to reading Steven Brill's piece in last week's New Yorker about incompetent teachers in New York. It's a brilliant but infuriating description of how hard it is to improve schools because the unions make it so hard to get rid of bad teachers and replace them with good ones.

Brill visits the "Rubber Room", where teachers whose principals want to sack them sit around doing nothing for years, still drawing their salaries, until arbitrators hear their cases. One interviewee, who is earning more than $100,000 a year for twiddling her thumbs, offers one of the most amusingly outlandish theories I have heard in a while:

Before Bloomberg and Klein [the mayor and schools chancellor, who are trying to introduce a hint of meritocracy to New York's schools], "there was no such thing as incompetence," says Brandi Scheiner. She adds:

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Milwaukee teachers union has old hand in charge

Alan Borsuk:

Mike Langyel says he wasn't banging on the piano, like some people say, that night several years ago when a few hundred Milwaukee Public Schools teachers filled the auditorium while the School Board was trying to meet.

"I know I was in the key of C," he said. "I didn't have to touch any black keys." Nothing he played was discordant, he said.

The teachers, unhappy about the state of contract negotiations, disrupted the meeting with boos, noisemakers and catcalls before leaving en masse.

Langyel's contribution was the piano accompaniment. For some reason, an upright piano used to be kept in the auditorium, right at the foot of the stage, just a few feet from where Superintendent William Andrekopoulos sat. Langyel used it, particularly when Andrekopoulos spoke.

"Business as usual sometimes has to stop when you're really trying to fight for kids," Langyel said in an interview recently.

Was what he did that night a good idea? "At the time," he said.

The piano disappeared after that. But Langyel didn't.

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Wikipedia: It's a Man's World

Sady Doyle:

A recent study, reported on the Wall Street Journal's blog, reveals that only 13 percent of Wikipedia's contributors are female. This information manages, somehow, to be both unsurprising -- Wikipedia feels like a guy thing, somehow -- and fascinating, for raising questions about how gender informs the largely anonymous realm of Internet discussion.

One-quarter of respondents who did not contribute said that they hadn't done so because they were "afraid of getting 'in trouble'"

Wikipedia aims for democratic participation: Anyone can contribute, and everyone's contributions are subject to correction by other users. Its subject matter isn't implicitly gendered: It covers almost any topic that's relevant enough to warrant an entry. But, in practice, Wikipedia -- like any other established subculture, offline or on -- rewards some contributors more than others. The site, by its nature, favors people with an intense interest in detail and a high tolerance for debate. (Choosing a discussion page at random, one learns that the entry on frogs once drew critical attention for including a picture of toads. It got slightly heated.)

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September 5, 2009

Loudon residents, school board comfortable with camera at meetings

Hugh Willett:

A Tennessee School Board Association recommendation that would allow school boards to restrict the use of cameras and video recorders from board meetings found little support from the members of the Loudon County School Board on Thursday night.

During a review of TSBA's proposed policy changes, board members and residents expressed their concerns about the policy. Some were concerned that the Nashville-based TSBA's suggested policy was unconstitutional.

"I can't believe you're getting such bad legal advice," said Loudon resident Shirley Harrison.

Pat Hunter, a Loudon County activist who has recently posted video clips of school board members and other county officials on her Web site, said she was concerned about taxpayer money being used to fund TSBA.

Power to the people, as it were!

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Games Lessons: It sounds like a cop-out, but the future of schooling may lie with video games

The Economist:

SINCE the beginning of mass education, schools have relied on what is known in educational circles as "chalk and talk". Chalk and blackboard may sometimes be replaced by felt-tip pens and a whiteboard, and electronics in the form of computers may sometimes be bolted on, but the idea of a pedagogue leading his pupils more or less willingly through a day based on periods of study of recognisable academic disciplines, such as mathematics, physics, history, geography and whatever the local language happens to be, has rarely been abandoned.

Abandoning it, though, is what Katie Salen hopes to do. Ms Salen is a games designer and a professor of design and technology at Parsons The New School for Design, in New York. She is also the moving spirit behind Quest to Learn, a new, taxpayer-funded school in that city which is about to open its doors to pupils who will never suffer the indignity of snoring through double French but will, rather, spend their entire days playing games.

Quest to Learn draws on many roots. One is the research of James Gee of the University of Wisconsin. In 2003 Dr Gee published a book called "What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy", in which he argued that playing such games helps people develop a sense of identity, grasp meaning, learn to follow commands and even pick role models. Another is the MacArthur Foundation's digital media and learning initiative, which began in 2006 and which has acted as a test-bed for some of Ms Salen's ideas about educational-games design. A third is the success of the Bank Street School for Children, an independent primary school in New York that practises what its parent, the nearby Bank Street College of Education, preaches in the way of interdisciplinary teaching methods and the encouragement of pupil collaboration.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: The Coming Reset in State Government

Mitch Daniels:

State government finances are a wreck. The drop in tax receipts is the worst in a half century. Fewer than 10 states ended the last fiscal year with significant reserves, and three-fourths have deficits exceeding 10% of their budgets. Only an emergency infusion of printed federal funny money is keeping most state boats afloat right now.

Most governors I've talked to are so busy bailing that they haven't checked the long-range forecast. What the radar tells me is that we ain't seen nothin' yet. What we are being hit by isn't a tropical storm that will come and go, with sunshine soon to follow. It's much more likely that we're facing a near permanent reduction in state tax revenues that will require us to reduce the size and scope of our state governments. And the time to prepare for this new reality is already at hand.

The coming state government reset will be particularly wrenching after the happy binge that preceded this recession. During the last decade, states increased their spending by an average of 6% per year, gusting to 8% during 2007-08. Much of the government institutions built up in those years will now have to be dismantled.

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College Ratings Gone Wild

Jay Matthews:

Four years ago I ranked all of the major college guides for Slate. My piece is still there, if you want to look. It retains some relevance at this time of year, when America has its annual ratings-o-rama. It is more entertaining than informative, but so what? A little amusement might help us better understand what we want in our colleges.

I have been leafing through the guides that just arrived in the mail. There is the Newsweek-Kaplan college guide, where once again I have an article, so in the interests of modesty and objectivity we will ignore it. The granddaddy of guides, U.S. News & World Report's "America's Best Colleges," sits atop my stack, still shiny and proud despite all the abuse it has gotten over the years. "The Best 371 Colleges," a thick book by The Princeton Review, is a favorite because of its playfulness.

I am also fond of the Washington Monthly college guide. It has found a way to deepen and broaden each year what I once thought was a one-time gimmick--ranking colleges by how well they serve America. I am excited by a new guide, at least new to me, the "Military Friendly Schools" list published by G.I. Jobs magazine. The "What Will They Learn?" report, an unconventional guide by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, shows how the lists might look if we cared about what our colleges were teaching.

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A College President Breaks Bread With His Foes

Paul Fain:

College presidents, like mob bosses, have precarious jobs. Both work under the lurking threat of removal, whether by a no-confidence vote or a whacking. For that reason, savvy presidents live by the old rule: Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

So it was that Paul J. LeBlanc, president of Southern New Hampshire University, decided early last year to hold an intimate chat with a group of his fiercest critics. He put together a list of about a dozen faculty members and invited them to a dinner discussion about the future of the university.

