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November 30, 2009

The College Fear Factor: How Students and Professors Misunderstand One Another

Rebecca Cox:

They're not the students strolling across the bucolic liberal arts campuses where their grandfathers played football. They are first-generation college students--children of immigrants and blue-collar workers--who know that their hopes for success hinge on a degree.

But college is expensive, unfamiliar, and intimidating. Inexperienced students expect tough classes and demanding, remote faculty. They may not know what an assignment means, what a score indicates, or that a single grade is not a definitive measure of ability. And they certainly don't feel entitled to be there. They do not presume success, and if they have a problem, they don't expect to receive help or even a second chance.

Rebecca D. Cox draws on five years of interviews and observations at community colleges. She shows how students and their instructors misunderstand and ultimately fail one another, despite good intentions. Most memorably, she describes how easily students can feel defeated--by their real-world responsibilities and by the demands of college--and come to conclude that they just don't belong there after all.

Eye-opening even for experienced faculty and administrators, The College Fear Factor reveals how the traditional college culture can actually pose obstacles to students' success, and suggests strategies for effectively explaining academic expectations.

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Charter schools: Two studies, two conclusions

Nick Anderson:

As President Obama pushes for more charter schools, the education world craves a report card on an experiment nearly two decades old. How are these independent public schools doing? The safest and perhaps most accurate reply -- it depends -- leaves many unsatisfied.

This year, two major studies offer contradictory conclusions on a movement that now counts more than 5,000 charter schools nationwide, including dozens in the District and Maryland and a handful in Virginia.

Margaret Raymond, director of Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes, reported in June that most charter schools deliver academic results that are worse or no better than student accomplishments in regular public schools. She relied on test data from 15 states (not including Maryland or Virginia) and the District.

Caroline M. Hoxby, a Stanford economist, reported in September that charter school students are making much more progress than peers who sought entry to those schools by lottery but were turned down. She drew on test data from New York City.

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"Helping Parents Better Understand Public Education"

Brittany Brown:

Parents for Public Schools is recruiting Pine Belt parents to attend a free, two-day leadership institute this spring designed to help parents better understand public education.

"Most of the time, they do not understand the language or acronyms used in education," said Victoria Peters, a parent coach with the organization who works in the Pine Belt.

"We know parents have something to say, but the reason we don't hear them is because they don't know what to say to give feedback."

The institute is sponsored by Parents for Public Schools, a national organization based in Jackson that promotes parent involvement and leadership in schools. It will be held Feb. 26-27, March 26-27 and April 16-17 at the Hilton in Jackson. The deadline to apply is Dec. 14.

Peters said 30 parents will be selected to attend a variety of interactive workshops and breakout sessions.

"We want a diverse group of parents," she said.


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Plano Schools' Boundary Changes

Matthew Haag:

The redrawing of school attendance zones usually upsets some parents, but a set of proposed changes in the Plano school district triggered a war of words the likes of which the district hadn't seen in years.

Parents not only lambasted the proposed changes, but they also turned on one another, accusing opponents of selfishly thinking only about their own children.

"This school-vs.-school and neighborhood-vs.-neighborhood thing saddened me," trustee Brad Shanklin said at a board meeting this month.

District officials recently put forth a new set of changes partly designed to quell the anger. And they will find out Tuesday whether they have succeeded.

That's when residents will have a chance to speak publicly about the latest proposal. The district will host a similar meeting the next night in Spanish. School board members are expected to vote on the boundary changes Dec. 15.

New boundaries are needed to balance student enrollment across Plano ISD after more families moved into the district's eastern side.

Presentations on the proposed boundary changes: School Board 2.8MB PDF / Staff 1.7MB PDF.

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Report finds wide disparities in gifted education


When Liz Fitzgerald realized her son and daughter were forced to read books in math class while the other children caught up, she had them moved into gifted classes at their suburban elementary school.

Just 100 miles down the road in Taliaferro County, that wouldn't have been an option. All the gifted classes were canceled because of budget cuts.

Such disparities exist in every state, according to a new report by the National Association for Gifted Children that blames low federal funding and a focus on low-performing students.

The report, "State of the States in Gifted Education," hits at a basic element of the federal government's focus on education: Most of its money and effort goes into helping low-performing, poor and minority students achieve basic proficiency. It largely ignores the idea of helping gifted kids reach their highest potential, leaving those tasks to states and local school districts.

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The masters of education With the Gates Foundation grant in hand, Memphis City Schools will funnel incentives to develop the best and brightest teachers and seed the system with role models

Jane Roberts:

Kimberly Hamilton arrives and leaves work in the dark so often, custodians at Winchester Elementary School are on alert not to lock her in or out.

"If I leave at 5 o'clock, someone's putting a hand to my forehead to see if I have a fever," she says, laughing at the absurdity, but serious about the hours it takes to move children from barely proficient to mastery.

She teaches her third-graders to get along with others, be good citizens, live in a violent society and dream for the future.

The $90 million grant the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded this month to Memphis City Schools to improve the effectiveness of its teachers offers Hamilton the biggest one-time raise she could ever hope for in public education, going from the $49,000 she earned last year to the $75,000 base pay proposed for the district's most talented teachers.

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Sorry, wisdom's gone on furlough

David Shapiro:

There's more drama than learning in local education as we "flASHback" on the week's news that amused and confused:

• The Board of Education and teachers union question whether $50 million offered by Gov. Linda Lingle is enough to reopen public schools on "furlough Fridays." That's the old "no can do" spirit that made our schools what they are.

• U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is sending an aide to Hawai'i to meet state education leaders and visit schools. If he wants to visit on Friday, it'll cost him $160 million to open the doors.

• Kids from lower-income families may lose out on preschool because of state plans to quadruple costs. They've left behind as many K-12 children as they can, so they're moving down to the nursery schools.

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The one-child policy has outlived its usefulness

South China Morning Post:

The mainland's one-child policy has helped prevent a population explosion. This has been crucial amid the nation's poverty relief efforts, rapid urbanisation and phenomenal economic growth. But it is a social policy soaked in blood.

By creating a gender imbalance that has produced an estimated 38 million more males since 1980, Nankai University population researcher Yuan Xin has observed that statistically, this must translate into a comparable loss in the number of females. The females are believed to have been lost either through abortion or killing after birth. The heavy price China will pay for this draconian policy will become increasingly apparent in coming years.

News headlines often focus on the dangers a male-heavy population pose to China. Experience from around the world has shown how frustrated young men are more prone to radical politics; they also contribute to higher crime rates. With no family to rely on in their old age, they become a heavy burden on social security.

But the toll on females is even heavier. A meticulous demographic study produced on the mainland in 1990 estimated that about 39,000 baby girls died annually because parents did not give them the same medical care and attention that boys received. And that was only in the first year of life. There is scant evidence that the situation has improved in the intervening two decades. A male-dominated culture has long favoured boys over girls, but the one-child policy has simply exacerbated the gender imbalance.

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New York City's Schools Share Space, And Bitterness, With Charters

Jennifer Medina:

Suzanne Tecza had spent a year redesigning the library at Middle School 126 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, including colorful new furniture and elaborate murals of leafy trees. So when her principal decided this year to give the space to the charter high schools that share the building, Ms. Tecza was furious.

"It's not fair to our students," she said of the decision, which gives the charter students access to the room for most of the day. "It's depriving them of a fully functioning library, something they deserve."

In Red Hook, Brooklyn, teachers at Public School 15 said they avoid walking their students past rooms being used by the PAVE Academy Charter School, fearing that they will envy those students for their sparkling-clean classrooms and computers. On the Lower East Side, the Girls Preparatory Charter School was forced to turn away 50 students it had hoped to accept because it was unable to find more room in the Public School 188 building.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has made charter schools one of his third-term priorities, and that means that in New York, battles and resentment over space -- already a way of life -- will become even more common. He and his schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, have allowed nearly two-thirds of the city's 99 charter schools to move into public school buildings, officials expect two dozen charter schools to open next fall, and the mayor has said he will push the Legislature to allow him to add 100 more in the next four years.

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Value-Added Education in the Race to the Top

David Davenport:

Bill Clinton may have invented triangulation - the art of finding a "third way" out of a policy dilemma - but U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is practicing it to make desperately needed improvements in K-12 education. Unfortunately, his promotion of value-added education through "Race to the Top" grants to states could be thrown under the bus by powerful teachers' unions that view reforms more for how they affect pay and job security than whether they improve student learning.

The traditional view of education holds that it is more process than product. Educators design a process, hire teachers and administrators to run it, put students through it and consider it a success. The focus is on the inputs - how much can we spend, what curriculum shall we use, what class size is best - with very little on measuring outputs, whether students actually learn. The popular surveys of America's best schools and colleges reinforce this, measuring resources and reputation, not results. As they say, Harvard University has good graduates because it admits strong applicants, not necessarily because of what happens in the educational process.

In the last decade, the federal No Child Left Behind program has ushered in a new era of testing and accountability, seeking to shift the focus to outcomes. But this more businesslike approach does not always fit a people-centered field such as education. Some students test well, and others do not. Some schools serve a disproportionately high number of students who are not well prepared. Even in good schools, a system driven by testing and accountability incentivizes teaching to the test, neglecting other important and interesting ways to engage and educate students. As a result, policymakers and educators have been ambivalent, at best, about the No Child Left Behind regime.

"Value Added Assessment" is underway in Madison, though the work is based in the oft-criticized state WKCE examinations.

