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October 31, 2009

Teacher Union Politics in Washington, DC: The D.C. Council seems to worry about everyone but students.

Washington Post Editorial:

D.C. SCHOOLS Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee stands accused, it seems, of trying to manage her budget in a way that will do the least harm to students. Not a crime, you might think -- unless, like Ms. Rhee's accusers on the D.C. Council, you are more interested in scoring political points than in hearing what she is doing for children.

Ms. Rhee was called before the council Thursday to explain the layoffs of 388 employees, including 266 teachers and other educators. She provided convincing evidence of the budget pressures leading to this month's reduction in force. She offered solid reasons for the hiring of some 900 teachers last spring and summer, and held out an olive branch to the council -- saying she never intended to blame it for the layoffs. She made clear that her goal was to save summer school as an option for as many children as possible.

This, by the way, was no secret; we referred to Ms. Rhee's efforts to save summer school on these pages Sept. 23. It might help, in fact, if council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) got on the phone when Ms. Rhee called. It's also clear, in the opinion of budget experts we consulted, that Ms. Rhee has the authority to cut now, with plans to restore summer school, as long as she submits a reprogramming later. So exclamations of surprise at her plans and accusations of law-breaking have little credibility.

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Madison School District Strategic Plan: Nirvana by 2014/2015?

The Madison School Board recently passed the District's Strategic Plan. Superintendent Dan Nerad has now published a draft document outlining performance measures for the plan (this is positive). The 600K PDF document is well worth reading. Mr. Nerad's proposed performance measures rely on the oft criticized - for its lack of rigor - state exam, the WKCE. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction recently stated that "Schools should not rely on only WKCE data to gauge progress of individual students or to determine effectiveness of programs or curriculum".

A few highlights from the 600K PDF document:


Discussing these data is a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, use of the WKCE does not instill much confidence, from my perspective.

via "Some States Drop Testing Bar" by John Hechinger.

Happy Halloween!

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Why Public Sector Collective Bargaining Should Be Public

Mike Antonucci:

Because during contract negotiations in Stamford, Connecticut, someone might notice that the average teacher salary is about $80,000.

Because in Brevard County, Florida, someone might notice that more than $5 million designated for the employee health care trust fund was spent on an 8.5 percent teacher pay raise.

Because in Hawaii, someone might wonder if getting rid of school on Fridays is really that great of an idea.

Because in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, someone might suggest that the union is filing multiple grievances to get negotiating leverage.

Because across America, someone might actually get to read the New Haven teacher contract before deciding how reformy it is. In the meantime, you can see that the New Haven Federation of Teachers didn’t emphasize the same areas as Randi Weingarten, Arne Duncan and the New York Times when discussing the contract internally.

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Federal Researchers Find Lower Standards in Schools

Sam Dillon:

A new federal study shows that nearly a third of the states lowered their academic proficiency standards in recent years, a step that helps schools stay ahead of sanctions under the No Child Left Behind law. But lowering standards also confuses parents about how children's achievement compares with those in other states and countries.

The study, released Thursday, was the first by the federal Department of Education's research arm to use a statistical comparison between federal and state tests to analyze whether states had changed their testing standards.

It found that 15 states lowered their proficiency standards in fourth- or eighth-grade reading or math from 2005 to 2007. Three states, Maine, Oklahoma and Wyoming, lowered standards in both subjects at both grade levels, the study said.

Eight states increased the rigor of their standards in one or both subjects and grades. Some states raised standards in one subject but lowered them in another, including New York, which raised the rigor of its fourth-grade-math standard but lowered the standard in eighth-grade reading, the study said.

Wisconsin's standards fell below the Federal "Basic Achievement Level". Channel3000 has more.

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Should student drama productions be restricted to PG themes?

Valerie Strauss:

ou would think people have better things to fight about, but across the nation people are arguing--and even going to court--over high school plays. Yes, the drama productions that high school kids stage for other high school kids.

The latest instance occurred this week at Churchill High School in Potomac, Md., when administrators abruptly cancelled a production of "Chicago" three weeks before it was to be staged because it is too racy, my colleague Nelson Hernandez reported.

Never mind that these same officials had approved the production last spring when students first asked permission.

And never mind that the play is decades old and was turned into an Academy Award-winning movie, making it impossible for anybody at the school to claim they didn't know it was about murder and sex and other themes, that, come to think of it, run through Shakespeare's plays too.

But I digress.

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The Best Writing in Educational Technology

Joshua Kim:

The single best piece of writing in recent memory on the large scale structural forces shaping higher education and the role of technology in impacting these forces is the first chapter of The Tower and the Cloud, "The Gathering Cloud: Is This the End of the Middle?"

You can read Katz's chapter here, or better yet go and get the whole volume. I'm focussing on Katz's introductory chapter, but the whole book contains a series of wonderful essays that flush out the ideas raised by Katz in his chapter and are worth the investment to read.

Rarely does a piece of writing stick with me like Katz's chapter has, one-year on from when I first picked up the Tower and the Cloud at last year's EDUCAUSE conference. We live in such a fast world of micro information, tweets, disposable blog posts, quick YouTube videos, online presentations, and RSS feeds. We ed. tech. people like the new new, we like innovation, we are suspicious of the status quo and firmly believe that if technology has changed everything else it should (and can) change the academy as well.

Katz's writing is an important antidote to the "right now" nature of much of our information consumption, communication and work in learning technology. He takes the time to tell the long story of the development and growth of higher education, and then situates the disruptive innovations slamming into our institutions as part of this larger story.

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

October 30, 2009

President Obama's November 4, 2009 Madison Destination: Wright Middle School?

President Obama's "education" speech, due to be delivered in Madison on Wednesday, November 4, 2009 may, perhaps be given at Wright Middle School. It is a (rare) charter school located in Madison. Obama and Education Secretary (and former Chicago Superintendent) have been promoting structural change within our public schools. Wright, a Charter School, was birthed via a "Madison Middle School 2000" initiative along with the desire to place a new middle school on Madison's south side. Local biotech behemoth Promega offered land for the school in Fitchburg, which the District turned down (that land and initiative became Eagle School).

Has Wright been successful? Has it achieved the goals illuminated in the original Madison Middle School 2000 initiative?

There are any number of local issues that could be discussed around the visit, including: the District's general opposition to charter schools, changes to the teacher contract seniority system and Wisconsin's controversial and weak state test system (WKCE).

The Wisconsin State Journal has more.

It will be interesting to see what, if any, substantive actions arise from Obama's visit.

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Bad Trip: School Outings Get Downgraded

Sarah Nassauer:

Eleven-year-old Clayton Lundstrom couldn't wait for sixth grade, the year he'd get to spend three days hiking, identifying plants and singing songs around a bonfire in the Cascade Mountains with his classmates. The trip to the Cispus Learning Center has been a rite of passage for sixth-graders in his Washington state district for almost 20 years.

But earlier this year, the Tumwater School District yanked funding for it, and unless the Parent Teacher Association can raise enough money, Clayton's class will stay home. "I've been waiting to go to Cispus basically since first grade," Clayton says.

As schools across the country face massive budget cuts and parents face their own financial shortfalls, field trips are getting canceled in droves. More than one in six schools plans to eliminate trips this year, according to a survey by the American Association of School Administrators. That's up from 9% last year. By next school year, one in four schools will need to cut field trips, according to the survey.

Even when trips aren't canceled, there often are downgrades. After budget cuts in Eau Claire, Wisc., the Northstar Middle School couldn't pay for the eighth-grade trip to Minneapolis to see a performance of "A Christmas Carol" at the landmark Guthrie Theater, designed by French architect Jean Nouvel. Instead, the students will go to the local movie theater to see the Disney 3-D movie version of the Charles Dickens classic.

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Public-school education Desert excellence: "horrified by the mediocrity and low expectations at American public schools"

The Economist:

AND what was the Minotaur? The ten-year-olds scribble their answer onto tiny whiteboards and hold them up for the teacher to see. Once each has got a nod, they repeat together: "half-man, half-bull."

By the time these fifth-graders at the BASIS school in Scottsdale, Arizona, reach 8th grade they will have the option of taking Advanced Placement (AP) exams, standardised nationally to test high-school students at college level. By the 9th grade, they must do so. As a result, says Michael Block, the school's co-founder, our students are "two years ahead of Arizona and California schools and one year ahead of the east coast."

But that, he emphasises, is not the yardstick he and his wife Olga use. Instead, their two BASIS schools, one in Tucson and this one in suburban Phoenix, explicitly compete with the best schools in the world--South Korea's in maths, say, or Finland's in classics.

They had the idea after Olga Block came to Arizona from her native Czech Republic, looked for a school for her daughter and was horrified by the mediocrity and low expectations at American public schools. So they decided to "establish a world-standard school in the desert," says Mr Block. They started the Tucson campus in 1998 and added the Scottsdale one recently.

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Our Local Schools Should Be Showcases Not Basket Cases - GOOG Ups Its Schools Focus

Tom Foremski:

The promise of distance learning through the Internet has yet to be realized and I'm puzzled why this is the case since it should be possible to collaborate on creating a great online curriculum. Once it is created it can be easily accessed by anyone.

Why don't we use the social networking and collaborative tools we already have to put together an open-sourced curriculum consisting of text, images, videos, lectures, online volunteers acting as tutors, etc. We have all the technology we need to do all of this today.

I've always been amazed that San Francisco/Silicon Valley region public schools are so bad. We are inventing the future here, yet we can't use our ingenuity, our technologies to improve our local schools? Our public schools should be showcases, not basket cases, we should be ashamed to allow this to happen.

So it's good to see Google becoming more interested in schools because there is a lot it could do to help, especially in terms of projects like its Google Books. Maybe it could help to provide text books. It's incredible how expensive textbooks are.

For the past two days Google has hosted a conference on its campus: Breakthrough Learning in a Digital Age. The goal was to "create and act upon a breakthrough strategy for scaling up effective models of teaching and learning for children." It's not clear what breakthrough strategy has emerged but at least it's a start,

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New Jersey Governor candidates differ on urban education solutions

Geoff Mulvihill:

It's an eternally vexing problem in New Jersey: How do you give the children in the state's largely poor cities as good an education as the kids in middle-class and affluent suburbs?

The three main candidates for governor in Tuesday's election have different ideas highlighting their plans.

Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine says a major piece of the answer is expanding a program that seems to be working , state-funded preschools for low-income children.

Both his challengers, Republican Chris Christie and Independent Chris Daggett, want to give parents and students more ways out of bad schools, hoping that will pressure them to improve.

By most measures, New Jersey's school system as a whole is good. On standardized tests that can be used to compare states, students regularly rank consistently at or near the top.

The system is also pricey: Public schools cost more than $16,000 per student in the 2006-07 school year , the last year for which federal data is available. That was the highest price tag in the country, though it also comes in a state where incomes and the cost of living are among the highest.

For all the money, there's long been a gap between how well students do in the cities and in the suburbs.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:35 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

West Virginia Charter School Debate Heats Up

Ry Rivard:

Education reformers are intensifying their push to bring charter schools to West Virginia as parents, teachers and lawmakers ready themselves for another round of legislative battles aimed at improving the state's school system.

Charter schools advocates are stepping up their lobbying efforts by running advertisements and polling West Virginians on their thoughts about charters, which are private-style public schools. The state's powerful teachers unions helped kill a charter school proposal earlier this year.

"We hope to change that conversation a bit," said Tim McClung, a member of the group that calls itself West Virginians for Education Reform

To help do that, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools started polling state residents Wednesday night to gauge their reaction to charter schools, McClung said.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:11 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Report Questions Duncan's Policy of Closing Failing Schools

Sam Dillon:

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan presided over the closing of dozens of failing schools when he was chief executive of the Chicago public schools from 2001 until last December. In his new post, he has drawn on those experiences, putting school turnaround efforts at the center of the nation's education reform agenda.

Now a study by researchers at the University of Chicago concludes that most students in schools that closed in the first five years of Mr. Duncan's tenure in Chicago saw little benefit.

"Most students who transferred out of closing schools re-enrolled in schools that were academically weak," says the report, which was done by the university's Consortium on Chicago School Research.

Furthermore, the disruptions of routines in schools scheduled to be closed appeared to hurt student learning in the months after the closing was announced, the researchers found.

The reading scores of students in schools designated for closing "showed a loss of about six weeks of learning" on standardized tests in the months after the closing announcement, the report said. Math scores declined somewhat less, it said.

Alan Singer has more.

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Learning English

La Opinion:

Fluency in English is part of the foundation necessary for a good quality of life in the United States. The school system must be set up so that students who are in an English language learning [ELL] programs are able to master the language and transition out of the program, as soon as possible, to join the rest of the student body to continue their studies.

An analysis by the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute, appropriately entitled "¿Qué Pasa? Are ELL Students Remaining in English Learning Classes Too Long?" points to delays in reclassifying as "fluent English proficient" students who began school as English language learners so that they can transition into regular academic programs. The detailed study shows that 30% of students who started First Grade as English language learners were still in the same classification eight years later. This situation puts students at greater risk of academic failure, as Ninth Grade is seen as critical for success in High School.

The problem is that students who are not reclassified by school authorities as fluent English proficient are at a disadvantage even when they get to the California High School exit exam.

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Charter Schools 'Market Share' Growing; Exceeds 20% in 14 Communities


Public charter schools'
presence in K-12 schooling continues to grow, according to the latest Top 10 Charter Communities by Market Share report by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. In fact, charters now enroll more than one in five public school students in 14 communities - including major cities like Detroit, St. Louis, and Kansas City.

Demand remains strongest in urban areas - and as a result, charter "market share" is growing rapidly in cities and adjacent suburbs, even while the overall number of students remains a modest portion of nationwide enrollment.

"Charter schools are working at scale in a growing number of American cities," according to Nelson Smith, President and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. "Chartering is becoming well-established as a key component of the public education delivery system," he added.

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Many L.A. students not moving out of English language classes

Anna Gorman:

Nearly 30% of Los Angeles Unified School District students placed in English language learning classes in early primary grades were still in the program when they started high school, increasing their chances of dropping out, according to a new study released Wednesday.

More than half of those students were born in the United States and three-quarters had been in the school district since first grade, according to the report by the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute at USC.

The findings raise questions about the teaching in the district's English language classes, whether students are staying in the program too long and what more educators should do for students who start school unable to speak English fluently.

"If you start LAUSD at kindergarten and are still in ELL classes at ninth grade, that's too long," said Wendy Chavira, assistant director of the policy institute. "There is something wrong with the curriculum if there are still a very large number of students being stuck in the system."

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Washington, DC Teacher's Union vs. Michelle Rhee

Andrew Rotherham:

Everyone is chattering about this full-page ad the AFT took out in this morning's Washington Post. I work in this space and am quite familiar with all the protagonists and the issues and it took me a minute to make sense of the point of the ad. Maybe I'm stupid or needed more coffee but it was really busy and the punchline is buried in two unchecked boxes on the lower right. So I'm not sure it's going to move the casual observer to action - or even to an opinion. It needs a clearer message but it's probably hard to get that message on paper without giving away the game.

Leaving aside technical deficiencies, clearly the strategy is to appear reasonable everywhere else in order to box in Michelle Rhee in D.C. But there are two problems with that strategy. First, at the elite level people get what's going on (increasingly the press, too) so the whole thing is sort of over before it even started and that plan only works if they can make this stuff real elsewhere and the clock is ticking on that. Meanwhile, even those frustrated with aspects of Rhee's style and tactics are still sympathetic to what she's trying to do and the obstacles to that. Second, and more basically, outside of big reform initiatives with lessons I don't think Michelle Rhee really cares about what's happening elsewhere and she'll hold her ground. She responds to different incentives like the rest of us but peer pressure isn't one of them.

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October 29, 2009

Rhode Island education chief seeks higher standards for prospective teachers

Jennifer Jordan:

Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist, who has made teacher quality the cornerstone of her three-month-old administration, is raising the score that aspiring teachers must achieve on a basic skills test required for admission to all of the state's teacher training programs.

Currently, Rhode Island's "cut score" ranks among the lowest in the nation, alongside Mississippi and Guam. Gist wants to raise it to the highest.

"Teacher quality is the single most important factor for student success in school," Gist said. "This is a first step in raising our expectations across the board for our educators and our system."

Gist says she intends to transform "the entire career span of a teacher," including who is allowed to train to become a teacher, the rigor of the programs, mentoring of new teachers, support and training for veteran teachers, and the reward of higher pay for high performance.

"We need to look at how we improve at every point along the span," Gist said. "Looking at teacher cut scores before they ever get accepted to a preparation program is a way to safeguard the early gate."

Gist and her staff reviewed other states' cut scores and found Virginia's to be the highest in reading, math and writing. Gist set Rhode Island's score one point higher than Virginia's in each subject, saying she wants to make Rhode Island's education system the envy of the nation.

"I have the utmost confidence that Rhode Island's future teachers are capable of this kind of performance," she said.

Perhaps one day we'll have such actions in Wisconsin...

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E. D. Hirsch's Curriculum for Democracy
A content-rich pedagogy makes better citizens and smarter kids.

Sol Stern:

At his Senate confirmation hearing in February, Arne Duncan succinctly summarized the Obama administration's approach to education reform: "We must build upon what works. We must stop doing what doesn't work." Since becoming education secretary, Duncan has launched a $4.3 billion federal "Race to the Top" initiative that encourages states to experiment with various accountability reforms. Yet he has ignored one state reform that has proven to work, as well as the education thinker whose ideas inspired it. The state is Massachusetts, and the education thinker is E. D. Hirsch, Jr.

The "Massachusetts miracle," in which Bay State students' soaring test scores broke records, was the direct consequence of the state legislature's passage of the 1993 Education Reform Act, which established knowledge-based standards for all grades and a rigorous testing system linked to the new standards. And those standards, Massachusetts reformers have acknowledged, are Hirsch's legacy. If the Obama administration truly wants to have a positive impact on American education, it should embrace Hirsch's ideas and urge other states to do the same.

Hirsch draws his insights from well outside traditional education scholarship. He started out studying chemistry at Cornell University but, mesmerized by Nabokov's lectures on Russian literature, switched his major to English. Hirsch did his graduate studies at Yale, one of the citadels in the 1950s of the New Criticism, which argued that the intent of an author, the reader's subjective response, and the text's historical background were largely irrelevant to a critical analysis of the text itself. But by the time Hirsch wrote his doctoral dissertation--on Wordsworth--he was already breaking with the New Critics. "I came to see that the text alone is not enough," Hirsch said to me recently at his Charlottesville, Virginia, home. "The unspoken--that is, relevant background knowledge--is absolutely crucial in reading a text." Hirsch's big work of literary theory in his early academic career, Validity in Interpretation, reflected this shift in thinking. After publishing several more well-received scholarly books and articles, he received an endowed professorship and became chairman of the English department at the University of Virginia.

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Children's Educational Records and Privacy

Joel R. Reidenberg, Jamela Debelak and others [Complete Report: 888K PDF]:

A Study of Elementary and Secondary School State Reporting Systems

Following the No Child Left Behind mandate to improve school quality, there has been a growing trend among state departments of education to establish statewide longitudinal databases of personally identifiable information for all K-12 children within a state in order to track progress and change over time. This trend is accompanied by a movement to create uniform data collection systems so that each state's student data systems are interoperable with one another. This Study examines the privacy concerns implicated by these trends.

The Study reports on the results of a survey of all fifty states and finds that state educational databases across the country ignore key privacy protections for the nation's K-12 children. The Study finds that large amounts of personally identifiable data and sensitive personal information about children are stored by the state departments of education in electronic warehouses or for the states by third party vendors. These data warehouses typically lack adequate privacy protections, such as clear access and use restrictions and data retention policies, are often not compliant with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, and leave K-12 children unprotected from data misuse, improper data release, and data breaches. The Study provides recommendations for best practices and legislative reform to address these privacy problems.

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School board balks as Mayor Doyle controls search for superintendent

Ethan Shorey:

Mayor James Doyle has declared he's in the city's school superintendent search process, a move that is not sitting well with some School Committee members.

Doyle told members of the School Committee in an Oct. 15 letter, "I have decided to organize a search committee that will represent the entire community.

"The purpose of this search committee is to assist and advise the School Committee in the task of securing the best possible candidate to serve as Pawtucket's next superintendent."

Acting School Committee Chairman James Chellel told The Valley Breeze he planned to sit down with Doyle during the early part of this week as he tries to avoid a showdown over whether Doyle's administration or the School Committee has the authority to set up a search committee.

"I want to show that we're working together on this, but I do have reservations about the mayor taking this over," said Chellel.

There's no question that selecting a new superintendent falls under the purview of the School Committee, said Chellel, but the questions of who should set up the parameters of the search to find outgoing Superintendent Hans Dellith's replacement are a little more fuzzy.

"I've asked our legal counsel for an opinion on it," he said.

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The Ever-Expanding U. of Phoenix

Doug Lederman:

In the world of for-profit higher education, and higher education in general, the University of Phoenix has historically been viewed as the 800-pound gorilla.

As of Tuesday, it may be more like a 1,000-pound gorilla. As Phoenix's parent company, the Apollo Group, reported its fourth quarter and annual earnings Tuesday, it announced that the university's enrollment of degree-seeking students grew to 443,000 as of August 2009, up 22 percent from 362,000 in August 2008. The biggest growth in Phoenix's enrollments, by far, came among students seeking associate degrees, which rose by 37 percent, to 201,200 from 146,500 in 2008.

About two-thirds of the university's new students as of August are female, 27.7 percent are African-American, and about half are 30 or over.

The university attributed the sizable increases to a range of factors, including increased efforts in retaining students, expanded marketing, and the "current economic downturn, as working learners seek to advance their education to improve their job security or reemployment prospects." Many community colleges and several of Phoenix's major peers in for-profit career education, including Kaplan Higher Education (21.9 percent) and Corinthian Colleges, Inc. (24.4 percent), have reported sharp upturns in student enrollments this fall.

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Number-Crushing: When Figures Get Personal

Carl Bialik:

Everyone can agree that 1+1=2. But the idea that 7 is greater than 13 -- that some numbers are luckier than others -- makes no sense to some people. Such numerical biases can cause deep divisions.

And that is what happened earlier this month in Hong Kong. Property developer Henderson Land Development Co. made news for selling a condominium for $56.6 million, a price the developer called a residential record in Asia. But after that sale was announced, the property began making news for other unusual numbers. Henderson is labeling the floors of its property at 39 Conduit Road with numbers that increase, but not in the conventional 1-then-2 way. The floor above 39, for example, is 60. And the top three floors are consecutively labeled 66, 68 and 88.

This offended some people's sense of order. At a protest Sunday against high housing prices, Hong Kong Democratic Party legislators expressed dissatisfaction with the numbering scheme's tenuous relationship to reality. "You could call the ground floor the 88th floor, but it's meaningless," says Emily Lau. "When you say you live on the 88th floor, people expect you to be on the 88th floor, not the 10th floor or something."

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Wisconsin Governor Doyle: Special session possible to pass education reforms


Gov. Jim Doyle is expressing confidence that key components of a package of education reforms he's proposed will make it through the Legislature this fall.

On Sunday's "UpFront with Mike Gousha" Doyle said a number of the proposals, designed to position the state to capture federal "Race to the Top" funds for educational improvement, will be introduced this week.

"We really are focused on getting the job done," Doyle said.

Doyle held open the possibility of calling a special session if it were needed. The Legislature's fall floor session ends next week. Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker said in an interview with last week that a special session may be possible.

The reforms include allowing student test scores to be used in teacher evaluation, increasing the length of school days or the school year and tracking individual student achievement, among other measures.

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Illinois Prosecutors Turn Tables on Student Journalists

Monica Davey:

For more than a decade, classes of students at Northwestern University's journalism school have been scrutinizing the work of prosecutors and the police. The investigations into old crimes, as part of the Medill Innocence Project, have helped lead to the release of 11 inmates, the project's director says, and an Illinois governor once cited those wrongful convictions as he announced he was commuting the sentences of everyone on death row.

But as the Medill Innocence Project is raising concerns about another case, that of a man convicted in a murder 31 years ago, a hearing has been scheduled next month in Cook County Circuit Court on an unusual request: Local prosecutors have subpoenaed the grades, grading criteria, class syllabus, expense reports and e-mail messages of the journalism students themselves.

The prosecutors, it seems, wish to scrutinize the methods of the students this time. The university is fighting the subpoenas.

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

Parents banned from watching their children in playgrounds... in case they are paedophiles Read more:

Laura Clark:

Parents are being banned from playing with their children in council recreation areas because they have not been vetted by police.

Mothers and fathers are being forced to watch their children from outside perimeter fences because of fears they could be paedophiles.

Watford Council was branded a 'disgrace' yesterday after excluding parents from two fenced-off adventure playgrounds unless they first undergo criminal record checks.

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Madison Area School Districts Raising Taxes


School districts are trying to find a balance between cuts in state funding and paying the bills, but the state budget crunch is ultimately leading to school districts raising taxes for homeowners.
When the state cut aid to schools, districts got the option of raising property taxes to make up the difference. But while they can raise taxes to make up whatever they're losing in state aid, not all districts are.

The Sun Prairie School District said it has plenty going for it -- a number of new schools in a few years and a new high school coming soon, but that it's not immune to budget woes.

"We've got a reduction in state aid. We've got increasing numbers of students and we have the debt the voters approved three years ago to build the new high school," said Tim Culver, Sun Prairie School District administrator.

Sun Prairie was in a similar situation as many Dane County districts. It could have raised the tax levy there to 14.4 percent, but instead it's raising it to 7.7 percent, which is a $142 increase for the average $200,000 home.

"What we're trying to do is balance out that we want the best education possible for kids, but people have to be willing to pay for the education too," said Culver.

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October 28, 2009

Madison School Board Revises Budget to Reduce the Upcoming Property Tax Increase

WKOW-TV, via a kind reader's email:

Madison school board leaders are revising a budget plan that lowers their property tax increase but defers millions of dollars in maintenance.

Leaders are looking to lower the previously agreed upon property tax hike by about $50 dollars per homeowner: from $147 on a $250,000 home, to $92.83 on a $250,000 home.

To accomplish that, members took from a few funds, and decided they would not levy the remaining balance on a 2005 maintenance referendum: that equaling out to almost $3 million dollars.

School board members had to compensate for the loss of $12-million dollars in state funding.

The loss of funding for the maintenance referendum didn't come without discussion. Board member Beth Moss hoped to levy just enough to pay for $1.4 million dollars of roof maintenance.

Moss says, "The maintenance doesn't go away... You can put it off, but putting it off usually only makes it worse."

On the list for repairs, a boiler at Marquette Elementary, and more efficient windows at Shorewood Elementary.

Most budget changes passed 7-0, with the exception of the deferred maintenance, which passed 5-2 with Beth Moss and Ed Hughes voting against it. Moss's school board seat is up for election on April 6, 2010. I emailed Beth last weekend, along with Maya Cole and Johnny Winston, Jr. to see if they plan to run for re-election.

Listen to Monday evening's Madison School Board discussion via this 1 hour, 50 minute mp3 audio file.

The budget changes were driven by reduced transfers of state tax dollars to school districts and the drop in assessed property values (via an April, 2009 memo). Interestingly, I don't believe this significant Board (mostly 7 votes, but some big dollar 5-2 as noted above) effort to hold down the local school property tax increase would have occurred with earlier Directors.

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Debating the Merits of Leaving High School Early to Go to College

Jack Kadden:

What should you do if you're a high school junior who feels that spending one more year in high school would be a waste of time?

A thread on College Confidential raises that question, and has generated a lot of interesting responses. Here's an excerpt from the original post:

I am a junior in high school and because I seem like I am more mature and academically way ahead of my peers (especially in the math and sciences) at the moment, am considering an early leave from high school. But the thing is, I cannot get a graduation degree unless I complete four years of high school. Nevertheless, my desire for early admission into college has never ceased because (a) I know what I want to study and roughly what I want to do in life and (b) I feel like my senior year in high school will be somewhat a waste of my time since I would have practically exhausted all the resources available to me.
In a later post, the student adds: "Every day at school I cannot help but realize that I need so much more than just the classes and activities I have available to me at the moment. I don't know if I could stand senior year."

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The death of Gerald Bracey is a loss for education

Maureen Downey:

I talk to many education researchers, but none had the passion or conviction of Gerald Bracey, whose e-mails I occasionally shared with you here. He died suddenly in his sleep last week at age 69.

What I admired about Bracey is that he criticized people he once esteemed, including President Obama. His allegiance was not to any political party, but to what he saw as the truth of the matter.

Often, his e-mails to me were stern scoldings about buying the latest "garbage" from Arne Duncan or Kathy Cox. (There would have been a chastising e-mail today from him on my blog entry yesterday on Duncan's speech here in Atlanta.)

Affable and smart, Bracey was always willing to chat with me and show me the error of my ways.

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Paul Solman Answers Students' Economic Questions


Economics correspondent Paul Solman takes his Business Desk blog inside classrooms across the United States to respond to high school students' most pressing questions about Wall Street, the recession and unemployment.

Question: How does it happen that the whole world is in a recession? --Kavion, senior, Central High School, Phoenix, Ariz.

Paul Solman: The whole world isn't in a recession. China is growing; so is India; so is Brazil. Among them, those three countries alone have something like two-thirds our GDP and maybe nine times as many people as we do.

As to the parts of the world that are in recession -- largely in Europe -- it looks like the reason is because their citizens borrowed and spent "beyond their means."

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Candidates for Charlottesville School Board

Ned Michie, Leah Puryear & Juandiego Wade:

According to the Virginia Department of Education, the drop-out rate for Charlottesville high school students is 13 percent.

How would you address this question? What measures would you recommend, specifically, to lower the rate?

As of last year, the state is calculating the dropout rate in a new, more accurate manner than in prior years, tracking individual students starting in ninth grade. Obviously the factors leading to a student's high school success or failure start much earlier than ninth grade; therefore it is impossible to defeat the dropout problem even over several years of making all the right moves educationally. Moreover, because the educational needs of all children start at birth, every positive educational change will ultimately increase his or her chances of remaining in school.

Ned Michie

As a public school division, we take all comers regardless of aptitude, educational background, grade level, or other circumstance. While every school division has a set of challenges, Charlottesville's student population presents a particularly unusual array of educational challenges for a small division.

On the one hand, we have a large number of children who will go on to the finest universities and become doctors, lawyers, scientists, entrepreneurs, and captains of industry. We ensure that these students stay challenged by providing an excellent gifted education program, honors classes, and about 20 AP and dual enrollment courses. On the other end of the spectrum, we have many children with great educational needs. For example, about 10 percent of our students use English as a second language (with about 50 different native languages). Half were refugees arriving with little or no knowledge of English; many had no education even in their own countries. Charlottesville also has a large number of group homes and, sadly, still has a significant population of economically disadvantaged families whose children are statistically at risk educationally.

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Nebraska Budget Input Website

Lincoln Journal-Star:

A state senator from Omaha has created an online site to gives Nebraskans a voice on potential budget cuts.

Sen. Jeremy Nordquist announced the launch of, a site aimed at making it easier for Nebraskans to contact the governor and Legislature.

The site contains a short online form asking questions about Nebraskans' budget priorities and their daily challenges.

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Educator promoted 'essential schools'

Nick Anderson:

Theodore R. Sizer, 77, a leading progressive educator who promoted the creation of "essential schools" to improve public education one school at a time and who thought that teachers function best as mentors or coaches to their students, died Oct. 21 at his home in Harvard, Mass. He had colon cancer.

In a career that spanned five decades, Dr. Sizer was dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, headmaster at the private Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., and chairman of Brown University's education department.

Dr. Sizer's view of education reform -- with a premium on classroom creativity, bottom-up innovation and multiple measures of student learning -- was often at odds with the movement toward state standards, achievement testing and school accountability that culminated in the 2002 No Child Left Behind law.

Dr. Sizer scoffed at public policies that elevated multiple-choice testing to central importance while neglecting the physical and academic environment of schools.

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Davenport School Board OKs special education plan

Kurt Allemeier:

The Davenport School Board approved a state-required special education delivery plan Monday to the disappointment of one member who said it was a missed opportunity.

The board approved the plan 6-1, with Timothy Tupper voting against it.

"We had a real opportunity with this document to really look at our process and procedures, and we didn't do that," Tupper said during discussion of the plan. "I hoped we would look at our delivery of services to see how we (could) do it better."

The plan moves the district away from teaching special needs students in seclusion. Instead, general education teachers will work with special education students in a regular classroom setting. The special education service delivery plan, recently required by the Iowa Department of Education, defines how schools meet the educational needs of students.

About 30 teachers were involved in the delivery plan and public input was sought, Betty Long, director of exceptional education and federal programming, told the board. Most public input was received via e-mail.

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Editorial: School reform the Gates way

The Commercial Appeal:

Memphis City Schools administrators haven't spent the money, but they're counting on nearly $100 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to improve the effectiveness of the district's teachers.

In fact, the district is investing $720,000 for a consultant to help make MCS Gates grant-ready.

U.S. Sen. Bill Frist may also tap the wealth of the Microsoft founder to help put together a statewide reform plan for Tennessee that would address teaching and school governance issues.

Not just at the district and state level, however, is the influence of America's richest education reformer being felt.

The reform-minded Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who's preparing to hand out $4.3 billion in stimulus money for public education improvement projects across the country, has two former Gates employees among his inner circle.

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In Google we trust? Think again

Joe Newman:

ow much of your personal information is Google willing to turn over to a third party without a fight? We've asked a California federal court to unseal a report that would give customers of the world's largest Internet company an answer to that question.

Google handed the report in question over to a judge in September to comply with a restraining order requested by Rocky Mountain Bank. The bank requested the order after it mistakenly sent the bank records for more than 1,000 customers to the wrong Gmail account. In the order granted by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco, Google was told to deactivate the Gmail account and to provide contact information about the user of the Gmail account and whether he or she had read the e-mail. Google and the Gmail account holder also were told they couldn't read the email, download the records or forward them to anyone.

A Gmail user who did nothing wrong had his or her account shut down because of the bank's monumental screw up. And Google, a company that basically prints its own cash, didn't lift a finger to protect the rights of one of its users. I love my Gmail account but this is a good reminder that there is NO privacy with any e-mail provider when push comes to shove. Public Citizen is representing Media Post Communications in this case. One of their reporters, Wendy Davis, has written extensively about the bank's bungled email and Google's lack of intestinal fortitude:

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State Board of Education passes Resolution to spark school districts to consolidate, revamp

Andrew Dodson:

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan says our education system needs to look at the new three R's.

"The solution will be a mix of revenues, reforms and reductions. We need all three," said Flanagan in a release.

The State Board of Education approved a Resolution calling for Michigan school districts to continue to ReImagine the pre-K-12 educational system and consolidate services.

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Group culture protects from depression

The Royal Society:

Collectivistic cultures, which promote social harmony over individuality, protect people who are genetically predisposed to depression from experiencing the condition. So says a study published today in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, which looks at how genes and environment can evolve together.

People living in individualistic cultures such as Western societies are more likely to suffer from a genetic tendency for depression than people in Eastern cultures, despite fewer people carrying the specific 'depression gene' being studied, say psychologists Joan Chiao and Katherine Blizinsky from Northwestern University. The research supports the idea that depression can result from both genes and the environment, and an interaction of the two.

The support offered by a collectivist attitude, "seems to buffer vulnerable individuals from the environmental risks or stressors that serve as triggers to depressive episodes," argues Chiao.