In his e-mailed invitation to the dinner, Mr. LeBlanc gave recipients five reasons that they got the nod, including because they had disagreed with him in the past, had served in leadership positions, or, more simply, "just straight out don't like me." (Read the text of the full invitation.)

Mr. LeBlanc booked a private room at a local restaurant, C.R. Sparks. Pizzas, salads, and wine were brought in, and the doors were closed for a three-hour, no-holds barred conversation. The president picked up the bill.

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Will California Use Student Test Scores to Evaluate Teachers?

Raymond Barglow:

In decades past, education in California was a top priority for government, and the state's schools were "the cutting edge of the American Dream." Today, spending per pupil in the state has fallen to 47th in the country. Due to deep budget cuts, California school districts have been laying off teachers, expanding class sizes, closing some schools, and canceling bus service and summer school programs.

As for future funding of public education--the state of California is caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. The current dilemma stems from a provision in California's Education Code that can be interpreted as ruling out the use by state officials of test scores to evaluate teacher performance and compensation. On the one hand, the Obama administration has informed state officials that this provision represents an unacceptable "firewall between students and teacher data" and must be removed if California is to be eligible to receive an educational grant from the administration's $4.35 billion Race to the Top stimulus fund. On the other hand, California teachers are making it clear through their unions that the use by state government of student test scores to evaluate teachers would be detrimental to education and is an idea that must be rejected.

Taking up this issue has been the Senate Committee on Education, which held a hearing on Aug. 26 chaired by Senator Gloria Romero. The Committee is considering amending California law to ensure that the state qualifies for federal funding. "It is my goal," Romero says, "to do everything possible to ensure that the Golden State has access to precious federal dollars that can help provide our students the best possible education."

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As Many Schools Earn A's and B's, New York City Plans to Raise Standards

Jennifer Medina:

With the vast majority of New York City schools receiving A's and B's on the progress reports released this week, Education Department officials said Thursday that they expected to adjust the grading system, in effect ensuring that more schools would receive lower grades next year.

In fact, school officials who helped create the system said they never meant it to be one that would have so many schools earning the highest marks.

"We are going to raise the bar," said Shael Polakow-Suransky, the chief accountability officer for the department. He said that while he would want to see a wider distribution of the grades, "At the same time, when we set clear goals and schools meet them, they need to be recognized and rewarded for that."

The huge increase in the number of top marks on the city report cards -- 97 percent of schools received an A or B, up from 79 percent in 2008 -- was driven by broad gains on state standardized tests in math and English. This year, the number of students who met state standards jumped to 82 percent in math, compared with 74 percent last year. In English, 69 percent of students passed, up from 58 percent.

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26-School D.C. Cheating Probe 'Inconclusive'

Bill Turque:

District officials revealed Thursday that they commissioned an investigation last summer into possible cheating at 26 public and public charter schools where reading and math proficiency on 2008 standardized tests increased markedly.

The probe, an analysis of incorrect student answers that were erased and changed to correct answers, found "anomalies" at some of the schools that administered the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System (DC-CAS) test. But officials called the investigation, conducted by the test's publisher, CTB McGraw-Hill, "ultimately inconclusive."

District officials did not name the schools that were investigated, and they did not release a copy of the CTB McGraw-Hill report, which was requested by The Washington Post on May 29 under the Freedom of Information Act. Officials also offered no explanation for the interval between the conclusion of the investigation in March and their decision to disclose it at a news conference called by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) on Thursday.

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Same-sex classes worth a shot

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

Anyone who has ever walked the halls of a middle school knows the hormones are hopping and the social drama is intense.

Growing evidence also suggests boys and girls learn best in different ways.

That's why experimenting with same-sex schools and classes is a welcome trend in Wisconsin. If pilot programs in Beaver Dam and a handful of other districts can boost the attention and achievement of both sexes, more schools should consider separating the girls from the boys in targeted grades and subjects.

Beaver Dam educators are separating sixth-graders into two single-gender classrooms for math, science and English this fall. Other classes such as physical education will still be coed.

Educators in Beaver Dam and elsewhere plan to analyze and compare test scores as well as attendance, discipline and behavioral referrals. Results will be vital in determining whether to continue or expand the effort.

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September 4, 2009

School speech backlash builds

Nia-Malika Henderson:

School districts from Maryland to Texas are fielding angry complaints from parents opposed to President Barack Obama's back-to-school address Tuesday - forcing districts to find ways to shield students from the speech as conservative opposition to Obama spills into the nation's classrooms.

The White House says Obama's address is a sort of pep talk for the nation's schoolchildren. But conservative commentators have criticized Obama for trying to "indoctrinate" students to his liberal beliefs, and some parents call it an improper mix of politics and education.

"The gist is, 'I want to see what the president has to say before you expose it to my child.' Another said, 'This is Marxist propaganda.' They are very hostile," said Patricia O'Neill, a Democrat who is vice president of the Montgomery County School Board, in a district that borders Washington, D.C. "I think it's disturbing that people don't want to hear the president, but we live in a diverse society."

The White House moved Thursday to quell the controversy. First it revised an Education Department lesson plan that drew the ire of conservatives because it called for students to write letters about how they can help the president.

Tim Padgett:
When Barack Obama won Florida last November -- the first Democrat to take the Sunshine State since FDR -- many saw it as a sign of centrist GOP Governor Charlie Crist's moderating influence. But lately, Florida's disgruntled Republicans aren't looking very moderate. This week, in fact, the peninsula's GOP registered arguably the loudest outcry over the education speech President Obama plans to deliver to U.S. primary and secondary students via webcast and C-Span next Tuesday. In perhaps the most over-the-top performance, state Republican Chairman Jim Greer called it an attempt to use "our children to spread liberal propaganda" and "President Obama's socialist ideology."

Thanks in large part to the Administration's ham-handed advance work, the strident conservative anger that erupted this summer over health-care reform has shifted from town halls to school halls. On the surface, Obama's intentions for Tuesday seem nothing more threatening than a presidential pep talk about taking education seriously. But some ill-advised prep material from the Education Department -- like suggestions that teachers have students write letters on "how to help the President" and recommendations that those pupils read his books -- has left the door ajar (and that's all it seems to take these days) for Republican charges that Obama "wants to indoctrinate our kids," as Clara Dean, GOP chairwoman of Florida's Collier County, puts it. (Read Joe Klein on Barack Obama's August to forget.)

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Boy hit by car near Madison Sennett Middle School still in hospital with skull fracture

Amelai Vorpahl:

A boy hit by a car near from Sennett Middle School on Thursday sustained a skull fracture, bruises and cuts and is still in the hospital, Sennett principal Colleen Ludholz said today.

The 11-year-old Sennett student was crossing the street before the start of school when he was hit by the side mirror of a vehicle.

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Madison Marquette Elementary teacher named one of two Wisconsin elementary school teachers of the year

Patricia Simms:

A veteran fourth-grade teacher at Marquette Elementary School was named one of two Wisconsin elementary school teachers of the year today.