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Making the Home-School Connection

Erin Richards:

Milwaukee Public Schools will spend some $4 million in federal stimulus money over two years to support a major parental involvement program in 35 schools

First of four parts

Lennise Crampton, a 40-year-old Milwaukee mother of eight, sometimes wonders how her children would have performed in school if she'd known how to be a better parent from the start.

A single mother until she married this year, Crampton usually managed decent meals and clothing and getting her kids to class. It was up to the school, she thought, to handle the education part.

Then in December of 2005, a representative from Lloyd Street School marched up to Crampton's door and asked her to participate in a program that improves relationships between teachers, schools and families.

Crampton started coming to weekly meetings at Lloyd, where her two youngest attended. She learned about training she could get as a low-income parent. She learned how to engage in her children's academics at home and how to advocate for their needs at school.

"These little ones get the best of the best now," she said. "If it applies to my children's academics, I'm on it."

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Job prospects drawing agriculture students

David Mercer:

Tristesse Jones will probably never drive a tractor or guide a combine through rows of soybeans at harvest time.

There isn't a farm within miles of where she grew up on Chicago's west side, but she's set to graduate with a bachelor's degree in crop sciences from the University of Illinois' agriculture school next spring.

"People ask me what is my major, and they say 'What is that? So you want to grow plants?' " Jones said.

She is one of a growing number of students being drawn to ag schools around the country not by ties to a farm but by science, the job prospects for those who are good at it and, for some, an interest in the environment.

Enrollment in bachelor's degree programs in agriculture across the country grew by 21.8 percent from 2005 to 2008, from about 58,300 students to nearly 71,000, according to surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And the numbers are likely higher - not all schools respond to the surveys.

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Over-Punishment in Schools

New York Times Editorial:

New York City joined a national trend in 1998 when it put the police in charge of school security. The consensus is that public schools are now safe. But juvenile justice advocates across the country are rightly worried about policies under which children are sometimes arrested and criminalized for behavior that once was dealt with by principals or guidance counselors working with a student's parents.

Children who are singled out for arrest and suspension are at greater risk of dropping out and becoming permanently entangled with the criminal justice system. It is especially troubling that these children tend to be disproportionately black and Hispanic, and often have emotional problems or learning disabilities.

School officials in several cities have identified overpolicing as a problem in itself. The New York City Council has taken a first cut at the problem by drafting a bill, the Student Safety Act, that would bring badly needed accountability and transparency to the issue.

The draft bill would require police and education officials to file regular reports that would show how suspensions and other sanctions affect minority children, children with disabilities and other vulnerable groups. Detailed reports from the Police Department would show which students were arrested or issued summonses and why, so that lawmakers could get a sense of where overpolicing might be a problem.

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Pilot program adds finance to school curriculum

Jonathan Tamari:

With New Jersey high schools already facing a new mandate to teach students financial literacy, at least six school districts will be able to participate in a pilot program that establishes a class on the topic for seniors.
The state Department of Education in June added economics and financial literacy instruction to the state's high school graduation requirements.

At the same time, a bill working its way through the Legislature aimed to create a financial literacy pilot program, establishing a course on the subject in six districts. Those schools would receive advice and support from the state in establishing those classes.

Gov. Corzine signed the pilot-program bill on Nov. 20. The program, which will set up courses for high school seniors, will cover topics such as budgeting, savings and investment, and credit-card debt.

"So many young New Jerseyans find out all too late that living in a credit-card culture carries a price," said Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), one of the law's sponsors.

I would hope that essential financial calculations would be covered in Math class.

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November 29, 2009

Autism treatments: Risky alternative therapies have little basis in science

Trine Tsouderos & Patricia Callahan:

James Coman's son has an unusual skill. The 7-year-old, his father says, can swallow six pills at once.

Diagnosed with autism as a toddler, the Chicago boy had been placed on an intense regimen of supplements and medications aimed at treating the disorder.

Besides taking many pills, the boy was injected with vitamin B12 and received intravenous infusions of a drug used to leach mercury and other metals from the body. He took megadoses of vitamin C, a hormone and a drug that suppresses testosterone.

This complex treatment regimen -- documented in court records as part of a bitter custody battle between Coman, who opposes the therapies, and his wife -- may sound unusual, but it isn't.

Thousands of U.S. children undergo these therapies and many more at the urging of physicians who say they can successfully treat, or "recover," children with autism, a disorder most physicians and scientists say they cannot yet explain or cure.

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Lodi's Internation Education Week broadens students' horizons

Pamela Cotant:

When Max Love attended the annual International Education Week at Lodi High School as a student there, it fueled his interest in global learning and led to his desire to serve in the Peace Corps in Eastern Europe.

A 2009 Lodi High School graduate, he returned to the event this year as a guest speaker on multicultural and international education. Now a UW-Madison student in Middle Eastern studies, he received a scholarship to study Arabic and wanted to let students know about the opportunities that exist.

"It's immeasurable," said Love about the effect of International Education Week.

It's the fourth year of the event, which just concluded after featuring more than 35 speakers from around the world, an international film festival, international cuisine, an Indian dance troupe and other activities.

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Milwaukee School Choice Shapes Educational Landscape

Alan Borsuk:

Time for a status report on all the different ways Milwaukee children can use public money to pay for their kindergarten through 12th grade education:
  • Private school voucher program enrollment: Up almost 5% from a year ago, just as it has been up every year for more than a decade.
  • City kids going to suburban public schools using the state's "open enrollment" law: Up almost 11%, just as it has been up every year for about a decade.
  • Enrollment in charter schools given permission to operate by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee or Milwaukee's City Hall: Up more than 19% and up substantially from a few years ago.
  • Enrollment of minority students from the city into suburban schools using the state's voluntary racial desegregation law, known as Chapter 220: Up almost 5%, although the long-term trend has been downward.
  • Enrollment in what you can think of as the conventional Milwaukee Public Schools system: Down, but by less than 1%, which is better than other recent years. Mainstream MPS enrollment has been slipping every year and went under 80,000 a year ago for the first time in many years.
With all the controversy in recent months around whether to overhaul the way MPS is run, the half dozen other routes that Milwaukee children have for getting publicly funded education have been almost entirely out of the spotlight. But Milwaukee remains a place where the term "school choice" shapes the educational landscape in hugely important ways.

How important?

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Servant to Schoolgirl

David Pilling:

It was during the 1999 Maghi festival, whose revelries grip western Nepal in mid-January each year, that Asha Tharu's parents sold her. Asha, who was then five years old, fetched $40. In return for the money, Asha was sent to work for a year as a bonded labourer at the house of her new owner in Gularia, a town near her village of Khairapur.

"I had to get up very early and I had to clean the pots, clean the rooms and wash the clothes," recalls Asha, now a bright 15-year-old. "I worked all day and I didn't get enough sleep."

I have come along jolting, unmade roads from Nepalgunj in western Nepal to meet Asha at her sister-in-law's hut, a rather beautiful dwelling of unbaked mustard-yellow bricks, more African in appearance than Asian. In the main living area are two large, exquisitely fashioned mud urns built into the walls for storing rice. In the unfurnished room where the family sleeps, Asha sits on the dirt floor and tells me about her new life. She says she is happy in school and that, on the weekends, she works in a brick factory, earning $1.30 for an eight-hour shift. That is enough to buy rice and to help her elder sister pay for school.

More than anything, Asha remembers the petty slights she endured during her eight years of servitude, which ended last year when her "master" agreed to release her. "They would give me scraps. I used to feel very hurt by that, receiving the left-overs of guests or the elder family," she says, glancing occasionally at the dusty ground outside the mud hut where she now lives. "Sometimes I'd get rotten food, or half-stomach food, not enough to stop my hunger," she says. "They would hit me or shout at me if I dared complain."

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New Jersey teachers' union's 'Electile Dysfunction' for Corzine explained

An interesting document found its way to my inbox over the weekend. It was a PowerPoint presentation of an analysis done by the New Jersey Education Association, regarding its efforts to re-elect Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine.

The document can be found at

Citing "Electile Dysfunction," meaning the polls were telling them that voters, including teachers, weren't as enthusiastic about Corzine as they would like, the union's Director of Government Relations, Ginger Gold Schnitzer, proposed a double-dose remedy: "A robust member-to-member campaign," followed by "an independent communications campaign to inoculate the public."

The first dose of the union's plan was to appeal to its members. The radical community organizer Saul Alinsky taught the NEA that the trick to "organizing people is to appeal to their self-interest." Thus, the union promoted Corzine's pro-union "accomplishments," like investing $3 billion into public pensions, increasing school funding, increasing school construction, expanded pre-kindergarten programs, opposition to vouchers, and free medical benefits for teacher for life.

Oddly, the union didn't cite any accomplishment that actually helped students.

A pdf of the powerpoint presentation can be viewed here.

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Networked Learners

Lee Rainie:

In the opening keynote, "Networked Learners," Lee Rainie will discuss the latest findings of the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project about how teenagers and young adults have embraced technology of all kinds -- including broadband, cell phones, gaming devices and MP3 players. He will describe how technology has affected the way "digital natives" search for, gather and act on information.

The 2009 MVU Online Learning Symposium will explore how young people are using new media and communication tools to build social networks, create content and learn from their peers. This new environment has significant implications for learning and teaching, and it creates new challenges for students, parents, educators and policy makers.