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October 27, 2009

Girl gang-raped outside high school dance, police say

Karl Fischer & Shelly Meron:

Onlookers laughed, took pictures and even joined in Saturday night during the two-hour gang rape of a semi-conscious 15-year-old outside her high school homecoming dance, police said Monday.

Teams of detectives and school resource officers spent the rest of the weekend trying to track down those responsible.

"The crimes perpetrated against this 15-year-old are both startling and horrific," police Chief Chris Magnus said Monday. "We are committed to arresting the perpetrators and to preparing the strongest case possible by aggressively pursuing every lead and utilizing the full resources of the department."

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2nd Annual Wisconsin Charter Schools Awards Gala

Wisconsin Charter Schools Association via a Laurel Cavalluzzo email:

The 2nd Annual WCSA Awards Gala will take place on Friday, November 6th at Turner Hall Ballroom in Milwaukee. You don't want to miss this special evening!

The Annual Awards Gala honors those individuals and schools that have made an impact on schools, teachers and students in Wisconsin's charter school community.

The event will start at 6 p.m. with a "red carpet" meet and greet, and will continue with dinner and entertainment, with the exciting presentation of the 2009 Charter Schools Awards of Excellence and the premier of our new Charter School Video.

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INTRODUCTION by Theodor Sizer

Volume One, Number One
The Concord Review, Fall 1988

Theodore Sizer: Professor of Education, Brown University Author, Horace's Compromise, Horace's School Chairman, Coalition of Essential Schools

Americans shamefully underestimate their adolescents. With often misdirected generosity, we offer them all sorts of opportunities and, at least for middle-class and affluent youths, the time and resources to take advantage of them.

We ask little in return. We expect little, and the young people sense this, and relax. The genially superficial is tolerated, save in areas where the high school students themselves have some control, in inter-scholastic athletics, sometimes in their part-time work, almost always in their socializing.

At least if and when they reflect about it, adolescents have cause to resent us old folks. We do not signal clear standards for many important areas of their lives, and we deny them the respect of high expectations. In a word, we are careless about them, and, not surprisingly, many are thus careless about themselves. "Me take on such a difficult and responsible task?" they query, "I'm just a kid!"

All sorts of young Americans are capable of solid, imaginative scholarship, and they exhibit it for us when we give them both the opportunity and a clear measure of the standard expected. Presented with this opportunity, young folk respond. The Concord Review is such an opportunity, a place for fine scholarship to be exhibited, to be exposed to that most exquisite of scholarly tests, wide publication.

The prospect of "exhibition" is provocative. I must show publicly that I know, that I have ideas, and that I can defend them resourcefully. My competence is not merely an affair between me and a soulless grading machine in Princeton, New Jersey. It is a very public act.

The Concord Review is, for the History-inclined high school student, what the best of secondary school theatre and music performances, athletics, and (in some respects) science fairs are, for their aficionados. It is a testing ground, and one of elegant style, taste and standards. The Review does not undersell students. It respects them. And in such respect is the fuel for excellence.


"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 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007;
Varsity Academics®

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Success - Parent's Advocacy Makes a Difference in Denver, North Carolina

Sara Bennett:

About a month ago, Deidra Hewitt, who lives in Denver, North Carolina, where she has two children in a public elementary school, wrote about how the school required her to sign off on her children's homework more than 400 times a year. Today, she writes about what happened after she wrote to the school Superintendent to tell him about the policy. Read the background here.

Advocacy Can Make a Difference
by Deidra Hewitt

I emailed a letter to the school Superintendent and the Board of Education, regarding the "sign or your child will be punished" policies, that I find so offensive. The Superintendent contacted me for a meeting. I was really pleased with the outcome of this encounter. The Superintendent of Schools completely agreed with me, about parent signatures being voluntary. He was against children being held accountable for parent behavior. He indicated that changes were in the works. Starting at the county level, he advised me that the "accountability agreements" were being phased out, and that they will be gone next year. He stated that he is actively searching for ways to engage parents of disadvantaged students. He agrees that countless signatures do not accomplish this goal. He is prepared to investigate the objectives of requests for parent signatures, and certify that signatures are voluntary.

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Tie teachers to testing in Wisconsin

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

Teachers routinely use test scores to help them evaluate their students.

Wisconsin schools should similarly use student test results to help them evaluate teachers.

Every other state except Nevada allows this.

Wisconsin should, too.

And if we don't, our state won't be eligible for any of the $4.5 billion in "Race to the Top" grants President Barack Obama plans to award starting next year.

That's how important this reform is to the Democratic president.

Gov. Jim Doyle announced last week he'll push to repeal a Wisconsin law preventing schools from using tests to help evaluate teacher performance.

The Legislature needs to move fast to nix this law because Wisconsin has only a few months to submit an application for some of the $4.5 billion in federal innovation grants.

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Esther Wojcicki: Thousands of Kids Drop Out of High School Daily - How Are We Going to Solve the Problem?

Esther Wojcicki via a kind reader's email:

On Tuesday and Wednesday this week, Sesame Workshop with Google and Common Sense Media are sponsoring Breakthrough Learning in a Digital Age, a conference of 200 thought leaders who will come together to discuss solutions to the literacy and dropout problems facing the nation. This blog focuses on the dropout crisis; the one yesterday focused on the literacy problems.

The dropout crisis is bigger than you might have guessed. While in some areas it has improved somewhat in the last year, in the country as a whole the problem is growing. Almost fifty percent of students in the fifty largest American cities drop out of high school. In some cities, there is over a seventy percent drop out rate.

A major consequence of the dropout rate is an increase in crime and and the prison rate. We spend more to keep prisoners in jail than we do to educate our students. Typical per-prisoner expenses run from $20,000-$50,000 per year while typical per pupil expenditures run from $7,000 to $20,000, averaging $9,000. This discrepancy needs to be addressed now and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is trying to promote change through incentives in the $100 billion education stimulus package.

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Schools putting the moves on hold

Carla Rivera:

Contracts have helped tone down the hyper-sexed dance floor at some campuses, giving students clear guidelines on what's acceptable and what's not.

Downey High School sent its homecoming queen packing, crown and all, after she was seen making sexually suggestive moves on the dance floor a few years back. Aliso Niguel High School Principal Charles Salter made good on a threat to cancel school dances in 2006 as officials there and elsewhere fretted over how to deal with freaking, grinding and other provocative dances.

Their solution: Fight explicit teen dancing with an equal dose of explicitness. Downey and Aliso Niguel are among the first schools to draft "dance contracts," binding agreements that parents and students must sign before a teenager can step onto the dance floor.

Administrators say the graphic descriptions in the contracts leave little room for arguments over interpretation and put everyone on notice about appropriate behavior.

The prom09contract.pdf, for example, specifies "no touching breasts, buttocks or genitals. No straddling each others' legs. Both feet on the floor." Students get two warnings about sexually suggestive behavior before being booted without a refund and barred from other dances.

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Indian education system: Crying out for speedy reforms

Rajiv Kumar:

At a recent India-China book launch, where human resource development minister Kapil Sibal was present, I made it a point to highlight the comparative picture between India and China in the education sector. This is a crucial sector for emerging economies attempting to achieve inclusive and rapid growth. Moreover, as several recent studies have brought out, returns on skill formation and higher education, which are already substantial, continue to rise as the world increasingly takes on the attributes of a knowledge economy. By the way, the book by Mohan Guruswamy and Zorawar Daulet Singh titled Chasing the Dragon is well worth a read for all those interested in finding out the distance we have to cover to catch up with China.

India's adult literacy is 61 per cent compared with China's 91 per cent. Expenditure on education as a percentage of total public expenditure is 10.7 per cent and 12.8 per cent, respectively. China has 708 researchers per million population compared with 19 in India. In 1990, publications by Indians in journals were 50 per cent higher but in 2008, Chinese publications outnumbered Indian ones by two to one. In 1985, the number of PhDs in science and engineering in India were 4,007 and 125 in China, but by 2004, China had 14,858 PhDs, while we had increased the number to only 6,318. In 2007, Indians filed 35,000 patents compared with 245,161 in China.

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October 26, 2009

Major changes at 2 troubled D.C. schools

Jay Matthews:

After days of frantic blogging on the latest D.C. schools crisis and trading speculation with interested readers, I find it refreshing to visit three educators who are making major changes in two of the city's lowest-performing high schools. Unlike me and many of the people I exchange comments with, they know what they are talking about.

George Leonard, 57, chief executive officer of the Friends of Bedford group from New York; Chief Financial Officer Bevon Thompson, 35; and Chief Operating Officer Niaka Gaston, 34, sit around a table in the basement of the District's Dunbar High School. The school was so dark and filthy when they first saw it that they cringe at the memory.

Dunbar and Coolidge high schools, both educational disaster areas, are under the command of their consulting company. D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee handed them the keys to the two schools because of the rigor and high graduation rates they brought to a small public high school, the Bedford Academy, in a low-income neighborhood of Brooklyn.

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Why We're Failing Math and Science

Wall Street Journal:

The problem is well-known: The U.S. lags far behind other developed countries at the K-12 level in terms of measured performance in math and science courses.

What can be done to change that? The Wall Street Journal's Alan Murray posed that question to three experts: Joel Klein, chancellor of the New York City Department of Education; Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania; and Christopher Edley Jr., dean of the law school at the University of California at Berkeley, who was also a member of the Obama administration transition team working on education issues.

Here are edited excerpts of their discussion:
It's the Teachers

ALAN MURRAY: What will it take to get the American system up to the level of some of the other developed countries in terms of math and science education?

JOEL KLEIN: The most important thing is to bring to K-12 education college graduates who excel in math and science. Those countries that are doing best are recruiting their K-12 teachers from the top third of their college graduates. America is recruiting our teachers generally from the bottom third, and when you go into our high-needs communities, we're clearly underserving them.

MR. MURRAY: How do you explain that? It doesn't seem to be a function of money. We spend more than any of these other countries.

MR. KLEIN: We spend it irrationally. My favorite example is, I pay teachers, basically, based on length of service and a few courses that they take. And I can't by contract pay math and science teachers more than I would pay other teachers in the system, even though at different price points I could attract very different people. We've got to use the money we have much more wisely, attract talent, reward excellence.

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THE INFLUENCE GAME: Bill Gates sways govt dollars

Libby Quaid & Donna Blankinship:

The real secretary of education, the joke goes, is Bill Gates.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been the biggest player by far in the school reform movement, spending around $200 million a year on grants to elementary and secondary education.

Now the foundation is taking unprecedented steps to influence education policy, spending millions to influence how the federal government distributes $5 billion in grants to overhaul public schools.

The federal dollars are unprecedented, too.

President Barack Obama persuaded Congress to give him the money as part of the economic stimulus so he could try new ideas to fix an education system that most agree is failing. The foundation is offering $250,000 apiece to help states apply, so long as they agree with the foundation's approach.

Obama and the Gates Foundation share some goals that not everyone embraces: paying teachers based on student test scores, among other measures of achievement; charter schools that operate independently of local school boards; and a set of common academic standards adopted by every state.

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10/26/2009 =, < or > 4/6/2010 in Madison?

How will tonight's property tax increase vote play out on April 6, 2010? Three Madison School Board seats will be on the ballot that day. The seats are currently occupied by:

Beth MossJohnny WinstonMaya Cole
Regular Board Meetings > 2007 election282828
Absent4 (14%)3 (10.7%)3 (10.7%)
Interviews:2007 Video2004 Video (Election info)2007 Video
I emailed Beth, Johnny and Maya recently to see if they plan to seek re-election in the April 6, 2010 election. I will publish any responses received.

What issues might be on voters minds in five months?:

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The Financial-Crisis Lit Cheat Sheet

New York Magazine:

Too Big To Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System from Crisis -- and Themselves, by Andrew Ross Sorkin

WHAT: A virtually minute-by-minute account of the scariest hours of the crisis, beginning in the aftermath of the seizures of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and concluding with TARP and the hastily assembled near-afterthought that was the $180 billion AIG bailout.

BEST BIT: On page 120 appears the first print mention of the rumored affair between Joe Gregory, the widely reviled chief operating officer of Lehman Brothers, and Erin Callan, the statuesque, blonde, wholly inexperienced tax attorney promoted to chief financial officer of the firm at the beginning of the year. According to the book, Callan separated from her husband "around the time" of the promotion, after which she and Gregory "became inseparable."

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Parents: Fenger Is No Place for Our Kids

Nicola Orichuia:

The trouble at Fenger High School seems to never end.

A Far South Side community group is joining some parents in promoting a boycott of the school after several violent incidents among students.

"It's a shame that a child is not safe inside that school," parent Cassandra White-Robinson told WGN9 News.

The school was in the national spotlight in September, when 16-year-old honor roll student Derrion Albert was beaten to death just outside the school. A video of the Sept. 24 killing made national headlines and urged both Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder to address the issue of violence by visiting the Chicago school.

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Pervasive PowerPoint Culture: Former Detroit Bailout Czar Looks Back

Steven Rattner:

Everyone knew Detroit's reputation for insular, slow-moving cultures. Even by that low standard, I was shocked by the stunningly poor management that we found, particularly at GM, where we encountered, among other things, perhaps the weakest finance operation any of us had ever seen in a major company.

For example, under the previous administration's loan agreements, Treasury was to approve every GM transaction of more than $100 million that was outside of the normal course. From my first day at Treasury, PowerPoint decks would arrive from GM (we quickly concluded that no decision seemed to be made at GM without one) requesting approvals. We were appalled by the absence of sound analysis provided to justify these expenditures.

The cultural deficiencies were equally stunning. At GM's Renaissance Center headquarters, the top brass were sequestered on the uppermost floor, behind locked and guarded glass doors. Executives housed on that floor had elevator cards that allowed them to descend to their private garage without stopping at any of the intervening floors (no mixing with the drones).

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October 25, 2009

An Earthquake: Rhode Island School Superintendents Told To Abolish Teacher Seniority

Linda Borg:

Dropping a bombshell on the teachers' unions, state Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist ordered school superintendents to abolish the practice of assigning teachers based on how many years they have in the school system.

Gist, who sent a letter to superintendents on Tuesday, is upending tradition and taking on two powerful unions, the National Education Association Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals (RIFT), who together represent 12,000 public school teachers.

On Friday, the unions said they were blindsided by Gist's announcement, adding that the commissioner made no attempt to confer with labor before going public with the decision.

"We're going to court," said Marcia Reback, president of the Federation of Teachers. "I'm startled that there was no conversation with the unions about this. I'm startled there were no public hearings, and I'm startled at the content. This narrows the scope of collective bargaining."

Gist says she has the authority to do away with seniority under the new Basic Education Plan, which the Rhode Island Board of Regents approved in June and which takes effect July 1.

Makes sense.....

NBC10 has more.

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Dyslexia Awareness Videos & We can and must help kids with dyslexia

Wisconsin Literacy:

To promote greater knowledge and understanding of dyslexia and related learning disabilities, The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) designated the month of October as National Dyslexia Awareness Month. "Awareness is key with learning disabilities because if identified early enough, their impacts can be minimized through intervention and effective teaching."

In order to increase awareness of dyslexia, Wisconsin Literacy posted two videos on its website created by Sun Prairie Cable Access. You will need Quicktime installed on your computer to view the video files. Download it for free here:

Living and Learning with Dyslexia: Hope and Possibilities
(Time 36:59)
Dr. Julie Gocey leads a panel discussion on dyslexia with Cheryl Ward (Wisconsin Branch of the International Dyslexia Association), Layla Coleman (Wisconsin Literacy, Inc.), Pam Heyde (Dyslexia Reading Therapist) and Margery Katz (Dyslexia Reading Therapist). The program covers a variety of topics including science-based, multisensory instruction for kids and adults; obstacles for identifying individuals with dyslexia; and lack of training of teachers. A college student with dyslexia shares strategies for academic success.

Julie Gocey:
Educators, parents and health professionals must work together to improve literacy for ALL students in Wisconsin. It is well known that early literacy is one of the most powerful predictors of school success, gainful employment and many measures of health.

For that reason, the sincerest expression of child advocacy is to ensure that ALL students in Wisconsin have the opportunity to become proficient readers. In my experience as a pediatrician, co-founder of the Learning Difference Network, and as a parent, current policies and practices do not routinely provide the 10 percent to 17 percent of our students who have some degree of dyslexia with adequate opportunities for literacy.
Dyslexia is a language-based learning problem, or disability if severe. The impact that this neurobiological, highly heritable condition has on learning to read, write and spell cannot be underestimated.

Dyslexia is the best understood and most studied of all learning difficulties. There is clear evidence that the brains of dyslexic readers function differently than the brains of typical readers. But the good news is this: Reading instruction from highly skilled teachers or tutors who use evidence-based techniques can change how the brain processes print and nearly ALL students can become proficient readers.

Early intervention is critical to successful outcomes, but there is a disconnect between research and practice on many levels.

Current obstacles include myths about dyslexia, lack of early identification and a need for educators to be given training in the science of reading and multi-sensory, systematic, language-based instruction. This is critical for students with dyslexia, but can be beneficial to all learners. For those of us who are able to pay for private testing and instruction for our children, the outcomes can be phenomenal. Unfortunately, where poverty and its associated ills make daily life a struggle, this expert instruction is not routinely available.
Families who ask school personnel about dyslexia are often referred to a physician, who in turn sends them back to school for this educational problem. Educational testing is often denied coverage from insurance companies, though the implications for health and wellness are clear. Unfortunately, parents may be left without useful information from anyone, and appropriate treatment - excellent reading instruction - is further delayed.
October is Dyslexia Awareness Month. On Thursday, Oct. 22, there will be a noon rally in the Capitol rotunda to raise awareness about the need to improve reading instruction for students with dyslexia and for all struggling readers in Wisconsin.

State Rep. Keith Ripp, R-Lodi, is introducing bills this week to help identify and help children with dyslexia. One bill calls for screening for specific skills to find kids with a high chance of struggling to learn to read. The other bill aims to improve teacher training to deal with reading problems.

There is too much evidence describing the science of reading, dyslexia and the costs of illiteracy to continue without change. Parents who suspect dyslexia must not be dissuaded from advocating for their children; keep searching until you find help that works.
Health professionals must seek the latest information on this common condition in order to support families and evaluate for related conditions. Educators must seek out training to understand this brain-based condition that requires educational care. The information is solid. We must work together to give ALL our kids the opportunity to read and succeed.

Dr. Julie Gocey is a pediatrician and a clinical assistant professor in the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and also a co-founder of the Learning Difference Network

via a Margery Katz email.

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Are Teacher Colleges Turning out Mediocrity?

Gilbert Cruz:

There has been a mantra of sorts going around education circles over the past few years: "Nothing matters more to a child's education than good teachers." Anyone who's ever had a Ms. Green or a Mr. Miller whom they remember fondly instinctively knows this to be true. And while "Who's teaching my kid?" is an important question for parents to ask, there may be an equally essential (and rarely remarked upon) question -- "Who's teaching my kid's teachers?"

On Thursday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan went to Columbia University's Teachers College, the oldest teacher-training school in the nation, and delivered a speech blasting the education schools that have trained the majority of the 3.2 million teachers working in U.S. public schools today. "By almost any standard, many if not most of the nation's 1,450 schools, colleges and departments of education are doing a mediocre job of preparing teachers for the realities of the 21st century classroom," he said to an audience of teaching students who listened with more curiosity than ire -- this was Columbia University after all, and they knew Duncan wasn't talking to them. It was a damning, but not unprecedented, assessment of teacher colleges, which have long been the stepchildren of the American university system and a frequent target of education reformers' scorn over the past quarter-century.

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Theodore R. Sizer, Leading Education-Reform Advocate, Dies at 77

Margalit Fox:

Theodore R. Sizer, one of the country's most prominent education-reform advocates, whose pluralistic vision of the American high school helped shape the national discourse on education and revise decades-old ideas of what a school should be, died on Wednesday at his home in Harvard, Mass. He was 77.

A former dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Professor Sizer was later the headmaster of Phillips Academy, the preparatory school in Andover, Mass., and chairman of the education department at Brown University. He returned to Harvard as a visiting professor in 1997.

Professor Sizer was best known as the father of the Essential Schools movement, which he founded in 1984. The movement's umbrella organization, the Coalition of Essential Schools, spans a diverse array of public and private schools united by their adherence to a set of common principles.

Elaine Woo:
His progressive ideas about how schools should be organized and what students should learn helped drive the debates that rattled parents, government officials and educators in the 1980s and '90s.

Ted Sizer, a former prep school headmaster and Harvard University dean who built an education reform movement that has endured for two decades despite its unfashionable opposition to government- imposed standards and emphasis on deep learning over memorization and regurgitation, has died. He was 77.

Sizer died Wednesday at his home in Harvard, Mass., after a long battle with cancer, according to a statement by the Coalition of Essential Schools, the organization of 600 private and public schools he founded at Brown University in 1984 with the goal of restructuring the American high school.

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DPI Superintendent as the Wisconsin Education Czar?

Amy Hetzner:

An effort has been launched in the state Capitol to give the state schools superintendent broader authority to turn around struggling schools and position Wisconsin to better compete for millions of dollars in federal education grants.

Little fanfare has accompanied potential legislative changes that would allow the superintendent of public instruction to order curriculum and personnel changes in chronically failing schools. It didn't even make the news release for Gov. Jim Doyle's three-city announcement on Monday of educational changes he is seeking to help Wisconsin qualify for some of the $4.35 billion in Race to the Top funds from the U.S. Department of Education.

State Sen. John Lehman (D-Racine), chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said the idea of giving the state superintendent "super-duper powers" has attracted support from legislators and educational interest groups since it first surfaced earlier this month.

"There's getting to be general agreement around these interventions," he said.

Prior to any expansion of the Wisconsin DPI's powers, I'd like to see them implement a usable and rigorous assessment system to replace the oft-criticized WKCE.

Perhaps, this is simply politics chasing new federal tax dollars....

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Online Education's Great Unknowns

Steve Kolowich:

Distance learning has broken into the mainstream of higher education. But at the campus level, many colleges still know precious little about how best to organize online programs, whether those programs are profitable, and how they compare to face-to-face instruction in terms of quality.

That is what Kenneth C. Green, director of the Campus Computing Project, concludes in a study released today in conjunction with the Western Cooperative for Educational Telecommunications.

The study, based on a survey of senior officials at 182 U.S. public and private nonprofit colleges, found that 45 percent of respondents said their institution did not know whether their online programs were making money. Forty-five percent said they had reorganized the management of their online programs in the last two years, with 52 percent anticipating a reshuffling within the next two years. And while a strong majority of the administrators surveyed said they believed the quality of online education was comparable to classroom learning, about half said that at their colleges the professors are in charge of assessing whether that is true.

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A look at Yakima, WA School Board Candidates

Adriana Janovich:

Two of the five seats on the Yakima School District Board of Directors are up for grabs this election.

Of the four candidates vying for those spots, three have served -- or are serving -- on the school board. Two are incumbents. Two are retired. One taught in the district for 30 years. Another taught in the district for just over eight.

All of them identify several key issues -- making tough budget decisions, implementing the new Measurements of Student Progress and High School Proficiency exams, and coordinating upcoming construction projects, specifically replacing Eisenhower High School, modernizing Davis High School and renovating six other schools.

The construction will be paid for through a 20-year, $114 million bond measure approved by taxpayers in May.

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Ruling on Quebec language law gives hope to immigrant parents

Less Perreaux & Kirk Makin:

Supreme Court strikes down law that has blocked children from attending English-language schools.

For thousands of francophone and immigrant parents in Quebec who want to send their children to English public schools but are barred from the system, a Supreme Court ruling Thursday seemed to offer hope.

"This is really wonderful news, it's a great decision," said Virender Singh Jamwal, one of the 25 parents who fought in court for seven years for the right to send their kids to school in English.

But in its attempt to reach a rare compromise in Quebec's volatile language politics, the court may have managed to prick nationalist sentiment without doing much to protect Mr. Jamwal's educational preference.

In a 7-0 decision, the court struck down a law known as Bill 104 that, since 2002, has blocked some 8,000 children in Montreal alone from attending English-language schools.

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We don't need this delay on e-textbooks

South China Morning Post:

The benefits of electronic school textbooks are compelling. They cost half as much as ordinary books, are easy to locate and manage, can be quickly kept up to date, are environmentally responsible and do not risk a child's physical well-being when carried in number in a backpack. Unsurprisingly, school boards and districts the world over are speedily adopting them. But such attributes are not so impressive to a Hong Kong government working group, which after a year of study, has recommended a cautious, go-slow, approach.

Among the group's key suggestions are launching a three-year "promoting e-learning" pilot scheme in up to 30 of our city's 1,060 schools and giving a one-off grant to buy resources. The conclusions are at vast odds with those drawn by the governor of the US state of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who in June launched a digital textbook initiative in the name of cutting costs and keeping learning material fresh and relevant. Students are being given free electronic readers, and publishers pushed to quickly make books available. California is by no means at the cutting edge; there are some Hong Kong schools already using the technology.

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October 24, 2009

Regulating home schooling: An inspector calls

The Economist:

A SCHOOL headmaster once observed that he would regularly consult his prefects on the running of the establishment. When he agreed with them, he would allow their views to prevail. It was only when they disagreed that he had to impose his will. On October 19th the schools secretary, Ed Balls, closed a consultation, the outcome of which he seems to have decided already. Legislation will be introduced to force parents wishing to educate their children at home to register with the state and undergo regular inspections.

Mr Balls says he is worried that children who do not attend school risk being abused by those looking after them. An earlier review by Graham Badman, a former head of children's services in Kent who is now based at London University's Institute of Education, found that in some areas a disconcertingly high proportion of home-schooled children were known to social services--ie, cause for concern.

No one is sure how many children in Britain are taught at home. York Consulting, a management outfit, put the figure at 20,000 in 2007. It could actually be more than 50,000, reckons Mike Fortune-Wood, who runs a support service for parents educating their children at home, and the total may be rising by 10% a year.

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More Testing, Less Logic?

Scott Jashik:

The Graduate Management Admission Test has for years been the dominant standardized test when it comes to getting into M.B.A. programs.

This week, Business Week reported on an interesting trend: Some employers are starting to ask M.B.A. grads for their GMAT scores, using them as one measure of a job candidate's potential. In this tight market, business schools are worried about their graduates' job prospects, so a number of them are now advising -- informally or formally -- some of their students to retake the GMAT in hopes of a higher score. The article, as one would expect for a business publication, focuses on why some businesses are using the GMAT in this way and other employers are not.

What the article doesn't address is an educational issue: The employers who are using the GMAT in this way are doing so in direct violation of the guidelines issued by the test's sponsors. And those sponsors include business schools that are apparently going along with the use of the test scores in this way.

The Graduate Management Admission Council, the association of business schools that runs the GMAT, has never claimed that it is a valid tool for employers. The council says that its research shows the test to have predictive value of first-year grades in an M.B.A. program. The council maintains a list of "inappropriate uses" of the GMAT, including as a requirement for employment.

Based on the Business Week article (and additional reporting by Inside Higher Ed), it appears that there is plenty of inappropriate use going around -- and that the council (which benefits financially when people take the GMAT) isn't objecting.

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Schools of Education: Mediocre? Not Us!

Jennifer Epstein:

All colleges and graduate schools of education must do a better job of preparing future teachers for the classroom, Arne Duncan, secretary of education, said in a speech Thursday. Many leaders of teacher education programs said they agreed with his comments, but it was hard to find any who said they thought his criticisms applied to their institutions.

"By almost any standard, many if not most of the nation's 1,450 schools, colleges and departments of education are doing a mediocre job of preparing teachers for the realities of the 21st century classroom," he told an audience of faculty members, students and teachers at Teachers College of Columbia University. "America's university-based teacher preparation programs need revolutionary change -- not evolutionary tinkering."

Duncan's speech bore down on the colleges and graduate schools that prepare more than half the teachers in U.S. primary and secondary schools -- 60 percent of whom, by one count, entered the classroom feeling unprepared for the challenges that lay ahead -- and called on those programs to introduce more in-the-classroom training and better tracking of teacher performance and student outcomes.

Arthur Levine, president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and former dean of Teachers College, said the speech "threw a lifeline to university-based teacher education programs" as more states and school districts are turning to other kinds of teacher certification programs to get bodies to the blackboard.

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Learn the Law Before Signing NDAs, Filing Class Actions

Barry Ritholtz:

"I would say more, but I don't want somebody knocking on my door and asking for $50,000 back. It's almost like bribery; I felt that I was supposed to sign the agreement, take the money and keep all their secrets."

-former Freddie Mac employee who worked on internal financial controls.


I find this fascinating: Some people simply do not understand basic contractual freedoms between consenting adults. Others do not understand the concept of ethics. And, they want the free lunch, no personal responsibility, having it both ways. They want the money but not the obligations it comes with.

Sorry, that ain't how it works.

Here's the story: Former Freddie Mac employees, who upon departing FMC, were required to sign nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) as part of the severance package. These employees are now being requested to violate those agreements in civil -- not criminal -- litigation. Under the law, you cannot privately contract not to answer questions from government prosecutors and investigators in any criminal case or in a regulatory proceeding. Really smart class action lawyers try to get a criminal case going simultaneously.

Related: Our Struggling Public Schools "A Critical, but unspoken reason for the Great Recession".

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For Some Parents, Shouting Is the New Spanking

Hilary Stout:

JACKIE KLEIN is a devoted mother of two little boys in the suburbs of Portland, Ore. She spends hours ferrying them to soccer and Cub Scouts. She reads child-development books. She can emulate one of those pitch-perfect calm maternal tones to warn, "You're making bad choices" when, say, someone doesn't want to brush his teeth.

That is 90 percent of the time. Then there is the other 10 percent, when, she admits, "I have become totally frustrated and lost control of myself."

It can happen during weeks and weeks and weeks of no camp in the summer, or at the end of a long day at home -- just as adult peace is within her grasp -- when the 7- or 9-year-old won't go to sleep.

And then she yells.

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Michigan Governor Reduces Education Spending by $212M

Chris Christoff:

Gov. Jennifer Granholm today ordered a $212 million additional cut from the state's public schools, citing worsening tax revenues.

That cut of $127 per pupil comes on top of a $165-per-pupil reduction (which was about a 2.3% cut for most districts) they'll see under a new, 2009-10 budget for K-12 schools Granholm signed Monday.

"This is not someting I want to be doing at all, but I do want to fix the problem," she said in a news conference. She said she did it today to give schools time to adjust their budgets.
The order, called a proration notice, takes effect in 30 days unless the Legislature puts more money in the pot. Granholm had said earlier this week that another cut was coming, but the suddenness still caught people off guard.

Schools are squeezed by the state's economic crunch. Sales tax revenue, which continues to come in below the projections of state economists, are a major source of school funding. About 70% of funding for the state's 552 school districts and 232 public school academies comes from the state in the form of sales and property tax collections with a lesser amount from the state's general fund.

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Seattle School Board candidates talk about equity

Sara Kiesler:

This election season, with so much money pouring into the King County executive race and the media attention given to the Seattle mayor's race, School Board races have received far fewer eyes.

But with a new student assignment plan, Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson's five-year strategic plan starting to take off and a $34 million budget gap, this election is as important as ever for the board.

District 5

In the District 5 race, Seattleites have the choice between Mary Bass, an eight-year board member known as the dissenting voice on the board and Kay Smith-Blum, a businesswoman and fundraiser with big ideas that could be challenging to implement.
Smith-Blum won the primary with 42 percent of the vote; Bass got nearly 36 percent. Smith-Blum has raised five times as much money: $52,000 compared to Bass' $10,000.

Bass, who unsuccessfully fought the reform math curriculum that was passed 4-3 in this year, said she is "proud of my long track record of fighting failures." Her battles include the $34 million budget collapse when she recently joined the council in 2002 and fighting the race tiebreaker, she said.

Smith-Blum appears to have energy, a knack for fundraising and passion for both early education and extending the school day with more cultural and arts programs. She said she established the first-ever Annual Fund for Montlake Elementary in 1991, helping raise $300,000 in five years.

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Mississippi Task force to take on hot-button school district consolidation issue

Bobby Harrison:

A task force formed by the Legislature to improve underperforming schools has decided to take on the touchy subject of school district consolidation.

During a recent hearing of the task force, the story was told of an agency in the 1980s that had advocated Mississippi's 152 school districts be consolidated into 82, basically along county lines. The task force was told, perhaps jokingly, that the agency was eliminated by the Legislature the next session.

Senate Education Chair Videt Carmichael, R-Meridian, the co-chair of the task force, responded, also perhaps jokingly, "I think I might disappear if consolidation happened in some of my school districts."

For years, an array of groups has touted the virtue of school consolidation as a way to save money and increase efficiency in the public schools. The only problem has been finding agreement on how to do it.

"It's been my observation everybody wants to consolidate everybody else's district, but not their own," said House Education Committee Chair Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, the other co-chair of the task force.

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October 23, 2009

Community Background as the Madison School District Considers Further Property Tax Increases Monday Evening

The Monday, October 26, 2009 Madison School Board meeting agenda will include a discussion (and presumably a vote) on the upcoming property tax rate increases. The board approved a tax hike earlier this year to make up for a reduction in state income tax and fees redistributed to local school districts due to the "Great Recession". Reductions in property tax assessments ("Of the 73,024 parcels in the City, 53.6% are being changed (6,438 increases and 32,728 reductions") may further drive taxes upward, certainly a challenge given current conditions.

Superintendent Dan Nerad proposed - and passed - a three year referendum that authorized spending and tax increases while providing time for the Administration to, as Board member Ed Hughes stated "put into place the process we currently contemplate for reviewing our strategic priorities, establishing strategies and benchmarks, and aligning our resources." Ed's "Referendum News" is worth reading.

I've summarized a number of links from the 2008 referendum discussion and vote below.

It will be interesting to see what, if anything happens with the recent math, fine arts, talented and gifted task forces and the full implementation of "infinite campus", which should reduce costs and improve services.

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Tennessee's Education Reform Plan

Richard Locker:

A statewide education reform commission headed by former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist issued its final recommendations today, with a goal of moving Tennessee to the top of the Southern states in K-12 education.

Search report cards

"The very simple goal is to make Tennessee - us, our kids - the best in the South in five years," Frist said at a State Capitol event unveiling the report. "It's a challenging, ambitious goal but it can be done."

The recommendations of the bipartisan "State Collaborative on Reforming Education," or SCORE, which Frist established early this year, includes 60 specific recommendations that revolve around four key "strategies:"

** Embracing the higher graduation standards that are about to go into effect as part of the Tennessee Diploma Project that aims at both raising standards and graduating more students. There has been some fear that when the impact of the more rigorous standards are felt, there will be political pressure on legislators to scale them back.

** Cultivating stronger school leaders, including superintendents and teachers.

Final Report: 2.4MB PDF.

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Annual Report on Violence, Vandalism and Substance Abuse in New Jersey Public Schools

New Jersey Department of Education:

Purpose of the Report

The Commissioner's annual report provides the Legislature with information reported by school districts concerning incidents of serious student misconduct grouped into the following four major reporting categories: violence, vandalism, weapons, and substance abuse. An analysis of trends yields indications of progress and of ongoing concern, and provides guidance to districts, other agencies, and the department as they endeavor to focus resources on areas of need. In the Programmatic Response section of this report, the department notifies the Legislature and the public of the actions taken by the State Board of Education and the Department of Education to address the problems evident in the data.