State officials surprised Maureen McGilligan-Bentin, who has been teaching 37 years, with the award in a cafeteria full of cheering and clapping students and colleagues.

She will receive $3,000 from U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl's education foundation and will be competing for a national teaching award throughout the year.

McGilligan-Bentin, 60, lives in Madison, holds an education degree from UW-Madison and was a former professional dancer.


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Education works as a placebo effect

Kai Ryssdal & Tyler Cowen:

KAI RYSSDAL: College students, and their parents, who have yet to write this fall's tuition checks may want to bear the following statistic in mind. According to the Department of Education, more students are going deeper into debt to pay for school. Last year, total federal student loan payments increased 25 percent. Are students getting what they borrowed for? Commentator Tyler Cowen says yeah they are, sort of.

TYLER COWEN: There's lots of evidence that placebos work in medicine; people get well simply because they think they're supposed to.

But we're learning that placebos apply to a lot of other areas and that includes higher education. Schooling works in large part because it makes people feel they've been transformed. Think about it: college graduates earn a lot more than non-graduates, but studying Walt Whitman rarely gets people a job. In reality, the students are jumping through lots of hoops and acquiring a new self-identity.

The educators and the administrators stage a kind of "theater" to convince students that they now belong to an elite group of higher earners. If students believe this story, many of them will then live it.

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Lavish public spending on the well-being of children does not always hit the mark

The Economist:

WHEN the poet William Wordsworth declared that "the Child is father of the Man", he meant that the gifts of childhood endow adults with some of their finest qualities. And many governments, these days, feel that the path to happiness for society as a whole lies through spending on the welfare of its youngest members: their health, education and general well-being. A report* from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a rich-country think-tank, scrutinises these efforts and asks if the aim is being achieved.

With its stress on quantifiable facts, the spirit of the OECD report differs from one by UNICEF, the UN children's agency, in 2007 which made waves by saying children in Britain did badly. UNICEF relied too much on asking youngsters how they felt (did they have "kind and helpful" schoolmates?); the new study stresses meatier things like vaccination and test scores.

With equal rigour, the OECD avoids a single index of child welfare in its 30 member states. Instead, after sifting hundreds of variables, the researchers settled on 21 that coalesce into six categories: material well-being; housing and environment; educational well-being; health and safety; risky behaviour; and quality of school life. Then they ranked countries six times.

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It's expensive, so it must be good

The Economist:

THERE are plenty of interesting factoids in this post, on a study examining the well-known U.S. News and World Report annual college rankings. Despite the best efforts of well-intentioned administrators to reduce the influence of the publication's extremely popular and rather superficial league tables, the rankings get results; movement into or within the top 50 produces dividends in the quality of the following year's applicant pool.

But this is particularly curious:

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The Politics of President Obama's "Back to School Speech" Beamed to Classrooms

Foon Rhee:

Here's the latest exhibit on how polarized the country is and how much distrust exists of President Obama.

He plans what seems like a simple speech to students around the country on Tuesday to encourage them to do well in school.

But some Republicans are objecting to the back-to-school message, asserting that Obama wants to indoctrinate students.

Florida GOP Chairman Jim Greer said in a statement that he is "absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama's socialist ideology" and "liberal propaganda."

Wednesday, after the White House announced the speech, the Department of Education followed up with a letter to school principals and a lesson plan.

Critics pointed to the part of the lesson plan that originally recommended having students "write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president."

Eric Kleefeld:
The Department of Education has now changed their supplementary materials on President Obama's upcoming address to schoolchildren on the importance of education -- eliminating a phrase that some conservatives, such as the Florida GOP, happened to have been bashing as evidence of socialist indoctrination in our schools.

In a set of bullet points listed under a heading, "Extension of the Speech," one of the points used to say: "Write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president. These would be collected and redistributed at an appropriate later date by the teacher to make students accountable to their goals."

However, that bullet point now reads as follows: "Write letters to themselves about how they can achieve their short‐term and long‐term education goals. These would be collected and redistributed at an appropriate later date by the teacher to make students accountable to their goals."

Alyson Klein:
om Horne, Arizona's superintendent of public instruction, put out his own statement, with an education-oriented critique of the speech and its lesson plans.

Here's a snippet from his statement:

The White House materials call for a worshipful, rather than critical approach to this speech. For example, the White House communication calls for the students to have 'notable quotes excerpted (and posted in large print on the board),' and for the students to discuss 'how will he inspire us,' among other things. ...In general, in keeping with good education practice, students should be taught to read and think critically about statements coming from politicians and historical figures.
Just as it quickly became impossible to have a rationale discussion about health care as August wore on, we could be heading that way on education. If you haven't heard (don't get cable news?), President Obama plans to give a speech to the nation's schoolchildren next week. To accompany it the Department of Education prepared a - gasp - study guide with some ideas for how teachers can use the speech as a, dare I say it, teachable moment.

Conservatives are screaming that this is unprecedented and amounts to indoctrination and a violation of the federal prohibition on involvement in local curricular decisions. Even the usually level-headed Rick Hess has run to the ramparts. We're getting lectured on indoctrination by the same people who paid national commentators to covertly promote their agenda.

Please. Enough. The only thing this episode shows is how thoroughly broken our politics are. Let's take the two "issues" in turn.
Michael Alison Chandler & Michael Shear:
The speech, which will be broadcast live from Wakefield High School in Arlington County, was planned as an inspirational message "entirely about encouraging kids to work hard and stay in school," said White House spokesman Tommy Vietor. Education Secretary Arne Duncan sent a letter to principals nationwide encouraging them to show it.

But the announcement of the speech prompted a frenzied response from some conservatives, who called it an attempt to indoctrinate students, not motivate them.

I think Max Blumenthal provides the right perspective on this political matter:
Although Eisenhower is commonly remembered for a farewell address that raised concerns about the "military-industrial complex," his letter offers an equally important -- and relevant -- warning: to beware the danger posed by those seeking freedom from the "mental stress and burden" of democracy.

The story began in 1958, when Eisenhower received a letter from Robert Biggs, a terminally ill World War II veteran. Biggs told the president that he "felt from your recent speeches the feeling of hedging and a little uncertainty." He added, "We wait for someone to speak for us and back him completely if the statement is made in truth."

Eisenhower could have discarded Biggs's note or sent a canned response. But he didn't. He composed a thoughtful reply. After enduring Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, who had smeared his old colleague Gen. George C. Marshall as a Communist sympathizer, and having guarded the Republican Party against the newly emergent radical right John Birch Society, which labeled him and much of his cabinet Soviet agents, the president perhaps welcomed the opportunity to expound on his vision of the open society.

"I doubt that citizens like yourself could ever, under our democratic system, be provided with the universal degree of certainty, the confidence in their understanding of our problems, and the clear guidance from higher authority that you believe needed," Eisenhower wrote on Feb. 10, 1959. "Such unity is not only logical but indeed indispensable in a successful military organization, but in a democracy debate is the breath of life."

Critical thinking is good for kids and good for society.