New this year: The 2009 symposium is being offered in an alternative live Web-accessible format for those who cannot attend in person. Online attendees will see, via Mediasite simulcast, both keynotes, the closing panel discussion and three breakout sessions.

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Calvert high school turns them lose at lunch

Jenna Johnson:

It's lunchtime at Patuxent High School in Southern Maryland, but it looks and sounds more like recess.

Students lounge in hallways and classrooms with sack lunches and trays of food. They play Frisbee, get dating advice from teachers, hold club meetings, cram for afternoon quizzes, play video games or catch up on sleep.

Two years ago, Patuxent Principal Nancy Highsmith released students from the confines of the cafeteria and replaced the multiple 30-minute lunch periods with one hour-long, schoolwide lunch. With some creative scheduling class time has remained the same, she said, and the middle-of-the-day burst of freedom has increased club participation, taught time management skills and given stressed-out students time to chill.

But there's an ulterior motive: raising test scores, grades and graduation rates.

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School district negotiations with teachers moving slowly

Tom Weber:

School districts across Minnesota are agreeing to terms with teachers at a slower pace than during the last contract cycle.

State law requires every Minnesota school district to be on the same schedule for teachers contracts. The next contract deadline is January 15th, about seven weeks away.

Tom Dooher, president of the Education Minnesota teachers' union, said 61 of the state's 339 districts have reached agreements. At this time two years ago, 82 districts had deals in place. Dooher said the bad economy and uncertain state funding are slowing the pace.

"The teachers are very sensitive to the economy and understand," Dooher said. "Each locality is different; they've got a little different amount of money. So I think the locals are very aware of that and they're just trying to get a fair and equitable settlement. I don't think they're asking for anything outrageous, from what I've seen."

Even with the economy, Dooher said all contracts approved so far either keep salaries flat or include increases - none have included salary cuts.

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Michigan public schools could seek regional taxes

Dawson Bell:

Michigan public schools in financial straits and failing to make headway in their efforts to wring more revenue out of Lansing could consider this idea: asking local voters to approve a school operating millage.

Although seldom sought since voters approved the statewide school funding overhaul called Proposal A in 1994, public schools can legally seek more money from local property owners if they do so collectively. The limit they can ask for is 3 mills ($1 for every $1,000 of taxable property value), levied across an intermediate or regional school district. In most instances, that means countywide.

The reason that few so-called enhancement-millage elections have been held since '94 is that getting countywide approval for a tax hike is difficult. Schools would share the revenue raised based on how many students their schools have.

Ron Fuller, superintendent of the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency, said schools won't know if voters might go along unless they ask. He represents one of the very few areas to win an enhancement-millage election in 2005.

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Nevada teachers union OK with using test scores for evaluations

James Haug:

In dropping their opposition to student test scores being used in teachers' performance evaluations, Nevada's teachers unions appear to be essentially adopting a compromise by the Obama administration.

While it earlier emphasized that student achievement data need to be linked with teacher performance evaluations, the Obama administration has since softened its tone after months of taking policy input from the public.

Student performance data, such as test scores, now should be considered along with as other performance measures, such as observation-based assessments and a teacher's demonstration of leadership, according to a new policy announcement.

The U.S. Department of Education published its standards for teacher evaluations on Nov. 12 as part of the application criteria for the Race To the Top Funds, a $4 billion pool of competitive grants intended to spur educational reform at the local level.

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Special education, for some, gets costly

Sarah Palermo:

Educating children with disabilities is expensive.

This year, the Keene School District will spend about $13.7 million for services ranging from special education teachers to speech and physical therapists.

That figure also includes funds for programs that serve children with severe disabilities, programs that are so specialized the district can't run them in Keene.

As expensive as those programs can be -- hundreds of thousands of dollars for one year, in some cases -- the cost is more easily absorbed in a city the size of Keene than in some of the neighboring towns.

Sometimes, the annual school district meeting in a small town can sound like a game of "what if":

What if a child with a severe disability moves into our town?

Paying for one student to attend a specialized program, like the school at Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center in Greenfield, could double the special education budget of some districts.

Out-of-district placements this year range from $30,000 to $375,000 in the Chesterfield, Harrisville, Marlow, Marlborough, Nelson and Westmoreland school districts, according to Timothy L. Ruehr, the districts' business manager.

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Verona charter school considers going green

Gena Kittner:

Facing possible closure because of flagging enrollment , Verona's New Century charter school is proposing to become Dane County's first "green," or environmentally-focused, charter school.

The move, which must be approved by the district's board, illustrates the challenges facing charter schools across the state: to find an academic niche that will continually attract students.

"Having a (charter school) choice means a lot to parents," said Kristina Navarro-Haffner, who has a first-grader at New Century. "We really want to be that option for parents and help the Verona School District bring in more people."

In the last two years, a few charter schools -- public schools given autonomy from their district in exchange for strict accountability -- have changed their focus to attract students, said John Gee, executive director of the Wisconsin Charter Schools Association. A lack of performance or non-compliance with state requirements to be a charter school led to the dissolution of 15 charter schools prior to this year, he said, leaving a total of 206 in the state and 10 in Dane County.

Verona's Core Knowledge Charter School continues to have a waiting list.

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Through Letters, a Family History Unveiled

Bob Davis:

A reporter's seven-year correspondence with his 93-year-old cousin, illustrator Sam Fink, reveals a family's past and the beauty in old-fashioned letter writing

Shortly before Christmas 2002, I received my first letter from Sam Fink. On the envelope, he had drawn an elephant and colored it with orange, yellow, brown and blue crayons. "Good to remember. Happy New Year," he wrote above the address.

The letter was equally charming. He wrote about his son, David, who lived in Israel with a brood of grandchildren and great grandchildren. "When I visit my family in Jerusalem twice a year for a two-week stay, instead of asking about their lives, I share mine," Sam wrote. "In most instances, young people do not know how to share with old people." He signed it, "Your cousin, somehow, once removed, second, or whatever the term...Sam Fink."

That letter marked the start of a seven-year correspondence I have had with Sam, who is a family success story -- a noted illustrator who has drawn popular books about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. He was my father's first cousin, and though I hadn't seen him more than a dozen times in my life, a family photo my wife had mailed as a holiday card caught his interest and prompted him to write me.

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Los Angeles Unified school choices are a confusing maze

Howard Blume:

Pamela Krys, who moved to Woodland Hills a year ago, made a confession during a school fair this month at Sutter Middle School in Canoga Park.

"I don't understand the points," she said, referring to one aspect of the application process for magnet programs. "They don't do points in Florida."

Understanding the points system is just one of the complications surrounding school choice in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Although its "choices" website is improving, the school system provides no central location -- online or off -- to help parents manage all their options if they don't want their children to attend their neighborhood school.

Separate programs have different application forms, processes and deadlines. Nor does the district supply some key information, such as student test scores for most magnets. Budget cuts led to the cancellation of districtwide magnet fairs, although some regional administrators have staged smaller events.

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November 28, 2009

Should We Inflate Advanced Placement (AP) Grades?

Jay Matthews:

The Rochester, N.Y., public schools do a fine job. Their leaders often have great ideas. But according to Rochester school board member Mike Reno, they are talking about doing something to their Advanced Placement courses that could be troublesome, even though I once thought it was a good idea. (Some people who know me say that is the very definition of a bad idea.)

Here is what Reno revealed in an email to me:

"Our district, in an effort to increase AP participation, is proposing to lower the grading scale for AP classes. The idea is based on the notion that kids in Rochester don't want to take AP classes because they are afraid that the tougher work will lead to a lower grade, and they don't want to damage their GPA for fear it will harm their college entrance chances. The district's logic suggests by that lowering the grading scale, students will have a better chance of getting a better grade, and therefore be more willing to take the class.

"This is not their brainchild. They claim other districts are doing it. They are calling it internal weighting. They believe this is a better approach than grade weighting, where an A in an AP class would be worth, say, 5.0 instead of 4.0. The district argues that colleges strip off weighted grades, whereas an internal weight benefits the student during college entrance. (I believe grade weighting has value when calculating class ranking, vals, sals, top scholars, etc, but think colleges are free to recalculate anything they'd like). Am a crazy to think this is a bunch of nonsense?"

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Underground Psychology: Researchers have been spying on us on the subway. Here's what they've learned.

Tom Vanderbilt:

Spend enough time riding the New York City subway--or any big-city metro--and you'll find yourself on the tenure-track to an honorary degree in transit psychology. The subway--which keeps random people together in a contained, observable setting--is a perfect rolling laboratory for the study of human behavior. As the sociologists M.L. Fried and V.J. De Fazio once noted, "The subway is one of the few places in a large urban center where all races and religions and most social classes are confronted with one another and the same situation."

Or situations. The subway presents any number of discrete, and repeatable, moments of interaction, opportunities to test how "situational factors" affect outcomes. A pregnant woman appears: Who will give up his seat first? A blind man slips and falls. Who helps? Someone appears out of the blue and asks you to mail a letter. Will you? In all these scenarios much depends on the parties involved, their location on the train and the location of the train itself, and the number of other people present, among other variables. And rush-hour changes everything.

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Plain Talk: We're failing the citizenship test

Dave Zweifel:

Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has been busy the past several months speaking about her pet peeve -- the sad state of teaching civics in our public schools.

"Civics education has been all but removed from our schools," she often remarks. "Too many people do not understand how our political system works. We are currently failing in that endeavor."