The Findings section summarizes the data reported by districts over the Electronic Violence and Vandalism Reporting System (EVVRS). Districts are required to report incidents, as defined in the EVVRS, if they occur on school grounds during school hours, on a school bus, or at a school-sponsored event, using the Violence, Vandalism, and Substance Abuse (VV-SA) Incident Reporting Form in Appendix B. The reporting of this year's findings is intended to be read in electronic format; the reader can link to figures that depict the findings described in the report. Paper copies of the figures may be found in Appendix C of the print version of this document. More detailed findings, i.e., district and school summary data, may be accessed at

1.2MB PDF Complete Report

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Test scores should be traced to ed schools, Duncan says

Anna Phillips & Marua Walz:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan called this morning for states to link student test data not only back to teachers, but also to the programs that trained them. New York State education officials said they are already working on it.

Speaking to a packed auditorium at Columbia University, Duncan criticized education schools for failing to graduate classroom-ready teachers. He said there needs to be a way to determine which programs are working.

"It's a simple but obvious idea," Duncan said. "Colleges of education and district officials ought to know which teacher preparation programs are effective and which need fixing. The power of competition and disclosure can be a powerful tonic for programs stuck in the past."

Duncan said he will use the competitive stimulus package funds known as the "Race to the Top" program to pressure states to use student data to evaluate teacher preparation programs.

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US Education Secretary Arne Duncans Education School Accountability Speech

Alexander Russo:

What the coverage leaves out is that Duncan won't be anywhere near the first to tout the importance of teaching or lament the sad state of teacher prep programs. Or the first to mention Alverno, Emporia State, residency programs, the Levine report.

In addition, there are precious few real details in Duncan's speech about what if any means the Secretary is going to try and use to make ed schools change their evil ways. He mentions changes will come as part of NCLB reauthorization, but that's a long way off. He mentions teacher quality partnership grants, but that's less than $200M. No bold specifics like rating ed schools based on graduates' performance or longevity, or limiting Pell grant eligibility to ed schools that meet certain performance characteristics.

To Duncan's credit, he notes that this is a quality problem, not a teacher shortage, and that alt cert programs train fewer than 10K candidates a year (out of 200K overall).But it's just a speech. A very nice, somewhat long, quote-laden speech that someone finally sent me this morning. In other words, in thiss balloon-boy era, it's news! The text of the speech is below. See for yourself.

Liam Goldrick:
Secretary Duncan singles out Wisconsin-based Alverno College (among other institutions) and the state of Louisiana for praise. I also discuss both Alverno College and Louisiana's teacher preparation accountability system in my policy brief.
Molly Peterson:
"By almost any standard, many, if not most of the nation's 1,450 schools, colleges, and departments of education are doing a mediocre job of preparing teachers for the realities of the 21st century classroom," Duncan said today in a speech at Columbia University in New York.

Duncan said hundreds of teachers have told him their colleges didn't provide enough hands-on classroom training or instruct them in the use of data to improve student learning. He also cited a 2006 report by Arthur Levine, former president of Columbia's Teachers College, in which 61 percent of educators surveyed said their colleges didn't offer enough instruction to prepare them for the classroom.

The nation's 95,000 public schools will have to hire as many as 1 million educators in the next five years as teachers and principals from the so-called baby-boom generation retire, according to Education Department projections. More than half of the new teachers will have been trained at education colleges, Duncan said.

Jeanne Allen:
While Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today called for the reform of college programs that educate
teachers, Center for Education Reform president Jeanne Allen said that Duncan must back up his rhetoric with strong provisions regarding teacher quality at the federal level. Allen recently released guidance to the federal government urging tough regulations on federal funds used for state teacher quality efforts.

In response to Duncan's speech today at Columbia University's Teachers College, Allen praised the Education Secretary's demand for revolutionary changes to the way that colleges of education prepare educators, saying that his remarks should serve as a wake up call to teacher unions, education bureaucrats, and entrenched special interests who would block data-driven performance reviews of teachers in an effort to monitor teacher quality throughout their careers.

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

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San Francisco Schools Lunch Money Cut off, Rules Broken

Jill Tucker:

Since April, the school district has had to pony up the $1.5 million monthly cost of the lunch program for low-income students after state inspectors on a surprise visit found violations they deemed so serious and recurring that they cut off the flow of federal reimbursements.

The violations had nothing to do with the quality of food being served, but stem from the school district's inability to follow bureaucratic rules governing the federally subsidized National School Lunch Program, which is administered by the state.

To ensure no child goes without a lunch, the district, meanwhile, has spent more than $11 million, money it will get back once city schools show they can follow the rules - something district officials have been working on since the inspection.

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Laconia: School Board sees itself in budgetary vise

Gail Ober:

School District administrators estimate that under the provisions of the city's tax cap, the school district could see as little as $142,000 in additional money for next year's local budget.

In addition, all three union contracts are up for renegotiation and administrators also learned this week that health insurance rates could rise as much as 26.2 percent -- or a maximum increase of $1,064,000.

The provisions of the current tax cap allow next year's budget to increase by a "capped amount" that is based on the Consumer Price Index-Urban -- a standard measure of inflation -- and the dollar amount of building permits in a 12-month time period from April 1 to March 31.

For example, the 2009-10 budget was based on a CPI-U of 3.8 percent, meaning that the local portion of the school budget was $20,001,940 and was multiplied by 3.8 percent -- giving the district the potential to raise an additional $760,000.

That increase was added to the local school tax rate of $9.32 per $1,000 evaluation multiplied by the dollar amount of building permits as of March 31, 2008 -- or new growth -- giving the district an additional $242,000.

With adjustments and according to the cap, the school district could have raised an additional $1.1 million for this school year -- a number that was reduced by $500,000 in June by the Laconia City Council.

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Lengthy pacifier use can lead to speech problems

Shari Roan:

Questions on whether a baby should be given a pacifier or allowed to thumb-suck have existed for generations. The concerns center on whether sucking habits will impact tooth alignment and speech development. The latest evidence, published today, suggests that long-term pacifier use, thumb-sucking and even early bottle use increases the risk of speech disorders in children.

The study looked at the association between sucking behaviors and speech disorders in 128 children, ages three to five, in Chile. Delaying bottle use until at least 9 months old reduced the risk of developing a speech disorder, researchers found. But children who sucked their thumb, fingers or used a pacifier for more than three years were three times as likely to develop speech impediments. Breastfeeding did not have a detrimental effect on speech development.

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Mayor Bing urges Detroiters to support $500M school bond proposal

Marisa Schultz:

Mayor Dave Bing called on Detroiters to support Proposal S, the $500 million school bond proposal that he said will bring jobs and life into city neighborhoods.
Flanked by Robert Bobb, the emergency financial manager for Detroit Public Schools, Bing said Detroit children deserve modern school buildings and the city can't pass by the opportunity to take advantage of one-time federal stimulus dollars to borrow money at zero- and low-interest rates for school construction and renovation.

"This is real shot in the arm for the city of Detroit and for the children of the city of Detroit," Bing said.

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Hawaii schools to move to four-day week in state cost-cutting measure

Ed Pilkington:

Thousands of working parents in Hawaii are scrambling to make childcare arrangements ahead of the closure on Friday of all public schools, in a bid by the state's education authorities to cut costs.

All 256 of Hawaii's public schools will be closed in the first of 17 "furlough Fridays" that will see a drastic cut in school time for up to 171,000 children. The reduction of the school week from five to four days will last for at least the next two years.

The furloughs are the most draconian measure yet taken in the US, where the recession has forced many states to slash public services. At least 25 states have forced teachers to take unpaid days off, but most of the cuts have fallen on holidays or on preparation days rather than on actual school days.

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Education in the Arab world

The Economist:

One reason that too many Arabs are poor is rotten education

A RECENT issue of Science, the weekly journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, was devoted to research into "Ardi" or Ardipithecus ramidus, a 4.4m-year-old hominid species whose discovery deepens the understanding of human evolution. These latest studies suggest, among other things, that rather than descending from a closely related species such as the chimpanzee, the hominid branch parted earlier than previously thought from the common ancestral tree.

In much of the Arab world, coverage of the research took a different spin. "American Scientists Debunk Darwin", exclaimed the headline in al-Masry al-Youm, Egypt's leading independent daily. "Ardi Refutes Darwin's Theory", chimed the website of al-Jazeera, the region's most-watched television channel. Scores of comments from readers celebrated this news as a blow to Western materialism and a triumph for Islam. Two or three lonely readers wrote in to complain that the report had inaccurately presented the findings of the research.

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October 22, 2009

Islamic school in Madison eager to grow

Doug Erickson:

Just back from the frenzy of lunchtime recess, third-grader Amena Saleh donned a head scarf Wednesday and dropped to her knees at Madinah Academy of Madison, a full-time Islamic school on the city's South Side.

Her prayer was one of five that are obligatory every day for Muslims but the only one that fell during school hours.

"We have a God who's up in the sky and his name is Allah," said Amena, 8, explaining the focus of her ritual.

At Madinah Academy, the educational program is grounded in Islam and guided by the Quran, the religion's holy book. Now in its fifth year, the school serves 28 students in grades pre-kindergarten through three and is eager to add grade levels. It is housed in a strip mall at 1325 Greenway Cross, just off Fish Hatchery Road and near Madison's border with Fitchburg.

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Students Aren't Learning Math. Can NCLB Help?

Seyward Darby:

New statistics show that U.S. students are struggling to learn basic math. The 2009 results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in math, a test given every two years to fourth- and eighth-graders nationwide, were released this week. Although average overall scores have doubled since the NAEP was introduced in 1990, results have completely flat-lined among fourth-graders, and the achievement gap between white and black students isn't narrowing.

The New York Times notes that such trends could be linked to the enactment of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2002:

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Duncan to ed schools: End 'mediocre' training

Jay Matthews:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan, in prepared remarks circulating in advance of a speech Thursday, accuses many of the nation's schools of education of doing "a mediocre job of preparing teachers for the realities of the 21st-century classroom."

My colleague Nick Anderson, on the national education beat, and I found the advance text a meaty read.

Duncan's speech, to be delivered at Columbia University, goes further than any other I can remember from an education secretary in ripping into the failure of education schools to ready teachers for the challenges of the day, particularly the demand for academic growth in all students.

Duncan's speech points out two major deficiencies in education school teaching with which most critics would agree: They do a bad job teaching students how to manage disruptive classrooms, particularly in low-income neighborhoods, and they don't offer much in the way of training new teachers how to use data to improve their classroom results.

The excerpts of the speech we were given, however, did not appear to address one part of the classroom management problem that is often raised when successful teachers explain how they learned to keep students in order. These teachers often say they learned by doing, by facing a class alone without help, trying one thing after another until something worked for them. Education school deans have been critical of the Teach for America program, which pushes recent college graduates into classrooms with only a few weeks training, but teachers who have survived that toss-them-into-the-water approach say it works better than class management classes at their teacher's colleges.

Locally, the UW-Madison School of Education has been involved in many Madison School District initiatives.

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An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All

Amy Wallace:

To hear his enemies talk, you might think Paul Offit is the most hated man in America. A pediatrician in Philadelphia, he is the coinventor of a rotavirus vaccine that could save tens of thousands of lives every year. Yet environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. slams Offit as a "biostitute" who whores for the pharmaceutical industry. Actor Jim Carrey calls him a profiteer and distills the doctor's attitude toward childhood vaccination down to this chilling mantra: "Grab 'em and stab 'em." Recently, Carrey and his girlfriend, Jenny McCarthy, went on CNN's Larry King Live and singled out Offit's vaccine, RotaTeq, as one of many unnecessary vaccines, all administered, they said, for just one reason: "Greed."

Thousands of people revile Offit publicly at rallies, on Web sites, and in books. Type into your browser and you'll find not Offit's official site but an anti-Offit screed "dedicated to exposing the truth about the vaccine industry's most well-paid spokesperson." Go to Wikipedia to read his bio and, as often as not, someone will have tampered with the page. The section on Offit's education was once altered to say that he'd studied on a pig farm in Toad Suck, Arkansas. (He's a graduate of Tufts University and the University of Maryland School of Medicine).

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Fenger Academy: A troubled school before the cameras arrived

The Economist:

A FEW weeks after I visited Fenger Academy, on Chicago's far south side, television cameras swarmed the school. The incident at Fenger was so alarming that the White House dispatched two cabinet secretaries to quell anxiety. I came for happier reasons. The Fenger was still in the heady first days of school, exciting not only because every new year brings new opportunities, but because this year seemed particularly ripe with them.

Fenger is closer to Indiana's belching mills than to downtown Chicago. It has struggled for decades. From 2006 to 2008 less than 3% of students met Illinois's pathetic standards of achievement. But this meagre record had one good outcome: Fenger's district chose it as a "turnaround" school.

When I arrive in the main office, students are still milling about, a few parents with them, looking for registration or wondering where to pick up their new uniforms--black polo shirts with the school insignia on the breast. Don Fraynd, the turnaround officer, is waiting for me. He is a youngish man whose e-mail signature is punctuated by a proud "PhD". After a quick tour we sit in the principal's anteroom. He tells me that reformers have showered Fenger with programmes, to no avail.

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Maryland Governor O'Malley urges School Superintendents to cut costs

Nelson Hernandez & John Wagner:

With Maryland facing a $2 billion budget shortfall next year, Gov. Martin O'Malley warned the chiefs of the state's school systems Tuesday of hard times ahead, and the Senate president told them that they were "going to have to start taking a portion of the hit."

Speaking in Annapolis to a gathering of the Public School Superintendents Association of Maryland, O'Malley (D) urged the heads of the county's 24 school jurisdictions to find ways to save money but maintain the quality that earned the state a No. 1 ranking in a national survey by the Education Week trade newspaper.

O'Malley's cost-saving suggestions included creating a school building design that could be used across the state, buying furniture from the state prison industry and installing solar panels on roofs to generate energy.

But he offered few specifics about what cuts the superintendents might expect in state funding even as he repeatedly stressed the challenge of chopping $2 billion from a $13 billion budget.

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Memphis City Schools lines up donations worth $1.4 million for Merit Pay

Jane Roberts:

Memphis City Schools has signed short-term contracts worth $1.4 million with several consultants, including a local public relations agency, as the district moves toward merit pay for teachers and getting rid of those who miss the mark.

Supt. Kriner Cash quickly raised the capital from donors, including the Hyde Family Foundations, so work could begin Oct. 1.

The PR firm CS, on Union Avenue, got a $152,000 contract through June 30. The agency's main job will be communicating with teachers, making sure the district's message is clear and consistent, potentially warding off union strife.

The contracts are a prelude to a seven-year teacher improvement plan the district hopes to accomplish with nearly $100 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Gates will announce the winners of its national grants in early November. Memphis is one of five finalists.

Cash does not want to wait, saying Tuesday that "a lull in work like this can become the devil's playground.

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For Decades, Puzzling People With Mathematics

John Tierney:

For today's mathematical puzzle, assume that in the year 1956 there was a children's magazine in New York named after a giant egg, Humpty Dumpty, who purportedly served as its chief editor.

Mr. Dumpty was assisted by a human editor named Martin Gardner, who prepared "activity features" and wrote a monthly short story about the adventures of the child egg, Humpty Dumpty Jr. Another duty of Mr. Gardner's was to write a monthly poem of moral advice from Humpty Sr. to Humpty Jr.

At that point, Mr. Gardner was 42 and had never taken a math course beyond high school. He had struggled with calculus and considered himself poor at solving basic mathematical puzzles, let alone creating them. But when the publisher of Scientific American asked him if there might be enough material for a monthly column on "recreational mathematics," a term that sounded even more oxymoronic in 1956 than it does today, Mr. Gardner took a gamble.

He quit his job with Humpty Dumpty.

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A Moo-Moo Here, and Better Test Scores Later

Javier Hernandez:

But it soon became clear that this was a field "study"-- as the teachers called it -- not a field "trip," and the 75 Harlem kindergartners were going not only for a glimpse of rural life, but to rack up extra points on standardized tests.

"I want to get smarter," 5-year-old Brandon Neal said.

"I want to do better on homework and tests," added Julliana Jimenez, one of his classmates.

New York State's English and math exams include several questions each year about livestock, crops and the other staples of the rural experience that some educators say flummox city children, whose knowledge of nature might begin and end at Central Park. On the state English test this year, for instance, third graders were asked questions relating to chickens and eggs. In math, they had to count sheep and horses.

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Americans Flunk News Quiz

Robert Roy Britt:

Not that the questions were all easy, but a new Pew Research Center poll finds the state of public knownedge about current U.S affairs to be pretty dismal. The news quiz, conducted Oct. 1-4 among 1,002 adults reached on cell phones and landlines, was announced this week.

It asked 12 multiple choice questions about people, events and issues in the news. Respondents answered an average of 5.3 questions correctly. That's well below a D grade, at 44 percent. But hey, if only Balloon Boy coulda been among the questions.

Here's one that really challenged people: Only 18 percent could correctly identify Max Baucus as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, which has developed legislation to reform U.S. health care. Fewer than a third knew how many troops we have in Afghanistan.

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October 21, 2009

Teaching for a Living: How Teachers See the Profession Today

Jean Johnson, Andrew Yarrow, Jonathan Rochkind and Amber Ott:

Two out of five of America's 4 million K-12 teachers appear disheartened and disappointed about their jobs, while others express a variety of reasons for contentment with teaching and their current school environments, new research by Public Agenda and Learning Point Associates shows.

The nationwide study, "Teaching for a Living: How Teachers See the Profession Today," whose results are being reported here for the first time, offers a comprehensive and nuanced look at how teachers differ in their perspectives on their profession, why they entered teaching, the atmosphere and leadership in their schools, the problems they face, their students and student outcomes, and ideas for reform. Taking a closer look at the nation's teacher corps based on educators' attitudes and motivations for teaching provides some notable implications for how to identify, retain, and support the most effective teachers, according to the researchers.

This portrait of American teachers, completed in time for the beginning of the 2009-10 school year, presents a new means for appraising the state of the profession at a time when school reform, approaches to teaching, and student achievement remain high on the nation's agenda. It also comes as billions of economic-stimulus dollars pour into America's schools focused on ensuring that effective teachers are distributed among all schools, and Congress will have to consider reauthorization or modification of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act., the nearly 8-year-old latest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

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Our Struggling Public Schools "A Critical, but unspoken reason for the Great Recession"

Tom Friedman via a kind reader's email:

Last summer I attended a talk by Michelle Rhee, the dynamic chancellor of public schools in Washington. Just before the session began, a man came up, introduced himself as Todd Martin and whispered to me that what Rhee was about to speak about -- our struggling public schools -- was actually a critical, but unspoken, reason for the Great Recession.

There's something to that. While the subprime mortgage mess involved a huge ethical breakdown on Wall Street, it coincided with an education breakdown on Main Street -- precisely when technology and open borders were enabling so many more people to compete with Americans for middle-class jobs.

In our subprime era, we thought we could have the American dream -- a house and yard -- with nothing down. This version of the American dream was delivered not by improving education, productivity and savings, but by Wall Street alchemy and borrowed money from Asia.

A year ago, it all exploded. Now that we are picking up the pieces, we need to understand that it is not only our financial system that needs a reboot and an upgrade, but also our public school system. Otherwise, the jobless recovery won't be just a passing phase, but our future.

"Our education failure is the largest contributing factor to the decline of the American worker's global competitiveness, particularly at the middle and bottom ranges," argued Martin, a former global executive with PepsiCo and Kraft Europe and now an international investor. "This loss of competitiveness has weakened the American worker's production of wealth, precisely when technology brought global competition much closer to home. So over a decade, American workers have maintained their standard of living by borrowing and overconsuming vis-à-vis their real income. When the Great Recession wiped out all the credit and asset bubbles that made that overconsumption possible, it left too many American workers not only deeper in debt than ever, but out of a job and lacking the skills to compete globally."

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Madison Mayor Cieslewicz Visits Toki Middle School

Dave Ceislewicz:

One of my favorite events of the year is the annual Principal for a Day event organized by the Foundation for Madison's Public Schools and sponsored by CUNA. For one thing, it's an opportunity for me to use phrases like, "Hey, hey, no running in the halls!" and, "sure, it's funny until somebody loses an eye."

This year I chose to be the shadow principal at Toki Middle School. It's no secret that Toki is at the center of a neighborhood that has been in the news in recent years in part because of some changing demographics. Those changes are apparent at the school where kids eligible for free and reduced lunches have increased from about a third to about half of the school population in just a few years.

But what I saw on a typical day where most of the kids didn't know or care much who I was (just like a normal day around City Hall) was a school where a lot of learning was taking place. I visited Rhonda Chalone's Student Leadership class, Vern Laufenberg's Technology Class and Scott Mullee's Science Class. I also spent some time with Principal Nicole Schaefer and her staff. What I witnessed was dedicated teachers and engaged students in a friendly and orderly atmosphere. And the diversity that is there is a big advantage, setting those kids up for success in a world that is, if anything, even more diverse than the student body at Toki.

Every school has some challenges, but anyone that doesn't think Madison schools are doing a great job teaching our kids, should spend a day in one.

The southwest part of Madison, including Toki Middle School has had its share of challenges over the past few years.

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Pedagogy Across Three Continents

Sarah Murray:

Aside from having capital Ps in their names, Pittsburgh, Prague and São Paolo might seem to have little in common.

The first has an industrial heritage as a US steel hub. The second, in central Europe and once part of the Soviet bloc, has an historic district that is a World Heritage Site, and the third, founded by Jesuit priests, is the capital of Brazil's most populous state and one of the most dynamic cities in Latin America.

What links all three is the global executive MBA delivered by the Joseph M Katz Graduate School of Business at the University of Pittsburgh.

Katz has been running an EMBA programme since 1972, a time when Pittsburgh had one of the US's highest number of Fortune 500 companies headquartered in the city. In 1990, the school started offering an EMBA programme in the Czech Republic, in Prague and, since 2000, in São Paolo, Brazil.

Until 2003, the three programmes operated as independent entities. Students from the Prague and Brazil campuses would come to Pittsburgh for two-week periods, but because they were at different stages in the curriculum, they did not interact with each other or with the other students from Pittsburgh.

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Cooking classes for children

Jenny Linford:

We know that children need to eat more healthily but the message will be useless if they don't learn to cook - and enjoy doing so. Sadly, a generation has already grown up without learning to cook at school: when the National Curriculum was introduced into UK state schools in 1990, practical cookery was sidelined in favour of "food technology". Children learned to design logos for pizza boxes, rather than to make a pizza.

This gaping hole in our children's education is something Katie Caldesi, director of Italian cookery school Cucina Caldesi in Marylebone, London, is keen to correct. She has two sons aged seven and nine, and says: "It's criminal that we dropped cookery from the curriculum. Italian food lends itself to cookery for children as long as they don't just have white carbohydrates; in Italy you have pasta first, then meat, vegetables, then fruit."

To help get children cooking their favourite Italian dishes, Cucina Caldesi runs classes for those aged six and over alongside its adult programme. It also has a holiday workshop for teenagers, "La Cucina dei Ragazzi", led by Caldesi head chef Stefano Borella. I went to observe, while my 13-year-old son Ben, a keen eater and occasional cook, took part in the class alongside five others.

Borella, whose teaching style is informal but authoritative, won over the young cooks from the start. The aim of the session, he said, was to prepare, cook and eat a three-course meal: gnocchi with walnut pesto, fish skewers with lemon couscous and basil pannacotta served with berries.

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Blair Sheppard on the legacy of Kurt Lewin

Blair Sheppard:

Though he died in 1947 aged 56, even a cursory review of modern management practices reveals the enduring influence of Kurt Lewin, the German-American psychologist.

The source of his influence can be found in the confluence of three aspects of his personal career.

The first was his early training in mathematically-oriented psychology, focused on the study of human perception. From this he developed a view that it was possible to apply the disciplines of the physical sciences to psychological phenomena.

The second was his rejection of reductionist ideas, which hold that complex phenomena can be explained in terms of simpler building blocks. This formed the tradition of German psychology.

Prof Lewin was much more interested in Gestalt psychology, which implied that psychological phenomena are related to the interaction of the person with their environment and the result of the interplay of many forces within the person.

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School District maintains education on a small scale

Amy Hetzner:

The proverbial little red schoolhouse survives in the form of a brown brick building on the corner of W. Seven Mile Road and Highway 45 in Racine County.

Here at Drought School - the only school in the Norway School District - items from the eighth-grade bake sale sell for 25 to 75 cents each, the school administrator has been on the job for 20 years and the softball team can include students as young as third-graders.

There are advantages to the small school district in a 4-square-mile farmland oasis sandwiched between the urban Racine Unified School District and suburban Muskego-Norway School District.

But there also are downsides to this slice of rural life, preserved in small kindergarten-through-eighth-grade and high school districts in southeastern Wisconsin.

Last year, Norway's resident enrollment hit 76, the end of a five-year slide in which it lost more than 40% of its population, according to state records.

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Once Convicts' Last Hope, Now a Students' Advocate

John Schwartz:

"Pick your head up, buddy," Tom Dunn said to Darius Nash, who had fallen asleep during the morning's reading drills. "Sabrieon, sit down, buddy," he called to a wandering boy. "Focus."

Mr. Dunn's classroom is less than three miles from his old law office, where he struggled to keep death row prisoners from the executioner's needle. This summer, after serving hundreds of death row clients for 20 grinding, stressful years, he traded the courthouse for Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School.

The turmoil of middle school turns many teachers away, said the school's principal, Danielle S. Battle. Students' bodies and minds are changing, and disparities in learning abilities are playing out.

"A lot of people will say, 'I'll do anything but middle school,' " she said.

But this is precisely where Mr. Dunn chose to be, having seen too many people at the end of lives gone wrong, and wanting to keep these students from ending up like his former clients. He quotes Frederick Douglass: "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men."

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Washington, DC School Vouchers Have a Brighter Outlook in Congress

Robert Tomsho:

The District of Columbia's embattled school-voucher program, which lawmakers appeared to have killed earlier this year, looks like it could still survive.

Congress voted in March not to fund the program, which provides certificates to pay for recipients' private-school tuition, after the current school year. But after months of pro-voucher rallies, a television-advertising campaign and statements of support by local political leaders, backers say they are more confident about its prospects. Even some Democrats, many of whom have opposed voucher efforts, have been supportive.

At a congressional hearing last month, Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat and vocal critic of the program who heads the subcommittee that controls its funding, said he was open to supporting its continuation if certain changes were made. They include requiring voucher recipients to take the same achievement tests as public-school students.

The senator's comments were a "really positive sign," said Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform, a group that supports vouchers and charter schools -- public schools that can bypass many regulations that govern their traditional counterparts. "It's clear the momentum is coming our way," added Kevin Chavous, a former Washington city councilman who has appeared in television ads supporting the voucher plan, known as the Opportunity Scholarship Program.

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Task force to develop Kentucky education strategy

Nancy Rodriguez:

In a move he says is meant to re-energize support for public education, Gov. Steve Beshear announced Monday the creation of a task force charged with developing a unified vision of what Kentucky schools need to offer to better prepare students for the 21st century.

"Our world has changed dramatically since the reforms of 1990," Beshear said, during a press conference at Louisville Male High School, where he discussed the Transforming Education in Kentucky initiative. "We must now turn our focus to the future and again to our schools to ensure that our strategies and programs are designed to meet the challenges of the 21st century."

Not all embraced Beshear's task force, which is suppose to spend the next year developing recommendations on how to improve education in the state.

In a letter to the governor, Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, said he believed the task force "is duplicative" of education efforts already underway.

"I respectfully submit that it is past time for your administration to move beyond discussion and to immediate action," Williams said, noting that topics on the task force's agenda are already being discussed by legislative committees or have been the subject of legislative bills. "...These issues cannot be put off another year."

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Encouraging kids to read with the author of Horrid Henry. Make stories together....

Sarah Ebner:

There's more depressing news on the education front today. In The Times, Joanna Sugden reports that children are struggling with language skills in schools and that it's vital for parents to speak to, and read to, their children. Meanwhile in the Daily Mail, it's reported that boys are falling ever behind, even at a really young age. Many can't write their name by the end of Reception year; they're falling behind girls in vital aspects of the curriculum - and life.

As regular readers of the blog will know, I am convinced that it's incredibly important to do something about boys and their under-achievement in schools. I am often asked to recommend books for boys (and there are loads), for my views on their disinterest in writing or how they won't settle at school. I've written about this a number of times (please see below) and am saddened not only that it's still an issue, but that not much seems to be taking place to address it.

There seems little point in my writing about the issues again, so I'm going to mention an initiative which hopes to get children reading again. Innocent and Francesca Simon (author of the Horrid Henry books, which are incredibly popular amongst girls and boys) have teamed up to inspire parents to tell stories.

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October 20, 2009

Technology: Classroom interaction offers best experience

Alan Cane:

Tania Goldhaber, an enthusiastic and personable undergraduate studying mechanical engineering at MIT, lives the Web 2.0 life.

Her laptop is her key to the virtual world, always on, always ready to access Facebook and other social networking sites. For EMBA students at Cambridge University's Judge Business School she has become the human face of Web 2.0.

Simon Learmount, programme director, says: "We used video to beam her into the classroom for a morning during the orientation week [the first of three separate weeks where the students are physically together]. Her presentation showed how her life is completely structured by Web 2.0. Afterwards, some of the students went off and started blogging immediately."

These Judge EMBA students are the top brass of the business world in the UK, chief financial officers and the like with a sprinkling of chief executives among them, who, until Ms Goldhaber's presentation, may not have understood blogging, let alone written an online diary themselves.

It is one of the first results of a risky but potentially hugely productive experiment that the school launched a few weeks ago.

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A lesson in school lunch

Susan Troller:

"Eat the taco salad. It's good."

The reassuring comment came from a crowd of seventh-grade boys at Velma Hamilton Middle School as I prepared to eat my first school lunch in more than 40 years.

They politely made room for me at the front of a line that circled the cafeteria/multipurpose room, nodding enthusiastically as I took the salad. As a former food writer and restaurant critic newly returned to covering topics about children and education, I wanted to experience firsthand school lunches at Madison's elementary, middle and high schools. Madison, like communities across the nation, is re-evaluating school meals with an eye toward making them more nutritious and appealing.

The taco salad featured finely shredded lettuce, providing a reasonably crisp bed for a mound of mildly seasoned ground beef; a dab of sour cream, a small plastic container of salsa and a small package of salty, tortilla chips completed the spread. It was the most popular purchased lunch option that day, although a majority of Hamilton's sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders appeared to have brought their own lunches. With a half-pint of milk, the meal cost $3.30 (adult full-price middle school lunch). I'd probably give it a grade of C+ or B-.

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School District Strategic Planning: How the World's Best Performing School Systems Come Out On Top

Via a kind reader's email [9.5MB PDF]:

The experiences of these top school systems suggest that three things matter most:
  1. getting the right people to become teachers,
  2. developing them into effective instructors, and
  3. ensuring that the system is able to deliver the best possible education for every child.

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Students give math a bit more thought

Michael Alison Chandler:

The teenagers in Stephanie Nichols's algebra class have nothing on her blank stare. And they can't even come close to her best confused expression: eyebrows furrowed, mouth frowning, a flash of ditziness framed by a blond bob.

"Sorry if I'm the slow kid," she said, slowly, during a lesson on slope. "I don't get it." As students calculated problems on the board, she interrupted, "I'm really lost. . . . How did you do that?" Occasionally, she was more blunt: "Huh?"

Nichols's vacant looks and incessant questions put the students at Arlington County's Washington-Lee High School in the uncomfortable position of being the math teacher, explaining how the numbers on the white board relate to each other, how algebra actually works.

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Community meeting to introduce the new Madison School District Talented and Gifted Plan

via a kind reader's email:

Tuesday, November 17
6:00 - 7:30 p.m. (this is the correct time)
Hamilton Middle School LMC
4801 Waukesha Street
Madison, Wi

The Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) Talented and Gifted Division will host a community forum on November 17, 2009, from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. Superintendent Dan Nerad and Director of Teaching and Learning Lisa Wachtel will be in attendance.

The focus of the forum will be to provide the Madison community with an overview of the recently Board of Education approved Talented and Gifted Education Plan, followed by an opportunity for discussion.

Link to new MMSD TAG Plan:

More information from MUAE:

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Love of Teaching Draws Adjuncts to the Classroom Despite Low Pay

Audrey Williams June:

They don't make much money, they don't have health benefits, and they don't have job security. So why do adjuncts keep showing up to teach in college classrooms semester after semester, year after year?

The Chronicle went to Chicago to find that out, and a lot more.

Adjuncts who teach part time are now about half of the professoriate, making them a crucial sector of academe. But information on their daily jobs, their qualifications, and their motivations is sparse. To help fill the gap, we focused, both in a survey and in intensive reporting, on adjuncts in the Chicago metropolitan area. The region's rich mix of public and private four-year institutions and community colleges provided a lens through which to view the variety of adjunct employment.

Jennifer O'Riordan, an adjunct psychology instructor at Joliet Junior College, listens to colleagues at a union meeting. She has become an advocate for better pay.

Our survey was answered by more than 600 adjuncts who work at 90 institutions. Their responses, though not a random sample, gave us a detailed look at their educations--most do not have doctorates--and their compensation--annual salaries of $20,000 or less are the norm. Students are likely to pay more than that at some of the area's colleges, like Loyola University Chicago, which charges about $30,000 in tuition alone.

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Our education system leaves me baffled

Vicki Woods:

f I had care of a four-year-old right now, I think I'd go and live in France. Even though I'm not that fond of France and I hate speaking the language, I'd be able to pop my four-year-old into the nearest ecole maternelle and relax. He'd stay there until he was six, by which time they'd teach him to read. And then he'd go to primary school and learn to write - with accents on and everything.

Here in England, everything I hear, read or watch on telly about education is too baffling to understand. I say this as a governor of a small village primary school. I'm not being funny, nor boasting about my idleness or lack of care. I'm saying the education of England's children is too baffling to understand for anyone who is not an educationist.

Nobody could blame me, I hope, for being baffled by news of the Cambridge Primary Review, the biggest and most detailed study of primary education for 40 years. I listened carefully to Jim Naughtie talking to the review's lead author, Professor Robin Alexander, on the Today programme yesterday. Naughtie said the review found primary education was "in good heart", but it challenged the Government over the uselessness of its cherished Sats. Also, they want "formal schooling" to begin at six, not five. The Prof did his best to condense 500 or so pages into 12-second sound bites, and I listened in that vague early-morning way, thinking: Goodness, this is dense.

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Obama aide defends education stimulus plan

Ben Fischer:

President Barack Obama's top education aide said Friday that now is educators' "moment to shine" thanks to an unprecedented federal investment in school reform contained in February's economic stimulus package.

Speaking to a convention of state school board members from throughout the country at the Hyatt Regency, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said he has more money than all his predecessors combined to encourage fundamental changes to American schools.

"If something's working at two schools, and they want to take it to 10, this is the opportunity," Duncan said. "This is the time to think big, and wherever resources have been the constraint, we're trying to fundamentally break through."

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Washington, DC Unions Want Probe Of Layoffs by Rhee

Bill Turque:

Union leaders asked the D.C. Council on Friday for an investigation into the layoffs of 266 teachers and staff members, including an independent audit of the school system's decision to hire 934 educators this spring and summer.