I attended a recent Russ Feingold lunch [mp3 audio]. He spoke on a wide range of issues and commendably, took many open forum questions (unlike many elected officials), including mine "How will history view our exploding federalism?". A fellow luncheon guest asked about Obama's use of "Czar's" (operating outside of Senate review and confirmation). Feingold rightly criticized this strategy, which undermines the Constitution.

I would generally not pay much attention to this, but for a friends recent comment that his daughter's elementary school (Madison School District) teacher assigned six Obama coloring projects last spring.

Wall Street Journal Editorial:

President Obama's plan to speak to America's schoolchildren next Tuesday has some Republicans in an uproar. "As the father of four children, I am absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama's socialist ideology," thunders Jim Greer, chairman of Florida's Republican Party, in a press release. "President Obama has turned to American's children to spread his liberal lies, indoctrinating American's [sic] youngest children before they have a chance to decide for themselves." Columnists who spy a conspiracy behind every Democrat are also spreading alarm.

This is overwrought, to say the least. According to the Education Department's Web site, Mr. Obama "will challenge students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning"--hardly the stuff of the Communist Manifesto or even the Democratic Party platform. America's children are not so vulnerable that we need to slap an NC-17 rating on Presidential speeches. Given how many minority children struggle in school, a pep talk from the first African-American President could even do some good.

On the other hand, the Department of Education goes a little too far in its lesson plans for teachers to use in conjunction with the speech--especially the one for grades 7 through 12. Before the speech, teachers are urged to use "notable quotes excerpted (and posted in large print on board) from President Obama's speeches about education" and to "brainstorm" with students about the question "How will he inspire us?" Suggested topics for postspeech discussion include "What resonated with you from President Obama's speech?" and "What is President Obama inspiring you to do?"

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Nearly 1 in 10 in California's class of 2009 did not pass high school exit exam

Seema Mehta:

Nearly one in 10 students in the class of 2009 did not pass the state's high school exit exam, which is required to receive a diploma. The results, released Wednesday, were nearly stagnant compared with the previous year.

By the end of their senior year, 90.6% of students in the graduating class had passed the two-part exam, compared with 90.4% in the class of 2008.

"These gains are incremental, but they are in fact significant and they are a true testimony to the tremendous work being done by our professional educators . . . as well as our students," said state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, whose office released the data.

Beginning in their sophomore year, students have several chances to take the exit exam. A score of at least 55% on the math portion, which is geared to an eighth-grade level, and 60% on the English portion, which is ninth- or 10th-grade level, is required.

The achievement gap between white and Asian students and their Latino and black classmates persisted. More than 95% of Asian students and nearly 96% of white students passed the exam by the end of their senior year, compared with nearly 87% of Latino students and more than 81% of black students. But the data did show the size of the gap narrowing. English-language learners and lower-income students also lagged but have made notable gains since the exam was first required.

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Students Borrow More Than Ever For College

Anne Marie Chaker:

Students are borrowing dramatically more to pay for college, accelerating a trend that has wide-ranging implications for a generation of young people.

New numbers from the U.S. Education Department show that federal student-loan disbursements--the total amount borrowed by students and received by schools--in the 2008-09 academic year grew about 25% over the previous year, to $75.1 billion. The amount of money students borrow has long been on the rise. But last year far surpassed past increases, which ranged from as low as 1.7% in the 1998-99 school year to almost 17% in 1994-95, according to figures used in President Barack Obama's proposed 2010 budget.

The sharp growth is "definitely above expectations," says Robert Shireman, deputy undersecretary of the Education Department. "But we're also in an economic situation that nobody predicted." The eye-opening increase in borrowing is largely due to the dire economic environment, which is causing more people to seek federal loans, he says.

The new numbers highlight how debt has become commonplace in paying for higher education. Today, two-thirds of college students borrow to pay for college, and their average debt load is $23,186 by the time they graduate, according to an analysis of the government's National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, conducted by financial-aid expert Mark Kantrowitz. Only a dozen years earlier, according to the study, 58% of students borrowed to pay for college, and the average amount borrowed was $13,172.

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Content Knowledge: "Um, My College Didn't Offer History"


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Milwaukee Public Schools Mayoral Control plan has more questions than answers

Eugene Kane:

As Milwaukee students return to school this week, their first lesson might be to learn a new phrase so they don't feel out of the loop.

Just like teenagers are known to create new words for their social networking sites, the adults in charge of making decisions about the future of Milwaukee Public Schools have upgraded their lingo, too.

Take note: It's not being called a "takeover" of MPS anymore; it's being called "mayoral governance."

(I know; it doesn't quite roll off the tongue the same way, does it?)

Mayor Tom Barrett says the new verbiage is the latest attempt to find a less-imposing description of a controversial education initiative that has been attempted by several other public school districts nationally.

With discussions on the topic heating up among social, business and civic groups, it seemed a name change was in order.

"Words do carry connotations," Barrett said during an interview. "For some people, takeover sounded nefarious."

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September 3, 2009

Revised Madison school budget boosts tax increase

Gayle Worland:

The owner of a $250,000 Madison home would pay $82.50 more in school property taxes this year under a proposal by city schools superintendent Dan Nerad that seeks to partially cover a projected $9.2 million cut in general state aids to the district.

That's $80 more than estimated under a preliminary 2009-10 district budget approved by the school board in May, when the board expected state cuts to be less severe.

The tax increase would cover only a portion of the state cut. School officials said the remaining gap would be bridged through cost-saving measures that do not directly affect students.

"Am I comfortable or happy?" with the district's proposal, said Arlene Silveira, school board president. "No. But the whole (budget) situation doesn't make me comfortable or happy. I appreciate that there are ways that we can deal with this gap without really cutting programs and without putting too much of a burden back on our community."

The Madison district's $350 million budget for the current school year won't be final until the school board votes on it in late October. Officials are awaiting final student counts in late September, which figure into the amount of aid each district receives from the state.
"In terms of where we are in this economy and where we are in public education, you need to be realistic," said [Erik] Kass. "You need to be conservative, and you need to realize there are things that are going to pop up during the year. But I think you also need to be cognizant of the fact that you're being a steward of public resources, and you need to utilize those resources to provide a service that the public is giving you the money to provide."

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Washington Monthly's College Guide

Washington Monthly:

I'd like to welcome you all to the Washington Monthly's College Guide website and blog. Our aim is for this site to be your one-stop-shop for information about higher education reform. Since 2005, the Washington Monthly has sought to steer the national conversation about higher education away from a maniacal focus on elite schools that is the abiding obsession of the mainstream press and towards the less selective (but often wonderful) rank-and-file colleges and universities where most Americans actually get their educations. This site is the latest step in that effort.

We're looking to do a few different things here:

· Highlight the Monthly's annual college rankings, which rate schools not based on crude and easily-manipulated measures of money and prestige, like certain other magazines do, but rather on their contributions to society. Are they producing cutting-edge scientific research and PhDs? Do they steer their graduates into public-service jobs? Do they recruit economically disadvantaged students and help them graduate, or merely cater to the affluent? On these measures, the elite schools don't do so well. For instance, only one of U.S. News & World Report's top ten universities--Stanford--makes the Washington Monthly's top ten, while some institutions that rank high on our list, like South Carolina State (#6) and Jackson State (#22), are buried in the bottom tier of the U.S. News list. We hope you'll take the time to look at some of the surprising results our methodology led to.