O'Connor cites examples in which Americans could name a judge on "American Idol," but couldn't name a single justice on the Supreme Court or the three branches of government.

She's calling attention to an extremely important problem in the U.S. All too many American citizens don't understand the country's democratic system and why it's crucial to the future of that democracy to stay informed and participate. The Founding Fathers, after all, counted on the citizenry to be the republic's caretaker and that's a major reason why they felt so strongly about education.

Unfortunately, schools over the years have been saddled with teaching just about everything but civics, history and the arts. The heralded No Child Left Behind Act, for instance, has forced schools to drop meaningful civics classes so that teachers can "teach to the test," consisting primarily of math and reading. And now that the Obama administration wants to tie teachers' pay and promotions to those tests, classes on citizenship will continue to get the short end of the stick.

I'm glad Dave Zweifel raised this issue. I hope he remains active on curricular issues, which, in my view are not simply driven by No Child Left Behind.

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Off the Shelf: Fear and Loathing in High School

Taffy Brodesser-Akner:

If you went to my high school and weren't in attendance on the first day back from summer break -- say, you had been on vacation with your parents an extra day, or you had come down with the flu -- a rumor that you were pregnant and out getting an abortion went hastily through the locker-lined halls. In 10th grade, it happened to me (I had been sick), and, from then on, I wanted to write about a popular girl who is mistaken for pregnant by her schoolmates. The girl must hand in her homecoming crown, withdraw from student government, where she is president, and give up her football-captain/quarterback boyfriend.

Years went by, and I did become a writer -- a screenwriter, not a novelist. I wrote this story to mixed reviews. "Interesting premise," said one agent. "But not much story there." I chalked it up to the particular necessities of those who buy and produce screenplays: They need shocking, cinematic events. They need things to blow up.

I decided to write the story as a young adult novel. I have always loved and admired YA novels, as much for their alternate themes of devastation and lightheartedness as for how influential they can be in their readers' lives. I sat down to write the story and finished it in a couple of months. But before I sent it to an agent who was interested, I did something I never thought I could do: I deleted it.

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Education salaries grow $8M in Louisiana's ed department

Melinda Deslatte:

Salary costs have jumped in Louisiana's education department, even as the number of full-time employees dropped, and the number of people drawing six-figure paychecks has more than doubled in the two years since Paul Pastorek took charge of the agency.

Payroll at the Department of Education grew by $8 million -- 21 percent -- after Pastorek became state superintendent of education in 2007, an Associated Press review of salary data shows.

Pastorek says the pay is needed to attract and keep the best talent. But with huge state budget shortfalls predicted for several years, the salary boosts have irked some lawmakers, already bristling about Pastorek's own hefty pay increases.

"I just don't, along with many of my colleagues, feel like we can put a lot of money into administration so this guy can go out and pay big salaries and not (put the money) into the classroom for the kids," said state Rep. Jim Fannin, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

A New Orleans lawyer and former general counsel for NASA, Pastorek had been on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education for eight years when he was named superintendent in March 2007. He replaced Cecil Picard, who died after a decade in the post.

Salaries have grown markedly since then.

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November 27, 2009

Alexandria rethinks gifted education: more diversity sought in classes Virginia also will study ways to boost minority enrollment

Michael Alison Chandler:

When Alexandria Superintendent Morton Sherman walks the halls of the city's schools and peers into classrooms, he can often guess whether the class he's watching is gifted.

"Standing at the door, looking through the glass, you can tell what kind of class it is" by looking at the colors of the students, he said. "It shouldn't be that way."

Alexandria is a majority-minority school system, except in its gifted program. White students, 25 percent of the total enrollment, are 58 percent of those labeled "gifted." Hispanics and African Americans, 25 and 40 percent of enrollment, respectively, account for about 10 and 20 percent of those in gifted classes.

Sherman, at the helm for a little more than a year, is bringing fresh attention to equity issues that have long confounded the small urban school system, where half of the 11,000 students live in poverty.

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All sitting comfortably?

David Pilling & Lionel Barber:

From a distance it sounds like the chanting of monks. Only as one approaches the building, set in the lush fields of a school playground, does it become apparent who is making the sound: dozens of girls quietly reading books.

Sat on rows of wooden chairs laid out in the library, they mouth the words as they trace a finger slowly along the text, breaking off only to admire the colourful pictures. Though each child is reading a different story, their words mingle to form a gentle hum, lending an almost sacred air to the bright little room.

In Laos, a school library is indeed sacred. Books are rare in the isolated villages where four-fifths of the landlocked nation's 7m people eke out the slenderest of livings. The communist government has been slow in implementing its theoretical commitment to free education. Literacy rates have risen, though many people who have learnt to read soon forget because they lack reading materials. According to Room to Read, the charity that helped build and stock this library and hundreds of others like it, still only 60 per cent of women and 77 per cent of men can read and write.

Many schools, often ramshackle thatched structures with leaking roofs, cannot offer a full range of tuition. Sometimes teachers instruct two or three years of classes simultaneously - if they have not ditched their class to earn supplementary income elsewhere. Student dropout rates are high, especially for girls, who typically quit at around 13. Many parents would prefer a helping hand at home or in the paddy fields.

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School Reform Retreat? Duncan eases the rules for states to get 'Race to the Top' cash.

Wall Street Journal:

The Obama Administration's education rhetoric, with its emphasis on charter schools and evaluating teachers based on student performance, has won plaudits from school reformers--and from us. But this month the Department of Education laid out in detail the eligibility requirements for states seeking federal grant money, and it looks like the praise may have been premature.

In the spring, when the White House announced its $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" initiative to improve K-12 schooling, President Obama said, "Any state that makes it unlawful to link student progress to teacher evaluations will have to change its ways to compete for a grant." Education Secretary Arne Duncan told reporters, "states that don't have charter school laws, or put artificial caps on the growth of charter schools, will jeopardize their application."

The Administration appears to be retreating on both requirements. The final Race to the Top regulations allow states to use "multiple measures," including peer reviews, to evaluate instructors. This means states that prohibit student test data from being used to measure a teacher's performance may be eligible for the federal funds, even though the President clearly said that they wouldn't be.

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D.C. expose--one teacher's evaluation

Jay Matthews:

Dan Goldfarb, a 51-year-old history teacher at the Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, says his first encounter with an evaluator under the District's new IMPACT system for assessing teachers did not go well. Goldfarb does not claim to be an objective observer. He doesn't like the new system. He doesn't like how it is being implemented by D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee.

But he is willing to reveal what the evaluator said to him, give me a copy of his evaluation and expose himself to what I expect will be an unhappy reaction from his principal and other D.C. school officials. So here goes. I think we learn more from small individual cases than big multi-variant studies. Goldfarb hit some bumps that deserve attention.

The assessment by his evaluator (the official title is Master Educator) occurred on Sept 25. The evaluator had never taught the subject Goldfarb was teaching, Advanced Placement U.S. History. "My 'Master Educator' has taught AP Government," Goldfarb said. "Is there a difference? I would think so."

The fact that Goldbarb has an AP class at the city's only academic magnet school suggests that his supervisors determined long ago he was a good teacher. He is also, by his own description, not afraid to speak up. But he said he respects his principal, Anita Berger, who has had a long and successful career at the school, and will go along with the changes demanded by IMPACT because she has asked him to do so.

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Too hard to pick the right high school

Jay Matthews:

Near the end of her struggle to find the right high school for a son who did not always share her tastes, Tracey Henley was overjoyed to discover that some of her son's best friends had endorsed her choice, and his resistance had vanished. "So now we don't have to forge his signature on the form, always a plus," she said.

Where had this painful sifting of options occurred? Was it some struggling urban district? No, Henley lives in Montgomery County, like much of suburban Washington a mecca for those seeking the best in public education. Her story illustrates that in even the best possible circumstances, parents often have to work very hard to find the place that fits their child. I, like Henley, wonder if there is a better way to do this.

Henley's son is an eighth grader at Sligo Middle School in Silver Spring. He has attention deficit disorder, but the meds have been effective and through elementary school he performed well above grade level in all subjects. Then he entered middle school and "we were really unprepared for just how much his already-poor executive management functions would collapse in the face of increased expectations," Henley said.

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The perils of trying to get down with the kids

Michael Skapinker:

London's 2012 Olympics logo is in trouble again. The head of the company chosen to market the games struggled last week to find anything nice to say about the logo, which has been compared to crazy paving, graffiti or a broken swastika.

"For us, it is irrelevant whether we like it or not," Brett Gosper, chief executive of McCann Worldgroup in Europe, told the Financial Times. Pressed on whether he would have designed a logo like that, he said: "Probably not."

When the logo, dreamt up by brand company Wolff Olins, was unveiled in 2007, its defenders said it did not matter what the older generation thought. It was aimed at the irreverent, technology-loving young.

"Move over oldies. Who is doing the running anyway?" one defender of the logo wrote to the FT. "What has been delivered is a tag, to use the language of the street...If the logo appears sprayed on walls up and down the land, so be it."

As someone who occasionally talks about journalism in schools, I find the logo useful. I show it to classes of teenagers, we discuss it and I then get them to write a column about it. They all recognise the logo - and they almost all loathe it.

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November 26, 2009

Women's Sports, Title IX And The Cheerleader Option

Frank Deford:

Purists love to play the game, "Is that a sport?" They'll ask, is synchronized swimming really a sport? Is a dog show? Is poker? Is Ultimate Frisbee? And, the most controversial of all: Is cheerleading a sport?