Officials of unions representing teachers, principals and other public school personnel assailed the Oct. 2 dismissals as an attempt by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee to winnow veteran instructors from the system. They said the 934 hires were far in excess of what was necessary to fill job openings and were used to create a budget crisis to justify the firings.

"There seems to be an attitude in this administration that it doesn't care about breaking the rules," said Washington Teachers' Union President George Parker.

Rhee has said that the layoffs were necessary to help address a $43.9 million shortfall in the 2010 public school budget. The gap was created in part, Rhee has said, by the council's decision to cut $20.7 million at the end of July because of declining revenue projections.

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Teachers' unions uneasy with Obama

Nia-Malika Henderson:

A skirmish between powerful teachers' unions and President Barack Obama over nearly $5 billion in education spending is shaping up as a preview of the battle to come over No Child Left Behind in Congress early next year.

But the tables are turned: now the unions are worried that Obama, a Democratic ally, is going to be just as tough on them as President George W. Bush, a longtime foe.

The dispute adds teachers' unions to a growing list of key Democratic constituencies that have been frustrated by Obama's lunges toward the political middle, along with gay-rights activists upset Obama won't lift the ban on gays in the military, and Latino officials who say Obama is slow-walking immigration reform.

So far, both the unions and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have tried to avoid a full-on collision, and the unions are showing new flexibility in accepting previously unheard-of moves like stricter teacher evaluations.

But they're also making it clear they'll only go so far with Obama, who was booed at two teachers' union conventions when he was a candidate.

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October 19, 2009

Stimulus money could open door to keeping kids in school longer, Nerad says

Gayle Worland:

If the State of Wisconsin wins federal stimulus dollars to help local districts lengthen their school days or their school year, Madison could be open to keeping kids in school for more learning time, according to Madison schools superintendent Dan Nerad.

Nerad's comments followed an announcement Monday by Gov. Jim Doyle, who promoted the idea of longer school days when laying out a plan for the state's application for a piece of $4.5 billion in federal education stimulus dollars known as "Race to the Top" funds.

Governors and educators across the country are waiting for the U.S. Department of Education to release "Race to the Top" guidelines this fall. States will then be on a fast track to apply for funds, said Doyle, whose other priorities for Wisconsin include overhauling student testing, making student test scores a factor in teacher evaluations, creating new data systems to track student and teacher performance, and changing the state aid funding formula so districts have more flexibility under caps limiting how many tax dollars they can collect.

"What I'm laying out today are the directions we're taking in this application," Doyle said. Teams from the governor's office and the state Department of Instruction are working on the plans, but haven't yet calculated how many dollars Wisconsin will request, he said.

I hope the local school district does not use these short term, borrowed funds for operating expenses....

Patrick Marley has more:

Gov. Jim Doyle said Monday the state must give control of Milwaukee schools to the mayor to put in a "good faith" application for federal economic stimulus funds.

He and state school Superintendent Tony Evers also said the state should tie teacher pay to student performance and give districts incentives to lengthen the school day or school year, particularly for students who need extra help.

Doyle said the education reforms he and Evers are advocating would require the steady push only a mayor can provide. Otherwise, school policy could "vacillate from year to year" with changes on the School Board, he said.

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For these high school students, some real-world business experience

Karen Rivedal:

Students in a La Follette High School business club are finding it a little tougher than they expected to sell special headsets offering real-time game coverage to Badger sports fans.

"Sales are slower than we had hoped," said June Anderson, adviser to the school's DECA Club, whose members have been offering the headsets for $20 each as a fundraiser outside Camp Randall before every home football game.

With five home games finished and just two left - on Oct. 31 and Nov. 14 - the students have sold only about 500 of the pre-tuned earpiece radios, or about half the club's goal.

"(Students) know now that they have to take a lot of no's before they get a yes," Anderson said. "They need to know (the radio's) features and benefits and really be able to relate how they will benefit the customer to make the sale easier. That's been a good thing for them to learn."

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Madison high school students receive early finance lessons

Pamela Cotant:

In the Madison School District's four large high schools last week, students were given checkbooks and profiles detailing their life circumstances such as marriage, children, education and employment. Students then visited stations for typical purchases such as housing, utilities, food, transportation, childcare and entertainment as they tried to stay within their budget. To challenge their decision-making, some students also experienced unexpected setbacks such as illness or unemployment.

"It's really important to know what you are buying and how you are going to buy stuff, especially when the economy is down ... and money is tight," said Andy Yang, a La Follette High School senior.

About 1,400 students participated.

Volunteers from various businesses work at the stations, but bankruptcy trustees were missing this year because they couldn't get away due to their heavy workloads.

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$2.3 million in federal stimulus money is going to pay for Tampa Bay area beauty school tuition

Will Van Sant:

More than $2.3 million in federal economic stimulus grants have gone to eight Tampa Bay area cosmetology and massage schools to pay tuition for the hairdressers, masseuses and nail technicians of tomorrow.

That's swell news for those who see the beauty trades as a way to gain a firmer footing in the job market. But is there truly demand for more beauty school graduates at bay area salons?

Not really, said Monica Ponce, owner of Muse The Salon in Tampa.

"Instead of encouraging more people to go to beauty schools," Ponce said, "they should probably help the stylists who are unemployed."

Some area salons are hiring in this economy, but even industry lobbyists say beauty school is rarely a ticket to a thriving career.

Only 1 to 2 percent of beauty school graduates will be working in the field five years from graduation, said Bonnie Poole, treasurer of the Florida Cosmetology Association.

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Arts Education and Graduation Rates

Rachel Lee Harris:

In a report to be released on Monday the nonprofit Center for Arts Education found that New York City high schools with the highest graduation rates also offered students the most access to arts education. The report, which analyzed data collected by the city's Education Department from more than 200 schools over two years, reported that schools ranked in the top third by graduation rates offered students the most access to arts education and resources, while schools in the bottom third offered the least access and fewest resources. Among other findings, schools in the top third typically hired 40 percent more certified arts teachers and offered 40 percent more classrooms dedicated to coursework in the arts than bottom-ranked schools. They were also more likely to offer students a chance to participate in or attend arts activities and performances. The full report is at

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In some classrooms, books are a thing of the past

Ashley Surdin:

The dread of high school algebra is lost here amid the blue glow of computer screens and the clickety-clack of keyboards.

A fanfare plays from a speaker as a student passes a chapter test. Nearby, a classmate watches a video lecture on ratios. Another works out an equation in her notebook before clicking on a multiple-choice answer on her screen.

Their teacher at Agoura High School, Russell Stephans, sits at the back of the room, watching as scores pop up in real time on his computer grade sheet. One student has passed a level, the data shows; another is retaking a quiz.

"Whoever thought this up makes life so much easier," Stephans says with a chuckle.

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Fairfax County Schools Propoze Second Year Wage Freeze due to Reduced Revenues in its $2,200,000,00 Budget; Where is Madison's 2009/2010 Final Budget?

Michael Alison Chandler:

The Fairfax County School Board is bracing for the most dramatic reduction in services in more than 20 years as it attempts to bridge a projected $176 million budget shortfall with cuts that could extend to closing schools, increasing class size, ending summer school, discontinuing most full-day kindergarten classes and eliminating foreign language instruction in elementary schools.

Superintendent Jack D. Dale will not present a formal budget proposal until January, but school officials are releasing a list of potential cuts because they want to give the public the earliest possible look at the severity of this year's deficit. "What we are trying to get people to understand is, you are all at risk this time," said board member Jane K. Strauss (Dranesville), the budget chairwoman.

Board members say that classrooms are already strained from adjustments made over the past two years, including consecutive increases in class sizes.

The current budget is $18 million less than last year's, and the school system has grown by about 5,000 students. Federal stimulus money helped offset even deeper cuts, but the school board still eliminated nearly 800 positions and reduced many program budgets.

This year, programs will probably be discontinued, said school board chairman Kathy L. Smith (Sully). "There is no trimming around the edges anymore," she said.

In Fairfax, the projected $176 million shortfall assumes 2,000 new students, no increase in county funding and no pay increase for teachers or other staff. If approved, it would mean a second year of salary freezes.

Related: It will be interesting to see the Madison School District's "final" 2009/2010 budget, which will be reviewed and voted on by the local school board soon. The budget has, in the past, increased as the year progresses. The 2007/8 budget was $339,685,844; 2008/9 was $368,012,286, and the 2009/10 preliminary budget was 367,912,077, according to the MMSD "Financials" PDF Document).

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Stillwater, MN 9th Grade AP Geology students use new technology to map data

James Warden:

Brady Tynen needed to find out which states have the largest concentrations of people with mixed American Indian-African American ancestry. The Stillwater Junior High ninth-grader could have pored through the U.S. Census database, noted the appropriate percentage, ranked the states in a list and tried to divine some trend.

Then again, his geography class is just 50 minutes long, and Tynen needed to repeat Wednesday's exercise two more times for different groups.

Thankfully, the Census website can show the information on a map with the press of a few buttons. In mere minutes, Tynen could tell that the group he was looking at is concentrated in the eastern U.S., particularly southern states like Louisiana, Mississippi and Georgia.

"Maps are a good way to find out all sorts of things," he said. "It'd be kind of hard if you didn't have a map because maps organize your data."

The exercise gave students in Sara Damon's ninth-grade Advanced Placement geography class a taste of a technology called geographic information systems (GIS). GIS is simply technology that merges data with maps. Something as basic as Google Maps can be considered GIS because it links a map to data, in that case street addresses.

Stillwater high school offers 17 Advanced Placement classes, according to the AP Course Audit Website.

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Tests don't always offer right answers

Jay Matthews:

Politicians and pundits are using results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests to say our kids are falling behind the rest of the world, so maybe we should get some PISA practice. Brookings Institution scholar Tom Loveless, a member of the U.S. advisory board to PISA, offered this sample question for 15-year-olds from the mathematics literacy section of the exam:

For a rock concert a rectangular field of size 100m by 50m was reserved for the audience. The concert was completely sold out and the field was full with all the fans standing. Which one of the following is likely to be the best estimate of the total number of people attending the concert?

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Class size, student background and schools' funding appear to be less critical than has long been believed.

Jason Song & Jason Felch:

For years, schools and students have been judged on raw standardized test scores. Experts say this approach is flawed because they tend to reflect socioeconomic levels more than learning.

The "value-added" approach attempts to level the playing field by focusing on growth rather than achievement. Using a statistical analysis of test scores, it tracks an individual student's improvement year to year, and uses that progress to estimate the effectiveness of teachers, principals and schools.

Academics have also used the approach to test many assumptions about what matters in schools. Scholars are still puzzling over what makes for a great teacher or school, but their results challenge orthodox assumptions like these:

All teachers are equal. For decades, schools have treated teachers like interchangeable parts. Value-added results suggest there are sharp differences in teachers' effectiveness.

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United Teachers Los Angeles: Absent from reform

Los Angeles times Editorial:

t's easy to see why United Teachers Los Angeles doesn't like the new Public School Choice policy at L.A. Unified, which allows outside groups to apply to take over about 250 new or underperforming schools. Those groups are likely to include a large number of charter school operators that would hire their own teachers rather than sign a contract with the teachers union.

What's less understandable is why UTLA would minimize its chances of keeping some of the schools within the district, along with their union jobs. Yet that's what appears to be happening. A rift has developed within the union's leadership over whether to allow more so-called pilot schools, and if so, how many and under what conditions. Pilot schools are similar to charter schools, except that they remain within L.A. Unified, staffed by the district's union employees. The staff is given more independence to make instructional and budgeting decisions in exchange for greater accountability and "thin contracts," which contain fewer of the prescriptive work rules that can stultify progress.

Related: A Wisconsin State Journal Editorial on Madison's lack of charter school opportunities.

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Pack children off to school as soon as you can

Barbara Ellen:

No one could argue that the Cambridge Primary Review, the biggest report on primary schools for over 40 years, isn't a weighty-looking document. Six years to complete, 600 pages long, one of its main arguments is that British children are starting school far too early, around the four-year mark.

Terrible, cries the report. In the manner of most European countries, children should be starting school at around six years old, in Finland's case, seven. Thereby enabling Britain to catch up in terms of child literacy, numeracy, and well-being. All of which sounds extremely exciting for British education. What a shame they forgot to factor in British parents.

Even today, when there is a report like this, we seem automatically to revert to a template of idealised British family life, circa 1955 (Mummy in her pinny, happily baking jam tarts; Daddy arriving home with his brolly) that has no bearing on modern reality.

Exchange the 1950s fantasy for parents who both have to work, and have other children to sort out. Parents, who already have to pick up, clean up, organise, and juggle, to the point where they feel as though they are trapped within a slow-motion nervous breakdown. And this is the middle class, relatively do-able, version. Into this engorged ready-to-blow scenario they want to introduce the concept of up to two to three years less primary schooling? Are they insane?

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Harvard admits to $1.8b gaffe in cash holdings

Beth Healy:

Harvard University, one of the world's richest educational institutions, stumbled into its financial crisis in part by breaking one of the most basic rules of corporate or family finance: Don't gamble with the money you need to pay the daily bills.

The university disclosed yesterday that it had lost $1.8 billion in cash - money it relies on for the school's everyday expenses - by investing it with its endowment fund, instead of keeping it in safe, bank-like accounts. The disclosure was made in the school's annual report for the fiscal year that ended June 30.

Typically, companies and big institutions manage their cash conservatively in order to have it readily available, by keeping the money in such low-risk investments as money-market mutual funds.

But Harvard placed a large portion of its cash with Harvard Management Co., the entity that runs the university's endowment and invests in stocks, hedge funds, and other risky assets. It has been widely reported that Harvard Management's endowment investments were battered in the market crash - down 27 percent in its last fiscal year. Not revealed until yesterday was that the school's basic cash portfolio had also been caught in the undertow.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: US State & Local Sales Tax Rates

Tax Foundation:

The Tax Foundation has released Updated Combined State and Local Sales Tax Rates. Here are the ten states with the highest and lowest rates:

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Schools a battleground over dueling Chinese scripts

Raja Abdulrahim:

For nine years, Sutoyo Lim's son studied Chinese with private tutors and at language schools. He learned to write in "simplified script," characters with thinly spread strokes commonly used in mainland China.

But that all changed when Lim's 15-year-old son began taking Chinese classes at Arcadia High School this year. He was given two months to make the transition from "simplified" to the more intricate "traditional" script used in Taiwan.

Once the grace period is over, homework and exam answers written in simplified script will be disqualified -- regardless of accuracy. "To me, it does not seem right," Lim said. "I'm not happy with being forced to choose the language that's going to be obsolete."

When Chinese classes were introduced at Arcadia in the mid-1990s, Taiwanese parents pushed administrators to adopt the use of traditional script used in Taiwan and pre-communist China. The traditional form is distinguished by a series of complex and intersecting strokes.

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Football Blowouts: The Art To Winning Big

Mike Pesca:

Every year, one or two high school football games bubble to national attention for the wrong reasons.

This year two Florida teams engaged in a battle -- if you can call it that -- where the final score was 82 to 0. Then, a few weeks later, the final score in another Florida game was 91 to 0. These are extreme examples, but every week, in nearly every state, teams win by 50 or 60 points.

What does a coach's halftime speech sound like when his team is losing in a blowout?

What if you were John Petrie, coach of the Plainville High School Cardinals in Plainville, Kan., a couple of seasons back, when, in a game against Smith Center he found his team down 72 to 0 in the first quarter?

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Milwaukee Vincent High School to start daily metal detector checks

Tom Tolan:

Students entering Vincent High School will be subjected to a metal detector on a daily basis in the wake of widespread fighting at the school, Milwaukee Public Schools officials said Friday.

Superintendent William Andrekopoulos confirmed Friday that Matthew Boswell, principal of Northwest Secondary School, has been appointed Vincent principal, replacing Alvin Baldwin, who is being reassigned to an elementary school.

Andrekopoulos also said two additional support staff members would be brought to Vincent to aid the administration. Three of the four assistant principals at the school also have been replaced, according to MPS officials.

Andrekopoulos said he was moved to make leadership changes after a visit to Vincent this week. He said he was struck in particular when he observed the presence of 17 adults supervising the cafeteria and not one of them was talking with students.

"I want to make sure we build a positive climate" at the school, he said.

Andrekopoulos spoke at a news conference Friday at district offices, capping off a volatile week at Vincent that began with a spate of fights and ended with some 100 students on suspension. He said eight of those students were suspected of behavior so serious that they'd be given a hearing at MPS' central office.

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Let's help teachers solve bullying problem at schools

Sue Klang and Fred Evert:

It was three years ago that 15-year-old Eric Hainstock entered Weston High School with a 22-caliber pistol and a 20-gauge shotgun.

Within a few short minutes, Principal John Klang confronted Hainstock, trying to protect his school's students and staff.

After a brief struggle, Klang was shot three times. He died later that day.

Debate continues on exactly what Hainstock intended to do - get the school's attention for the help he needed, or execute a fatalistic death wish for himself and his school.

What is clear is Hainstock had been bullied.

He was bullied by his father who, he says, treated him like a slave and refused to let him wash. At school and after school, he claimed he was bullied by as many as 30 of his fellow classmates. He says he snapped.

We can't know how much of this is true or how much it contributed to the tragedy in Weston. What we do know is that nearly a third of America's school children say they've been the victims of bullying - or been bullies themselves - or both.

We know bullying can destroy a student's self-esteem and ability to learn. We know it can ruin students for the rest of their lives. It can ruin families and ruin schools.

We know it's a problem among girls and boys. We know it can be mental bullying as well as physical. We know it can border on torture for the young minds that are the victims of it.

It's a problem that affects us all. As such, it's a problem we must all help solve.

That's why we're partners with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, which just launched its curriculum to help teachers cope with bullying in their classrooms, halls and playgrounds.

The DPI curriculum, called "Time to Act - Time to React," is a set of lesson plans to help teachers identify bullies and bullying and to teach their students how to deal with it.

The WEA Trust, a not-for-profit group health insurance company that insures many of Wisconsin's public school employees, paid for the printing of 1,200 sets of the curricula (one for grades 3-5, another for grades 6-8), and a free, interactive DVD available to teachers in any public grade school and public middle school.

This isn't a state mandate. It's not a requirement. It's a helping hand for teachers who feel they need the extra help to keep their students safe.

The problem is clear. So are the goals.

We, along with a large coalition of groups including those with a focus on schools, mental health, law enforcement and child advocacy, are supporting this effort to help keep our schools safe and healthy.

That's important for insurance companies that feel good mental health is important to a healthy body.

That's important for the wife of a murdered husband whose life was abruptly ended by a young boy out of control.

We're encouraging teachers to use the new curriculum. We're encouraging parents to be aware of what is happening with their children at school. This curriculum is a step in making teachers' and children's lives safer today and tomorrow.

Sue Klang is the wife of John Klang, the Weston High School principal killed trying to wrestle a pistol away from a troubled 15-year-old student on Sept. 29, 2006. Evert is executive director of the WEA Trust, Wisconsin's largest provider of group health insurance for Wisconsin school districts.

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October 18, 2009

Dumbing down education weakens U.S.

Joseph Borrajo:

As if NAFTA's dismantling of America's manufacturing base and corporate destruction of the middle class isn't enough to challenge the needs of the country's national security, now we have a systematic assault on the nation's educational system.

In Michigan, it is the dumbing down of needed math standards to compete globally; at the national level, it is the drying up of funds used to harness the talent of young people who cannot afford an elitist entitlement system that's cost-prohibitive for many.

The common thread of lost manufacturing jobs, a dying middle class and an impaired educational system that promotes inferior curriculum and economic exclusion all serve to undermine the well-being and national security of the country in ways that hostile external elements could never match. The hypocrisy of weakening America while extolling patriotism is a calculated deviousness that, for the sake of the country and the working class, must be challenged.

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Cross Purposes

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review

A recent survey of college professors by the Chronicle of Higher Education found that nearly 90% thought that the students they teach were not very well prepared in reading, doing research and academic writing by their high schools.

At the same time, many college admissions officers ask students for 500-word "personal statements," which have become known as "college essays," and many high school English department spend a lot of their writing instruction on this sort of effort.

History departments and English departments are assigning fewer and fewer term papers, so it is not surprising that lots of students are arriving in college not knowing how to do research or write academic papers.

Why is it that college admissions officers and college professors seem to be working at cross purposes when it comes to student writing? College professors want students to be able to write serious research papers when they are assigned in their history, economics, political science, etc., classes, but that is not the message that is going out to high school applicants from the college admissions offices.

Most of the attention, if not all, in the college counseling offices at the secondary level is on what it will take to gain students admission to colleges, not on whether, for example, they have the academic knowledge and skills to graduate from college. That is someone else's concern. Recently the Gates Foundation has taken up the challenge of trying to find out why students drop out of community colleges in such large numbers.

But in the college admissions world, at the Higher and Lower Education levels, the attention, when it comes to writing, is on the short personal statement to accompany the application. There are several reasons for such a dumbed-down requirement. Admissions officers are too busy, for the most part, to read academic papers by students, and they like to have some personal information by the student to give them a more personal feeling for the applicant. The fact that there is a huge industry of "personal essay" coaches and tutors doesn't seem to give them pause.

With this requirement in place, it becomes the task of the English Department at the high school level to teach students even more about how to write about themselves in 500 words or less. Such writing requires no reading or research of course, which makes it a lot easier (and more dumbed-down).

Meanwhile, students who receive the International Baccalaureate Diploma continue to meet the requirement for the Extended Essay of 4,000-5,000 words, and they, like those published in The Concord Review, arrive in college miles ahead of their "personal statement" peers who have no idea how to write a college term paper.

Part of the problem lies with the Higher Education Faculty, which almost never takes any part in the admissions process, but leaves the 500-word personal essay in place--but then they complain that the students they get can't read, do research, or write very well.

As I have said many times, college coaches routinely take a personal interest in the athletic admissions requirements for the high school students they recruit for their teams, because they need to know if they can play or not, but college professors pay no attention at all, either general or personal, to the academic admissions requirements for the high school students they will see in their classes.

Thus the admissions department at the college and the college faculty work at cross purposes, as the admissions department pursues their interest in the short personal essay, while the college faculty members do nothing to encourage the sort of serious academic writing (and reading) they say they wish the students who come to them had done in high school.

Perhaps college professors might take another look at the reading and writing requirements put out by the admissions offices at their own colleges and universities.

They might even begin to influence the high schools to raise their standards for academic reading and writing, and, in the process, find that they have better-prepared students to take advantage of their teaching, and more students would actually have a chance to complete the work at the colleges to which they are admitted.

"Teach by Example"
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Value Added Teacher Assessment

Jason Felch & Jason Song:

Terry Grier, former superintendent of San Diego schools, encountered union opposition when he tried to use the novel method. His fight offers a peek at a brewing national debate.

When Terry Grier was hired to run San Diego Unified School District in January 2008, he hoped to bring with him a revolutionary tool that had never been tried in a large California school system.

Its name -- "value-added" -- sounded innocuous enough. But this number-crunching approach threatened to upend many traditional notions of what worked and what didn't in the nation's classrooms.

It was novel because rather than using tests to take a snapshot of overall student achievement, it used scores to track each pupil's academic progress from year to year. What made it incendiary, however, was its potential to single out the best and worst teachers in a nation that currently gives virtually all teachers a passing grade.

In previous jobs in the South, Grier had used the method as a basis for removing underperforming principals, denying ineffective teachers tenure and rewarding the best educators with additional pay.

In California, where powerful teachers unions have been especially protective of tenure and resistant to merit pay, Grier had a more modest goal: to find out if students in the San Diego district's poorest schools had equal access to effective instructors.

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Beware The Reverse Brain Drain To India And China

Vivek Wadhwa:

I spent Columbus Day in Sunnyvale, fittingly, meeting with a roomful of new arrivals. Well, relatively new. They were Indians living in Silicon Valley. The event was organized by the Think India Foundation, a think-tank that seeks to solve problems which Indians face. When introducing the topic of skilled immigration, the discussion moderator, Sand Hill Group founder M.R. Rangaswami asked the obvious question. How many planned to return to India? I was shocked to see more than three-quarters of the audience raise their hands.

Even Rangaswami was taken back. He lived in a different Silicon Valley, from a time when Indians flocked to the U.S. and rapidly populated the programming (and later executive) ranks of the top software companies in California. But the generational difference between older Indians who have made it in the Valley and the younger group in the room was striking. The present reality is this. Large numbers of the Valley's top young guns (and some older bulls, as well) are seeing opportunities in other countries and are returning home. It isn't just the Indians. Ask any VC who does business in China, and they'll tell you about the tens of thousands who have already returned to cities like Shanghai and Beijing. The VC's are following the talent. And this is bringing a new vitality to R&D in China and India.

Why would such talented people voluntarily leave Silicon Valley, a place that remains the hottest hotbed of technology innovation on Earth? Or to leave other promising locales such as New York City, Boston and the Research Triangle area of North Carolina? My team of researchers at Duke, Harvard and Berkeley polled 1203 returnees to India and China during the second half of 2008 to find answers to exactly this question. What we found should concern even the most boisterous Silicon Valley boosters.

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New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson proposes 1.5% education cuts; no tax increases

Marjorie Childress:

Gov. Bill Richardson released his budget counterproposal on Saturday afternoon, just as the Senate was discussing the constitutionality of his proclamation convening the special session. Richardson's proposal contains 1.5 percent cuts to education--as long as those cuts don't affect classrooms.

Richardson said he wouldn't consider tax increases during the special session, but that he would consider a tax revenue package during the regular session in January.

"I have made adjustments to my original budget proposal to reflect our new budget realities," Richardson said in his statement. "... I have made it very clear to legislators that any cuts to education must be minimal and not affect our classrooms, kids and teachers."

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New Orleans educator could force big changes at MPS

Alan Borsuk:

Alan Coulter is working on a short list of goals for students in Milwaukee Public Schools:

A very large majority of them should get good, professional and prompt help learning reading, especially if they're struggling.

The same with math.

The same with behavior problems - good, professional and prompt responses for those acting out too often, getting suspended too often, disrupting classes and so on.

Think about what the impact would be if those goals were met.

Coulter is holding a lever that may make a lot of that happen in the next several years. A nationally recognized expert in special education and a professor at the Louisiana State University Health Science Center in New Orleans, he now carries the title of "independent expert" for implementation of a court order dealing with special education services in MPS.

That means he's the lead figure in making MPS change on some crucial fronts because the court order goes well beyond special education to the overall way Milwaukee schools deal with students who aren't on grade level or who are misbehaving frequently. With the backing of the state Department of Public Instruction and the court, Coulter and Alisia Moutry, a former MPS official who is his on-the-ground staff person in Milwaukee, carry a lot of weight now.

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October 17, 2009

Obama Wins a Battle as the New Haven Teachers' Union "Shows Flexibility"

Neil King:

A showdown between the White House and the powerful teachers' unions looks, for the moment, a little less likely.

This week in New Haven, Conn., the local teachers union agreed, in a 21-1 vote, to changes widely resisted by unions elsewhere, including tough performance evaluations and fewer job protections for bad teachers.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan, as well as the unions, said the New Haven contract could be repeated in other school districts.

Kim Torello, left, and Karen Lavorgna, teachers in New Haven, Conn., discuss the contract that was ratified by their union this week. Terms included tough performance evaluations and fewer job protections.
"I rarely say that something is a model or a template for something else, but this is both," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who helped broker the New Haven deal.

"This shows a willingness to go into areas that used to be seen as untouchable," Mr. Duncan said.

His cause for optimism is this: If teachers' unions start showing flexibility in other cities, the administration's high-stakes push to boost graduation rates and improve test scores at public schools could get a lot easier. That might even spare the administration an unwanted fight with a labor force that gave Mr. Obama a big lift in his election.

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Maine's School District Consolidation Law

Rich Hewitt:

For more than two years, school district consolidation has been a contentious issue in Maine.
Opponents argue that it has been an ill-conceived, hastily put together and poorly implemented law that has not achieved its goals. Proponents maintain that it represents much-needed reform and is an effective step toward reducing the cost of education in Maine. Question 3 on the Nov. 3 ballot gives voters a chance to weigh those opposing views and decide whether to repeal the law. The question asks: "Do you want to repeal the 2007 law on school district consolidation and restore the laws previously in effect?"

The law, enacted in 2007, attempted to reduce the number of school districts in Maine from 290 to 80, but as of July 2009, there were still 218 districts remaining in the state.

Voters in more than 100 districts, largely in rural areas, rejected reorganization plans despite the penalty they faced through the loss of state education subsidies.

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Don't Get Too Excited About Jump in D.C. Test Scores

Jay Matthews:

Admit it. A lot of us are deeply invested in the argument over Michelle A. Rhee's tenure as chancellor of the D.C. schools. Is she a miracle or a monster? A smart educator or a bad administrator? So when we saw my colleague Nick Anderson's story Thursday revealing that D.C. students have made significant gains in mathematics since Rhee got here, we probably had a pronounced emotional reaction.

I think we should chill out. It is not a bad thing that D.C. math score increases were well above the national average, and that D.C. showed gains in both fourth and eighth grade math in the National Assessment of Educational Progress. But it doesn't mean that the city is anywhere near getting out of the deep hole of apathy and dysfunction that has characterized its schools for the last several decades.

One snapshot test result does not make Rhee a genius, as I am sure she would agree. We journalists give big play to such results. That is our job. They are news. People want to read about them. But I don't think they advance the argument between the anti-Rhee people and pro-Rhee people (I am in the latter camp) in any useful way.

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Truancy costs us all

Kamala Harris:

When Michael was in kindergarten, he missed more than 80 days of school. He was not ill and no one from Michael's family ever called to say why he was not attending school.

When I was elected district attorney, I learned that 5,500 students in San Francisco were habitually truant and - shockingly - 44 percent of the truant students were in elementary school. That is when I partnered with the San Francisco Unified School District to combat school truancy. At the time, many asked why the city's chief prosecutor was concerned with the problem of school attendance. The answer was simple, and as our partnership now enters its fourth year, the reason remains the same: a child going without an education is tantamount to a crime.

Despite his young age, Michael's truancy makes him far more likely to be arrested or fall victim to a crime later in life. In San Francisco, over 94 percent of all homicide victims under the age of 25 are high school dropouts. Statewide, two-thirds of prison inmates are high school dropouts.

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Study Finds Preschool Use of Educational Video and Games Prepares Low-Income Children for Kindergarten


Low-income children
were better prepared for success in kindergarten when their preschool teachers
incorporated educational video and games from public media, according to a new
study. The study, conducted by Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC) and
SRI International, was commissioned by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
(CPB) to evaluate video and interactive games from the Ready to Learn
initiative, which creates educational programming and outreach activities for
local public television stations and their communities.

The study examined whether young children's literacy skills -- the ability to
name letters, know the sounds associated with those letters, and understand
basic concepts about stories and printed words -- increased when preschool
classrooms incorporated video and games. Children with the most to learn in
the study gained the most, learning an average of 7.5 more letters than
children in a comparison group during the brief, intensive curriculum.

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October 16, 2009

Madison School District must provide education to expelled student, judge rules

Ed Trelevan:

In a ruling that could lead to changes at school districts across Wisconsin, a Dane County judge on Friday ordered the Madison School District to provide educational services to a student who was expelled and is under a juvenile court order to continue his education.
Students who are expelled from the Madison School District and many other districts are given no services unless they are eligible for special education.
But Circuit Judge David Flanagan wrote in an order Friday that Madison remains obligated under state law to formulate an educational plan for a 16-year-old student who was expelled from East High School after his arrest on a misdemeanor drug charge.
Under a juvenile court disposition, the boy, who is not being named because he is a juvenile, must continue his education but hasn't been able to do so because of his expulsion.

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Broward Teachers Union Says School District Officials Kept Scores of Emails From School Board Members

Patricia Mazzei:

The Broward Teachers Union accused the school district Thursday of blocking hundreds of e-mails sent by school employees to School Board members since March -- without board members' knowledge.

The union says e-mails about teacher raises, use of federal stimulus money and employee contract negotiations never made it to board members' in-boxes -- or to their junk e-mail folders. Instead, they were filed away on a server and never read.

BTU lawyers sent Board Chairwoman Maureen Dinnen and board attorney Edward Marko a letter Thursday asking the district to stop blocking e-mails and threatening to sue if they don't do so by Oct. 26.

The letter argues blocking e-mails violates the sender's and the receiver's constitutional rights under U.S. and Florida laws.

Superintendent Jim Notter said district attorneys were reviewing BTU's letter. He questioned its timing, with the district in the throes of negotiating a contract with the union. BTU has asked for an average 4 percent pay increase. The district isn't offering any raise, but has offered to pick up the difference in employee health insurance.

``Unfortunately we're back in a position where it's adversarial,'' Notter said.

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Advocating Charter Schools in Madison

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial, via a kind reader:

Charter schools have no bigger fan than President Barack Obama.

The federal government gave Wisconsin $86 million on Thursday to help launch and sustain more charter schools across the state.

State schools chief Tony Evers said $5 million will go to two dozen school districts this year, with the rest of the money distributed over five years.

Madison, to no surprise, wasn't on Thursday's winner list. And don't expect any of the $86 million for planning and implementing new strategies for public education to be heading Madison's way.

That's because the Madison School Board continues to resist Obama's call for more charter schools. The latest evidence is the School Board's refusal to even mention the words "charter school" in its strategic action plans.

In sharp contrast, Obama can hardly say a word about public education without touting charters as key to sparking innovation and engaging disadvantaged students.

Obama visited a New Orleans charter school Thursday (and raised money that evening in San Francisco at a $34K per couple dinner) and is preparing to shower billions on states to experiment with new educational strategies. But states that limit charter growth will not be eligible for the money.

I am in favor of a diffused governance model here. I think improvement is more likely via smaller organizations (charters, magnets, whatever). The failed Madison Studio School initiative illustrates the challenges that lie ahead.

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Merit-Based Pay Cuts for Academics?

Ilya Somin:

George Mason economist Bryan Caplan has an interesting post advocating merit-based pay cuts for academics:
Many universities now have pay freezes or even nominal pay cuts. Under the circumstances, several professors have told me that there's little point in doing faculty evaluations. If there's zero - or negative - money for raises, why bother saying who's doing well and who's not?

It amazes me how much these remarks take for granted. Suppose a department is 5% over-budget. It may be obvious that it needs to cut total compensation by 5%, but it isn't obvious that any particular professor's salary needs to be cut by 5%. If raises can depend on performance, so can cuts! If a chairman normally gives a 0% raise to his worst performer, and a 5% raise to his best performer, why not respond to fiscal austerity by simply changing the range from -7.5% to -.2.5%?

I agree with Bryan's argument, though I suspect many of my fellow academics won't. One possible objection is that the criteria for evaluating "merit" in academia are too subjective. But academic departments already have merit criteria for making hiring and promotion decisions. If our criteria are good enough to decide whether or not someone deserves to be hired or offered lifelong employment, they should be good enough to make much less consequential judgments on whether a given scholar should get a 3% pay cut as opposed to 1%. A department that lacks good criteria for evaluating merit ought to get some pronto - whether it intends to base pay cuts on them or not.

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Generation of pupils being put off school, report says

Richard Garner, via a kind reader's email:

A devastating attack on what is taught in primary schools is delivered today by the biggest inquiry into the sector for more than 40 years.

Too much stress is being placed on the three Rs, imposing a curriculum on primary school pupils that is "even narrower than that of the Victorian elementary schools", it says. The inquiry is recommending sweeping changes to stop children being left disenchanted by schooling at an early age.