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An Interesting Presentation (Race, Income) on Madison's Public Schools to the City's Housing Diversity Committee

Former Madison Alder Brenda Konkel summarized the meeting:

The Madison School District shared their data with the group and they decided when their next two meetings would be. Compton made some interesting/borderline comments and they have an interesting discussion about race and how housing patterns affect the schools. There was a powerpoint presentation with lots of information, without a handout, so I tried to capture it the best I could.

The meeting was moved from the Mayor's office to Room 260 across the street. The meeting started 5 minutes late with Brian Munson, Marj Passman, Mark Clear, Judy Compton, Dave Porterfield, Brian Solomon and Marsha Rummel were the quorum. Judy Olson absent, but joined them later. City staff of Bill Clingan, Mark Olinger, Ray Harmon and Helen Dietzler. Kurt Keifer from the School District was here to present. (Bill Clingan is a former Madison School Board member. He was defeated a few years ago by Lawrie Kobza.

A few interesting notes:
Clear asks if this reflects white flight, or if this just reflects the communities changing demographics. He wants to know how much is in and out migration. Kiefer says they look more at private and parochial school attendance as portion of Dane County and MMSD. Our enrollment hasn't changed as a percentage. There has been an increased activity in open enrollment - and those numbers have gone up from 200 to 400 kids in the last 8 - 10 years. He says the bigger factor is that they manage their enrollment to their capacities in the private and parochial schools. Even with virtual schools, not much changes. The bigger factor is the housing transition in Metropolitan area. Prime development is happening in other districts
Kiefer says smaller learning communities is what they are striving for in high schools. Kiefer says the smaller learning initiative - there is a correlation in decrease in drop out rate with the program. Compton asks about minority and Caucasian level in free lunch. She would like to see that.

Kiefer says that Midvale population is not going up despite the fact that they have the highest proportion of single detached units in Midvale - they are small houses and affordable, but also highest proportion of kids going to private and parochial schools. He says it was because of access because to parochial schools are located there. Kiefer says they think the area is changing, that the Hilldale area has been an attractor for families as well as Sequoya Commons. Family and school friendly areas and he tells the city to "Keep doing that". He is hopeful that Hill Farms changes will be good as well.

Fascinating. I wonder how all of this, particularly the high school "small learning community initiatives" fit with the District's strategic plan and recently passed Talented and Gifted initiative?

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GMAT kicks GRE into touch

Della Bradshaw:

Although top-tier business schools such as Harvard, Wharton, Stanford and MIT Sloan have decided to adopt the GRE test as well as the GMAT, there is little appetite for the test in the majority of the US's top business schools, according to a report by Kaplan, the test preparation company.

Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions conducted a survey of admissions officers at 260 of the top MBA programmes in the US. Some 24 per cent already accept GRE (Graduate Record Exam) test scores in addition to GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) scores. Of the remaining schools, however, only 4.3 per cent said they were considering adopting GRE.

The GRE test is the entry test to a range of post-graduate degrees, whereas the GMAT is designed specifically for business students and so gives more accurate predictions of MBA success, says Dave Wilson, president of GMAC, which administers the GMAT test..

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L.A. charter schools get a chance to grow, but how big?

Howard Blume:

A groundbreaking plan to open 51 new Los Angeles schools and 200 existing ones to possible outside control has Randy Palisoc feeling as if salvation is just steps away. A new $54-million campus he covets is rising a block from where his award-winning charter school operates in a rented church.

Palisoc is among many with big dreams since the Los Angeles Board of Education approved its landmark school control resolution last week. The management of about a fourth of all district schools could be up for grabs.

As a result, leading charter school operators anticipate accelerated growth for their organizations and better facilities for some current schools. An 11-school nonprofit group controlled by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is eyeing a new high school south of downtown and may bid for more existing campuses. Momentum is building for internal district proposals.

And even the powerful teachers union, which vigorously opposed the plan, is preparing to take part.

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University of Texas Drops Merit Program for Need-Based Aid

Tom Benning:

An increase in the number of students seeking financial aid has prompted the University of Texas at Austin to phase out its multimillion-dollar National Merit Scholarship program starting next year so it can use the money for need-based scholarships.

The university enrolled 281 National Merit Scholars last year -- second only to Harvard University -- and says it will honor all current scholarships but not offer them to freshmen next year.

Coming amid the recession and climbing college costs, the move by the state's largest university could signal a renewed emphasis on need-based aid by the country's colleges, experts said. Many schools have spent the past decade using scholarship money to attract high-performing students.

"This gets back to equity in college -- which should be the primary goal of student aid," said Justin Draeger, vice president of public policy at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

The National Merit Scholarships are awards that go to about 8,200 students a year, based in part on their scores on the College Board's PSAT exam, a standardized test typically taken during the junior year of high school. The program gives winners $2,500 apiece, but corporations and some colleges also finance merit scholarships through the program. The University of Texas at Austin was one of about 200 universities that paid for merit awards, promising $13,000 over four years.

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Comic Bill Cosby lends support to Detroit schools

Corey Williams:

Bill Cosby had heard about the tough-as-nails, uncompromising man tackling fraud and improving education throughout the Detroit's public schools, and wanted to help.

So the 72-year-old actor, comedian and activist decided to loan the district his celebrity as Detroit tries to hold off plummeting enrollment amid a fiscal crisis that a few weeks ago spurred suggestions of a possible bankruptcy.

"All around the United States of America - in the cities and the counties - our public education is suffering and has been suffering. Cuts, cuts, cuts," Cosby told reporters Tuesday as he began a day that would take him from shooting commercials to visiting homes in a far northwest Detroit neighborhood.

He has joined "I'm In," emergency financial manager Robert Bobb's $500,000 campaign to stop the flow of students leaving the district - and maybe persuade parents who have sent their children elsewhere to give Detroit another shot.

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Arizona's Private School Tax Credit Program

The East Valley Tribune:

Day 1: Aug. 1, 2009

THE FIX : The tuition tax credits law was supposed to revolutionize school choice for disadvantaged children. Instead it fostered a rigged system that keeps private education a privilege for the already privileged.

NO OVERSIGHT: The state has no way of ensuring that $55 million a year in tax credits really goes toward scholarships for private school students as the law intended.

Day 2: Aug. 4, 2009

HOW-TO GUIDE: Many private schools teach parents how to skirt the law by lining up donors for their children.

PLOT TWIST : The tale of Maricopa County Schoolhouse Foundation begins with criminal indictments and fraud, but ends as an example of tuition tax credits' promise for serving the underprivileged.

Kevin Carey has more.

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How trendy tutors hook pupils hungry for help

Tanna Chong & Yau Chui-yan:

heir faces gaze from billboards and the backs of buses everywhere: well-groomed, serious-looking professionals, often with catchy nicknames. The accompanying text spells out their expertise in various school subjects, such as maths and English.