But it isn't just the usual arguments that are raised when cheerleading is the issue. Cheerleading, you see, is deeply embroiled in gender politics, and given the demographics of college attendance, cheerleading is surely going to remain a flashpoint.

It all traces back to Title IX, the 1972 law which mandates that, in sports, athletic representation on campus must mirror student enrollment. As the percentage of collegians tilts more and more female, this means, simply enough, that some men's sports must be eliminated.

Today, at least 57 percent of all American college students are female, and that number is expected to rise. On average in college, there are already 8.7 women's teams for every 7.8 men's teams.

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A lesson in incompetence: How 1 in 3 schools fails to provide adequate teaching Read more:

Laura Clark:

  • Half of academies are substandard
  • Countless school graduates start work without 3Rs
  • £5billion wasted on adult literacy classes
More than two million children are being taught in schools that are mediocre or failing, inspectors said yesterday.

A 'stubborn core' of incompetent teachers is holding pupils back and fuelling indiscipline and truancy, Ofsted warned.

Despite a raft of national initiatives, a third of schools still fail to offer a good education.

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Schools Play to Virtual Orchestra


The Southbank Sinfonia in Bedale Primary School hold a workshop via video link with pupils 12 miles away in Richmond Primary School. The video was compiled from footage supplied by technology developer ANS Group.

Pupils in North Yorkshire have jammed with one of the UK's leading orchestras, thanks to high-speed broadband lines.

The video-linked music workshop over 10Mbps (megabits per second) connections provided sessions with the Southbank Sinfonia.

The project was organised by NYnet, which has set up high-speed broadband in the area.
It demonstrates what could be achieved using video conferencing.

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Rodin's Sonnets in Stone

Lucy Farmer:

It was in the Musée Rodin that I first realised what Art was capable of. Trailing along behind Monsieur S., our strenuously Francophile teacher in his sadly unironic beret, we had already "done" Notre Dame. Then came a route march through the Louvre. Before its airy makeover with the glass pyramid, the Louvre felt like the worst kind of museum-punishingly vast, the walls of its interminable corridors lined with dukes with beards like spades and spoilt, mean-mouthed women in poodle wigs. After some hours, footsore and deafened by culture, we got to the "Mona Lisa". I remember thinking how small she was. And how podgy. The famous smile hinted at embarrassment that all these people would bother coming so far to see her, when really she was nothing special. We adored Monsieur S. and we listened to him hold forth, complete with faux-Gallic gesticulations, about a turning point in the history of portraiture, the subtle handling of flesh tones, blah blah. But it was no good. The "Mona Lisa" was such a masterpiece, we could hardly see her. Or discover her secret for ourselves, as teenagers badly need to do, whether in love or art.

The last thing we wanted at the end of that day was another damned museum. But with the light fading to the freckled silver that makes the Parisian skyline look like an early photographic print, we found ourselves in rue de Varenne. You have to cross a cobbled yard to get to the front door of the Hotel Biron. The Biron is actually a perfect small chateau, like a doll's house lowered from heaven into seven acres of exquisite formal gardens in Faubourg Saint-Germain. Built circa 1730, it was first a private house, then a school. By 1905 it was in disrepair and the rooms were let out to several tenants. At one point, they included Jean Cocteau, Henri Matisse, Isadora Duncan, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke and Rodin himself. The queue for the bathroom must have been quite something.

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Appeals Court: School district can ban Christmas carols

Philadelphia Inquirer:

The federal appeals court in Philadelphia has upheld a New Jersey school district's ban on religious songs during the Christmas holiday season.

In their ruling, three judges of the Third Circuit of Appeals noted that such songs were once common in public schools, but that times have changed.

Michael Stratechuk sued the Maplewood-South Orange School District in 2004, saying the ban violated his two children's First Amendment's freedom of worship rights.

Read the opinion here.

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New York Mayor Bloomberg Finds Teacher Evaluation Education "loophole"

Beth Fertig:

Mayor Michael Bloomberg says the city has found a loophole to a state law enabling it to use student test scores to evaluate teachers. The mayor says the city will start using student test scores to evaluate teachers coming up for tenure this year. Speaking at an education event in Washington, DC today, Bloomberg said his lawyers have determined that a state law barring such evaluations only applies to teachers hired after July 2008. That means teachers hired in 2007, now coming up for tenure, can be evaluated with test scores.

Bloomberg took part in a panel discussion on education reform with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, sponsored by the liberal think tank The Center for American Progress. He urged the state legislature to lift the cap on charter schools and to end rules requiring principals to lay off the least senior teachers in times of budget cuts. He said these steps would make the state more competitive for federal grants rewarding school reforms.

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Field Study: Just How Relevant Is Political Science?

Patricia Cohen:

After Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, this month proposed prohibiting the National Science Foundation from "wasting any federal research funding on political science projects," political scientists rallied in opposition, pointing out that one of this year's Nobel winners had been a frequent recipient of the very program now under attack.

Yet even some of the most vehement critics of the Coburn proposal acknowledge that political scientists themselves vigorously debate the field's direction, what sort of questions it pursues, even how useful the research is.

Much of the political science work financed by the National Science Foundation is both rigorous and valuable, said Jeffrey C. Isaac, a professor at Indiana University in Bloomington, where one new winner of the Nobel in economic science, the political scientist Elinor Ostrom, teaches. "But we're kidding ourselves if we think this research typically has the obvious public benefit we claim for it," he said. "We political scientists can and should do a better job of making the public relevance of our work clearer and of doing more relevant work."

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Faced with suit, Elmbrook now will allow girls to join hockey cooperative

Amy Hetzner:

Faced with a federal lawsuit alleging gender discrimination, the Elmbrook School District has reversed an earlier decision and will allow students from both its high schools to join a girls ice hockey cooperative.

Brookfield Central High School freshman Morgan Hollowell and her father, James, sued the School District last month after it refused to join a cooperative with other school districts to offer girls ice hockey, even though the district participates in a similar cooperative for boys ice hockey.

At the time, Elmbrook Superintendent Matt Gibson said the district chose not to join the girls cooperative because too few students were interested in playing the sport and it would be difficult for the district to supervise.

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Gangs & 4th Generation War

William S. Lind:

The November 15 Washington Post had a story about gangs in Salinas, California, that deserves close attention from 4GW theorists. Salinas is reportedly overrun with Hispanic gangs. The Post wrote that its homicide rate is three times that of Los Angeles. It quoted a Salinas police officer, Sgt. Mark Lazzarini, on one of the classic results of state breakdown, chaos:
"Only half of our gangs are structured; the Norteños," he said. "The southerners are completely unstructured. Half of our violence is kids who get into a car and go out and hunt. These kids don't know their victims. How do you stop that? It's very chaotic."
Salinas's new slogan might be, "Salinas: where even the lettuce has tattoos."

But what is interesting in the Post's article is not the gangs themselves. It is a new response to the gangs. Salinas has brought in the U.S. military to apply counter-insurgency doctrine to a situation on American soil. The Post reports that:

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November 25, 2009

Seattle Curriculum Discussions

Charlie Mas:

How can we be sure that the students are learning the curriculum? If students who are working below grade level do not get any intervention, then they will not be ready and able to succeed with the grade level curriculum. There will be no vertical alignment for them. They will continue to just get passed along and they won't do any better. Where are the interventions needed to make curricular alignment successful? You will be told that the District is working on them, but they are NOT in place. Without them, Curricular Alignment is doomed. Note that we have always needed these interventions. Needing these interventions is nothing new, yet we have not been able to reliably provide them. What has changed that assures us that we will be able to reliably do what we have never been able to do before? There will be references to the MAP testing to identify the under-performing students. Okay, good. But how can we be assured that the identified students will get the necessary services?
There are some interesting accountability comments to this post.

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NCTE Presentation: College Readiness & The Research Paper

nctepa2009actual From the presentation

Preparation: John Robert Wooden, revered and very successful basketball coach at UCLA, used to tell his players: "If you fail to prepare, you are preparing to fail."


Premise: The majority of U.S. public high school students now graduate without ever having read a single (1) complete nonfiction book, or written one (1) serious (e.g. 4,000+ words, with endnotes and bibliography) research paper.


Elitism" is making the best form of education available to only a few. The democratic ideal of education is to make the best form of education available to all. The democratic ideal is not achieved, and elitism is not defeated, by making the best form of education available to almost nobody.

Kieran Egan, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, British Columbia

Download the 200K presentation PDF here.

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High school research papers: a dying breed

Jay Matthews:

Doris Burton taught U.S. history in Prince George's County for 27 years. She had her students write 3,000-word term papers. She guided them step by step: first an outline, then note cards, a bibliography, a draft and then the final paper. They were graded at each stage.

A typical paper was often little more than what Burton describes as "a regurgitated version of the encyclopedia." She stopped requiring them for her regular history students and assigned them just to seniors heading for college. The social studies and English departments tried to organize coordinated term paper assignments for all, but state and district course requirements left no room. "As time went by," Burton said, "even the better seniors' writing skills deteriorated, and the assignment was frustrating for them to write and torture for me to read." Before her retirement in 1998, she said, "I dropped the long-paper assignment and went to shorter and shorter and, eventually, no paper at all."