Children should not start formal schooling until the age of six - in line with other European countries - the 600-page report on the future of primary education recommends. It was produced by a team directed by Robin Alexander of Cambridge University.

Tests for 11-year-olds and league tables based on them should be scrapped, and instead children should be assessed in every subject they take at 11.

The report is heavily critical of successive Conservative and Labour governments for dictating to teachers how they should do their jobs. Professor Alexander cites "more than one" Labour education secretary saying that primary schools should be teaching children to "read, write and add up properly" - leaving the rest of education to secondary schools. "It is not good enough to say we want high standards in the basics but we just have to take our chance with the rest," said Professor Alexander.

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Homework Day


Meet us here on October 21, 2009, for the first Wolfram|Alpha Homework Day. This groundbreaking, live interactive web event brings together students and educators from across the country to solve your toughest assignments and explore the power of using Wolfram|Alpha for school, college, and beyond.
A few links: Worth checking out.

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The Democrat Party and the Schools

Nicholas Kristof:

The Democratic Party has battled for universal health care this year, and over the decades it has admirably led the fight against poverty -- except in the one way that would have the greatest impact.

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
Nicholas D. Kristof
On the Ground
Nicholas Kristof addresses reader feedback and posts short takes from his travels.

Good schools constitute a far more potent weapon against poverty than welfare, food stamps or housing subsidies. Yet, cowed by teachers' unions, Democrats have too often resisted reform and stood by as generations of disadvantaged children have been cemented into an underclass by third-rate schools.

President Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, are trying to change that -- and one test for the Democrats will be whether they embrace administration reforms that teachers' unions are already sniping at.

It's difficult to improve failing schools when you can't create alternatives such as charter schools and can't remove inept or abusive teachers. In New York City, for example, unions ordinarily prevent teachers from being dismissed for incompetence -- so the schools must pay failed teachers their full salaries to sit year after year doing nothing in centers called "rubber rooms."

A devastating article in The New Yorker by Steven Brill examined how New York City tried to dismiss a fifth-grade teacher for failing to correct student work, follow the curriculum, manage the class or even fill out report cards. The teacher claimed that she was being punished for union activity, but an independent observer approved by the union confirmed the allegations and declared the teacher incompetent. The school system's lawyer put it best: "These children were abused in stealth."

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Pittsburgh's model of school governance reform

Milwaukee Public Policy Forum:

In the past few weeks Milwaukee has had numerous town hall meetings, panel discussions, and presentations regarding the idea of school district governance reform. At issue is whether the mayor of Milwaukee should be in charge of the Milwaukee Public Schools, rather than an independent board of directors.

At each of these meetings, accountability has been thrown about as both an argument for and against a mayoral take-over of the district. Perhaps a mayor elected in a higher turn-out citywide election would provide more accountability; or maybe losing the opportunity to elect a school board representative would disenfranchise certain voters, diluting accountability.

In Pittsburgh, civic leaders, parents, and citizens decided to stop talking about accountability and actually implement it. A local nonprofit group, A+ Schools: Pittsburgh’s Community Alliance for Public Education, started an initiative called "Board Watch" last winter. The idea is quite simple: send volunteers to attend every board and committee meeting and have them report to the public whether the board is being effective in meeting the district's strategic goals.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: States' Tax Revenue Sources

John Gramlich:

Oregon, more than any other state, relies on its residents' income tax payments for revenue, while its northern neighbor, Washington, depends more heavily than any other state on sales taxes, according to a new 50-state analysis of state finances.

The analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Foundation uses newly released U.S. Census Bureau data about state and local government finances in fiscal year 2007 (the latest year for which statistics are available) to break down each state's tax revenue sources and group states by which taxes they rely on most. The report combines state and local taxes for the sake of comparison because "what some states accomplish with local taxes is accomplished in other states with state-level taxes."

States that rely too heavily on one tax are vulnerable to revenue fluctuations that can be especially harmful during recessions. In Oregon, for instance, where individual income taxes account for 44.1 percent of total government tax revenue, lawmakers this year were slammed by a huge revenue decline as employment -- and personal income -- decreased. That has resulted in major spending cuts and is forcing some school districts to resort to four-day weeks.

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When a College's Reputation Trumps Its Quality

Joel Trachtenberg:

How one values a college education is very different from how one places a monetary value on a college's prestige, a topic that relies more on the recognition of the school's brand than it does on the quality of its educational program (although the two are often closely entwined).

Two examples: Schools that routinely play in the NCAA's Final Four basketball tournament receive large numbers of undergraduate applications not always correlated to the standing of their academic programs.

Name recognition goes hand-in-hand with television coverage of the sports and throughout the seasons of basketball and football, weekly on-air games enhance college's visibility not for the talents of their professoriate but for the strength of their full backs and power forwards.

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California math scores among the lowest

Jill Tucker:

f not for the two southern states, California students would be at the bottom of the national heap in mathematics, according to the 2009 Nation's Report Card released Wednesday.

The abysmal standing, which reflects in part the state's diverse population, hasn't changed much over the years. California consistently has ranked among the lowest-scoring states in the biennial National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federally mandated assessment of a sampling of fourth- and eighth-graders across the country.

On the plus side, state students have made steady progress over the years, generally keeping pace with their national counterparts - albeit from the back of the pack.

California's fourth-graders outscored their peers in only the two southern states and the District of Columbia, and tied five states. Eighth-graders outscored only Mississippi and the District of Columbia, and tied four states.

Overall, California students performed at or below the national average regardless of income or ethnicity.

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Digital reading technology makes its way into UW-Madison classrooms

Kiera Wiatrak:

Alongside music, television and the news media, books are surging into the new technology era with digital reading devices.

UW-Madison Libraries were quick to get on board with the latest in electronic reading.

"The cost and convenience factor is really significant," says UW-Madison Libraries director Ken Frazier. "There's an enormous amount of content and book titles that are becoming available."

Frazier says the library has been monitoring the wireless technology since it first emerged, but when Amazon introduced its new Kindle DX in May, Frazier knew it was time to take paperless reading into the classrooms.

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AP Interview: Ed Chief Says Grants Are For Reforms


With states jockeying for extra school dollars from the economic stimulus, Education Secretary Arne Duncan reminded them Tuesday the point is to help kids do better.

Cash-strapped states are competing for $5 billion in grants from the economic stimulus for changes the Obama administration wants, such as charter schools and teacher pay based on student performance.

"It's really not about the money _ it's about pushing a strong reform agenda that's going to improve student achievement," Duncan said in an interview with The Associated Press.

States can't even apply for the money yet. Still, nine states have changed their laws or made budget decisions to improve their standing. The latest is California, where a bill was signed Sunday allowing student test scores to be used to evaluate teachers.

Duncan said the moves are encouraging. Still, he said states will have to do more than make promises.

"We're going to invest in those states that aren't just talking the talk but that are walking the walk," he said. "If folks are doing this to chase money, it's for the wrong reasons."

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Going to school can be a deadly journey

Wendell Hutson:

Community activists said the recent murder of a Fenger High School honor student exposes a problem many teens face every day: safe passage to and from school.

"I wonder how many more teens will be murdered while coming home from school," said Leonardo D. Gilbert, a Local School Council member in the Roseland community. "All this kid was trying to do was go home and it cost him his life. If we are going to save our children from violence we must make sure children have a safe way home from school."
According to Chicago police, Derrion Albert, 16, was murdered after school on Sept. 24 while waiting for a bus to go home.

"He was not in a gang but in the wrong place at the wrong time," said Michael Shields, a retired Chicago police officer who now works as director of security for Chicago Public Schools.

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October 15, 2009

Make Parenting Education Part of Public School Reform

Esther Jantzen:

Mayor Richard Riordan, your disappointment in the progress of educational reform in the Los Angeles Unified School District, after all you've done as mayor and secretary of education under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, was palpable in your Oct. 12 Times Op-Ed article, "Course outline for the LAUSD." This lack of progress breaks my heart too.

At the risk of seeming presumptuous, may I make a suggestion to you and to educational reformers everywhere -- a suggestion that is based on experience, common sense and research?

I was an urban public high school English teacher for many years. I tried hard: I took courses in teaching reading and writing; I prepared for classes; I graded research papers on vacations; I won grants for my schools; I won teacher of the year awards; I got advanced degrees; I supported reform.

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D.C.'s Braveheart: Can Michelle Rhee wrest control of the D.C. school system from decades of failure?

June Kronholz:

Michelle Rhee's senior staff meeting has all the ceremony of lunchtime in the teachers' lounge. News is exchanged. Ideas tumble around. Rhee sits at the head of the table but doesn't run the meeting or even take the conversational lead. Staffers talk over her as often as she talks over them. If consensus is the goal, the ball is far upfield.

But then, Rhee wades in with, "Here's what I think," or "What I don't want," or "This is crap," or "I want someone to figure this out," or "I'm gonna tell you what we're gonna do; we can talk about how we're gonna do it." And that is that. Next order of business, please.

Rhee's style--as steely as the sound of her peekaboo high heels on a linoleum-tile hallway--has angered much of Washington, D.C., and baffled the rest since she arrived as schools chancellor in June 2007. But it is also helping her gain control of a school system that has defied management for decades: that hasn't kept records, patched windows, met budgets, delivered books, returned phone calls, followed court orders, checked teachers' credentials, or, for years on end, opened school on schedule in the fall.

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Tesco's Sir Terry Leahy attacks 'woefully low' education standards

James Hall:

Sir Terry Leahy, the chief executive of Tesco, the UK's largest retailer, has slated the UK's education system, saying "woefully low" standards in too many schools leave private sector companies to "pick up the pieces".

On an scathing attack, Sir Terry said that Tesco is the largest private employer in the country and therefore depends on high standards in schools.

"Sadly, despite all the money that has been spent, standards are still woefully low in too many schools. Employers like us are often left to pick up the pieces."

He added that too many educational agencies and bodies hamper the work of teachers in the classroom.

"One thing that government could do is to simplify the structure of our education system. From my perspective there are too many agencies and bodies, often issuing reams of instructions to teachers, who then get distracted from the task at hand: teaching children.
"At Tesco we try to keep paperwork to a minimum; instructions simple; structures flat; and - above all - we trust the people on the ground. I am not saying that retail is like education, merely that my experience tells me that when it comes to the number of people you have in the back office, 'less is more'," he said. Sir Terry was speaking at the Institute of Grocery Distribution's annual conference in London.

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Lieve Maria: A SIS Quiz - Translate!

A kind reader forward this Dutch student curriculum statement: was een initiatief dat begin 2006 opgezet is door alle wiskunde en natuurkunde studieverenigingen van Nederland. Naar aanleiding van deze actie heeft toenmalig minister Maria van der Hoeven op dinsdag 24 januari 2006 haar plannen met betrekking tot aanpassen van de Tweede Fase aangepast

(Bekijk het nieuwste persbericht, de e-mailconversatie met een medewerker van de minister, het tentamen dat de Kamerleden voorgeschoteld kregen, lees de echte brief (pdf) of de korte versie hieronder)

Wij zijn boos. Wij merken dat wij het universitair niveau eigenlijk niet aankunnen. Er treden dagelijks situaties op waarbij we merken dat we te weinig wiskunde op de middelbare school hebben gehad. Daarom moeten wij nu bijspijkercursussen volgen, of zelfs stoppen met onze studie. Wij horen het geklaag van onze docenten, maar wat kunnen wij eraan doen? Wij zouden willen dat we meer wiskunde hadden gehad op de middelbare school.

Nu bent u bezig om het onderwijs te vernieuwen. Goed idee! Maar we hoorden dat u van plan bent om nòg minder wiskunde te geven. Als u dat doorzet, dan kunnen de nieuwe studenten straks helemaal niets meer begrijpen! Het lijkt ons een beter idee om juist méér wiskunde te geven!

We hopen dat u er nog even over nadenkt.

Groetjes, 10.000 studenten (wiskunde, natuurkunde en informatica)

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Essay by Klebold's mother reveals little

Mike Littwin:

The timing could not have been much worse. The 10-year anniversary of Columbine had come and gone. We'd relearned the Columbine lessons we'd nearly forgotten -- that the questions are all too big and the answers all too small.

Even worse, all that we don't know was sadly reinforced by the spate of mass shootings that arrived, as if on some deviant schedule, in the weeks leading up to the anniversary.

And just as we'd put it behind us, Dylan Klebold's mother, Susan, chose to tell her story -- "for the first time ever" -- in O, the Oprah magazine.

So it all begins again.

There has been a school of thought -- or maybe better called a school of hope -- that if the parents of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris would only talk, they could tell us something essential, that they held family secrets that would allow us to better understand what happened that day.

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Open Courses: Free, but Oh, So Costly

Marc Parry:

Steven T. Ziegler leapt to MIT off a mountain.

He was on a hang glider, and he slammed the ground hard on his chin. Recovery from surgery on his broken back left the 39-year-old high-school dropout with time for college courses.

From a recliner, the drugged-up crash victim tried to keep his brain from turning to mush by watching a free introductory-biology course put online by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Hooked, he moved on to lectures about Cormac McCarthy's novel Blood Meridian from an English course at Yale. Then he bought Paradise Lost.

A success for college-made free online courses--except that Mr. Ziegler, who works for a restaurant-equipment company in Pennsylvania, is on the verge of losing his job. And those classes failed to provide what his résumé real ly needs: a college credential.

"Do I put that I got a 343 out of 350 on my GED test at age 16?" he says, throwing up his hands. "I have nothing else to put."

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Ed chief says grants are for reforms

Libby Quaid:

With states jockeying for extra school dollars from the economic stimulus, Education Secretary Arne Duncan reminded them Tuesday the point is to help kids do better.

Cash-strapped states are competing for $5 billion in grants from the economic stimulus for changes the Obama administration wants, such as charter schools and teacher pay based on student performance.

"It's really not about the money -- it's about pushing a strong reform agenda that's going to improve student achievement," Duncan said in an interview with The Associated Press.
States can't even apply for the money yet. Still, nine states have changed their laws or made budget decisions to improve their standing. The latest is California, where a bill was signed Sunday allowing student test scores to be used to evaluate teachers.
Duncan said the moves are encouraging. Still, he said states will have to do more than make promises.

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Five myths about paying good teachers more

Thomas Toch:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan says paying public school teachers based on their performance is his "highest priority," and he plans to dole out hundreds of millions of dollars to states and school systems that embrace the idea. In the District of Columbia, Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee has made such reform a cornerstone of her agenda -- and a backdrop to her recent move to lay off 229 teachers in response to budget cuts. But school reformers have been trying unsuccessfully to introduce performance pay in public education for decades. If today's reformers want to break the deadlock, they're going to have to let go of several myths hanging over the debate:

1. Merit pay has a strong track record.
The logic of performance pay is compelling: Paying teachers based on the college credits they've amassed and the years they've taught -- a practice introduced in the 1920s to counter salary disparities between male and female teachers -- means bad teachers draw the same paychecks as good ones. That, in turn, seemingly makes it tougher to recruit and retain talented teachers, meaning students end up with inferior instructors. No surprise, then, that people have been pushing merit pay for a long time: "Every effort must be made to devise ways to reward teachers according to their ability without opening the school door to unfair personnel practices," a commission urged President Dwight Eisenhower in 1955.

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NAEP Math 2009: What it All Means

Kevin Carey:

The 2009 state NAEP math results were released today, and they're disappointing. Fourth grade scores, which have been a great and under-recognized success story over the last two decades, were flat. Eighth grade scores rose slightly. What to conclude? Most broadly, that most of the claims about national education policy, pro and con, have been overwrought.

Supporters of the No Child Left Behind Act-and I've generally been one of them-hoped that the law would catalyze a major upward move in student achievement. That hasn't happened. Perhaps it's because every state got to choose its own standards; perhaps it's because the law did little to get better teachers in classrooms; perhaps it's because yawning revenue disparities between and within states were largely unaddressed. Whatever was missing, something was missing, probably many things, and the next version of ESEA will need significant changes if we want to achieve more than just more of the same.

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University of Michigan reports record enrollment, but minorities decline

Marisa Schultz:

University of Michigan had a record-breaking year for freshman applications and overall enrollment, which topped 41,674 students for this fall, the university announced today.

Though the number of applications and admissions offers for underrepresented minority students topped last year, the freshman enrollment of African-American, Hispanic and Native-American students actually declined by 11.4 percent, or 69 students, to 535. Now underrepresented minorities -- the population the university has been trying to cultivate with ramped up outreach efforts since voters passed Proposal 2 in 2006 than bans consideration of race in admissions -- comprise 9.1 percent of the freshman class (excluding international students) compared to 10.4 percent last year.
"We work hard every day to build the best possible freshman class each year, and this year is no exception," said Ted Spencer, U-M associate vice provost and executive director of undergraduate admissions. "Our incoming class is exceptional in all ways, although we have experienced a notable loss in some key elements of diversity.

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(Indiana) Education revisions must be well planned

David Dew:

All the people participating already knew that dropping out is a bad idea. He needed to invite those prison inmates, those who are unemployed, and those in poverty for the input about what would have been most helpful to have met their needs when they were in school. That's where the answers are.

My own middle school once held annual forums with our students who had gone on to high school, and we purposely wanted to talk, not with just the A-students, but with the C students and the D-minus students. We asked them what we as a middle school could have done better in hopes of finding insights for our continual improvement.

A teacher or counselor can make his/her best "argument" to a young person that his/her life will be more successful if he/she stays in school, but that young person may drop out anyway. We need that person's input by hindsight as to what we all could have done better in the face of what the rest of us see as common sense but, nevertheless, led to a decision for which that dropout was still on his/her own responsibility.

Bennett further cites that Indiana is "raising the bar for every student" through academic standards. While we must always analyze what we expect our students to learn and continuously try to measure their success, raising standards for the sake of raising standards will not save students who are failing in school. That would be akin to requiring students to pass a test on algebra who haven't learned to multiply and divide or requiring students with limited English or learning disabilities to test at the same standards at a chonological age while saying we need, as Bennett said, "targeted, individualized improvement plans for these students."

There seems to be a contradiction here. The state has an ISTEP test that it keeps tweaking and changing, giving little comparison to previous results although those comparisons are made anyway and schools are graded in an apples-and-oranges world. Give the test some time.

Indiana Superintendent's website

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Thompson and Bloomberg spar over their education records in first mayoral debate

Anna Phillips:

Nothing the candidates said during tonight's mayoral debate was more surprising than the Rev. Billy Talen's spirited heckling, but a few choice comments were made about the city's schools and mayoral control.

Right out of the gate, Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched into a list of comparisons between the Department of Education during the last eight years and the Board of Education during the time that Comptroller Bill Thompson was president. He recited graduation statistics, said that schools are safer today than they were in the 1990s, and boasted about test scores increases.

Thompson said it was ironic that Bloomberg was holding him accountable for the city's schools when the mayor has repeatedly said that no one had control over the Board of Education.

"He pointed out, under the old Board of Education, no one was in charge. The mayor, the board, the chancellor, so many people were in charge, no one was in charge, so it's ironic that he would try and distort facts and information, try and change the past, to say that I was the person who was in charge of the Board of Education. Nothing could be further from the truth."

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Loyola to start school of education

Childs Walker:

Loyola University is launching a new school of education that will focus on solving problems in urban schools and on forging practical relationships between the university and Baltimore's public school system.

The school, which Loyola will dedicate at a ceremony this evening, will house a research center dedicated to innovation in urban education. University officials hope the center will attract top-notch faculty and students with an interest in making practical improvements to Baltimore schools, said Peter Murrell, dean of the school of education.

"It really fits with the Jesuit philosophy that to do good work in the world, you have to get out there and roll up your sleeves," Murrell said.

Murrell has focused his research on urban education and came to Loyola last year after directing a similar research center at Northeastern University in Boston.

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October 14, 2009

45% of Wisconsin Fourth Graders and 39% of Wisconsin Eighth Graders Proficient on the Latest "Nation's Report Card"

Amy Hetzner:

Fourth- and eighth-graders in Wisconsin have improved their scores on a national mathematics test since the early 1990s, but the gap between the performance of the state's white and black students has not gotten any better, according to test results released Wednesday.

The state's math results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed little change from the last time scores for those age groups were released two years ago. Fourth-graders in Wisconsin posted the same average score - 244 - that they had two years ago, although the percentage of students deemed proficient or higher in math slid to 45% from 47%. The average score for eighth-graders rose slightly to 288 on a 500-point scale, with the proficiency rate rising as well, to 39%.

"Wisconsin has made slow but steady gains in mathematics achievement for both overall achievement and for most subgroups of students," State Superintendent Tony Evers said in a news release about the results. "However, achievement gaps, in particular for African-American students in Wisconsin, are too large. We must do more."

The NAEP - also called the nation's report card - is given to samples of students to monitor progress on a statewide basis. In Wisconsin, questions from the math test were given to 3,830 fourth-graders and 3,474 eighth-graders from January to March this year. The test does not attempt to gauge performance by individual school districts.

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Superintendent Governance: Michelle Rhee "Has no Choice but to Play Tough"

Richard Whitmire:

The forces lined up against D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee -- angry teachers, grumpy D.C. Council members, the nation's top teachers' union leader quarterbacking the opposition -- are essentially asking one question: Why can't you behave more like that nice Arne Duncan?

Indeed, with his aw-shucks humility and his anecdotes about playing b-ball with the president, Duncan has undeniable charm. That charm was honed in Chicago, where he never played in-your-face politics and never publicly suggested there was widespread incompetence among the teaching force, qualities that contributed to President Obama's tapping him to be U.S. secretary of education.

By contrast, Rhee appeared on the cover of Time wielding a broom to symbolically sweep incompetence out of her public schools. Yikes.

But there's a reason Rhee plays hardball: She has no choice.

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School Choice Even Obama Supports

Rishawn Biddle:

As a presidential aspirant last year, Barack Obama gained the support of the National Education Association -- and the scorn of school choice activists -- when he declared his skepticism of the school choice and accountability measures in the No Child Left Behind Act. Then in the early months of this year, the newly-elected president further pleased teachers unions when he tacitly allowed congressional Democrats to shutter the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Plan, the school voucher program that helps 1,716 Washington students attend private schools -- even though he avoided sending his own children to D.C.'s abysmal public schools.

Declared Cato Institute Director Andrew Coulson this past May in the Washington Post: "[Obama] has sacrificed a program he knows to be efficient and successful in order to appease the public school employee unions."

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Black Male Dropouts Lead Nation in Incarceration


On any given day, nearly 23 percent of all young Black men ages 16 to 24 who have dropped out of high school are in jail, prison, or a juvenile justice institution in America, according to a disturbing new national report released today on the dire economic and social consequences of not graduating from high school.

Dropouts become incarcerated at a shocking rate: 23 of every 100 young Black male dropouts were in jail on any given day in 2006-07 compared to only 6 to 7 of every 100 Asian, Hispanic or White dropouts. While young Black men are disproportionately affected, the report found that this crisis cuts across racial and ethnic lines. Male dropouts of all races were 47 times more likely to be incarcerated than their peers of a similar age who had graduated from a four-year college or university.

"For too long, and in too many ways, young people across the country have been let down by the education system and by the adults responsible for their care and development. Now is the time to increase the investments we make in young people, enhance the content, opportunities and supports we provide, and empower them to make better choices about both their individual future and the future of our nation. This report is another important step towards those ends," said Marc Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League.

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Jessie Jackson: A State of Emergency in Obama Homeland

Bob Ellis:

n Tuesday morning, Rev. Jackson hopped onboard a bus and took students to the school at 11200 S. Wallace St. He took the ride to draw more attention to school safety in the wake of the beating death of Fenger student Derrion Albert, 16, last month.

Buses left shortly after 7 a.m. Beforehand, Jackson held a news conference on South Ellis Avenue just outside the Altgeld Gardens public housing development.

Jackson blamed the closure of Carver High School, at 13100 S. Doty Ave. close to Altgeld Gardens, for the violence that has erupted at Fenger.

The fight that led to Albert's death was between Fenger students who lived in the Ville neighborhood around the school, and students form Altgeld Gardens. Critics have complained that these fights began when Carver closed and reopened as a military academy.

"This is a state of emergency given patterns of violence and patterns of killing," Jackson said in a news conference.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Report: Wisconsin taxes claim 12 percent of income

Scott Bauer:

Wisconsin taxes as a percentage of personal income are 12th highest nationwide and greater than any of its neighbors, according to a new report.

The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance report was based on U.S. Census Bureau data from 2007, the most recent year available.

While the tax burden has been steady in recent years, the president of the independent Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance said Monday he expects it to get worse given recent tax increases and slowed growth in personal income.

During the earlier part of the decade, personal income in Wisconsin grew faster than the national average while taxes increased less, said Todd Berry, president of the alliance.

However, Wisconsin faced a record state budget shortfall this year as tax revenue took a dive during the recession. That resulted in the Legislature approving about $3 billion in tax increases to be collected by mid-2011. That doesn't count local property taxes, which also are expected to increase by hundreds of millions of dollars.

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Detroit Public Schools to Spend $40,000,000 on Consultants

Rebecca Kelley:

On Friday, Detroit Public School officials said Robert Bobb, 61, the DPS emergency financial manager plans to spend $40 million for consulting fees.

The fees will be spent in an ongoing effort to conduct internal financial audits to root out waste and corruption in Detroit Public Schools.

In March, Gov. Jennifer Granholm appointed Bobb to clean up the district's deficit estimated to be at $259 million.

However union leaders say they unhappy about the money that is going to spent on advisers since there has been approximately 2,500 layoffs since summer.

Bobb said finding costs savings is critical to improving the district's finances and said he doesn't want to lose one cent that should be given to classrooms.

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October 13, 2009

Palo Alto Schools Gifted & Talented Proposed Standards

Palo Alto Unified School District Gifted & Talented Program [219K PDF]:

Palo Alto Unified school district's Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) provides educational opportunities that recognize the performance capabilities of gifted students as well as addresses the unique needs and differences associated with having these abilities. The goals of Gifted and Talented Education can be defined as follows:
  • To provide students with opportunities for learning that maximize each students' abilities.
  • To assist and encourage students to acquire skills and understanding at advanced academic and creative levels.
  • To aid students in expanding their abilities to communicate and apply their ideas effectively.
  • To engender an enthusiasm for learning.
Program Model
In elementary and middle school, the program model for GATE is differentiation within the mainstream classroom. In 2001, new legislation called for a change in GATE education. Rather than pull children from class for a different curriculum, all differentiation takes place within the context of standards-based instruction in the regular classroom. Teachers enrich and extend the core curriculum for gifted students by differentiating instruction, content, and process. Through differentiated assignments developed to meet their academic and intellectual needs, GATE students are able to explore and expand to their maximum potential. These differentiated curricular opportunities are available to all students, not just those who are formally identified. In middle school, students also have access to the Renzulli Learning System to allow them to individualize their education based on their needs, interests and creative abilities and to explore the curriculum in greater depth and complexity. Advanced math courses are available for the first time in 7th grade and continue through 12th grade. In high school, gifted students are able to take advanced, honors, and advanced placement courses in a wide variety of subjects.
Palo Alto School District Strategic Plan [780K PDF]

Madison School District's Gifted & Talented Plan.

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Harvard's Hollow Core

"The philosophy behind the core is that educated people are not those who have read many books and have learned many facts but rather those who could analyze facts if they should ever happen to encounter any, and who could 'approach' books if it were ever necessary to do so."
Caleb Nelson '88 (Mathematics) writing in The Atlantic Monthly, September 1990:
Even before Harvard's Core Curriculum made its debut, in 1979, Saturday Review hailed it as "a quiet revolution." The magazine was wrong on both counts: not only was the core unrevolutionary but it rapidly became one of the loudest curricula in America. Time, Newsweek, and other popular periodicals celebrated the new program, which required undergraduates to take special courses designed to reveal the methods--not the content--of the various academic disciplines. "Not since...1945," The Washington Post said, "had the academic world dared to devise a new formula for developing 'the educated man.'" The reform was front-page news for The New York Times, and even network television covered it. Media enthusiasm continues today, with Edward Fiske, the former education editor of The New York Times advising readers of The Fiske Guide to Colleges: "Back in the mid-1970s Harvard helped launch the current curriculum reform movement, and the core curriculum that emerged ranks as perhaps the most exciting collection of academic offerings in all of American higher education."

The core did indeed start a movement. A 1981 report issued by The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching spoke of "the Harvard lead" and recommended a general-education program that put more emphasis on "the shared relationships common to all people" than on any particular facts. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill soon adopted the Harvard approach, and other schools have instituted programs that stress skills over facts. The structures of these programs vary, but the Harvard core's singular influence is suggested by Ernest Boyer's 1987 book College: The Undergraduate Experience in America. Boyer's survey of academic deans at colleges and universities nationwide found that the Harvard core was the most frequently mentioned example of a successful program of general education.

For their part, Harvard officials seem delighted with the program. A. Michael Spence, who just finished a six-year term as dean of the faculty of arts and sciences, has labeled it "a smash hit"; President Derek Bok has heralded its "enormous success." Indeed, Bok, who will step down next year after two decades at the helm, said in 1983, when the faculty approved the continuation of the core, that the development of the program had given him more satisfaction than any other project undertaken during his presidency. In 1985 the members of Harvard's chief governing board showed that they had no complaints either when the elected the core's architect, Henry Rosovsky, to their number. (Rosovsky, who preceded Spence as dean of the faculty, has now been appointed acting dean while Harvard searches for Spence's permanent replacement.) The program recently marked its tenth anniversary, and no fundamental changes are on the horizon.

Forty-five years ago Harvard had a clear idea of its mission. In 1945 it published a 267-page book laying out goals for educators, with the hope of giving American colleges and secondary schools a "unifying purpose and idea." The thrust of this volume, titled General Education in a Free Society but nicknamed "the Redbook," was that educational institutions should strive to create responsible democratic citizens, well versed in the heritage of the West and endowed with "the common knowledge and the common values on which a free society depends." As James Bryant Conant, then the president of Harvard, once summed up his goal, "Our purpose is to cultivate in the largest possible number of our future citizens an appreciation of both the responsibilities and the benefits which come to them because they are Americans and are free."

To accomplish this goal at Harvard, the Redbook recommended that every undergraduate be required to take two full-year survey courses, tentatively called "Great Texts of Literature" and "Western Thought and Institutions," and a full-year course on the principles of either the physical or the biological sciences. The Harvard faculty balked at this specific program, but it endorsed the Redbook's essence. In each of three areas--the humanities, the social sciences, and the natural sciences--it established a short list of approved courses. The general education program was first required in the fall of 1949 and was fully phased in two years later, when all entering students were required to do two semesters of approved coursework in each area.

At the outset the courses strongly reflected Harvard's commitment to instructing students in democratic culture. In 1949-1950 students could choose among "Humanism in the West," "Epic and Novel," "Individual and Social Values," and "Doubt, Inquiry, and Affirmation in Western Literature" to fulfill their basic humanities requirement. The options in the social sciences were "Western Thought and Institutions," "The Growth of Modern Western Society," and "Introduction to the Development of Western Civilization." In the natural sciences students could take "Principles of Physical Science," "Principles of Biological Science," or "The Growth of the Experimental Sciences."

But philosophical and educational fashion moved away from the vision of President Conant and the Redbook, and Harvard let its curriculum follow the new trends. Where once the university had spoken strongly of the need to ground students in the Western tradition, in the mid-1960s the general-education program began to lose its unifying theme. Ever more courses were allowed to meet the basic requirements, until by 1969 the program included more than a hundred offerings. The character of most of these courses, moreover, was far different from that of the original group. The humanities featured titles like "The Scandinavian Cinema," "Creative Arts and Computing Machines," and "Narration in the Film: Theory and Practice." The social-sciences area came to include such classes as "Interplanetary and Intercontinental Cultural Diffusion and Contact," "Drug Use and Adolescent Development," and "The American Indian in the Contemporary United States." The natural-sciences area no longer included "Principles of Biological Science," but it did contain such "relevant" courses as "Biology and Social Issues," "Environmental Effects of Power Generation," and "Introduction to Environmental Health."

The general-education program, which had once tried to provide a Harvard education with an overarching purpose, now tried merely to broaden students by exposing them to courses that did not fit into traditional departments. Faithful to the new theories, Harvard declined to broaden its students in any particular direction; how they chose to fill their minds was their own business, and nobody could say that a course called "The Preindustrial City: Its Physical Form and Structural Characteristics" was any less worthwhile than a course on great literature. Harvard's general-education requirements had become value-free.

The general atmosphere at Harvard was reflected in the rise of independent study. As the associate dean for academic planning Phyllis Keller writes in her 1982 book Getting at the Core: Curricular Reform at Harvard, "By 1967, through student initiative, access to Independent Study had become so flexible that any faculty member could arrange for any student to do virtually anything under the sun for academic credit." Richard Norton Smith, the author of The Harvard Century: The Making of a University to a Nation (1986), reports that some students received academic credit for "evaluating the nutritional content of their own diets" and that others were similarly rewarded for scuba diving. The dilution of standards was highlighted in 1979, when Sports Illustrated reported that twenty students were studying the Harvard football team's offense under the tutelage of the quarterback.

But educational fashion changed again, the state of Harvard's undergraduate curriculum began to provoke widespread dissatisfaction, and the administration sought a suitable reform. In 1974 Henry Rosovsky, then the dean of the faculty, called for a review of the curriculum as a prelude to change.

Yet although Harvard officials wanted to reform the curriculum, they did not want to launch divisive arguments within the faculty about which subjects were most important. The Harvard administration had learned long before that to commit itself to a particular educational vision was to draw fire. In 1963, for instance, a group of Harvard professors tried to modify the general-education program, only to be met by what Phyllis Keller calls "the avalanche of faculty criticism that buried every specific proposal to change the structure of requirements." The faculty found itself unable to agree on any specific content for the general-education program, and simply threw up its hands; it encouraged the introduction of all kinds of different general-education courses by directing the program to become "quite sensitive to innovation and change."

With this experience to reflect upon, in the seventies Harvard devised a novel scheme to avoid discord while still reforming its curriculum. If "every specific proposal" for reform raised a fire storm, the college would simply avoid specifics. Rather than emphasize knowledge, the new core curriculum would stress students' critical faculties. The report of the task force that proposed the new requirements explained:

"Everything depends on what questions the faculty tries to answer. If it is asked what bodies of knowledge are more or less important, it almost surely will come to no conclusion. There are simply too many facts, too many theories, too many subjects, too many specializations to permit arranging all knowledge into an acceptable hierarchy. But if the faculty is asked instead what intellectual skills, what distinctive ways of thinking, are identifiable and important, it is not clear that either the 'knowledge explosion' or the size of the faculty has made that question unanswerable."

The intellectual style that elevates subjective process over objective fact meshed perfectly with the administration's reluctance to launch an intrinsically controversial discussion of what subjects should be at the core of a Harvard education. As Anthony Oettinger, a professor of applied mathematics, said about the resulting proposal, "This motion...cannot fail to pass; it has become totally content-free."

f the administration promoted the new core curriculum from a desire to preserve consensus, the faculty had its own reasons for going along. While the curriculum was still being debated, Yale University offered Dean Rosovsky its presidency; Rosovsky declined the invitation on the grounds that he wanted to see the core through. This decision, according to Smith's Harvard Century, had far reaching consequences.