They may be sitting serenely in their office suites or surrounded by beaming youngsters holding up handfuls of "A" result slips. But this highly public face of the celebrity tutors - who make as much as HK$1 million a month from the desperate desire of parents to ensure their children get good grades at all cost - is only part of the publicity machine Hong Kong's frenzied cram-school industry has built up to lure pupils.

Schools use a web of incentives including star performances, free gifts and gift-redemption points that have children pressing their parents to send them to tutors who have become as much of a status symbol as a designer handbag, and just as expensive.

The stakes will get higher still as uncertainties over the new secondary school curriculum - which Form One pupils will follow for the first time when classes resume this week - and, in due course, the increase in senior secondary pupils it will produce stokes demand for tuition.

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Is A College Education Worth The Debt?


A college degree has long been considered a golden ticket to success in this country. But with the current economic recession, some question whether obtaining a college degree is worth going into debt. Boyce Watkins, a professor of finance at Syracuse University; author Richard Vedder, a professor of economics at Ohio University, discuss how many are rethinking their high hopes of a college education. The men are joined by Hunter Walker, a recently-enrolled graduate student at Columbia School of Journalism, who recently wrote about his educational debt worries on the tabloid Web site

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September 2, 2009

How Much Can you Learn From a Free Online Edication?

Popular Science:

I was not screwing around. When I took the first physics class of my life, at age 35, it was at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and my professor was Walter Lewin, one of that institution's most respected instructors. Lewin is a man so comfortable with his vectors that he diagrams them in front of a classroom audience while wearing Teva sandals.
OK, I wasn't really "at" MIT. And "took" the class may be a stretch. I was watching the video of one of Lewin's lectures from the comfort of my backyard in Brooklyn, and I too was wearing sandals (but not Tevas; I have standards).

Lewin is the breakout star of MIT's OpenCourseWare (OCW) program, what the school calls a "Web publication" of virtually every class taught in its hallowed halls. For his dynamic teaching and frequent stunts (building a human pendulum, firing golf balls at glass panels), he's been downloaded by physics enthusiasts around the globe and profiled on the front page of the New York Times as the first luminary of online open learning. The professor's fans are examples of a new type of student participating in a new kind of education, one built around the vast library of free online courseware offered by many of the world's temples of higher learning, as well as museums, nonprofit organizations and other knowledgeable benevolents.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Madison proposes settlement with Walgreens in property tax dispute

Nick Heynen:

The city of Madison would pay Walgreen Drug Stores $495,000 in interest-free property tax refunds under the terms of a proposed settlement presented to the City Council on Tuesday.

The proposed settlement comes after the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled last summer the city had improperly assessed the property value of two Madison stores. The city reimbursed Walgreens about $248,000 for tax years 2003 and 2004 after that case. This new settlement would reimburse the company for extra taxes it paid from 2005 through 2008. Walgreens' challenge of its 2009 assessment remains unsettled.

About $181,000 of the $495,000 would come out of the city's operating budget. The remaining $314,000 would be returned to the city in the coming year from the state and county governments as well as Madison Area Technical College and the Madison Metropolitan School District, city comptroller Dean Brasser said.

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Girls and Dieting, Then and Now

Jeffrey Zaslow:

One day in January 1986, fourth-grade girls at Marie Murphy School in Wilmette, Ill., were called down to the principal's office.

A stranger was waiting there to ask each girl a question: "Are you on a diet?"

Most of the girls said they were.

"I just want to be skinny so no one will tease me," explained Sara Totonchi.

"Boys expect girls to be perfect and beautiful," said Rozi Bhimani. "And skinny."

I was the questioner that day. As a young Wall Street Journal reporter, I had gone to a handful of Chicago-area schools to ask 100 fourth-grade girls about their dieting habits. Researchers at the University of California at San Francisco were about to release a study showing 80% of fourth-grade girls were dieting, and I wanted to determine: Was this a California oddity, or had America's obsession with slimness reached the 60-pound weight class?

My reporting ended up mirroring the study's results. More than half of the 9-year-old girls I surveyed said they were dieting, and 75%--even the skinniest ones--said they weighed too much. I also spoke to fourth-grade boys and learned what the girls were up against. "Fat girls aren't like regular girls," one boy told me. "They aren't attractive."

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Minneapolis schools present new overhaul plan

Tom Weber:

The Minneapolis school district has finished updating a wide-ranging overhaul plan that will close several schools and change the way students are transported.

The district first proposed the plan in April and is presenting a final version to school board members Tuesday night. A final vote is expected in about three weeks.

The effort, called "Changing School Options," addresses a number of aspects of how the district is run -- from transportation to curriculum to which programs and school buildings remain in use. The aim is to save millions of dollars but also make instruction more equitable throughout the district.

The original plan called for closing schools, returning some magnet schools to regular community schools, and changing busing options for students. It was tabled a week after it was proposed because Superintendent Bill Green said the votes weren't there to assure passage by the board. The new plan still proposes many of the same changes but has been altered in ways some board members found crucial to assuring their vote.

For board chair Tom Madden, the new plan includes more details on issues like attendance boundaries. "Parents can now look at it and see exactly how they fit into the plan, and they couldn't do that before," he said.

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Stop Sending Sick Kids to School

Valerie Strauss:

Let's have a show of hands: How many of you have sent a child to school when you have suspected (I'm being polite here) that he/she was not well and might be contagious?

Maybe it will help if I tell you that my hand is up.

I know that you had your excuses: Your son didn't have fever when you dropped him off at school at 8 a.m.--even if the nurse says he has 102 degrees Fahrenheit an hour later... You thought your daughter was sneezing and coughing because of her allergies... It is sometimes hard to tell when your kid's physical complaint is an excuse to get out of a test.

I believe all of that. And I also believe that some people will keep sending their kids to school sick even if the secretary of Health and Human Services personally comes to their door and begs them not to.

But for those of us who are capable of changing our behavior, this is the time. Here's why:

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Professors Embrace Online Courses Despite Qualms About Quality

Marc Parry:

They worry about the quality of online courses, say teaching them takes more effort, and grouse about insufficient support. Yet large numbers of professors still put in the time to teach online. And despite the broad suspicion about quality, a majority of faculty members have recommended online courses to students.

That is the complicated picture that emerges in "The Paradox of Faculty Voices: Views and Experiences With Online Learning," part of a two-volume national study released today by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities--Sloan National Commission on Online Learning.

The major survey of public colleges and universities found that 70 percent of all faculty members believe the learning outcomes of online courses to be either inferior or somewhat inferior, compared with face-to-face instruction.

Professors with online experience are less pessimistic. Among those who have taught or developed an online course, the majority rated the medium's effectiveness as being as good as or better than face to face. But in a potentially controversial finding, even among professors who have taught online, fully 48 percent feel it is either inferior or somewhat inferior.

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Bad Student Writing? Not So Fast!

Laurie Fendrich:

It would be good for the blood pressure of everyone involved in criticizing education--state legislators, education policy professionals, professors, school administrators, parents--to take a deep breath. Put aside the statistics, the studies, the anecdotes, and take a look at the big picture.