Rigorous research and writing instruction have never reached most high-schoolers. I thought I had terrific English and history teachers in the 1960s, but I just realized, counting up their writing assignments, that they, too, avoided anything very challenging. Only a few students, in public and private schools, ever get a chance to go deep and write long on a subject that intrigues them.

We are beginning to see, in the howls of exasperation from college introductory course professors and their students, how high a price we are paying for this. It isn't just college students who are hurt. Studies show research skills are vital for high school graduates looking for good jobs or trade school slots.

Students who have been forced to do well-researched essays tell me those were the most satisfying academic experiences of their high school years. Christin Roach, a 2001 graduate of Mount Vernon High School in Fairfax County, glowed when she described the work she put into her 4,000-word report, "The Unconstitutional Presidential Impeachments of Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton." It taught her the skills that led to her earning a joint degree in journalism and political science at Boston University.

Her project was part of the International Baccalaureate program at Mount Vernon. More than 20 Washington area public high schools, and a few private ones, have IB programs. But only a few dozen students at most at each school write the 4,000-word papers to get the full IB diploma. Take away IB and a few selective private schools, and well-organized research projects largely disappear from the high school landscape.

The leading U.S. proponent of more research work for the nation's teens is Will Fitzhugh, who has been publishing high school student papers in his Concord Review journal since 1987. In 2002, he persuaded the Albert Shanker Institute to fund a study of research paper writing by the Center for Survey Research and Analysis at the University of Connecticut. The results were as bleak as he expected. Sixty-two percent of the 400 high school history teachers surveyed never assigned a paper as long as 3,000 words, and 27.percent never assigned anything as long as 2,000 words.

They had no time to assign, monitor, correct and grade such papers, they said. If they assigned long projects, they could not insist on the many revisions needed to teach students the meaning of college-level work. So most new undergraduates check into their freshman courses unclear on the form and language required for academic research.

The colleges aren't great at filling the gap. A new book by Seton Hall University scholar Rebecca D. Cox, "The College Fear Factor," painfully exposes students wallowing in ignorance, and professors not understanding why. Only about half survive this torture and graduate.

Why not junk some of the high school history requirements in favor of one solid month devoted to one long paper, with students bringing in their work, step by step, every day? Doris Burton and her colleagues couldn't get their students to focus, but they had little support above. If we want our students to be proud of what they did in high school, we have to insist that they do it, and no longer assume they will somehow learn it in college.
By Jay Mathews | November 18, 2009; 10:00 PM ET

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Grading the teachers

Providence Journal:

News that a Rhode Island teachers union has won a $200,000 union-funded grant to develop teacher evaluations can't help but stir fears that the fox wants to guard the henhouse. Public-employee unions, after all, are in the business of promoting their own economic interests, which do not always coincide with the interests of students.

Yet it appears to be welcome news that the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals, under Marcia Reback, will be working to help develop some standards for weeding out sub-par teachers early on in their careers.

"The union is tired of being portrayed as a protector of bad teachers," Ms. Reback said.

In a sense, the unions do have an economic interest in promoting higher standards in their profession, since that tends to build public support for giving teachers greater financial rewards. And early in their career is an excellent time to evaluate fairly whether teachers can truly cut the mustard. Under Ms. Reback's proposal, unions would work closely with administrators to develop a proposed system of evaluations.

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Fiscal Health of Colorado School Districts

Colorado State Auditor [270K PDF]:

This report provides information on the Fiscal Health Analysis of the State's school districts performed by the Local Government Audit Division of the Office of the State Auditor (OSA). The Fiscal Health Analysis provides a set of financial indicators for each school district that may be used by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE), school districts, local government officials, and citizens to evaluate the financial health of Colorado's school districts. These financial indicators can warn of financial stress that may require examination and remedial action by the appropriate parties.

In Colorado, 178 school districts provide public education to more than 800,000 children enrolled in kindergarten through twelfth grade (K-12). Funding for each school district's total program is provided first by local sources of revenue, primarily through a property tax levy to finance the district's local share. The General Assembly provides additional funding to supplement local revenue in order to fully fund the district's program. This additional funding is based on a formula that considers, in part, the school district's annual pupil count, as well as the district's local share of revenues. In Fiscal Year 2008, the General Assembly provided more than $3 billion to school districts as the state share of districts' total program funding.

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State must reveal, not conceal, school aptitude

Lance Izumi:

This year marks the 10th anniversary of California's Public Schools Accountability Act, an early legislative triumph of then-Gov. Gray Davis. While some good things have come out of the law, the act has failed in its two key missions: to inform parents and the public about the true performance of schools and students, and to impose widespread tough consequences on failing or underperforming schools.

In contrast to funding-focused measures, such as Proposition 98, the act commendably sought to spotlight school and student outcomes, especially results on the state's standardized tests. While many educators complain about this emphasis on student testing, the real problem turned out to be how the act uses test scores to measure school performance.

The act uses the Academic Performance Index, or API, to measure the performance of schools. Based on student results on the state's California Standards Tests, the API calculates a score on a scale of 200 to 1,000 for every school, with the state designating 800 as the target to which all schools should strive to achieve.

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Race to the Top in Education We can get real reform if the president resists pressure to dilute standards

Harold Ford, Jr., Louis V. Gerstner & Eli Broad:

For decades, policy makers have talked about significantly improving public education. The problem has been clear: one-third of public school children fail to graduate, there are embarrassing achievement gaps between middle-class children and poor and minority children, and the gap between our students and those in other countries threatens to undermine our economic competitiveness. Yet for the better part of a quarter century, urgent calls for change have seldom translated into improved public schools.

Now, however, President Barack Obama has launched "Race to the Top," a competition that is parceling out $4.35 billion in new education funding to states that are committed to real reform. This program offers us an opportunity to finally move the ball forward.

To that end Mr. Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are pushing states toward meaningful change. Mr. Duncan has even stumped for reform alongside former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Yet the administration must continue to hang tough on two critical issues: performance standards and competition.

Already the administration is being pressured to dilute the program's requirement that states adopt performance pay for teachers and to weaken its support for charter schools. If the president does not remain firm on standards, the whole endeavor will be just another example of great rhetoric and poor reform.

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Low school ratings are not acceptable

Greenwood Commonwealth:

The Mississippi Department of Education has been warning school districts and the public for months that the new, tougher accountability ratings were going to stun some people.

The previous accountability system had lulled schools and parents into thinking their students' academic performance was better than it actually was. For the most part, the old system compared how Mississippi students performed academically in relation to students in other parts of the state. The new system compares how they perform in relation to students around the country.

As a result, there are a lot fewer superior schools and districts in Mississippi and a lot more that are failing or close to it. It's not that the public schools in the state have gotten worse. It's just that they and the public are getting a truer picture of really how they stack up nationally.

In Greenwood and Leflore County, the first year's ratings, which were released Monday, are disappointing. Both districts have been listed as "At Risk of Failing," the third lowest of the seven accountability levels. Although Greenwood officials say they feel their rating is undeservedly low and are pursuing an appeal, even if the district moves up a notch to "Academic Watch," that's still not good enough.

Between the two school districts, only three schools out of 13 are rated "Successful" (the third highest ranking) or better. One of those, T.Y. Fleming in Minter City, was shut down this year because of low enrollment.

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Kay Bailey Hutchison unveils plan for Texas public education

Gromer Jeffers:

Speaking at Collin College in Plano, Hutchison said that her plan includes better use of technology in the classroom, recruiting and retaining quality teachers, curbing the state's dropout rate and helping local school districts become more efficient.

"We need more innovation, more efficiency and more accountability," Hutchison said.

Hutchison, who is battling Rick Perry the Republican nomination for governor in the March primary, tied improvements in Texas schools to the state's economic fate.

"Our labor force in Texas stands to suffer the most by this stagnation," she said. "If we decline to treat education investment as economic investment, then our foundation for job creation will erode within."

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November 24, 2009

Judge dismisses lawsuit against Madison School District over student transfer policy

Ed Treleven:

A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed a class-action lawsuit against the Madison School District over a student transfer policy the district has since re-written.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb wrote in a 36-page decision that the district was following state law - a law that was later determined to be unconstitutional - when it implemented its policy for assuring that open enrollment transfers did not create racial imbalances at schools.

Crabb wrote that a municipality like the school district cannot be held liable under federal law for trying to implement a state mandate when it has no other policy choices. State or federal law is responsible for any wrongdoing, she wrote.

Madison attorney Michael Fox, who is representing the class, which he estimated to be 200 to 300 people, said the decision will be appealed to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The law in this area is unsettled, he said, and federal judicial circuits around the U.S. disagree on it.

In this case, a white East High School student, identified in court documents as "N.N.," applied for transfer to either Waunakee or Monona Grove in 2007. The district denied her application because it said her departure from East would have caused the school's minority student percentage to increase.

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Student arrested for allegedly bringing gun into Madison West High School

Bill Novak:

A West High School student was arrested Monday afternoon after allegedly having a .22 caliber revolver in the waistband of his pants inside the school.

The incident is considered the first time in at least a decade that a student has been discovered with a firearm inside a Madison Metropolitan School District facility, said Luis Yudice, coordinator of school safety for the district.

The 16-year-old student, a sophomore at West, was tentatively charged with possession of a firearm in a school zone.

The incident was reported at about 3:30 p.m. at the school, 30 Ash St.

Madison police spokesman Joel DeSpain said the revolver was missing its cylinder (which holds the bullets) and the student had no ammunition.

"He didn't threaten anyone with the firearm," DeSpain said. "He told the officer he was simply holding onto the gun for someone else."