Sociologist George Goethals, who calls the final curriculum "a farce," speaks for many of his colleagues: "It got through the faculty...because everybody loves Henry." This view was seconded by another professor, who credited the dean's refusal to leave Cambridge as a turning point in the faculty's consideration of the reform. "We felt we owed him something," he explained.

Yet it is doubtful that the faculty needed this extra spur to make it accept the core curriculum. As long as debate remained on the level of educational theory rather than course content, most professors seemed bored but acquiescent. After all, as Professor David Riesman said at the time, "a minority of the faculty is interested in educational issues"; thus Professor James Ackerman sensed that the core's passage might be due "more to indifference than enthusiasm." Whatever the motivation, in 1978 the faculty approved the new program in a three-to-one landslide.

The core, which still exists today, is a set of courses divided into ten categories--Social Analysis, Moral Reasoning, Historical Study A & B, Foreign Cultures, and Literature and Arts A, B, & C. Students are required to take at least one course from each of eight of these ten areas; they are exempt from the two areas that most closely resemble their major.

The areas themselves are odd assemblages of specialized classes watered down for the nonspecialist. The following list, drawn from the 1989-1990 course catalogue, gives a sampling of the core:

Foreign Cultures--"Building the Shogun's Realm: The Unification of Japan (1560-1650)"

Historical Study A--"The 'Eastern Question' to the 'Middle East Problem' (1774-1984)"

Historical Study B--"Power and Society in Medieval Europe: The Crisis of the 12th Century"

Literature and Arts A--"Oral Literature: An Introduction to Folklore and Mythology"

Literature and Arts B--"The Art of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent: Art,

Architecture, and Ceremonial at the Ottoman Court"

Literature and Arts C--"The Imagery of the Modern Metropolis: Pictorial and Literary Representations of New York and Berlin from 1880 to 1940"

Moral Reasoning--"Confucian Humanism and Moral Community"

Science A--"States of Matter: Order, Disorder, and Broken Symmetries"

Science B--"Plants and Biological Principles in Human Affairs"

Social Analysis--"Culture, Illness, and Healing: A Cross-Cultural Comparison of Medicine in Society"

The core's esoteric course titles strongly resemble those prevalent during the waning days of the general-education program. Indeed, soon after the core made its debut, one junior faculty member called it "old garbage in new pails."

The Harvard administration, though, rejects the notion that the core is merely a strange bunch of distribution requirements. In the words of the course catalogue,

"The Core differs from other programs of general education. It does not define intellectual breadth as the mastery of a set of Great Books, or the digestion of a specific quantum of information, or the surveying of current knowledge in certain fields. Rather, the Core seeks to introduce students to the major approaches to knowledge in areas that the faculty considers indispensable to undergraduate education. It aims to show what kinds of knowledge and what forms of inquiry exist in these areas, how different means of analysis are acquired, how they are used, and what their value is."

The philosophy behind the core is that educated people are not those who have read many books and have learned many facts but rather those who could analyze facts if they should ever happen to encounter any, and who could 'approach' books if it were ever necessary to do so. Facts may change or become irrelevant, but analytic faculties will always be useful. "We live in a revolutionary era," Dean Rosovsky once explained to the undergraduate daily, The Harvard Crimson, "where theories and facts can be crammed in, but ten years later, you'll forget them." As Rosovsky later observed, "you have to prepare the mind to deal with change without emphasis on certain facts.

One suspects, however, that Harvard's philosophical commitment to emphasizing analysis over content is weak, because the core is not above stressing content when it seems politically expedient to do so. While all students can meet their core requirements without taking a single course that focuses on Western culture, most are required to study a non-Western culture. Indeed, the rhetoric surrounding the core's Foreign Cultures requirement differs fundamentally from that surrounding all the other core areas; it alone emphasizes matter over method. In the words of the course catalogue, "The Core requirement in Foreign Cultures is designed to expand the range of cultural experience and to provide fresh perspectives on one's own cultural assumptions and traditions."

Foreign Cultures courses do not pretend to teach students to think like cultural anthropologists, well versed in the analytic tools that would let them critically assess other cultures. There is reason to believe, in fact, that the courses actively exclude critical approaches. In the October, 1987, issue of The Harvard Salient, a campus political monthly that I was then editing, a student named Arthur Long wrote about his experience in Foreign Cultures 12, "Sources of Indian Civilization":

"The class strongly discouraged us from critically assessing Indian society, because--in the words of other students--doing so invariably involves looking at matters with 'our own Western preconceptions.' Hence when discussing the caste system, we overlooked how untouchability has institutionalized slavery; instead we asserted that, at least before British imperialists began to impose Western values on India, caste made for a more compassionate universe than we know in America."

The oddities of the Foreign Cultures requirement are highlighted by the absence of any corresponding Western-culture requirement. Although a Western-culture requirement was initially proposed by the task force that developed the core curriculum, it was later scrapped in the face of faculty opposition. Indeed, in the ten years after 1978--when the professor who had taught the basic Redbook course "Western Thought and Institutions" retired--no survey of Western civilization was even offered.

For a school averse to controversial educational stands, this peculiar state of affairs was predictable. Since the sixties, Western-civilization requirements have been loudly denounced as narrow-minded at best and racist at worst. Such requirements, the argument goes, slight non-Western peoples and mythologizes a West that has in fact committed its share of barbarisms. Many universities have accordingly de-emphasized the West. Only relatively recently has the spotlight shifted to the critics--as politically diverse as William Bennett and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.--who observe that whatever its faults the West is the font of freedom, and that since we must ground ourselves in one culture before we can fully appreciate others, it is both natural and necessary for Western schools to teach Western heritage.

Phyllis Keller, whose book on the core's creation staunchly defends the program's underlying philosophy, neglects ethnocentrism when she catalogues the arguments that were used to justify the omission of the Western-culture requirement. But the arguments that she does list are all unpersuasive.

First, Keller reports, "One problem with the survey of Western civilization was that it was often boring for both faculty and students." As a result, "it seemed highly improbable that faculty members would undertake responsibility for such a course with any degree of continuing enthusiasm." This claim says little for Harvard's much-vaunted faculty. If every Harvard professor would be bored by introducing students to the staples of Western literature and philosophy, then Harvard has no business dealing with undergraduates; it should confine itself to specialized graduate study. Fortunately, at least some professors do seem to be interested in teaching a Western-culture survey course. "Western Societies, Politics and Cultures" was introduced last year as a non-core elective in the history department, under the supervision of one or two professors each semester and with guest lectures by a number of other faculty members.

A related argument on Keller's list is that a Western-culture requirement was largely unnecessary: "Many students have studied 'the facts' of history in high school; while such exposure was by no means universal, it was surely widespread." Many students have also read novels in high school, yet literature remains a division of the core. Presumably college courses can treat more topics in more-sophisticated ways than can high school courses. Few ninth-graders, after all, can fully grasp Kant. If Harvard believes that it cannot cover subjects any better than a typical high school, it should shut down.

Keller's list continues:

"The utility of a Western civilization requirement would also depend entirely on strict sequencing: this course would have to be taken before all the other courses for which it was supposed to provide background. That was likely to interfere with course sequences needed for certain concentrations and with other basic college requirements."

Since all freshman are required to take an expository writing class, it is hard to believe that they could not also be required to take a Western-culture class. Columbia University, for example, manages to impose such a requirement very successfully. But, in any event, familiarity with the great works and great events of Western culture is not simply "background" for one's classes in pictorial representations of Berlin. It is important in its own right.

In Keller's opinion, "the most compelling argument" advanced against a Western-culture component of the core was that such a requirement would be inconsistent with the philosophy behind the core, with its stress on analytic methods. Under the core's rationale, "the facts of history--without derogating their importance--appear to be infinitely forgettable." But there is no reason to assume that students can develop their critical faculties only when they are studying esoteric books and events and not well-known ones. Keller's argument, moreover, is vitiated by the fact that Foreign Cultures courses have no pretensions to teaching analytic methods.

It is difficult to imagine that the arguments that Keller lists could, by themselves, have persuaded the faculty to reject a Western-culture requirement. One must suspect that the faculty was also worried that such a requirement would be, or would seem, ethnocentric--a concern that had surfaced repeatedly during the faculty's debates on the core. This suspicion is supported by the fact that when the tides shifted and vocal advocates of teaching Western culture gained prominence in the mid-1980s, the history department created its new "Western Societies, Politics, and Cultures"--the result, a professor told the Crimson, of the increased demand for such a survey course. Even so, Harvard still seems wary of charges of ethnocentrism. According to the Crimson, "History professors said...that the department intentionally refrained from naming the new class 'Western Civilization,' fearing such a title would offend some people."

If the core arose more from the administration's desire to avoid conflict than from any commitment to the ostensible philosophy behind the program, one should not be surprised that the core has failed to live up to the administration's claims. In 1987 the Salient conducted a random telephone survey of 200 undergraduates. More than 80 percent of the students said that most core courses do not "introduce students to approaches to knowledge" but simply "teach students about a particular subject." More than three quarters of the respondents rejected the course catalogue's claim that "courses within each area or subdivision of the [core] are equivalent in the sense that, while their subject matter may vary, their emphasis on a particular way of thinking is the same." The same number of respondents, furthermore, said that departmental courses are at least as good as core courses at introducing students to "approaches to knowledge," and 40 percent believed that departmental courses are better at this task.

Oddly, the college implicitly grants that departmental courses teach students just as much about analytical methods as core courses, and hence that there is no true justification for the core scheme. Since students are not required to take courses in the two core areas that most closely resemble their majors, Harvard must admit either that it lets students graduate without teaching them how to approach their chosen fields or that departmental courses are just as successful as core courses in helping students develop intellectual skills.

The administrations claims about the special nature of core courses can be assessed accurately on the basis of a single episode. In 1988, when a course on the history of jazz moved from the music department to the core, Harvard refused to grant core credit to the students who had taken the course before its move, on the grounds that it had been changed to become suitable for the core. But the administration also refused to let them take the course again, on the grounds that the new core course was not substantially different from its departmental predecessor. When the students angrily objected, Harvard quelled the incipient controversy by changing its mind and granting them core credit.

Professors have seemed equally confused ever since the core system was adopted. In 1980 the Crimson reported that "most professors, section leaders and students interviewed this week were unable to say what made their [Literature and Arts] Core courses different from any other courses."

The problem goes beyond the particular courses that are now in the core: no set of introductory courses could achieve the core's ostensible goals. One cannot think like a physicist, for example, without actually knowing a great deal of physics. To be sure, one can understand the basic steps in the scientific process--forming hypotheses, testing them, revising them--without knowing any scientific facts. But precisely for that reason, such an understanding is so superficial that it is well within the reach of most schoolchildren. To have a deeper awareness of how scientists approach problems, one must be familiar with the complex interplay of the scientific principles that underlie both the problems and their solutions. In short, on must have studied much science before one can have a useful idea of how scientists operate.

Even in the humanities the core's failure to meet its stated goals was inevitable. The core's history courses, for instance, can have little to do with historical methods. Not only must one leave analyses of historical technique to specialists but--since entering students are presumed to be ignorant of scholarly methods--the course cannot very well demand any original research. Of necessity, core history courses focus exclusively on their respective subjects.

Phyllis Keller anticipates this argument in her book , and asserts that the subjects themselves are carefully chosen to impart certain lessons about the utility and complexity of history as a discipline. Historical Study A subjects are selected to show students "how historical study helps to make sense of the great issues of our time"; according to the core planners Keller quotes, while classes in the B group reveal "the confusion of circumstance, purpose, and accident that inevitably shapes people's lives," and thereby teach students that "there are very few heroes and very few villains, and that only false history makes easy judgments possible." These lessons are not necessarily consistent; while the A group points to the patterns in history, the B group seems to deny their existence. But in any event, even students who successfully grasp the lessons acquire no new intellectual techniques. Like students in every other discipline, they can develop the relevant analytic faculties only slowly, through a coherent and comprehensive study of the subject's substance.

If the core's goals were realistic, they would still have little to recommend them. Why, for instance, are lessons about the nature of history as a discipline the most important things for students to learn in their required history course? Students certainly should recognize that history is the testing ground of public policy, and that its study can reveal much about the psychology of people and nations; as Santayana's famous aphorism goes, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. But this lesson about history is useless unless one also learns the actual lessons of history--an accomplishment that requires careful attention to historical facts themselves. When Harvard suggests that its mission is finished once students learn that historical study can be useful, the college abdicates its educational responsibility at a crucial point: it lets students decide for themselves whether to study the actual substance of history, beyond the incidental amount that they find in their core courses. Regardless of their decision, Harvard willingly certifies their educational attainments by awarding them diplomas.

Indeed, the entire core is designed to let Harvard gracefully excuse itself from the controversial duty of making such decisions for students. In Literature and Arts A, for instance, Harvard does not care whether students take a class about Shakespeare or one titled "Beast Literature." The area includes such special-interest courses as "African American Women Writers," "Chivalric Romances of the Middle Ages," and "Epic Fiction International"--for Harvard is unwilling to assert that the novels of Salmon Rushdie are any less important than Shakespeare's plays or the Bible. In the words of the leader of the initial core task force, the idea "was not to make choices for students, but rather to equip them with the ability to make the choices for themselves."

Before the core can ever equip students to make choices, however, students must make an uninformed choice about which core class to take. Those who choose Rushdie learn nothing of Shakespeare; if they opt to take a subsequent course on Shakespeare's works, it is only because they have made another uninformed decision. The core is therefore ill designed even to guide students in structuring their own educations.

The core not only explicitly denies the value of giving students any particular core of knowledge but also skews the range of knowledge that students might be able to pick up. It contains no course on mathematics, a discipline better suited than most to teaching methods of analysis. The core offers no introductory foreign-language course. Its coverage of sciences--especially the more quantitative physical sciences--is widely considered laughable; as Frank Westheimer, a professor of chemistry, asserted when the core was proposed, the program represents science as having "a minor, perhaps only a trivial, place in the intellectual heritage of mankind." The core lacks a general survey of the history of even one Western nation, although it does contain survey courses on China, India, and Japan. It offers students no broad look at literature or art, at music or philosophy.

Ezekiel Emanuel, who five years ago served as the head section leader for the largest core Moral Reasoning course while he attended Harvard Medical School, wrote in a 1983 editorial in the Crimson, "Most Harvard students taking Core courses are no more likely to have read and seriously understood the philosophical, political, or cultural foundations of their own United States than if they selected 32 random courses [the number of courses required for an undergraduate degree] from the catalogue."

In 1978 Henry Rosovsky justified the core to People magazine in this way: "What's at stake is the restoration of common discourse in which all students can share." But that is exactly what Harvard has lost. Common discourse would require students to be familiar with some of the same authors, to know some of the same history, and to have learned some of the same philosophies--in short, to have gone through a program such as the one outlined by the Redbook. It would therefore require Harvard to take the controversial step of defining a canon. The administration is unwilling to do so.

As a result, students can graduate from Harvard without ever having studied the books that are commonly considered great or the events that are commonly considered most important. In the 1989-1990 catalogue, for instance, no core Literature and Arts course lists any of the great nineteenth-century British novelists among the authors studied, nor does any list such writers as Virgil, Milton, and Dostoevsky. In the core's history areas even students who did the impossible and took every single course would not focus on any Western history before the Middle Ages, nor would they study the history of the Enlightenment, the Renaissance, the American Civil War, or a host of other topics that one might expect a core to cover. To be sure, students can learn about these things on their own or in the individual departments, and they can leave Harvard with a very good education. But the whole point of having a core curriculum is to make the process less chancy.

Harvard's stature and the media's lavish praise have made the core one of the most influential curricula in American, but it is hollow. It owes its existence to Harvard's willingness to sacrifice content in order to preserve consensus. A decade of experience has exposed the poverty of this approach.

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

Lesson for teachers union: It takes two to cooperate

Boston Globe Editorial:

AS EDUCATION reform moves forward, Boston Teachers Union president Richard Stutman says he wants an inclusive process. Testifying at a recent State House hearing, Stutman told the Legislature's Joint Committee on Education that "the solution to better school lies in working with us, not in working against us.'' But no collaborative spirit is evident in the union's resistance to bringing the acclaimed Teach for America program to Boston or creating more pilot schools.

Teach for America trains new college graduates who weren't education majors to work as teachers in urban and rural districts, generally in hard-to-fill areas such as math, science, and special education. The school system opened itself up to union criticism by signing an agreement with Teach for America that could be construed to give its teachers more job security than union teachers, offering Teach for America recruits two years of employment while regular recruits can be laid off after one. The School Committee has pledged to rectify the discrepancy.

In theory, a quick settlement could be a model for the kind of cooperation Stutman says he wants. But the union has a more basic, and less justifiable, objection: It maintains that laid-off teachers should be retrained for empty positions - even if, in practice, the laid-off teachers aren't cut out for the vacancies.

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California learns to trim the cost of education

Matthew Garrahan:

W hen Mark Yudof addressed the Uni versity of Califor nia's board of regents recently, what would have normally been a quiet gathering turned into a circus.

Fourteen people were arrested after protesting against cuts in the funding of the UC network, which includes UCLA, Berkeley and San Diego and business schools such as Haas , the Anderson School of Management and the Rady School of Management.

As California grapples with a budget crisis that has affected all public services, the UC system has been asked to absorb a funding shortfall of more than $800m. Student protests on a scale unseen since the anti-war demonstrations of the 1960s have been held at Berkeley, while other protests have been held at UCLA and UC Irvine.

Mr Yudof, the president of the UC system, told the regents that steep tuition fee rises were un-avoidable. "What we cannot do is surrender to the greatest enemy of the University of California, which is mediocrity. We have to stabilise our situation and then we can build [again]."

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For now, the test everyone hates (WKCE) is sticking around

Alan Borsuk:

All across Wisconsin, schools received boxes and boxes of stuff they didn't want last week.

Unfortunately, they were about the most important deliveries they'll get this year: Hundreds of thousands of test booklets for the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam, the state's annual standardized test.

The testing window, one of the biggest events in every school year, is about to open. More than 400,000 students in third through eighth grade, as well as in 10th grade, will be tested in either two or five subjects in coming weeks, with a handful of schools starting this week and the large majority doing the testing in November.

It's the test everyone loves to hate. It takes up large amounts of time and disrupts schedules for days on end. There are widespread complaints about what is actually tested. The test yields almost nothing that is useful to teachers in shaping the way they educate students. It's often a public relations problem and sometimes a nightmare if a school's scores are low or sometimes even just not better than the prior year.

Furthermore, the test is dying a slow death, and everyone knows it.

Just to be contrary, let's say something good about the WKCE. For all its flaws, it's the only broad scale accountability tool we've got in this state. It succeeds in putting a lot of heat on schools across the state, and many of them need it.

And the test scores are actually a pretty good reflection of student achievement in a school - which is to say, I've never heard of a school with low scores that could make a convincing case that the kids were actually doing well and the scores were off base.

But the state testing system is moving toward an overhaul, and for good reasons.

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

The New Federal Education Policies: California's Challenge

EdSource via email:

Coming on the heels of the state's unprecedented budget crisis, the federal stimulus--also known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)--first received attention in California as a source of extra, much needed funding for schools.

In the months since, it has become increasingly clear that the reforms it embodies could have a bigger and more lasting impact than the nearly $8 billion it is providing to public K-12 education in the state.

The education components of the federal stimulus place a strong emphasis on four reform areas:

  • Teacher and administrator effectiveness
  • Data systems
  • Standards
  • Turning around low-performing schools

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:13 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Youth Prison Model Sets High Bar

Bobby White:

After recent changes to California's juvenile-prison system brought down recidivism rates and the number of incarcerated youths, and also saved millions of dollars, the state is now aiming to treat its adult prisoners more like youthful offenders.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Sunday signed into law a bill to overhaul the state's adult-prison system. Among other things, the legislation will shift more funding and responsibility for paroled offenders to counties from the state. That echoes a key move in the state's overhaul of juvenile detention -- placing more nonviolent inmates in county jails instead of state prisons and helping counties fund rehabilitation services.

"We used the juvenile reforms as a starting point" for the bill, said Democratic Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, who helped to craft the legislation. "We said, 'What if you take this and expand on it?' We were attracted to the ideas that worked."

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Did School Change Your Life?


Pupils around the world have been telling BBC News about the battle they face to get an education. But why is school worth the effort?

The BBC's 'Hunger To Learn' would like you to tell us how your education changed your life. What was the most important lesson you learned at school?

Did your education transform your fortunes? Or do you feel that the things you learned outside school - with your family, your friends and in your working life - had a greater influence on your destiny?

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Six-year-old sent to reform school for bringing a "weapon" (Cub Scout camping cutlery) to school

Cory Doctorow:

Zachary Christie is a six-year old student in Newark, Delaware who is facing 45 days in reform school because he brought his new Cub Scout eating utensil to school for lunch. The utensil includes a knife, and this violates the school's brainlessly, robotically enforced zero-tolerance policy on "weapons on school property."

Critics contend that zero-tolerance policies like those in the Christina district have led to sharp increases in suspensions and expulsions, often putting children on the streets or in other places where their behavior only worsens, and that the policies undermine the ability of school officials to use common sense in handling minor infractions.

"Something has to change," said Dodi Herbert, whose 13-year old son, Kyle, was suspended in May and ordered to attend the Christina district's reform school for 45 days after another student dropped a pocket knife in his lap. School officials declined to comment on the case for reasons of privacy.

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October 12, 2009

Huckleberry Finn good for starting positive discussions about race

Carmen Van Kerckhove:

written by Anti-Racist Parent contributor Deanna Shoss; originally published at Intercultural Talk

My dad and I came to an impasse again recently. It happens whenever we get into a conversation about race. Or more specifically, a conversation about something that happened in the news or real life where people of different races were involved. As in "they believe this way" from him, and "you can't call an entire group of people they" from me.

It always ends with him thinking that I think he's racist, and with me thinking that he thinks I'm all about politically correct language with no real depth of meaning. Rather than digging for clarification, we back away from the conversation. The funny part is that this time we were agreeing about the same thing: Huckleberry Finn should not be banned.

This conversation has been lingering for a few months after my father introduced the book to my 8 year old son, who let me know by announcing that he had learned the 'N' word. I've blogged about it here and here. It reintroduced me to Mark Twain, who really is a brilliant writer, and it created an insight into institutional racism that I hadn't anticipated, when Dillon said "back then this word was okay to use."

Via a kind reader's email.

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Seattle Public Schools Boundary/School Assignment Plan Comments

The Seattle Times:

FAMILIES chafe at the Seattle Public Schools' wild variability on student assignments. Proposed new school boundaries and a simplified assignment plan offer promising change. [Complete Assignment/Boundary Plan - 358K PDF]

A complex maze that used to determine what school students attended has been streamlined into an uncomplicated rule: students' addresses determine their school.

Students entering kindergarten, sixth grade and ninth grade in the 2010-11 year will be assigned to a school near their home. Students in other grades will remain at their current schools, an appropriate grandfathering that minimizes disruptions.

Many families won't notice a difference. For others, this plan is a huge change. Families living on Queen Anne and in Magnolia have long asked for a neighborhood high school so students weren't bused across the city. They're being assigned to one of the best: Ballard High School.

This shift is the correct route forward. After the district ended bussing for integration purposes, it veered into an expensive and convoluted open choice system. Families could choose any school they wanted but the result was a lack of predictability and stability. Most troubling, the system weighed heavily against less savvy families who were unable to navigate the application process.

Seattle Schools Strategic Plan

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Beefing up: High school football players are bigger but not necessarily healthier

Eric Cexheimer & John Maher:

Last weekend, two football teams faced off in a fierce divisional rivalry. Both boasted intimidating offenses built around sumo-sized linemen; half of the two teams' centers, guards and tackles tipped the scales above 300 pounds.

The teams aren't from the NFL. They aren't big-time colleges, or even Division II or III squads. They are the Central Texas high schools of McNeil and Cedar Park. The largest of their linemen is approaching 350 pounds.

Once a rarity, teenaged mega-players have become a common sight under the Friday night lights. "If you were to weigh the lines of high school football teams, they're significantly higher in recent years," said Brian Carr, a physical therapist and trainer at Georgetown High School. "Compared to just 15 years ago, there's a huge difference."

Doctors and trainers are reporting increases in certain injuries -- stress-related muscle and ligament tears, knee strains and foot fractures -- that can be directly attributed to the strains placed on developing bodies by extra bulk. Weight-related medical problems are also beginning to crop up among the giant teenagers.

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

Schools need overhaul to get students job-ready

San Francisco Chronicle:

These comments are excerpted from a Sept. 16 panel discussion on education and workforce preparation at Santa Clara University. The event, Projections 2010: Leadership California, was hosted by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.

Moderator, Marshall Kilduff, Chronicle editorial writer: With a lot of bad news in education, including test scores, declining financial support, what would you do?

Mayor Gavin Newsom: I'll tell you what we've done in San Francisco. I believe not just in public-private partnerships. I believe in public-public partnerships. ... The City and County of San Francisco does not run its school district ... but, nonetheless, we've taken some responsibility to addressing the needs of our public-school kids by building a partnership. ... We focus on universal preschool. We've created a framework, a partnership, that guarantees the opportunity of a four-year college education for every single sixth-grader. It's those partnerships that I'm arguing for.

Aart J. De Geus, CEO, Synopsys: If I look at it as if I were the CEO of education of California, I would look at a company (in terms of), "What are the resources? What are the results? And what is the management system?" I'd say, "Well, let's look at the CEO of the educational system." There is no CEO of the educational system. I know there are commissioners, and whatever they're called, but, to be a CEO, you need to have both responsibility and power.

Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman made similar, structural points during a recent Madison Rotary club talk.

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Did Rhee Overplay Her Hand or Seek A Showdown?

Robert McCartney:

I want to love Michelle Rhee -- really, I do -- but she makes it so hard sometimes.

The D.C. schools chancellor has made it especially difficult this month with her layoffs of 229 teachers and 159 other staff workers. She picked a spectacularly bad time, just as the school year was shifting into high gear. She also mishandled the theatrics in such a way that she enraged the unions and D.C. Council even more than she usually does.

As a result, labor and political tensions simmering in the city over Rhee's reforms since she arrived in 2007 boiled over last week. The spillage might jeopardize her whole project and poses a significant challenge for her patron, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), as he seeks reelection next year.

The uproar is regrettable because the city and the region have a strong interest in seeing Rhee succeed. She is the first leader of the D.C. schools in recent memory who seems sufficiently tough and determined to fix the shockingly poor school performance that we've tolerated complacently for decades.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:54 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

TEEN RANT College hunt: It's a jungle

Helen Wang:

I spend seven hours each day next to metamorphosed monsters. The stresses of college applications unfortunately transform perfunctory peers into college creatures. They are predatory and are camouflaged as seniors, but with the right tactics, anyone can survive the jungle of college applications. Among the creatures lurking there:

College crabs scuttle about school hoping to undercut any competition. The crab exhibits its aggressive territorial dance to discourage the approach of other UC Berkeley applicants. A stack of books clasped in its claws and a bulging backpack-induced hunch characterize the agitated crab.

Prestige parrots are like ordinary parrots, squawking the same questions day after day. But these pretentious peers are primarily hunting for a name-brand university and will eagerly cannibalize competitors. Their obnoxious calls from afar warn victims: "Squawwwk, what's your SAT score?"

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

Chicago teens' world fraught with violence

Azam Ahmed & Kristen Mack:

His left eye still swollen shut, Vashion Bullock doesn't deny fighting in the melee that claimed a Chicago high school student's life last month.

He's watched the grainy cellphone video and seen himself standing shirtless in the middle of the mob. But to him, the footage is a 2 1/2 -minute clip of his world without context, broadcast endlessly on television and the Web.

This mob included students who made the honor roll, held after-school jobs, played sports and planned for college. But they wake up in worlds frayed by poverty and violence.

For years, Vashion and others bused in from Altgeld Gardens have fought with kids who live closer to Fenger High School and who see them as outsiders, according to interviews with dozens of students and parents. The Fenger senior said he often races to the bus stop to avoid confrontation. But that Thursday, he had been suspended for a school fight. And he'd had enough.

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Teacher Union Politics in Washington, DC

Washington Post Editorial:

Let's review the record to examine the plausibility of those charges.

More than 14 months ago , Ms. Rhee offered a contract to Washington's teachers that was unprecedented in its largess. The proposal would have provided teachers with, at a minimum, a 28 percent pay raise over five years, plus $10,000 in bonuses. They would have had to give up nothing in the way of job security to obtain the raise. All Ms. Rhee asked in return was the freedom to offer, on a voluntary basis, even more money to a subset of teachers, if they would agree to have their compensation linked to performance. Their evaluation would have been based on a number of factors, including, but not limited to, the improvement their students showed from the beginning of the school year to the end. Ms. Rhee -- who has been branded anti-teacher -- wanted to make the District's teachers among the highest paid in America, and she had managed to raise private funds to make it possible.

Washington's teachers might well have welcomed this generous offer -- who wouldn't? -- but we don't know because Mr. Parker and other union leaders never allowed them to vote on a proposed contract. Labor law barred Ms. Rhee from directly explaining to teachers what she had in mind. At one point, it seemed that Mr. Parker and Ms. Rhee were close to an agreement, but then the national leadership stepped in. Since Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, involved herself, another 10 months have passed, and Washington's teachers remain without a contract. Talks are said to be continuing.

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Madison Property Taxes up more than 4%

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

A snowflake is small. But a blizzard of snowflakes can bury a house.

You can view your looming property tax bill in similar ways.

A single tax increase by one local unit of government might seem negligible.

Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, for example, is proposing a $38 increase on the county's portion of the average local property tax bill in Madison for 2010. That's an increase of only a few dollars a month.

But that $38 represents a 6.5 percent increase at a time when most people's wages are relatively flat or falling. And that $38 pushes the county's portion of the average property tax bill in Madison to $626.

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October 11, 2009

Madison Country Day School Host Japanese Students

Pamela Cotant:

Fabian Fernandez, a junior at Madison Country Day School, said hosting a student from Japan forces you to look at your own culture, and to consider the differences and similarities.

"You kind of get to re-experience your own culture," said Fernandez, whose family has hosted a number of students from other countries. "Even the small things."

Recently, eight Japanese 10th-graders and one teacher were here for nine days and stayed with host families from Madison Country Day School, which they also attended.

Every other year, the students from Hakuoh High School visit Madison Country Day, a private school for pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade students, through a sister-school relationship.

During alternate years, Madison Country Day students visit the school in Ashikaga City, Japan, about 90 miles from Tokyo. This year, five juniors and seniors are considering the trip.

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McFarland's Wisconsin Virtual Academy doing 'remarkably well' in year one

Devin Rose:

Q How has the school year been going for students at the Wisconsin Virtual Academy, the online school contracted by the McFarland School District?

A Things have gone "remarkably well" so far for the virtual charter school in its first year of operation, said Leslye Erickson, the head of the school.

The McFarland School District contracted with the nonprofit Wisconsin Virtual Academy and K12 Virtual Schools to run and provide the research-based curriculum for the school, which has 488 students enrolled in kindergarten through high school.

Students come from all over the state, Erickson said, so orientations were held before school began to allow students, parents and teachers to meet face-to-face.

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Don't Leave Gifted Kids Behind

Lisa Virgoe:

Hey, kids, stay in school!

That oft-used refrain soon may have new meaning. Earlier this month, President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan proposed extending the school day, lengthening the school year and adding Saturday classes. Their laudable goal is to prepare the next generation for adulthood in an increasingly complex world.

Is this the way to do it? For at least one group of students, the answer is no. Based on studies I have read, the dropout rate for gifted students is between 5 and 20 percent.

What scourge is stealing so many of our smartest kids? Extreme debilitating boredom coupled with agile minds that can't let them patiently wait for the end of class. If we lengthen their classroom hours, how many gifted kids are likely to stay?

To understand how boredom feels to these kids, imagine making a school's fastest runner sit in a chair next to the track all day, every day, while her teammates are racing past her. Imagine her frustration. Imagine how she's going to feel about running after a few days of that. Most likely, she'll walk off the field and never turn back. By dropping out, that's what these lost gifted children do. Many of the boys leave to get a job. Many of the girls leave pregnant.

Related: Late 1990's Madison School District Dropout Data and the recent Talented and Gifted Plan.

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Support for extending school hours or school year is growing

Eric Adler:

Teacher Kristin Bretch snaps instructions to her young charges, reading words from her teacher's guide, pacing in front of the white board like a drill sergeant.

"We're on word three: 'belt.' Spell 'belt,' everyone."

The pupils are second- and third-graders, almost all poor and many of whom could barely speak English when they arrived in Kansas City as refugees from countries like Burundi and Sudan, Vietnam and Somalia. They reply, almost shouting, in unison.

B-E-L-T. Belt.

Here, at the Della Lamb Charter Elementary School, these lessons go on for 227 days, compared with the average 180 days of most U.S. school districts.

The reason is clear:

"To make us smarter. To give us better brains," said Abdirihman Akil, age 9.

Exactly, said President Barack Obama. He and his secretary of education, Arne Duncan, have reiterated support for the idea of adding hours to the school day to boost academic achievement and compete with other nations.

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2% State Tax Dollar Increase for Pennsylvania schools

Dan Hardy:

The state budget that Gov. Rendell signed last night ensured that almost all school districts would get funding increases over last year.

The level of spending for education, the largest single item in the overall $27.8 billion budget and more than a third of the total, had been a point of contention between Rendell and many Republicans during the months-long standoff. But in the end, the agreement appeared to provide something for everyone.

"In a year where there is so much pain, with the economy the worst in anybody's memory, to be anything but happy about this budget would be foolish," Timothy Allwein, assistant executive director of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, said yesterday.

All school districts would get a hike of at least 2 percent in basic education funding, Pennsylvania's main subsidy to schools.

Statewide, the total K-12 increase, including federal funding, would be about $250 million over last year's level. Much of that would go to less wealthy districts.

"The school districts I've talked to are glad that they can now get down to implementing the programs they had planned on," Allwein said.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: "Killing the Goose - What Were We Thinking?"

John Mauldin:

Peggy Noonan, maybe the most gifted essayist of our time, wrote a few weeks ago about the vague concern that many of us have that the monster looming up ahead of us has the potential (my interpretation) for not just plucking a few feathers from the goose that lays the golden egg (the US free-market economy), or stealing a few more of the valuable eggs, but of actually killing the goose. Today we look at the possibility that the fiscal path of the enormous US government deficits we are on could indeed kill the goose, or harm it so badly it will make the lost decades that Japan has suffered seem like a stroll in the park.

And while I do not think we will get to that point (though I can't deny the possibility), for reasons I will go into, there is the very real prospect that the upheavals created by not dealing proactively with the problems (or denying they exist) will be as bad as or worse than the credit crisis we have gone through. This is not going to be something that happens overnight, and the seeming return to normalcy that so many predict has the rather alarming aspect of creating a sense of complacency that will only serve to "kick the can" down the road.

This week we look at the problem, and then muse upon what the more likely scenarios are that may play out. This is a longer version of a speech I gave this morning to the New Orleans Conference, where I also offered a path out of the problems. This letter will be a little more controversial than normal, but I hope it makes us all think about the very serious plight we have put ourselves in.

Let's review a few paragraphs I wrote last month: "I have seven kids. As our family grew, we limited the choices our kids could make; but as they grew into teenagers, they were given more leeway. Not all of their choices were good. How many times did Dad say, 'What were you thinking?' and get a mute reply or a mumbled 'I don't know.'