Here's what Edith Hamilton had to say about education, in The Echo of Greece (1957), one of her many trenchant books on the subject of the ancient Greeks:

"If people feel that things are going from bad to worse and look at the new generation to see if they can be trusted to take charge among such dangers, they invariably conclude that they cannot and that these irresponsible young people have not been trained properly. Then the cry goes up, 'What is wrong with our education?' and many answers are always forthcoming."

Note the droll and ironic, "and many answers are always forthcoming." Perhaps studying people who lived so long ago--people who invented the very idea of education as a route to genuine freedom, and understood freedom to be worthwhile only when coupled with self-control--gave Hamilton one of those calm, stoical uber-minds that comprehends competing pronouncements about education never to be more than opinion.

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Midland Public Schools International Baccalaureate FAQ

Midland, Michigan Public Schools:

The Midland Public Schools has created a Q & A sheet for parents and students curious about the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme.

Q: What is the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme?
A: The IB Diploma Programme is a comprehensive and challenging pre-university curriculum for juniors and seniors recognized worldwide.

Q: What exactly does the Diploma Programme involve?

A: The IB Diploma Programme requires students to take six IB classes, three for one year (SL - standard level), and three for two (HL - higher level). Students will also take the Theory of Knowledge (TOK) class, and log 150 hours of Creativity/Action/ Service (CAS), which essentially is service to community, involvement in activities and participation in various school-based extracurricular programs. In addition, they will conduct an individual research project culminating in a paper of not more than 4,000 words.

Q: What options are available for my student?
A: Students must take part in all aspects of the IB Diploma Programme in order to earn an IB Diploma. Students may also select individual IB courses and earn IB certificates in those classes. Or, students may sign-up for an IB class, partake in all of the curricular requirements, and earn no IB certificate or diploma since their assessments will not be sent out for external scoring. The IB diploma is separate from the MPS diploma.

Q: What classes will be offered?
A: MPS will offer courses in each curricular area: English - World Literature 1 & 2, Second Language - French, German or Spanish, Science - Physics 1 & 2, Math - Math Studies 1 & 2 (Advanced Algebra & Pre-Calculus) and Math HL 1 & 2 (Advanced Algebra-Trigonometry & AP Calculus BC), Social Studies - History of the Americas & World Topics, and The Arts - Studio Art and Musical Perspectives. In addition, Psychology may count under either Social Studies or The Arts, as will the Business courses of Marketing Management and Entrepreneurship. TOK will be at the core.

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Why Gen-Y Johnny Can't Read Nonverbal Cues

Mark Bauerlein:

In September 2008, when Nielsen Mobile announced that teenagers with cellphones each sent and received, on average, 1,742 text messages a month, the number sounded high, but just a few months later Nielsen raised the tally to 2,272. A year earlier, the National School Boards Association estimated that middle- and high-school students devoted an average of nine hours to social networking each week. Add email, blogging, IM, tweets and other digital customs and you realize what kind of hurried, 24/7 communications system young people experience today.

Unfortunately, nearly all of their communication tools involve the exchange of written words alone. At least phones, cellular and otherwise, allow the transmission of tone of voice, pauses and the like. But even these clues are absent in the text-dependent world. Users insert smiley-faces into emails, but they don't see each others' actual faces. They read comments on Facebook, but they don't "read" each others' posture, hand gestures, eye movements, shifts in personal space and other nonverbal--and expressive--behaviors.

Back in 1959, anthropologist Edward T. Hall labeled these expressive human attributes "the Silent Language." Hall passed away last month in Santa Fe at age 95, but his writings on nonverbal communication deserve continued attention. He argued that body language, facial expressions and stock mannerisms function "in juxtaposition to words," imparting feelings, attitudes, reactions and judgments in a different register.

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September 1, 2009

Significant Gender Gap on the PSAT Math Test

Mark Perry:

The table above (click to enlarge) is based on PSAT scores in 2008 for college-bound juniors for males and females taking the mathematics exam, showing the results for the five geographical regions of the U.S. For both males and females, the highest scores were in the Midwest states, similar to the findings for the SAT test results, reported yesterday on the NY Times Economix blog, "Why The Midwest Rules on the SAT."

The results also show a significant gender gap in favor of males for the mean math test scores in all five regions, with mean male test scores ranging from 3.2 points higher in the Midwest (52.2 for males vs. 49 for females)to a low of 2.5 points higher in the South (50 points for males vs. 47.5 for females). In all five regions, the standard deviation of male test scores was higher than the standard deviation of female test scores, confirming previous findings of greater variability in male intelligence/scores on standardized tests.

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P: Accelerated Degree Programs

Accelerated degree programs are available at university of phoenix florida for busy professonials like you.

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21st Century Skills: The Challenges Ahead

Andrew Rotherham & Daniel Willingham:

To work, the 21st century skills movement will require keen attention to curriculum, teacher quality, and assessment.

A growing number of business leaders, politicians, and educators are united around the idea that students need "21st century skills" to be successful today. It's exciting to believe that we live in times that are so revolutionary that they demand new and different abilities. But in fact, the skills students need in the 21st century are not new.

Critical thinking and problem solving, for example, have been components of human progress throughout history, from the development of early tools, to agricultural advancements, to the invention of vaccines, to land and sea exploration. Such skills as information literacy and global awareness are not new, at least not among the elites in different societies. The need for mastery of different kinds of knowledge, ranging from facts to complex analysis? Not new either. In The Republic, Plato wrote about four distinct levels of intellect. Perhaps at the time, these were considered "3rd century BCE skills"?

What's actually new is the extent to which changes in our economy and the world mean that collective and individual success depends on having such skills. Many U.S. students are taught these skills--those who are fortunate enough to attend highly effective schools or at least encounter great teachers--but it's a matter of chance rather than the deliberate design of our school system. Today we cannot afford a system in which receiving a high-quality education is akin to a game of bingo. If we are to have a more equitable and effective public education system, skills that have been the province of the few must become universal.

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Good Books Don't Have to Be Hard

Lev Grossman:

A good story is a dirty secret that we all share. It's what makes guilty pleasures so pleasurable, but it's also what makes them so guilty. A juicy tale reeks of crass commercialism and cheap thrills. We crave such entertainments, but we despise them. Plot makes perverts of us all.

It's not easy to put your finger on what exactly is so disgraceful about our attachment to storyline. Sure, it's something to do with high and low and genres and the canon and such. But what exactly? Part of the problem is that to find the reason you have to dig down a ways, down into the murky history of the novel. There was once a reason for turning away from plot, but that rationale has outlived its usefulness. If there's a key to what the 21st-century novel is going to look like, this is it: the ongoing exoneration and rehabilitation of plot.

Where did this conspiracy come from in the first place--the plot against plot? I blame the Modernists. Who were, I grant you, the single greatest crop of writers the novel has ever seen. In the 1920s alone they gave us "The Age of Innocence," "Ulysses," "A Passage to India," "Mrs. Dalloway," "To the Lighthouse," "Lady Chatterley's Lover," "The Sun Also Rises," "A Farewell to Arms" and "The Sound and the Fury." Not to mention most of "In Search of Lost Time" and all of Kafka's novels. Pity the poor Pulitzer judge for 1926, who had to choose between "The Professor's House," "The Great Gatsby," "Arrowsmith" and "An American Tragedy." (It went to "Arrowsmith." Sinclair Lewis prissily declined the prize.) The 20th century had a full century's worth of masterpieces before it was half over.