Related: Police Calls near Madison high schools 1996-2006 and the 2005 Gangs & School Violence Forum.

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Milwaukee Public School (Rufus King) Rhodes Scholar

Sharif Durhams:

Eva Z. Lam, a graduate of Milwaukee's Rufus King High School, notes that Harvard University is a distinguished place. There are a lot of serious-minded, busy students with weighty thoughts.

Here's how Lam handles it: She procrastinates, since she works best under a deadline, she said. And she knows how to laugh at herself.

"If you can take your work seriously and not take yourself seriously, I think that's the way I've tried to strike a balance," Lam said.

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How Connecticut Can Fix its Dysfunctional Education spending system to Reward success, Incentivize Choice and Boost Student Achievement

ConnCAN and education research firm Public Impact today (Nov. 23, 2009) released a groundbreaking report [1MB PDF] tracing the flow of funds through Connecticut's public schools and offering a more rational system that will close that state's yawning achievement gap.

Please visit ConnCAN's website to download the report The Tab.

I was very fortunate to be provided an advance copy which I read over the weekend. It is truly groundbreaking in every sense of the word. I can not encourage you enough to please take the time to read this extremely well done, thorough report.


p.s. For your convenience, I've attached the PDF file of The Tab, but please also visit ConnCAN's web site!

Alex Johnston:

ConnCAN runs on big ideas. We launched our organization almost five years ago with a mission to do nothing less than offer every Connecticut child access to a great public school.

Living in the state with the nation's largest achievement gap is too unsettling to tolerate plodding, incremental change. When more than 90 percent of fifth graders in wealthy Ridgefield can read at or above grade level but only 31 percent of Bridgeport kids can, there's no time to dally. We demand breakthrough success.

ConnCAN has grown into a force: an education advocacy group powered by thousands of advocates who share our impatience. We proved the power of our movement through our hugely successful 2009 'Mind the Gaps' legislative campaign. The campaign made real gains in data transparency, teacher effectiveness and funding for Connecticut's excellent public charter schools.

But the campaign also illustrated the unsustainable way we pay for our public schools. Consider this tale: In 2008, Hartford asked Achieve- ment First to bring one of its excellent charter schools to the city. The Achievement First Hartford Academy opened its doors to kindergarten, first and fifth grade students, with plans to add one grade each year as these students advanced until the school was completed. Because charter schools are funded on their own line item in the state budget, the school will need more money each year to support this natural grade growth. This jewel of a school became a growing line item in the midst of the Great Recession and an easy target.

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What Does Youth Want?

Alan Borsuk:

The loser now will be later to win, the noted social commentator Bob Dylan predicted in 1964 in his generation-defining "The Times They Are A-changin."
In Wisconsin, both Republicans and gay rights activists can take encouragement from those words.

And both can be encouraged by the results of a statewide public opinion poll conducted in September for the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute by the UW-Madison Political Science Department.

Less than a year after Barack Obama won Wisconsin in the 2008 presidential race by 17 points and Democrats captured the state Assembly after 14 years of Republican control, favorable opinions on Obama have softened, and the political affiliation of the poll respondents suggests a modest swing to the Republicans.

Furthermore, while younger voters voted heavily for Obama and Democrats in 2008, the WPRI poll shows little substantial difference among younger, middle-aged and older voters on party affiliation. Democrats continued to draw more favorable responses than Republicans, but the results suggest Republicans are gaining ground.

For example, in the November 2008 exit polls, Wisconsin voters age 18 to 29 preferred Obama over Republican John McCain by 29 points, a 64%-35% margin. But in the WPRI poll, less than a year later, sentiment on Obama was remarkably similar across age groups.

Among the 700 randomly selected Wisconsin adults for the telephone survey, 57% said they strongly approved or somewhat approved of the presidents performance. And the comparable figures by age group were 59% for the younger group, 58% for those 36 to 64, and 54% for those 65 and over.

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School Reform Webinar 11/24 @ 5:00p.m. EST

Whitney Tilson, via email:

A final reminder for my school reform webinar, which will be from 5:00-6:30pm tomorrow (Tuesday). To join, go to: and enter meeting ID: 345-183-977. If you wish to use your phone for the audio, the call-in number is 215-383-1003 and the access code is 345-183-977.

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In Arizona, charter school movement flourishes

Nick Anderson:

Here, where suburb meets desert, students are clambering amid the cacti to dig soil samples and take notes on flora and fauna. In an old movie complex in nearby Chandler, others are dissecting a Renaissance tract on human nature. On a South Phoenix campus with a National Football League connection, still others are learning how to pass a basket of bread and help a lady into her chair.

These are just three charter schools among a multitude in the most wide-open public education market in America.

Arizona's flourishing charter school movement underscores the popular appeal of unfettered school choice and the creativity of some educational entrepreneurs. But the state also offers a cautionary lesson as President Obama pushes to dismantle barriers to charter schools elsewhere: It is difficult to promote quantity and quality at the same time.

Under a 1994 law that strongly favors charter schools, 500 of them operate in this state, teaching more than 100,000 students. Those totals account for a quarter of Arizona's public schools and a tenth of its public school enrollment, giving charters here a larger market share than in any other state.

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White House Plans Campaign to Promote Science and Math Education

Kenneth Chang:

To improve science and mathematics education for American children, the White House is recruiting Elmo and Big Bird, video game programmers and thousands of scientists.

President Obama will announce a campaign Monday to enlist companies and nonprofit groups to spend money, time and volunteer effort to encourage students, especially in middle and high school, to pursue science, technology, engineering and math, officials say.

The campaign, called Educate to Innovate, will focus mainly on activities outside the classroom. For example, Discovery Communications has promised to use two hours of the afternoon schedule on its Science Channel cable network for commercial-free programming geared toward middle school students.

Science and engineering societies are promising to provide volunteers to work with students in the classroom, culminating in a National Lab Day in May.

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It's time to evaluate the evaluation

Jay Matthews:

Dan Goldfarb, a 51-year-old history teacher at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, says his first encounter with an evaluator under the District's new IMPACT system for assessing teachers did not go well. Goldfarb does not claim to be an objective observer. He doesn't like the new system or how Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee is implementing it.

He was willing to reveal what the evaluator said to him, give me a copy of his evaluation and expose himself to what I expect will be an unhappy reaction from his principal and other D.C. school officials. So here goes. Goldfarb hit some bumps that deserve attention.

The assessment by his evaluator (the official title is "master educator") occurred Sept. 25. The fact that Goldfarb has an AP class at the city's only academic magnet school suggests that his supervisors determined long ago that he is a good teacher. He is also, by his own description, not afraid to speak up. But he said he respects his principal, Anita Berger, who has had a long and successful career at the school, and will go along with the changes demanded by IMPACT because she has asked him to do so.

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"Fast Track" Teacher Certification in Waukesha

Amy Hetzner:

Omar Masis doesn't want to get a teaching license just for himself. He also wants to do it for the preschoolers he sees every day at Blair Elementary School in Waukesha.

For two years now, he has been leading a class full of youngsters through lessons that focus on building their vocabularies and improving motor skills. But, with a background in agricultural engineering instead of education, he has been doing so on an emergency teaching permit sustained by six credits of education classes a year.

Now he's ready to make the leap to become a credentialed teacher.

"There's something in me that tells me I need a formal education so I can help these kids and improve my teaching style," said Masis, a native of Nicaragua who also has worked as a teacher's aide in Waukesha. "I can do better."

Before, Masis might have had to go elsewhere to fulfill his new dream.

But a recent decision by the Milwaukee Teacher Education Center, one of the largest certification programs in the state for college graduates who want to become teachers, means he can stay in Waukesha.

After more than a dozen years of working to place teachers in hard-to-fill classrooms in Milwaukee Public Schools, MTEC has opened its program to work with other public school districts.

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How Teachers Learn to be Radicals

Sol Stern:

Imagine you are a parent with a child in fifth grade in an inner-city public school. One day your child comes home and reports that the teacher taught a lesson in class about the evils of U.S. military intervention in Latin America.
You also learn that after school the teacher took the children to a rally protesting U.S. military aid to the Contras, who were then opposing the Marxist Sandinista government in Nicaragua.
The children made placards with slogans such as:

"Let them run their land!" "Help Central America, dont kill them." "Give the Nicaraguans their freedom."

Your child reports that the teacher encouraged the students to write about their day of protest in the class magazine and had high praise for the child who wrote the following description of the rally:

"On a rainy Tuesday in April some of the students from our class went to protest against the contras. The people in Central America are poor and bombed on their heads."

A fantasy? An invention of some conspiracy-minded right-wing organization? Not at all. It happened exactly as described at a bilingual Milwaukee public school called La Escuela Fratney. The teacher who took the fifth-graders to the protest rally and indoctrinated them in international leftist politics is Robert Peterson.

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Advocating Virtual Schools

Sunny Schubert:

Virtual schools, viewed skeptically by the educational establishment, have a champion in this veteran teacher.

Kathy Hennings starts her day like any other Wisconsin public school teacher: She's up, coiffed, appropriately dressed and ready to go.

And then she starts her commute: down the hall in her Cedarburg home from the kitchen to her office. She sits down in front of a bank of two linked computers, and starts going through the 20-plus emails she receives each day from the parents of her students.
Then she and her students settle down for another day of learning--21st-century style--in the Wisconsin Virtual Academy, one of 14 Internet-based online charter schools in Wisconsin.