"Yet how else do you teach them that bad choices have bad consequences? You can lecture, you can be a role model; but in the end you have to let them make their own choices. And a lot of them make a lot of bad choices. After having raised six, with one more teenage son at home, I have come to the conclusion that you just breathe a sigh of relief if they grow up and have avoided fatal, life-altering choices. I am lucky. So far. Knock on a lot of wood.

"I have watched good kids from good families make bad choices, and kids with no seeming chance make good choices. But one thing I have observed. Very few teenagers make the hard choice without some outside encouragement or help in understanding the known consequences, from some source. They nearly always opt for the choice that involves the most fun and/or the least immediate pain, and then learn later that they now have to make yet another choice as a consequence of the original one. And thus they grow up. So quickly."

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Education in Malaysia

New Straits Times:

On the National Key Result Areas, the deputy premier said there were four areas that touched on education.

The first was on efforts for all children to attend pre-school from the present 63 per cent only. Starting next year, he said new schools would be built, starting with 378 classrooms, and in three years, all children would be able to attend pre-school.

"From our research, we found that pre-school is very important and we want to make it possible for everyone to send their children."

Secondly, Muhyiddin said it was the government's target that all children could read and count by the time they were in Year Three.

"We will identify weak students in Year One itself and provide special classes for them to ensure they are not left behind," he said.

The third area was to identify 100 schools in the next three years to be converted into high performance schools. These schools, Muhyiddin said, would cater for excellent students and receive additional assistance from the government.

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The Global Achievement Gap

Sara Bennett:

While I'm recommending books.... I recently read The Global Achievement Gap, by Tony Wagner, an excellent book about the failures of today's secondary schools and how schools prepare students to memorize facts rather than problem solve. He identifies seven skills necessary to survive in the 21st century: critical thinking and problem solving; collaboration across networks; agility and adaptability; initiative and entrepreneurialism; effective oral and written communication; accessing and analyzing information; and developing curiosity and imagination. He takes "learning walks" through schools, and provides snapshots of school days, both good and bad. I wish every principal would read this book, take a learning walk of her/his own, and then implement many of the wonderful suggestions for ways to engage students in a meaningful way.

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Pakistan's Education System and Links to Extremism

Council on Foreign Relations:

Pakistan's poor education system has increasingly become a matter of international concern. Lack of access to quality education, which in turn limits economic opportunity, makes young Pakistanis targets for extremist groups, some experts say. The World Bank says nearly half the adult population of Pakistan can't read, and net primary enrollment rates remain the lowest in South Asia. Experts say the system suffers from inadequate government investment, corruption, lack of institutional capacity, and a poor curriculum that often incites intolerance. In August 2009, chief counterterrorism adviser to the White House John Brennan, summing up a concern held by many U.S. terrorism experts, said extremist groups in Pakistan have exploited this weakness. "It is why they offer free education to impoverished Pakistani children, where they can recruit and indoctrinate the next generation," he said. There have been some efforts by the Pakistani government, Western governments, and the World Bank to reform the system, but serious challenges remain.

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October 10, 2009

Washington, DC Area Educators Study Promising Japanese Teaching Method

Emma Brown:

Third-grade teacher Andy Gomez stood at a whiteboard before 10 of his colleagues on a recent Thursday afternoon at Marie Reed Elementary in Adams Morgan. His students were stumbling over subtraction problems like 700 minus 369, he said -- the zeros were tripping them up.

The solution to their difficulties was coming -- by way of Japan.

For the next half-hour, the group discussed -- down to nitty-gritty details about vocabulary to use or avoid -- what the students' fundamental misunderstandings about numbers might be and how to address them.

This collaborative examination of the mechanics of teaching is part of the school's embrace of "lesson study," a model of professional development for teachers that was developed in Japan. It was pioneered in the District by five teachers at Marie Reed, who began meeting weekly two years ago to study math content and pedagogy.

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School district contracts push up tax levy

Jo Egelhoff:

At a time when taxpayers are struggling in this destabilizing recession and most are not seeing wage gains, the Appleton Area School District (AASD) has proposed a budget that increases the tax levy by 9.7%.

At a time when the state budget is suffering billion dollar deficits, when the state has cut its support of AASD, when enrollment has declined by 220 students, and when inflation is 0%, still the district's total budget increased by over $3 million (from $176 million to $179 million)!

The district's budget increase is primarily fueled by employee compensation increases, including an 8.2% increase in health care benefits - for a benefit plan that is already a Cadillac. Cost reductions could most certainly be achieved via increased efforts to decrease utilization and increased premium participation (school employees pay only 5% of their health insurance premium that for a family is almost $20,000 a year) and/or simply putting the very costly health insurance program out to bid. As it is now, the union dictates that the health insurance must be carried by an arm of WEAC.

In addition, though the budget reflects a wage freeze for administration employees, no such offer has been forthcoming from the teachers union.

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Parents Judging Parents of Home-Schoolers

Lisa Belkin:

Over on last week, senior editor Andrew O'Hehir posted the first in what will be a series of essays about home-schooling his 5-year-old twins with his wife, Leslie. It is long, but insightful and informative, filled both with the whys and the hows of this choice.

What struck me most about the piece, though, was not its practical bent, but its philosophical notes, where O'Hehir describes the reactions of strangers when he mentions home schooling to them -- the judgment, spoken or not, particularly from other parents. He writes:

After various tense conversations with friends, family members and strangers, Leslie and I have concluded that earnest, heartfelt discussion of exactly how we're approaching our kids' education and why we're doing it is a bad idea. For reasons I can about halfway understand, other parents often seem to feel attacked by our eccentric choices. I guess this is what it's like to be a vegan, or a Mennonite convert. I can certainly remember having a weirdly defensive response ("You know, I hardly ever eat red meat"), one where I reacted to someone else's comment about themselves as if it were really all about me.

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Education in Uruguay: Laptops for all

The Economist:

FOR the past year the pupils of Escuela 95, in a poor neighbourhood of Montevideo, have had a new learning tool. Each has been issued with a laptop computer. This has been of particular help to the 30 or so children with severe learning difficulties, says Elias Portugal, a special-needs teacher at the school. Before, he struggled to give them individual attention. Now, the laptops are helping them with basic language skills. "The machines capture the kids' attention. They can type a word and the computer pronounces it," he says.

Nearly all of Uruguay's 380,000 primary-school pupils have now received a simple and cheap XO laptop, a model developed by One Laptop Per Child, an NGO based in Massachusetts. The government hopes this will help poorer and disadvantaged children do better in school while also improving the overall standard of education. These ambitions will be tested for the first time later this month when every Uruguayan seven-year-old will take online exams in a range of academic subjects. The rest of the world should be intrigued: the first country in Latin America to provide free, compulsory schooling will become the first, globally, to find out whether furnishing a whole generation with laptops is a worthwhile investment. (Peru, a bigger, poorer and less homogenous country, is trying something similar.)

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School Reform

Ed Garvey:

Just about every meaningful reform begins with education. If our schools are not working well, then ultimately nothing works. Wisconsin has enjoyed great schools from kindergarten to the university system to technical colleges.

One reason our kids score at or near the top in national testing is parental involvement. Parents in Wisconsin demand high quality education and the elected school boards respond.

The Wisconsin Constitution guarantees public school education for all children from age 4 to 20. At one time that protection did not apply to children with "learning problems." They were called "retarded" and were sent to institutions, but in 1966 parents decided that was unacceptable. They turned to Attorney General Bronson La Follette for his opinion and he ruled that "all" meant "all." Every child in Wisconsin would be educated.

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State education chief supports cultural learning

Mary Catherine Martin:

Cultural and academic education shouldn't be separate and unequal, Alaska Commissioner of Education Larry LeDoux said on Wednesday.

"We can prepare kids to engage in any career they have a dream for and still be conversant in their language and their culture," he said.

LeDoux was speaking as part of an education panel at the 97th annual Grand Camp Convention of the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Alaska Native Sisterhood. It's a convention in which education needs for the Native population features prominently: The theme is "Wooch.éen; Gu dángahl: Yes We Can! Cultural Unity through Education and Communication."

ANB President Brad Fluetsch also mentioned the gap between cultural and academic education, giving the example of harvesting a seal.

"To us, it's cultural education, but to the university, it's biology credits," he said.

LeDoux said the department is planning cultural training for new teachers, though it does not yet have funding. Seventy percent of Alaska teachers come from out of state, he said.
One thing for which the department does have funding is hiring a director of rural education, which LeDoux said will happen "any day now."

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October 9, 2009

Latinos and Education: Explaining the Attainment Gap

Mark Hugo Lopez:

Nearly nine-in-ten (89%) Latino young adults ages 16 to 25 say that a college education is important for success in life, yet only about half that number-48%-say that they themselves plan to get a college degree, according to a new national survey of 2,012 Latinos ages 16 and older by the Pew Hispanic Center conducted from Aug. 5 to Sept. 16, 2009.

The biggest reason for the gap between the high value Latinos place on education and their more modest aspirations to finish college appears to come from financial pressure to support a family, the survey finds.

Nearly three-quarters (74%) of all 16- to 25-year-old survey respondents who cut their education short during or right after high school say they did so because they had to support their family. Other reasons include poor English skills (cited by about half of respondents who cut short their education), a dislike of school and a feeling that they don't need more education for the careers they want (each cited by about four-in-ten respondents who cut their education short).

Latino schooling in the U.S. has long been characterized by high dropout rates and low college completion rates. Both problems have moderated over time, but a persistent educational attainment gap remains between Hispanics and whites.

William McKenzie has more.

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NEA Sends $200,000 to Washington to Fight Initiative 1033

Mike Antonucci:

ext month, Washington state voters will consider Initiative 1033, which would limit the growth of government general fund revenue to a rate tied to population and inflation. The latest poll shows the measure leading 45%-32%, with 22% undecided. It's hardly surprising that the teachers' union is leading the opposition.

In an off-year, we would normally expect huge wads of national money to be flowing into Washington from NEA headquarters. But because of the vagaries of Washington's campaign finance laws, NEA cannot fund the opposition from its multi-million dollar ballot measure fund. Instead, NEA allocated $200,000 from its contingency fund, which is capped at $2.5 million and must cover a host of other costs - most notably the half-million dollar expense of instituting the new business items passed by the NEA Representative Assembly last July.

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Baby Bundle: Japan's Cash Incentive for Parenthood

Daisuke Wakabyashi & Miho Inada:

Japan wants to set just the right mood to get its people to make more babies. But forget dinner and candlelight: The government's plan depends heavily on large amounts of cash.

With a worried eye on declining birth rates and an aging population, Japan's new leaders propose offering new parents monthly payments totaling about $3,300 a year for every new child until the age of 15. Other initiatives include more state-supported day care, tuition waivers and other efforts designed to make parenthood more appealing.

But experts warn money alone does not a baby make. Governments have a mixed record in pushing up birth rates, as economic inducements sometimes fail to overcome other complex societal forces that affect baby-making decisions.

In Japan, they include the traditional reliance on mothers to perform the bulk of duties in the home, including child-rearing. Demographers say Japan might have more success if they also encourage more Japanese men to come home and do the dishes.

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Scottish School Cash "Not Getting Results"


Spending on education in Scotland could be cut by up to £680m without affecting standards, a study has suggested.

Researchers at the Centre for Public Policy for Regions [Complete Report - PDF] said good teachers were key to improving standards, not smaller class sizes or higher spending.

They said spending on education in Scotland was high relative to that in the other home nations.

They added attainment had "flatlined" since devolution and Scottish pupils were falling behind UK counterparts.

The Centre for Public Policy for Regions (CPPR) at Glasgow and Strathclyde Universities concedes attempts to compare Scotland with England, Wales and Northern Ireland are fraught with uncertainty, but it insists ministers could find savings without compromising quality.

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Private school pupils 'dominate'


Forty-two per cent of the UK's top scientists and scholars were privately educated and the trend looks likely to continue, a report suggests.

A study by the Sutton Trust educational charity looked at the schools and universities attended by 1,700 top scientists and scholars.

It also found 51% of medics, 70% of judges, 54% of leading journalists and 32% of MPs went to independent schools.

The charity says less-privileged children should be given equal chances.

Private schools educate about 7% of children in the UK and about 9% of 17-year-olds. About 14% of university entrants are from independent schools.

In the study, analysts looked at the educational backgrounds of 1,700 of the 2,200 fellows of the Royal Society and British Academy.

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Top 200 World Universities

Times Higher Education:

Times Higher Education-QS World University Rankings 2009 Top 200 world universities

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Herta Müller Wins Literature Nobel


Herta Müller, a member of Romania's ethnic German minority who was persecuted for her critical depictions of life behind the Iron Curtain, won the 2009 Nobel Prize in literature Thursday in an award seen as a nod to the 20th anniversary of communism's collapse.

Ms. Müller, born in Romania's Transylvania Banat region, was honored for work that "with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed," the Swedish Academy said.

"I am very surprised and still can not believe it," Ms. Müller said in a statement released by her publisher in Germany. "I can't say anything more at the moment."

The decision was expected to keep alive the controversy surrounding the academy's pattern of awarding the prize to European writers.

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Committee backs $53 million in interest-free bonds for MPS projects

Larry Sandler & Erin Richards:

Milwaukee Public Schools could borrow up to $53.1 million interest-free to create new science and engineering laboratories, build a community learning center and repair aging schools, under a plan backed Wednesday by a Common Council committee.

If the plan wins final approval from the full council, federal stimulus dollars would pay the interest on the bonds and property taxes would be used to repay the principal. The School Board has voted to seek up to $53.1 million of the $72.1 million maximum that the federal government authorized for MPS borrowing, but the city issues school bonds.

Wednesday's vote by the council's Finance & Personnel Committee calls for the council to give preliminary approval Tuesday to borrowing the money without a referendum. Further action would be needed to issue the bonds. Mayor Tom Barrett plans to recommend a bond issue of about $48 million, said his chief of staff, Patrick Curley.

Michelle Nate, chief financial officer for MPS, said the ability to borrow at free or extremely low interest rates would allow the district to spend about $30 million on maintenance projects that have been put off for years.

"It's like any major expense (for a homeowner)," Nate said. "You know you need a new roof, but you put it off until you can afford it."

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Education Agency Will Offer Grants for Innovative Ideas

Sam Dillon:

The federal Department of Education sketched out a new nationwide competition on Tuesday under which some 2,700 school districts and nonprofit groups are expected to compete for pieces of a $650 million innovation fund.

The department already has the 50 states vying for chunks of a $5.4 billion education improvement fund that it calls Race to the Top; the innovation fund is a separate competition.

Federal officials said the Investing in Innovation Fund would be distributed in three categories. Small development grants of up to $5 million will support new, unproven ideas that seem worth exploring, they said. Validation grants of up to $30 million will support existing programs that have shown evidence that they can work. Scale-up grants of up to $50 million will go to programs that have developed a strong track record for improving student achievement, the officials said.

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UK Education Political Battle

Francis Gilbert:

Michael Gove's ruinous plans for education

Today's speech showed a party committed to micro-managing schools, using policies that have no empirical backing

Michael Gove delivered a speech at the Conservative party conference which played to the prejudices of his audience. His oration was peppered again and again with talk of how the Labour party has failed the country in creating schools which lack discipline and high standards and fail to make our children literate or patriotic. Funnily enough though, he failed to mention that the academy that he felt was a beacon shining in a world of dross was in fact created by the Labour party.

Throughout his speech, he referred to the Labour initiative of academies as a panacea for our educational ills. If in power, the Tories would enable any school to become an academy. In this sense, this flagship policy is no different from Labour's.

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October 8, 2009

Stand By for Higher Madison Taxes

Tim Morrissey:

Since Labor Day, County Exec Kathleen Falk has been calling it "the toughest budget since the Great Depression". Her mouthpiece, Josh Wescott, echoes the depression line, and adds another cliché - "the perfect storm" of declining revenues. Falk has proposed a 7.9% property tax increase and is hoping for a 3 percent wage cut from county employees.

Mayor Cieslewicz calls his plan "a budget for hard times", and says "the primary theme is steadiness". He's proposed the lowest spending increase in the past fifteen years. His operating budget will increase taxes 3.8% on the average Madison home. He's hoping other city employees will join the firefighters, who've agreed to no raises for two years, and then 3% at the end of the two-year period.

Meanwhile, a couple weeks ago, Madison teachers hauled in a 4% raise in each of the next two years - a quarter of it in salary increases (1%) and the rest in other bennies, mainly insurance. They get a small pay increase, while county workers may take a cut, and city workers will likely get nothing.

Moral of the story: you want John Matthews on your side of the bargaining table.

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Community Leaders Excluded from Duncan and Holder Four Seasons Chicago Meeting

Dick Johnson & Steve Bryant:

Community leaders and parents outside Fenger are in disbelief that they are not at the breakfast table with Arne Duncan and Eric Holder.

Attorney General Holder and Secretary of Education Duncan are in town to speak, ostensibly, with the community about youth violence -- a blight on Chicago neighborhoods so vividly brought to national attention by the videotaped beating of Derrion Albert.

"They are meeting about us without us," said Phillip Jackson of the Black Star Project, a Chicago-based educational reform organization.

Duncan and Holder's meeting at the Four Seasons also includes Mayor Daley, Pastor Michael Pfleger, CEO of Chicago Public Schools Ron Huberman, and Police Superintendent Jody Weis.

Material for the Daily Show.

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Madison Schools enrollment remains steady at 24,622

via a Madison School District email:

Student enrollment in the Madison Metropolitan School District for the 2009-10 school year is up 82 students to 24,622 according to the official enrollment count conducted on the third Friday in September, as required by state law.

The 82 student rise over last year's official enrollment count of 24,540 represents an increase of one third of one percent (0.33%).

Enrollment in Madison Schools has been remarkably consistent. This is the ninth straight year that MMSD enrollment has been between 24 and 25-thousand students.

Of note is the increase in the number of kindergarten students enrolled in Madison Schools. The count of 2,146 kindergarten students is:

  • 140 students above last year's number (2,006);
  • the highest enrollment for that grade level in the last 15 years;
  • nearly four percent greater than the most recent projection (80 students above 2,066 projection).
For more information on kindergarten-12th grade enrollment, go to
Related: "Where have all the students gone?" The student population drives a school district's tax & spending authority.

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New Book: Rethinking Homework

Sara Bennett:

There's a new homework book, Rethinking Homework: Best Practices that Support Diverse Needs, by Cathy Vatterott, an associate professor of education at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, who calls herself Homework Lady. The first half of the book, which I loved, takes a fresh look at the research on homework and is written in a very accessible way. The second half of the book challenges teachers to rethink their homework policies and suggests ways to make homework more meaningful. Obviously, I would have preferred a book that followed through to the end with its indictment of homework, rather than suggesting ways to improve it, but I understand the author's desire to appeal to teachers and this book certainly will. And, if teachers follow her advice to differentiate homework, then maybe those parents who don't wish for homework at all will get that kind of accommodation.

My favorite part of the book is her Bill of Rights for Homework. She suggests that all teachers implement the following 6 "rights":

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Youth Violence a National Issue

All Things Considered:

Following the recent incident of youth violence in Chicago, the Obama administration dispatched two Cabinet officials, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, to deal with the issue. Duncan says the issue is a national one -- not just urban or rural or suburban.
More on Duncan's Chicago appearance here.

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On the Proposed Mayoral Takeover of the Milwaukee Public Schools

Sheriff David Clarke:

Reducing Crime, Violence, Disproportionate Black Incarceration Rates and Prison/Jail Overcrowding Through Education Reform of MPS

Q: Why as a top law enforcement official have you continually been outspoken on the failure of K-12 public education in Milwaukee?

For the seven years that I have been Sheriff of Milwaukee County, I have been outspoken on the research-proven nexus between school failure, violent crime and criminal behavior; between school failure and disproportionate minority incarceration rates; and between school failure and jail and prison overcrowding. The connection is clear and that's why I have had from day one a sense of urgency about the need to fundamentally improve K-12 public education in Milwaukee--and that means Milwaukee Public Schools.

If we're ever going to solve the problems of poverty, crime, violence, disproportionate minority incarceration rates and jail and prison overcrowding, no remedy is more important than dramatically improving MPS.

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The School Volunteer Jobs That Most Help Your Kids

Sue Shellenbarger:

Rosa Rivera receives so many invitations to volunteer at her children's school and other activities that the dozens of daily emails and calls about various projects can be "just overwhelming," says the mother of two.

At her children's stage, ages 7 and 9, her top priority is to take the projects that will help them most in school and life, says Ms. Rivera, Austin, Texas. But it can be hard to figure out which projects those are. "You're pulled and stretched in so many directions, now more than ever," she says.

Cash-strapped schools are leaning hard on parents for help this fall. Some 53% of parents plan to volunteer at their children's schools, up from 44% last year, says a poll of 1,086 parents by Harris Interactive and GreatSchools, a nonprofit parent-involvement group. The re-opening of schools this fall has triggered a 50% increase in volunteer signups at, a Web site for organizing volunteers, to 75,000 from 50,000 last summer, says founder Karen Bantuveris,.

Sometimes, of course, it is best to volunteer where a school needs you most. And most school volunteer projects have worthy goals. Fundraisers keep alive arts, sports or music programs. Helping out in the school office fills staffing gaps. Painting classrooms improves kids' environment. Serving on the school board helps shape schools' strategy and direction.

But for parents with limited time and energy, which roles deliver the biggest benefit for your kids? And how does the answer to that question change as a student grows up? Here's what research and experts say:

• Elementary School: Volunteer where your child can see you.

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New Prince George's Superintendent Promises "Dramatic Achievement Improvement"

Nelson Hernandez:

The head of Prince George's County schools vowed Tuesday night to "dramatically improve student achievement" as he said that the county had showed strong academic gains.

In his first State of the Schools address since becoming superintendent this year, William R. Hite Jr. said the system should try to "make every child in Prince George's County smarter." He spoke for greater accountability for teachers, more prekindergarten classes, better customer service and alternatives for students who aren't succeeding.

In recent years, Prince George's has experimented in some schools with a pay-for-performance model that offers bonuses to excellent teachers, and Hite said Tuesday that effective teachers can make significant differences.

"We cannot construct a definition [of teacher effectiveness] that does not include student performance as one of the indicators," Hite said.

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Focus in Chicago: Students at Risk of Violence

Susan Saulny:

The new chief officer of the public schools here, Ron Huberman, a former police officer and transit executive with a passion for data analysis, has a plan to stop the killings of the city's public school students. And it does not have to do with guns or security guards. It has to do with statistics and probability.

The plan comes too late for Derrion Albert, the 16-year-old who was beaten to death recently with wood planks after getting caught on his way home between two rival South Side gangs, neither of which he was a member, the police said.

The killing, captured on cellphone video and broadcast on YouTube, among other places, has once again caused widespread grief over a seemingly intractable problem here. Derrion, a football player on the honor roll, was the third youth to die violently this academic year -- and the 67th since the beginning of the 2007-8 school year. And hundreds of others have survived shootings or severe beatings on their way to and from school.

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Fewer Schools Sell Students Snacks


Fewer U.S. high schools and middle schools are selling candy and salty snacks to students, the federal government said in a report released Monday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report was based on a survey of public schools in 34 states that compared results from 2006 to 2008. The study didn't report the total number of schools that have changed. Instead, it looked at the proportion of schools in each state.

It found that the median proportion of high schools and middle schools that sell sugary or salty snacks dropped to 36% from 54%. The share of schools that sell soda and artificial fruit drinks fell to 37% from 62%.

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October 7, 2009

New Tack on Math Promoted Problem-Solving Is Focus of High School Guide

Sean Cavanagh:

Three years after calling for a reordering of elementary and middle school math curricula, the nation's largest group of math teachers is urging a new approach to high school instruction, one that aims to build students' ability to choose and apply the most effective problem-solving techniques, in the classroom and in life.
Cultivating those skills will make math more useful, and more meaningful, to students, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics argues in a document scheduled for release this week.

"Focus in High School Mathematics: Reasoning and Sense Making" is a follow-up to the NCTM's 2006 document, "Curriculum Focal Points," which offered grade-by-grade content standards in math for prekindergarten through 8th grade. "Focal Points" won general praise in math circles, even from some of the NCTM's strongest critics.

The high school document has both a different purpose and a different structure. It is not a suggested set of content standards, but rather a framework that attempts to show how skills that the NCTM considers essential--reasoning and sense-making--can be promoted across high school math.

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Body Posture Affects Confidence In Your Own Thoughts, Study Finds

Science Daily:

Sitting up straight in your chair isn't just good for your posture - it also gives you more confidence in your own thoughts, according to a new study.

Researchers found that people who were told to sit up straight were more likely to believe thoughts they wrote down while in that posture concerning whether they were qualified for a job.

On the other hand, those who were slumped over their desks were less likely to accept these written-down feelings about their own qualifications.

The results show how our body posture can affect not only what others think about us, but also how we think about ourselves, said Richard Petty, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at Ohio State University.

"Most of us were taught that sitting up straight gives a good impression to other people," Petty said. "But it turns out that our posture can also affect how we think about ourselves. If you sit up straight, you end up convincing yourself by the posture you're in."

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Portfolio school districts: promising but 'Works in progress'

via a Deb Britt email:

"Portfolio school districts are promising new developments but they still have big problems to solve," is how Dr. Paul Hill describes reforms in the four big cities being studied by his team at the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), University of Washington Bothell.

In New York City, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New Orleans, school officials are revamping the traditional school district model: from being an operator of a uniform set of schools and related services to being a holder of a diverse portfolio of schools, each meant to meet a particular need, and all subject to evaluation in light of evidence.

"A portfolio district is built for continuous improvement via expansion and imitation of the highest-performing schools, closure and replacement of the lowest-performing, and constant search for new ideas," says Hill. "So far we've found that each city is taking a different approach to developing their portfolio. By the end of our study (in 2011), we think this will tell us a lot more about this approach to public education."

Portfolio School Districts for Big Cities: An Interim Report, published today by CRPE, introduces the subject of portfolio districts and opens a window on the particular approaches being taken in the four cities.

New York City - gave schools freedom over hiring and use of funds in return for accepting performance-based accountability and by adopting pupil-based funding of schools citywide.

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Crusader for Syntactic Disambiguation Exprobrates Banks' Labored Locutions

Sara Schaefer Munoz:

A few months ago, 71-year-old Chrissie Maher got a mailing from her bank titled "Personal and Private Banking -- Keeping You Informed." Baffled by its blizzard of terms such as "account facility limit," Ms. Maher replied in simpler language.

"The leaflet needs much more thought if it is to be understood by your customers," she said in a letter to Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC. "As it stands, it should be renamed 'Keeping You Confused.' "

After critiquing the pamphlet's "tortuous and ambiguous sentences," she redrafted it, changing terms like "maximum debit balance" to "the most that can be owed."

RBS may have picked the wrong woman to target with financial mumbo jumbo. Ms. Maher is the founder of the Plain English Campaign, a 30-year-old group whose stated goal is to stem "the ever-growing tide of confusing and pompous language" that "takes away our democratic rights."

Over the years, Ms. Maher and her group have battled police agencies, expansion planners at Heathrow Airport, and the "frequently bizarre language" of the European Union. (At issue: phrases such as "unlock clusters," "subsidiarity" and "sector-specific benchmarking.") She has blasted local government on the use of "worklessness" to refer to unemployment and once attacked the president of the U.K. Spelling Society over his claim that the apostrophe is "a waste of time."

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CDC: Fewer schools selling candy, soda to students

Mike Stobbe:

Fewer U.S. high schools and middle schools are selling candy and salty snacks to students, the federal government said in a report released Monday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report was based on a survey of public schools in 34 states that compared results from 2006 to 2008. The study did not report the total number of schools that have changed. Instead, it looked at the proportion of schools in each state.

It found that the median proportion of high schools and middle schools that sell the sugary or salty snacks dropped from 54 percent to 36 percent.

The share of schools that sell soda and artificial fruit drinks dropped from 62 percent to 37 percent.

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High School Civics: Mourning Constitutional

Matthew Ladner, via a kind reader's email:

September 17 is Constitution Day, marking the day 222 years ago in Philadelphia when the Constitution of the United States was signed. Legend has it that a woman asked Benjamin Franklin, as he was leaving the constitutional convention, what sort of government had been created. Franklin's reply: "A republic, if you can keep it."

A major justification for supporting a system of public schools has been the promotion of a general diffusion of civic knowledge necessary for a well-informed citizenry. America's founders, hoping to "secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity," knew that our system of ordered liberty would endure only if its citizens understood the nation's guiding principles. The endurance of American liberty, the founders believed, depends upon a broad knowledge of the nation's history and an understanding of its institutions.

Charles N. Quigley, writing for the Progressive Policy Institute, once explained the critical nature of civic knowledge: "From this nation's earliest days, leaders such as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Adams recognized that even the well-designed institutions are not sufficient to maintain a free society. Ultimately, a vibrant democracy must rely on the knowledge, skill, and virtues of its citizens and their elected officials. Education that imparts that knowledge and skill and fosters those virtues is essential to the preservation and improvement of American constitutional democracy and civic life.

"The goal of education in civics and government is informed, responsible participation in political life by citizens committed to the fundamental values and principles of American constitutional democracy."1

For its part, the State of Oklahoma also lays out the goals of social studies education. According to the state's academic standards: "Oklahoma schools teach social studies in Kindergarten through Grade 12. ... However it is presented, social studies as a field of study incorporates many disciplines in an integrated fashion, and is designed to promote civic competence. Civic competence is the knowledge, skills, and attitudes required of students to be able to assume 'the office of citizen,' as Thomas Jefferson called it.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: 47% will pay no federal income tax

Jeanne Sahadi:

An increasing number of households end up owing nothing in major federal taxes, but the situation may not be sustainable over the long run.

Most people think they pay too much to Uncle Sam, but for some people it simply is not true.

In 2009, roughly 47% of households, or 71 million, will not owe any federal income tax, according to estimates by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.

Some in that group will even get additional money from the government because they qualify for refundable tax breaks.

The ranks of those whose major federal tax burdens net out at zero -- or less -- is on the rise. The center's original 2009 estimate was 38%. That was before enactment in February of the $787 billion economic recovery package, which included a host of new or expanded tax breaks.

The issue doesn't get a lot of attention even as lawmakers debate how to pay for policy initiatives like health reform, whether to extend the Bush tax cuts and how to reduce the deficit.

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October 6, 2009

Education + Politics = $

Cartel, the Movie:

eachers punished for speaking out. Principals fired for trying to do the right thing. Union leaders defending the indefensible. Bureaucrats blocking new charter schools. These are just some of the people we meet in The Cartel. The film also introduces us to teens who can't read, parents desperate for change, and teachers struggling to launch stable alternative schools for inner city kids who want to learn. We witness the tears of a little girl denied a coveted charter school spot, and we share the triumph of a Camden homeschool's first graduating class.

Together, these people and their stories offer an unforgettable look at how a widespread national crisis manifests itself in the educational failures and frustrations of individual communities. They also underscore what happens when our schools don't do their job. "These are real children whose lives are being destroyed," director Bob Bowdon explains.

The Cartel shows us our educational system like we've never seen it before. Behind every dropout factory, we discover, lurks a powerful, entrenched, and self-serving cartel. But The Cartel doesn't just describe the problem. Balancing local storylines against interviews with education experts such as Clint Bolick (former president of Alliance for School Choice), Gerard Robinson (president of Black Alliance for Educational Options), and Chester Finn (president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute), The Cartel explores what dedicated parents, committed teachers, clear-eyed officials, and tireless reformers are doing to make our schools better for our kids.

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Reviving America's schools: Ready, set, go

The Economist:

BETWEEN classes at Fenger High School, on the far South Side of Chicago, hundreds of students churn through the halls. Elizabeth Dozier, the new principal, keeps a watchful eye. "Let's go, gentlemen!" she shouts. "Let's go to class!" Ms Dozier wears a two-way radio to deal with problems the minute they arise. One is small: the girls' toilets have no paper towels. One is bigger: there's a brawl upstairs. It's not to be ignored: on September 24th an honour-roll student was beaten to death near Fenger, swept up in senseless violence.

For an idea of the task confronting Arne Duncan, Barack Obama's education secretary, Fenger is a good place to start. The school lies closer to Indiana's mills than Chicago's Magnificent Mile. From 2006 to 2008 fewer than 3% of pupils met Illinois's meagre standards of achievement. But this year everything is supposed to change. The Chicago school district chose Fenger as a "turnaround". Old teachers have been sacked and new programmes put in place. Fenger faces formidable odds. But if Mr Duncan has his way, the school's transformation will be the start of a larger shift.

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Lack of computer skills foils many job-seekers

Alex Johnson:

After working for the city of Zanesville, Ohio, for 27 years, Sharon Newton had to go back to school.

Newton lost her job this year, and when she went to look for a new one she discovered that, even with all of her experience, she wasn't prepared for the modern work force. When prospective employers asked about her computer skills, she had no answer.

It turns out "that is extremely important," said Newton, who needed help with using spreadsheets and other entry-level office computer tasks. She is now enrolled in computer training courses offered by Zane State University and by Experience Works, a nonprofit national job training organization.

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The Evolution Of Technology In Schools

Daniel Brusilovsky:

Schools try to keep up with the current technology trends, especially in Silicon Valley, the home of technology innovation. You would think that schools in Silicon Valley would be the most up to date on technology--with the latest computers, projectors, drawing boards--but coming from a first hand perspective, as a student at a local school, it's the complete opposite. I go to a high school where there are no technology classes that even teach students the basics of web development, or video production, or anything of that matter.

Our school just upgraded our computer labs to brand new computers, Windows XP machines, that of course, block Facebook, YouTube, and all those other good "time wasting" sites. Just this year, all the teachers' computers got connected to projectors so that teachers can show presentations, documents, etc. Also this year, our school finally got WiFi, but it is password protected and not open to students.

The restrictions on the use of school computers and the internet, are in my opinion, extreme. Each night all student accessible computers are wiped completely, and restored with all the basic programs - Mozilla Firefox, IE6, Microsoft Office 2003. I understand the need for schools to protect local machines from viruses and spyware, but I feel like school policy is too extreme when it comes to blocking YouTube, Facebook, and other sites. These sites can be "time wasting" sites, but there are occasions when the sites are useful. I was the Technology Editor for my school newspaper last year, where we needed to get pictures and information from fellow students. We used Facebook chat and messages to communicate with other students to get information, to co-ordinate and to find things such as video from events.

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New Houston Superintendent Terry Grier's first impressions

Ericka Mellon:

New Superintendent Terry Grier wasn't shy about sharing his opinions at his first workshop with the school board last week.

On technology in HISD: "I think we are very, very far behind in technology for a district our size." I'd expect Grier to push for major technology upgrades in the district, but could he fund them without another bond referendum? In San Diego, Grier oversaw the passage of a bond that included funding for a one-to-one technology package, where every classroom will get
a laptop for every student, an interactive white board, digital cameras and an audio system. Research hasn't always supported the give-every-kid-a-laptop approach, but perhaps HISD can learn from the San Diego experiment.

On principals: Grier said the district has to change how it selects and interviews principals. He said his staff recently brought him a few candidates to interview and he wasn't pleased with the quality. After that, he said he basically told his staff, "If you can't bring me better principals to interview, don't bring them." Just because a candidate is popular with a school board member or the community doesn't mean that person can lead, Grier said. Ouch! Read here about the so-called Haberman interview process Grier implemented in Guilford County (and perhaps in San Diego too).