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Learning Isn't For Nine Months; It's Forever

Jay Matthews:

Maybe our whole back-to-school tradition is the problem.

We think of education as a year-to-year thing. Start school in late summer. Finish in late spring. Then repeat. Learning doesn't work like that. Our fixation on the calendar is getting in the way.

When I was young, I didn't understand that. I accepted the rhythms set by my parents and teachers. So it was a shock to leave school and discover that when working and raising a family, it no longer mattered so much what time of year it was. I had to get that kid potty-trained, and soon! I had to write that story. I had to convince the foreign editor I could succeed overseas. I had to find a publisher for that book idea. I had to master new skills and absorb new information quickly and competently, or my plans for myself and my family were in jeopardy.

The Post tried giving standard job evaluations, sort of grown-up June report cards, but they didn't last. My job was to produce stories that interested readers, a real-world test not tied to the calendar.

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NEA Internal Survey on Health Care Reveals "Huge Divide Between NEA Executives and Presidents and Rank and File

Mike Antonucci:

The National Education Association has appeared front and center in the debate over reform of the health care and insurance system, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on lobbying and media buys. But a 2008 internal survey of NEA members and officers on health care issues indicates varying levels of enthusiasm for proposed reforms.

Though the survey itself was not made available to EIA, the union's collective bargaining and member advocacy department has been briefing union activists on its findings throughout 2009. I have posted a link to the relevant information on EIA's Declassified page. The report included statistics such as the average health insurance premium paid in 2007 by NEA members was $603 for employee-only coverage - about 12.6% of the total cost. Eight affiliates reported members paid nothing.

NEA commissioned the polling firm of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner to learn member and officer attitudes about health care reform. Most of those surveyed were concerned about the system, but satisfied with their own health care. NEA members were also more favorably disposed towards government health care programs than the average American.

Still, the survey found that NEA members were "split on whether government or employers should provide health care" and that a "Massachusetts-style proposal [is] susceptible to arguments against it."

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New college majors for changing needs

Kai Ryssdal:

Some cities up near the fire have canceled the first day of school, it was supposed to have been today.

A lot of college students around the country have either started classes already, or are about to. And as they choose their course loads for the semester amid rising tuition costs, there's less and less enthusiasm for the old stand-by majors like history or political science or biology. Marketplace's Steve Henn reports that today's students want something that sells.

STEVE HENN: Mark Taylor is a tenured religion professor at Columbia University. But he compares higher education to the Detroit Big Three.

MARK TAYLOR: They are producing a product for which there's no market.

Which wouldn't be so bad if these students also had skills valued outside academia but...

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Student's visit to Vietnam is lesson in college culture

Ja'Nay Carswell:

The third time proved to be a charm for Adam Croglia of Amherst, a senior political science major at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva.

After visiting Vietnam as a tourist twice before with his family--for a month in 2006 and again in 2007 -- Croglia went again for 11 weeks this summer as an intern with the Institute of International Education, an organization in Ho Chi Minh City promoting cultural exchange. Croglia, who returned home earlier this month, said his latest trip was very rewarding and culturally enriching.

"Vietnam is a rapidly developing country with a remarkable desire to globalize," said Croglia, who traveled through a grant funded by his college. "Living there opened my eyes in a way I couldn't get from visiting."

In Ho Chi Minh City, Croglia advised and educated Vietnamese students interested in pursuing an education at American colleges and universities.

"I had the opportunity to reach many Vietnamese students," he said. "Through my presentations both in Ho Chi Minh City and around the country, I think I presented to a total of about 1,500 people."

Croglia, 20, gave presentations throughout the country on resumes, personal statements and relationship building. The 2006 St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute graduate said the students were very receptive and intrigued by American culture and education.

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Seize opportunity for education reform in Wisconsin

Tim Cullen:

Three factors have conjoined this month to make education reform in Wisconsin a real possibility in the next year and a half:
  • The announcement by Gov. Jim Doyle not to seek re-election but serve out his term.
  • The tragic, but courageous incident involving Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, a promoter of education reform in Wisconsin's largest city.
  • The potential of qualifying for new federal education dollars.
The logjam created by the state teachers union's political activities -- which contribute millions of dollars per election year almost entirely on behalf of Democrats -- has led over the past 15 years to no educational policies put forward by Democrats or Republicans.

Some individual legislators have had proposals, but they have not gone far in the legislative process.

The political ground rules in Madison have been too crassly partisan on both sides of the aisle. It goes like this: If the Democrats control Madison, Wisconsin Education Association Council gets what it wants. If Republicans control Madison, WEAC gets nothing that it wants.

This is disheartening to the many people across the political spectrum who want reform and progress.

The newly aligned stars offer a chance to break the logjam. Doyle lacks the need for WEAC because he is not running again. Barrett's popularity has surged after he was injured when he came to the aid of a woman threatened by a pipe-wielding attacker. And the federal aid is a carrot.

Reformers have been helped by President Barack Obama's secretary of education, who called one Wisconsin law on education "ridiculous." That law currently makes Wisconsin ineligible for its share of $4 billion of federal education money.

Wisconsin now has a chance to take advantage of this alignment to make dramatic fixes to the Milwaukee public school system, change Wisconsin law so teachers can be at least partially evaluated by student test scores, and make long overdue changes in K-12 educational funding formulas.

The funding formulas currently in place will, with no doubt, increase property taxes, increase class sizes, and increase teacher layoffs.

One more entity needs to get its star aligned -- the state Legislature. The Democrats do need WEAC in 2010. But I believe there are good people in the Legislature who, I hope, will grab this moment.

The goal of public education is clear and simple: improve student achievement. There are three major items that accomplish this:

  • Better family structure and parental involvement in schools.
  • Adequate funding -- without involving students in the unpopular reliance on property taxes, the most unpopular tax of all. Think about it, the funding of our prisons does not involve the property tax wars, but paying to educate our children does.
  • Appreciated teachers who continue to stimulate students to improve and are evaluated and rewarded for outstanding performance.
These times for reform do not come often.

Cullen, former state Senate majority leader, is a member of the Janesville School Board.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:21 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Using Tests Smartly

Elizabeth Hartley Filliat:

Several letters to the editor on Aug. 24 ("A New Initiative on Education") express concern that greater reliance on standardized tests for students will, in one writer's words, leave "little room for passion, creativity or intellect."

This possibility could occur, but with wise guidelines from Education Secretary Arne Duncan, this need not occur. The main purpose of standardized testing should be to assess the yearly advancement (or lack thereof) of individual students, not to punish teachers.

Students cannot learn if they are not taught at the level at which they are functioning. It is haphazard to teach "Romeo and Juliet" to a ninth-grade student who is reading on a fifth-grade level.

For educators to stick their collective heads into the sand is foolhardy. Educators must come out of the Dark Ages, use test results for diagnostic purposes and then teach students with precision and creativity.

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