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Tips for parent-teacher conferences

Mrs. Cornelius:

Who doesn't want to make parent teacher conference time go more smoothly?

Let's remember: you've probably worked all day and barely had time to grab a bite to eat, and then you sit and meet with parents rapid-fire in ten or fifteen minute increments.

So here's some tips:
1. Dress professionally in welcoming colors that flatter your skin tone. I like blue or green due to my coloring. Avoid red or black. Think about matadors and bulls, here.

If you can, don't wear your dressy clothes all day-- they will be wrinkled and possibly sweaty if your schools HVAC works as well as mine does. Wear comfortable clothes during the day, and then change after the kids leave.

Brush your teeth before the parents come, too.

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October 5, 2009

UC Berkeley To Pay Consultant to Find Cost Cuts

Nanette Asimov:

UC Berkeley has agreed to pay a consultant $3 million to help the school find new ways to save money - an agreement that has irritated some faculty members whose pay is being cut this year.

The university is facing a $150 million budget deficit for the 2009-10 year, a consequence of less state funding and higher operating costs. Like all 10 UC campuses, UC Berkeley has cut faculty pay through furloughing workers, laying off employees, reducing course offerings and raising student fees.

These short-term fixes, however, "are an unsustainable long-term financial strategy," Chancellor Robert Birgeneau said Friday in an announcement posted on the campus Web site. "We are now planning for a future that relies less on volatile state funding."

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Gates Foundation Pays Consultants to Help Ohio (and other states) Apply for Federal Tax Dollar "Race to the Top" Grants

Catherine Candisky:

Ohio appears well-positioned to win a share of $4 billion in federal education money, but the state's budget problems and limits on charter schools could prove costly.

Although education officials believe Ohio can meet the requirements for funding, the most creative proposals will win out. "We have to think innovatively," said Scott Blake, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education.

Blake's department is preparing the state's application for the federal aid. Called "Race to the Top," the money was set aside to create rigorous academic standards, data systems for measuring student success, tougher teacher evaluations, and to turn around low-performing schools. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is paying for private firms to help Ohio and 15 other states prepare their grant applications.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said the Obama administration wants to reward states willing to commit to significant education initiatives, including tax-funded, privately operated charter schools that have been controversial in Ohio and elsewhere.

"I think, based on outside evaluations that have been done by the Gates Foundation and others, Ohio is fairly well positioned for Race to the Top dollars," said Terry Ryan, vice president for Ohio programs and policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Dayton.

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Gifted Student Is Being Held Back By Graduation Rules

Jay Matthews:

Anyone who wants to appreciate how strong a grip high school has on the American imagination -- and how clueless some school districts are about this -- should consider the story of Drew Gamblin, a 16-year-old student at Howard High School in Ellicott City.

Drew, a child so gifted he taught himself to write at age 3, craves a high school education and all that comes with it -- debate team, music, drama and senior prom.

After a series of inexplicable decisions by Howard County school officials, such as requiring him to stay in a Howard High algebra class he had already mastered, his parents decided to home-school him and put him in college classes. But Drew insisted on his high school dream.

So he is back at Howard, although it's not clear what grade he is in, and the school district is making it hard to enjoy what the school has to offer. He is being forced to take a world history course he already took at Howard Community College and a junior-year English course he took at home, as well as classes in other subjects he has studied.

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Good educators all differ

Alan Borsuk:

A Milwaukee-area middle school. Two boys playing around, nothing terrible, but things get a bit too rough. One of them tears the sleeve of the other one's shirt. Not such a big deal - except the shirt belonged to the boy's late father. It carried a lot of emotion for him.

The boy goes to pieces. He ends up in front of the principal.

The principal has an idea: Save the shirt. Convert it to short sleeves.

The principal goes to the school's family and consumer education teacher (OK, they were called home economics teachers in my day). She's only in the building part of the day, she doesn't teach sewing, she doesn't have the boy in class or even know him. But maybe she'll do it.

She does it - that evening, on her own time, the way lots of teachers do out-of-the-way things for their kids, or even for kids they don't directly teach.

The shirt is saved. The emotions are treated with dignity. By the next day, the boy again has this renewed memento of his father.

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Study critiques schools over subjective grading

Washington Post:

If you have ever rolled your eyes when your child says a teacher's grade was unfair, you might want to think again. Your child might be right.

Douglas Reeves, an expert on grading systems, conducted an experiment with more than 10,000 educators that he says proves just how subjective grades can be.

Reeves asked teachers and administrators in the United States, Australia, Canada and South America to determine a final semester grade for a student who received the following grades for assignments, in this order:

C, C, MA (Missing Assignment), D, C, B, MA, MA, B, A.

The educators gave the student final semester grades from A to F, Reeves said.

Why? Because, he said, teachers use different criteria for grading.

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On Teacher Unions, Political Power and Reform

Kyle Olson:

Earlier this year Robert Chanin, the recently retired general counsel for the National Education Association, discussed the effectiveness of teachers unions at a gathering in San Diego:

Despite what some of us would like to believe, it is not because of our creative ideas. It is not because of the merit of our positions. It is not because we care about children. And it is not because we have a vision of a great public school for every child.

NEA and its affiliates are effective advocates because we have power.

You can see that portion of his 20 minute speech here:
Related: the most recent proposed agreement between the Madison School District and Madison Teacher's, Inc. , local comments and the expression of political power through the current Democrat majority in the Wisconsin legislature via the elimination of "revenue limits and economic conditions from collective bargaining arbitration".

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50 Free Ivy-League Lectures on the Economy

Online Classes:

The economy has taken central stage in world news for the past few years due to rapidly failing markets the world over. Even with so much attention focused on economic issues if you're not familiar with the field, or simply want a more in-depth look at things, it can be hard to follow just what's going on. These lectures, given by scholars from some of the most prestigious educational institutions in the United States and around the world can help give you that foundation of knowledge and help you better understand the financial crisis that's been building over the past few years.

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October 4, 2009

Rethinking "Small Learning Communities": A review of the small-schools structure at North Eugene High nears

Anne Williams:

Four years after North Eugene High School set out to reinvent itself, the Eugene School Board wants to take stock. [Eugene School Board Goals, Superintendent's Proposed Goals.]

Within the next month or two, the district -- at the board's behest -- will hire an individual or team of educational researchers to try to gauge how well North Eugene's "small schools" structure is serving students.

"It's kind of consistent with board goals; we try to have measurable results," board Chairman Craig Smith said. "We decided that, since the first class has come through, it's time to see where we are in terms of progress."

Showing gains -- lower dropout rates, improved student achievement, better attendance and greater college readiness -- has been difficult at many schools that have taken North Eugene's path.

Championed and chiefly bankrolled by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the small schools movement aimed to lift student achievement by creating highly personalized schools where all students were known and held to high standards and teachers worked closely together.

But after investing a goodly share of $2 billion into the creation of hundreds of small schools across the country, the Gates Foundation has shifted direction in its high school reform strategy, focusing less on structure and more on effective teaching and curriculum.

"The structural and design changes in schools we focused on in our earlier work simply did not yield those gains," Vicki Phillips, the foundation's education director, told Congress last May.

A growing number of grant recipients have dissolved their small schools and are going back to a traditional model, sometimes with some small-school elements intact. Most cite disappointing results or burdensome operating costs, or both. Those schools include Portland's Madison High School and Mountlake Terrace High School in the Seattle suburbs, a flagship of the initiative that staff members from North visited during the planning phase.


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Ben Chavis: "The Democrats have it wrong, guys," Chavis said Friday at a forum hosted by the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington. "We have screwed up the public school systems."

Lynsi Burton:

Although a Democrat, Ben Chavis, the former principal of the American Indian Public Charter School in Oakland, is an unlikely advocate for the education reform plan backed by President Obama.

Chavis bucks the conventions typically associated with his party's education platform, which is generally union-friendly.

"The Democrats have it wrong, guys," Chavis said Friday at a forum hosted by the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington. "We have screwed up the public school systems."

When he took over one of Oakland's worst-performing charter schools, he emphasized the importance of standardized test scores, shamelessly ousted teachers he considered substandard, and employed military-style discipline on his students.

Now, based on California's Academic Performance Index, only four middle schools in California perform better than his Oakland charter school, where 81 percent of kids are classified as low-income.

It is this style of teaching accountability that the Obama administration seeks to employ - much to the chagrin of unions - with Race to the Top, a competitive grant program for schools that the White House unveiled in July.

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California Teacher Layoffs

Seema Mehta:

As thousands of laid off California teachers sit out the school year, educators are worried about the long-term effect of losing so many teachers. Some instructors are considering leaving the state or even the profession, and if history is any indication, fewer young people will pursue careers in teaching.

"The pipeline issue is one of the most significant challenges that we're dealing with, with the layoff situation or the pink-slipping," said Margaret Gaston, executive director of the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning, a Santa Cruz-based nonprofit focused on strengthening California's teacher workforce.

Faced with severe budget cuts, school districts last spring issued more than 27,000 pink slips. Although many of those teachers were eventually rehired by school districts, thousands are still out of work, existing on a combination of unemployment benefits, their savings, spouses' wages and substitute teaching income when possible.

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Virginia Governor Candidates on The Schools

Michael Alison Chandler:

Hundreds of teachers, social workers, librarians and superintendents made clear in a series of hearings across the state last week the challenges that face the next Virginia governor: Overworked teachers. Shorter library hours. Longer bus routes. Bigger class sizes.

"Virginia is 37th in the nation in per pupil state spending. That is a sad fact," said Jim Livingston, a math teacher from Prince William County, speaking Wednesday night before members of the state Board of Education at West Potomac High School in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County. "Further cuts in funding will make it all but impossible to provide the children of the commonwealth" with a high-quality education.

Both gubernatorial candidates have vowed to improve the public schools by raising teacher salaries and strengthening math and science instruction. Robert F. McDonnell (R) wants to increase the number of charter schools and institute a performance pay system to reward successful teachers. State Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) hopes to continue expanding access to pre-kindergarten and create a college scholarship program for students who pledge two years to public service.

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More Transferring from Private to Public Schools in Montgomery County

Michael Birnbaum:

At the end of August, Gabriel Liegey left his crisp school uniform gathering dust in his closet in favor of jeans and T-shirts. Natalie Medrano and her sister traded a long drive to private school in Frederick for a ride on the school bus with other kids on their block. And Lawson Hamilton gave up an eighth-grade class of 26 for a freshman class of almost 500.

All four joined the rising number of Washington area students who have switched out of private schools this year as financial pressures and the availability of good public schools have made the option irresistible to some.

In Montgomery County, the only jurisdiction in the area that tracks movement between private and public schools, the net number of students who jumped from private to public schools rose to 727 in the 2008-09 school year, according to preliminary figures. That is more than double the number in 2006-07 and the largest total since the county began tracking the numbers in 1988.

Other public schools across the region reported a rise in the number of families transferring in.

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A longer school year, day?

Justin Reynolds:

A longer school year for American students? It would be the ideal reality if the Obama administration has its way.

Earlier this year, according to the Associated Press, President Obama said that, while an unpopular idea, longer school days and longer school years are necessary to deal with the challenges of a new century.

Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education, recently told the Associated Press that America's "school calendar is based upon the agrarian economy and not too many of our kids are working the fields today."

"Young people in other countries are going to school 25, 30% longer than our students here," Secretary Duncan said. "I want to just level the playing field."
While students in other countries might spend more days in school, students in America, on average, spend more hours in school each year, the Associated Press reported.

Dr. Gary Richards, superintendent of schools, said he doesn't necessarily agree with the President.

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A Crackdown on Bake Sales in City Schools

Jennifer Medina:

There shall be no cupcakes. No chocolate cake and no carrot cake. According to New York City's latest regulations, not even zucchini bread makes the cut.

In an effort to limit how much sugar and fat students put in their bellies at school, the Education Department has effectively banned most bake sales, the lucrative if not quite healthy fund-raising tool for generations of teams and clubs.

The change is part of a new wellness policy that also limits what can be sold in vending machines and student-run stores, which use profits to help finance activities like pep rallies and proms. The elaborate rules were outlined in a three-page memo issued at the end of June, but in the new school year, principals and parents are just beginning to, well, digest them.

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M.I.T. Taking Student Blogs to Nth Degree

Tamar Lewin:

Cristen Chinea, a senior at M.I.T., made a confession in her blog on the college Web site.

"There've been several times when I felt like I didn't really fit in at M.I.T.," she wrote. "I nearly fell asleep during a Star Wars marathon. It wasn't a result of sleep deprivation. I was bored out of my mind."

Still, in other ways, Ms. Chinea feels right at home at the institute -- she loves the anime club, and that her hall has its own wiki Web site and an Internet Relay for real-time messaging. As she wrote on her blog, a hallmate once told her that "M.I.T. is the closest you can get to living in the Internet," and Ms. Chinea reported, "IT IS SO TRUE. Love. It. So. Much."

Dozens of colleges -- including Amherst, Bates, Carleton, Colby, Vassar, Wellesley and Yale -- are embracing student blogs on their Web sites, seeing them as a powerful marketing tool for high school students, who these days are less interested in official messages and statistics than in first-hand narratives and direct interaction with current students.

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October 3, 2009

One Reason Why Risky D.C. Teacher Evaluation Might Work

Jay Matthews:

My colleague Bill Turque has a terrific story today about D.C. Schools Chancellor MIchelle Rhee's plan to evaluate the effectiveness of her teachers and get rid of those who are not helping students learn.

The idea is full of risks. Rhee's plan to evaluate each teacher's class at the beginning of the year, based on prior test scores and other factors, and set a reasonable mark for their improvement, has not, as far as I can tell, ever been tried before on this scale.

There is only one reason why I think it has a reasonable chance of success, and his name is Jason Kamras. He is now Rhee's deputy for human capital, an unusual title, but I sort of understand what it means.

Turque said Kamras "led the effort to revamp the District's system" for assessing teachers. If Kamras were just another headquarters paper pusher, I would predict doom for his plan.

But he is one of the best teachers in the country. Long ago, I once spent a few days getting his life story and checking him out with other great teachers I know. He taught math at Sousa Middle School in the District, and also offered a photography class for those students, most of them from low-income families.

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How Teachers Unions Lost the Media

Richard Whitmire & Andrew Rotherham:

Quick: Which newspaper in recent editorials called teachers unions "indefensible" and a barrier to reform? You'd be excused for guessing one of the conservative outlets, but it was that bastion of liberalism, the New York Times. A month ago, The New Yorker--yes, The New Yorker--published a scathing piece on the problems with New York City's "rubber room," a union-negotiated arrangement that lets incompetent teachers while away the day at full salary while doing nothing. The piece quoted a principal saying that union leader Randi Weingarten "would protect a dead body in the classroom."

Things only got worse for the unions this past week. A Washington Post editorial about charter schools carried this sarcastic headline: "Poor children learn. Teachers unions are not pleased." And the Times weighed in again Monday, calling a national teachers union "aggressively hidebound."

In recent months, the press has not merely been harsh on unions--it has championed some controversial school reformers. Washington's schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee, who won't win any popularity contests among teachers, enjoys unwavering support from the Post editorial page for her plans to institute merit pay and abolish tenure.

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A Crazy Idea for Middle Schools

Jay Matthews:

When education pundits like me talk about the Ben Chavis. He is very different from us data-sifting eggheads. It is not an exaggeration to call him a wild man. He delights in upbraiding lazy students, outraging inattentive teachers and making wrong-headed visitors to the school wish they had stayed home. He has the independent spirit of someone who had a successful career in construction, teaching and business before the then-woebegone AIPCS board asked him to rescue the school. He didn't need the job. He did it mostly as a favor to fellow Native Americans--he was born into a Lumbee Indian family of sharecroppers in North Carolina--and as a challenge. He has many of the habits of some of the best educators I know--a wicked sense of humor, a weakness for shocking the conventionally wise and a deep love of children, particularly those who have had difficult lives. I was not initially surprised when I read his new autobiography, "Crazy Like A Fox: One Principal's Triumph in the Inner City," written with Carey Blakely, a teacher and administrator who helped him launch the American Indian Public High School. His story was much like those of other ground-breaking educators I have known.">American Indian Public Charter School in Oakland, Calif., the conversation is always about the middle school's leader, Ben Chavis. He is very different from us data-sifting eggheads. It is not an exaggeration to call him a wild man. He delights in upbraiding lazy students, outraging inattentive teachers and making wrong-headed visitors to the school wish they had stayed home.

He has the independent spirit of someone who had a successful career in construction, teaching and business before the then-woebegone AIPCS board asked him to rescue the school. He didn't need the job. He did it mostly as a favor to fellow Native Americans--he was born into a Lumbee Indian family of sharecroppers in North Carolina--and as a challenge. He has many of the habits of some of the best educators I know--a wicked sense of humor, a weakness for shocking the conventionally wise and a deep love of children, particularly those who have had difficult lives.

I was not initially surprised when I read his new autobiography, "Crazy Like A Fox: One Principal's Triumph in the Inner City," written with Carey Blakely, a teacher and administrator who helped him launch the American Indian Public High School. His story was much like those of other ground-breaking educators I have known.

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Increase in 'academic doping' could spark routine urine tests for exam students


The increasing use of smart drugs or "nootropics," to boost academic performance, could mean that exam students will face routine doping tests in future, suggests an article in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

Despite raising many dilemmas about the legitimacy of chemically enhanced academic performance, these drugs will be near impossible to ban, says Vince Cakic of the Department of Psychology, University of Sydney.

He draws several parallels with doping in competitive sports, where it is suggested that "95%" of elite athletes have used performance enhancing drugs.

"It is apparent that the failures and inconsistencies inherent in anti doping policy in sport will be mirrored in academia unless a reasonable and realistic approach to the issue of nootropics is adopted," he claims.

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Education Spending: Lies Our Professors Tell Us

Neal McCluskey:

On Sunday, the Washington Post ran an op-ed by the chancellor and vice chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, in which the writers proposed that the federal government start pumping money into a select few public universities. Why? On the constantly repeated but never substantiated assertion that state and local governments have been cutting those schools off.

As I point out in the following, unpublished letter to the editor, that is what we in the business call "a lie:"

It's unfortunate that officials of a taxpayer-funded university felt the need to deceive in order to get more taxpayer dough, but that's what UC Berkeley's Robert Birgeneau and Frank Yeary did. Writing about the supposedly dire financial straits of public higher education ("Rescuing Our Public Universities," September 27), Birgeneau and Yeary lamented decades of "material and progressive disinvestment by states in higher education." But there's been no such disinvestment, at least over the last quarter-century. According to inflation-adjusted data from the State Higher Education Executive Officers, in 1983 state and local expenditures per public-college pupil totaled $6,478. In 2008 they hit $7,059. At the same time, public-college enrollment ballooned from under 8 million students to over 10 million. That translates into anything but a "disinvestment" in the public ivory tower, no matter what its penthouse residents may say.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case. The term "cut" is often used when referring to a reduction in the annual increase in education spending.

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Education Management Initial Public Offering (IPO)

Lynn Cowan:

The IPO of for-profit college operator Education Management Corp. scored well with investors Friday, while shipment router Echo Global Logistics Inc. struggled to attract them.

Education Management's initial public offering of stock closed at $21.77 on the Nasdaq Stock Market, up 21% from its offering price of $18. It sold 20 million shares at the low end of its expected price range of $18 to $20 a share.

Pittsburgh-based Education Management has increased its enrollment and revenue through 2008 and 2009. The company operates four for-profit colleges: the Art Institutes, Argosy University, Brown Mackie College and South University.

About 82% of Education Management's revenue is derived from federal student-aid programs, which require it to meet certain financial responsibility standards. But a high level of debt -- $1.99 billion in June -- puts it out of compliance and requires the company to post a $120.5 million letter of credit.

Education Management was taken private for $3.4 billion in 2006 by a consortium of investors that included Providence Equity Partners, Goldman Sachs Capital Partners and Leeds Equity Partners. The buyout was financed by a large chunk of debt.

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From Birth, Engage Your Child With Talk

Jane Brody:

I recently stopped to congratulate a young mother pushing her toddler in a stroller. The woman had been talking to her barely verbal daughter all the way up the block, pointing out things they had passed, asking questions like "What color are those flowers?" and talking about what they would do when they got to the park.

This is a rare occurrence in my Brooklyn neighborhood, I told her. All too often, the mothers and nannies I see are tuned in to their cellphones, BlackBerrys and iPods, not their young children.

There were no such distractions when my husband and I, and most other parents of a certain age, spent time with our babies, toddlers and preschoolers. Like this young mother, we talked to them. We read to them and sang with them. And long before they became verbal, we mimicked their noises, letting them know they were communicating and we were listening and responding. (And we've done the same with our four grandsons, all born after the turn of this wireless century.)

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October 2, 2009

More on Singapore Math & The Madison School District

Next week's Madison School Board agenda includes a number of pages [PDF] regarding the purchase of Singapore Math materials for elementary schools. Recent activity on this front included the purchase of workbooks without textbooks.
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Inflation Adjusted United States Federal Spending Per Pupil & Achievement of 17 Year Olds, % Change since 1970

Andrew Coulson, via a kind reader's email:

The debate over No Child Left Behind re-authorization is upon us.

Except it isn't.

In his recent speech kicking off the discussion, education secretary Arne Duncan asked not whether the central federal education law should be reauthorized, he merely asked how.

Let's step back a bit, and examine why we should end federal intervention in (and spending on) our nation's schools... in one thousand words or less:

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Teachers Union Shifts Stance, Backs Looser Staffing Rules

Robert Tomsho:

With the Obama administration trying to turn around failing schools, the nation's largest teachers' union will ask its local bargaining units to waive contract language that might hamper school districts from staffing troubled schools with highly qualified teachers.

For the National Education Association, the announcement represents a major shift away from some of its traditional stands regarding teacher staffing. Some observers, however, expressed caution about whether it will result in significant change.

School administrators long have complained that collective-bargaining pacts often require them to fill job openings based on seniority, leading experienced teachers to transfer out of low-performing, high-poverty schools as soon as they can find an opening elsewhere in a district. Many union agreements also bar districts from using merit pay or other incentives to persuade their best teachers to staff these schools.

As a result, students in such schools are more likely to be taught by teachers who have little experience or expertise in their field. Four out of 10 classes in high-poverty schools are taught by out-of-field teachers, more than double the rate found in more affluent schools, according to a 2008 study by the Education Trust, a research and advocacy group that focuses on low-income schools.

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Detroit Coaxes Students to High-Stakes Roll Call

Alex Kellogg:

Annual 'Count Day' Determines How Much State Money Schools Will Get; a Test for District's Emergency Financial Manager

Public school districts across Michigan mobilized Wednesday to boost attendance for Count Day, the annual fall roll call that largely determines how much money each district receives under the state's per-pupil funding system.

Students in Detroit were treated to free meals, ice-cream parties, T-shirts, celebrity visits and a chance to win iPods and a plasma-screen TV -- just for showing up for class.

Districts received an average of $7,810 per student last year, but that could decline by more than $200 a pupil this year as Michigan looks to close a $1.7 billion budget hole. Every student in class Wednesday represented funding for the school year.

The stakes were especially high for the Detroit Public Schools, where Wednesday's carnival atmosphere masked grim financial realities. Enrollment has plummeted roughly 50% in the past decade, contributing to a $259 million deficit this year that has put the district on the brink of bankruptcy.

The results of the count will serve as the first report card for Robert C. Bobb, the district's state-appointed emergency financial manager, who is hoping to stave off bankruptcy and stabilize enrollment. Detroit schools this summer launched a $500,000 campaign aimed at keeping students that included ads by Bill Cosby.

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Can the Right Kinds of Play Teach Self-Control?

Paul Tough:

"Come on, Abigail."

"No, wait!" Abigail said. "I'm not finished!" She was bent low over her clipboard, a stubby pencil in her hand, slowly scratching out the letters in the book's title, one by one: T H E. . . .

"Abigail, we're waiting!" Jocelyn said, staring forcefully at her classmate. Henry, sitting next to her, sighed dramatically.

"I'm going as fast as I can!" Abigail said, looking harried. She brushed a strand of hair out of her eyes and plowed ahead: V E R Y. . . .

The three children were seated at their classroom's listening center, where their assignment was to leaf through a book together while listening on headphones to a CD with the voice of a teacher reading it aloud. The book in question was lying on the table in front of Jocelyn, and every few seconds, Abigail would jump up and lean over Jocelyn to peer at the cover, checking what came next in the title. Then she would dive back to the paper on her clipboard, and her pencil would carefully shape yet another letter: H U N. . . .

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At School in Queens, Success Draws Crowd

Jennifer Medina:

ining up for lunch with their plastic foam trays, students at Francis Lewis High School pile on their choices -- hamburgers here, chicken nuggets there, some steamed vegetables over there.

At Francis Lewis, in Fresh Meadows, Queens, with nearly twice as many students as the 2,400 it was designed for, administrators have been forced to look for every possible nook and cranny of space -- and time -- to cram in more bodies. The first lunch period starts at 8:57 a.m.; the last one ends at 2:46 p.m. Some students begin classes as early as 7 a.m., while others do not finish until 12 hours later.

The flag team practices in the hallway. Hundreds of students are assigned to physical education in room "Outs" -- the schedule abbreviation for outside. When it snows or the temperature drops below 34 degrees, they run in the corridors. A few science classes are held in one tiny square room with no ventilation.

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The College Calculation

David Leonhardt:

The most subversive question about higher education has always been whether the college makes the student or the student makes the college. Sure, Harvard graduates make more money than graduates of just about any other college. And most community-college students will end up making far less than graduates of flagship state universities. But of course these students didn't enter college with the same preparation and skills. Colleges don't help to clear up the situation either, because they do so little to measure what students learn between freshman and senior years. So doubt lurks: how much does a college education -- the actual teaching and learning that happens on campus -- really matter?

A recession makes such doubt all the more salient. Last month, National Public Radio ran a segment called "">Is a College Education Worth the Debt?" in which an economist noted that 12 percent of mail carriers have college degrees -- the point being that they could have gotten the same jobs without the degrees. In January, "20/20" ran a similar segment, in which somebody identified as an education consultant and a career counselor summed up the case against college. "You could take the pool of collegebound students and you could lock them in a closet for four years," he said, and thanks to their smarts and work ethic, they would still outearn people who never went to college. I heard a more measured version of these concerns when I recently sat down with a group of college students. They were paying tuition and studying hard, and yet they weren't sure what they would find on the other side of graduation.

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Curbing College Gambling

Jennifer Epstein:

A lottery ticket or an online game of Texas Hold'em might be a little bit easier to avoid than a beer at a party, but an industry-funded panel released a report Tuesday urging colleges and universities to handle student gambling much like student drinking.

In its report, "A Call to Action," the year-old Task Force on College Gambling Policies has formulated recommendations aimed at helping institutions construct their own student health and disciplinary policies on gambling. The group was created by the Harvard Medical School-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance's Division on Addictions and funded by the American Gambling Association's charity, the National Center for Responsible Gaming.

A 2005 study conducted by the Division on Addictions and funded by the gaming center found that 22 percent of a scientifically selected group of 119 colleges had written gambling policies. In its press release on the report, the NCRG cites the study as the impetus behind the task force's creation.

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October 1, 2009

Binghamton Lecturer Critical of Athletics Is Fired

Pete Thamel:

The Binghamton University adjunct lecturer who accused the athletic department of giving preferential treatment to men's basketball players and pressuring her to change her grading policy for players was dismissed Tuesday.

The lecturer, Sally Dear, who taught human development for 11 years, said she felt the decision was linked to her criticism that appeared in a New York Times article in February.

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A Push for New York Charter Schools

Gail Robinson:

In the wake of a study finding charter schools help close the student achievement gap, Mayor Michael Bloomberg today announced a series of steps to expand and otherwise bolster charter schools in the city. (We're not sure why this announcement came from his campaign and not the mayor's office or the education department but it did.)

Much of the plan suggests proposals that charter proponents have sought for a while: lifting the cap on the number of charter schools, giving the schools chancellor the power to grant charters (an authority that now rests with the State Board of Regents) and streamlining the charter review process.

But the statement also provides additional evidence of the mutual back scratching between the Bloomberg administration and the Harlem Children's Zone and its founder, Geoffrey Canada.

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The Billion Dollar Gram

Information is beautiful:

Billions spent on this. Billions spent on that. What does it all look like? Hopefully The Billion Dollar Gram will help.

This image arose out of a frustration with the reporting of billion dollar amounts in the media. That is, they're reported as self-evident facts, when, in fact, they're mind-boggling and near incomprehensible without context. But they can start to be understood visually and relatively, IMHO.

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The Inner-City Prep School Experience

Maggie Jones:

In the Southeast section of Washington, a public boarding school sits on four compact acres, enclosed by an eight-foot-high black metal fence. Behind the fence, the modern buildings of the SEED School are well scrubbed and soaked in prep-school culture. Pennants from Dartmouth, Swarthmore and Spelman decorate the hallways. Words that might appear on the next SAT -- "daedal," "holus-bolus," "calamari" -- are taped to bathroom and dorm walls. And inside the cafeteria hang 11-by-15-inch framed photos of SEED grads in caps and gowns, laughing, clutching diplomas.

Beyond the fence, the scene is a different one. Despite some recent development, Southeast's Ward 7, where SEED is located, and neighboring Ward 8, remain the most impoverished parts of the city, with more than their share of tired liquor stores and low-slung public housing. In all of Ward 7, the 70,000 residents have just one sit-down restaurant, a Denny's.

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A College Teacher's Response to President Obama's Idea of Lengthening the School Day

"A College Teacher":

A few days ago, President Obama talked about increasing the length of the school day and school year. Before I even had a chance to fashion a response in my head, I received this piece from K, who has been teaching science at a small independent college for over a decade and has written for this blog before here. She spends her leisure time learning from her three young boys. You can read more of her random thoughts at her blog, raisingthewreckingcrew.

A College Teacher's Response to President Obama's Idea of Lengthening the School Day
by K, A College Teacher

President Obama advocates increasing the length of the school day and the length of the school year. More School: Obama Would Curtail Summer Vacation.

There are many problems with this.

President Obama seems to be arguing: if something isn't working, what we really need is more of it. It just plain doesn't make sense. While some countries provide more learning in more time, there are other nations that make better use of less time and have better student outcomes.

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NEA moves to help poor schools with best teachers

Greg Toppo:

The USA's largest teachers union will encourage local chapters to ignore contract provisions that in the past have kept school districts' best teachers out of schools that serve mostly poor and minority students.
Testifying Tuesday before the House education committee, National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel said the union, which represents about 3.2 million teachers and other workers, will ask local affiliates to draw up memoranda of understanding with local school districts that would "waive any contract language that prohibits staffing high-needs schools with great teachers."

Van Roekel said the move is part of the union's "Priority Schools" campaign that will also encourage "the most accomplished teachers-members" to start their teaching careers in high-needs schools, remain there or transfer there.

In the past, NEA has come under fire from critics for supporting contracts that allow experienced teachers with more seniority to transfer to schools that serve more middle-class children.

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Steve Barr's Answers for School Reform

Malaika Costello-Dougherty:

Green Dot's founder, who led the turnaround of the toughest school in Los Angeles, discusses his ideas on how to fix a failing system.

This might be the moment for Green Dot founder Steve Barr.

The Obama administration has set a goal of turning around 5,000 failing schools in the next five years, supported by an expected $3 billion in stimulus funds and $2 billion in the 2009 and 2010 budgets. Known in education circles and beyond as an aggressive agent of change, Barr has been in talks with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan about how to boost failing schools and whether Green Dot's methods can serve as a blueprint for fixing schools across the country.

It was these same failing schools that inspired Barr to start Green Dot. Having known hard times in his youth, including some time as a foster child, Barr was drawn to improving schools for disenfranchised youth.

After working in politics for many years (and cofounding Rock the Vote), he began researching the push to wire all schools with technology. He saw a map that used green dots to represent schools with the necessary infrastructure to be wired and red dots for schools that lacked that foundation. Barr had the vision that every school should be a green dot, and thus began his crusade.

Green Dot consists of 19 small charter high schools in Los Angeles -- several of which were formerly part of Watts's infamous Locke High School, which Green Dot, in an unprecedented coup, broke down into smaller schools. In addition, Green Dot New York finished its first year last June.

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

Democrat Senator (Illinois) Dick Durbin and Washington, DC School Vouchers

Wall Street Journal:

Low-income families in the District of Columbia got some encouraging words yesterday from an unlikely source. Illinois Senator Richard Durbin signaled that he may be open to reauthorizing the Opportunity Scholarship Program, a school voucher program that allows 1,700 disadvantaged kids to opt out of lousy D.C. public schools and attend a private school.

"I have to work with my colleagues if this is going to be reauthorized, which it might be," said Mr. Durbin at an appropriations hearing Tuesday morning. He also said that he had visited one of the participating private schools and understood that "many students are getting a good education from the program."

Earlier this year, Mr. Durbin inserted language into a spending bill that phases out the program after 2010 unless Congress renews it and the D.C. Council approves. A Department of Education evaluation has since revealed that the mostly minority students are making measurable academic gains and narrowing the black-white learning gap. D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and a majority of the D.C. Council have expressed support for continuing the program.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:41 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

In knots over school headscarves

The Economist:

FOR all its grand central squares and lively cultural scene, the Belgian port of Antwerp is not always a happy town. Flemish old-timers share its gritty streets with Arabs, Africans, Asians and, in the diamond district, Hasidic Jews. Race relations are not easy: in the latest local elections, a third of the vote went to Vlaams Belang, an anti-immigrant, far-right Flemish nationalist party. The handsome stone bulk of the Royal Atheneum, a once-elite state school with a 200-year history, has produced legendary free-thinkers and radicals in its day. Now, however, it is enjoying unhappy fame: as the centre of an experiment in multiculturalism wrecked by intolerance. The story defies neat conclusions.

In September 2001 Karin Heremans became headmistress of the Atheneum, which has students of 45 nationalities. The September 11th attacks on America came ten days after she took charge, and her schoolyard became the scene of "very intense" arguments. Ms Heremans responded by working hard to turn her school into a place of "active pluralism". A project about Darwin was led by science teachers but backed by a dialogue among the school's religious instructors. A local composer wrote a work with Christian, Jewish and Muslim passages for pupils to sing. There were debates on sexuality and elections. A fashion show saw girls invited to wear Muslim headscarves, or not: one teenager wore half a scarf to symbolise indecision.

In France Muslim headscarves, along with all ostentatious religious symbols, have been banned at state schools since 2004. It helps that France has a record of separating religion from the state going back more than a century (even a Christmas nativity play would be unthinkable at a French state school).

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

Teenage Sexual Maturity

The Economist:

IT HAS long been a puzzle that girls who grow up without their fathers at home reach sexual maturity earlier than girls whose fathers live with them. For years, absent fathers have taken the blame for this, because growing up quickly has negative consequences for girls. For example, early-bloomers are more likely to suffer depression, hate their bodies, engage in risky sex and get pregnant in their teen years.

It could be a simple matter of not having as many eyes, particularly suspicious fatherly ones, watching over daughters. Or it could be a complicated physiological response to stress, in which girls adapt their reproductive strategy to their circumstances. If life is harsh, the theory goes, maybe they need to get their babies into the world as quickly as possible.

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