Hennings has 75 students: 30 first-graders and 45 second-graders. They live in rural areas, villages, towns and big cities all across Wisconsin, from Superior to Stevens Point, from Hudson to Milwaukee.

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West Virginia must embrace 21st-century education reform

Mark Bugher:

I recently was invited to attend a presentation in Washington, D.C., by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce of its 2009 education "Leaders and Laggards" report to the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

This report was a cooperative effort of the U.S. Chamber, the Center for American Progress and the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. The report is a state-by-state "report card" on education innovation. Education innovation is described by the report as "Discarding policies that no longer serve students while creating opportunities for smart, entrepreneurial problem-solvers to help children learn."

The report graded state schools on seven criteria: school management, finance, hiring and evaluation of staff, removing ineffective teachers, data collection, pipeline to post-secondary education, and technology. West Virginia received an overall grade of D+, however, ranked first in the nation on technology, measured by student per Internet-connected computer.

No state received an overall grade higher than a C+, and although West Virginia was ranked in the bottom quarter of states, there were 11 states ranked below us. Virginia, Oklahoma and Texas ranked overall the highest, and Kansas, Montana and Nebraska were at the bottom of the rankings.

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November 23, 2009

Milwaukee Public Schools aim to even out special ed distribution

Erin Richards:

As principal of Custer High School, Kathy Bonds often faces criticism for having one of the most notoriously rough schools in the city.

Many of her students live in poverty, return at night to homeless shelters, commit severe crimes or deal with a staggering number of mental, emotional and physical disabilities.

Look at the numbers, Bonds says: 30.8% of her students are classified as special education, a main reason that performance at her school continues to suffer.

The Milwaukee School Board appeared to agree with the spirit of that assessment last week when it voted to even out the distribution of special education students within the city's high schools.

As part of the approved recommendation, the board directed the administration to immediately begin making sure all schools are equipped to serve a wide range of student needs. Members also directed the administration to establish a target range of special education students, and to help schools with very high or low special education populations come closer to that target range.

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The difficulty of diagnosing dyslexia
Bills would require state schools to test and train more

Anita Weier:

Keith Ripp and other Madison-area parents have spent thousands of dollars to test and tutor their children for dyslexia. They think this is something Wisconsin school districts should more aggressively pursue.

But Ripp has a better-than-average ability to do something about it. A Republican state assemblyman from Lodi, he has authored a bill to require that schools perform dyslexia screening on pupils in kindergarten through second grade, as well as those from grades three to five who score low on reading tests.

Another Ripp bill would require the Department of Public Instruction to ensure that reading specialists, special education teachers and elementary school reading instructors are trained and tested in dyslexic instruction techniques.

"My youngest son, who is 13, has severe dyslexia," says Ripp. "My wife and I knew something was going on before second grade. We hired tutors. We tried to work with the school system to come up with something. We had his hearing and eyesight checked. He was very intelligent but was struggling a lot with reading."

The couple paid for the testing on their own, as well as some tutoring, at an estimated cost of about $8,000.

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At U (of Minnesota), future teachers may be reeducated They must denounce exclusionary biases and embrace the vision. (Or else.)

Katherine Kertsen:

Do you believe in the American dream -- the idea that in this country, hardworking people of every race, color and creed can get ahead on their own merits? If so, that belief may soon bar you from getting a license to teach in Minnesota public schools -- at least if you plan to get your teaching degree at the University of Minnesota's Twin Cities campus.

In a report compiled last summer, the Race, Culture, Class and Gender Task Group at the U's College of Education and Human Development recommended that aspiring teachers there must repudiate the notion of "the American Dream" in order to obtain the recommendation for licensure required by the Minnesota Board of Teaching. Instead, teacher candidates must embrace -- and be prepared to teach our state's kids -- the task force's own vision of America as an oppressive hellhole: racist, sexist and homophobic.

The task group is part of the Teacher Education Redesign Initiative, a multiyear project to change the way future teachers are trained at the U's flagship campus. The initiative is premised, in part, on the conviction that Minnesota teachers' lack of "cultural competence" contributes to the poor academic performance of the state's minority students. Last spring, it charged the task group with coming up with recommendations to change this. In January, planners will review the recommendations and decide how to proceed.

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Better Letters Handrwiting App for iPhone & iPod Touch

Better Letters Website:

Better Letters was created to improve handwriting. It was inspired by the instructional handwriting font work of UK handwriting specialist Christopher Jarman. The app provides instructional lectures, both audio and written, along with practice fonts providing choices of writing style, guidelines, and directional arrows.

With Better Letters, your iPhone or iPod Touch becomes a personal handwriting trainer.

Research shows that the fastest, clearest handwriters join some letters, not all of them: making the easiest joins and skipping the rest. Also, the fastest and clearest writers tend to use the simplest letter shapes, avoiding the complex and accident-prone letter formations of conventional cursive.

In fact, the earliest published handwriting books (half a millennium ago) taught a semi-joined style of this type - called "Italic" in reference to the style's origins in Renaissance Italy - well before today's more complicated cursive came along.

; via a Kate Gladstone email, who notes:
Better Letters is a multi-featured suite of handwriting instruction/improvement resources, developed by -- of all places -- a medical software company, Deep Pocket Series, which describes this app as a "personal handwriting trainer." (In addition to MDs, the company is also marketing this app to teachers, administrators, teens, and parents of elementary/middle school children.)

In addition to MDs, the company is also marketing this app to teachers, administrators, teens, and parents of elementary/middle school children

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The cost of a good education: Are teachers overpaid or worth every penny?

Rickeena Richards:

When times get tough, teachers' salaries are the last thing school districts should cut, local educators say.
"If you're going to recruit and maintain the best, then you have to provide that environment. That includes compensation to some degree that supports that," Belleville District 118 Superintendent Matt Klosterman said. "We're going to hire the best of the best and create an environment that supports them while they're here."
Educators argue that quality instruction comes at a cost, but that cost is an investment in the community's future since teachers are responsible for preparing our young people for the future. They said school districts look at several factors to determine that cost when hiring teachers, all the while trying to remain competitive with neighboring districts' offers.

But critics say that school administrators sometimes throw more money at teachers than necessary.

For example, figures obtained by the News-Democrat for nine local school districts that signed new teachers contracts this summer show:

* A Belleville District 118 social studies teacher makes almost $80,000 a year.

* An O'Fallon District 203 family and consumer sciences teacher makes more than $100,000.

* A Granite City gym teacher makes $86,000.

* An East St. Louis first-grade teacher makes nearly $76,000 this school year.

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The Long Tail of Teaching Talent

Joshua Kim:

The tail of teaching talent in your institution is longer then generally recognized, and it extends to your librarians and technologists. Perhaps this long tail of teaching talent encompasses others as well, such as the professionals in institutional research, human resources, building operations, and many more.

The idea that the only qualification for developing and teaching a college course is a Ph.D. is stunningly counterproductive. The knowledge necessary to design a course is not the exclusive property of the terminally credentialed. The passion necessary to teach, which really means to co-learn, does not co-vary with years spent in school. How can we recognize that staff have the ability and background to teach, and that the work they do often lends itself to translation into courses? How can we set up systems, processes, incentives and rewards to enlarge the pool of instructors to include staff?

At many colleges and universities staff have been brought into the teaching process with great success. I've seen this occur most notably in freshman seminar classes. These small courses, led by faculty and staff partners, often focus on the ethical and behavior issues (or sometimes study and interpersonal skills) essential for new students to engage with but often not covered in the regular curriculum. Community building freshman seminars can reduce the risk of attrition by connecting new students with a supportive group of adults working at the college and peers early in their college career. Since these courses are often new offerings, and they are instructor intensive to design and run, there seems to be a great flexibility in enlarging the pool of acceptable instructors to the large staff population.

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All sitting comfortably?

David Pilling:

From a distance it sounds like the chanting of monks. Only as one approaches the building, set in the lush fields of a school playground, does it become apparent who is making the sound: dozens of girls quietly reading books.

Sat on rows of wooden chairs laid out in the library, they mouth the words as they trace a finger slowly along the text, breaking off only to admire the colourful pictures. Though each child is reading a different story, their words mingle to form a gentle hum, lending an almost sacred air to the bright little room.

In Laos, a school library is indeed sacred. Books are rare in the isolated villages where four-fifths of the landlocked nation's 7m people eke out the slenderest of livings. The communist government has been slow in implementing its theoretical commitment to free education. Literacy rates have risen, though many people who have learnt to read soon forget because they lack reading materials. According to Room to Read, the charity that helped build and stock this library and hundreds of others like it, still only 60 per cent of women and 77 per cent of men can read and write.

Many schools, often ramshackle thatched structures with leaking roofs, cannot offer a full range of tuition. Sometimes teachers instruct two or three years of classes simultaneously - if they have not ditched their class to earn supplementary income elsewhere. Student dropout rates are high, especially for girls, who typically quit at around 13. Many parents would prefer a helping hand at home or in the paddy fields.

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2009 SAT Male / Female Ratio Test Scores

Mark Perry:

The chart above shows the male-female test score ratio for the 2009 SAT math test (data here). For example, for perfect scores of 800, males (6,928) outnumbered females (3,124) by a ratio of 2.22 to 1. In other words, 69% of test-takers who got perfect math scores were males vs. 31% of perfect scores by females. Or we could also say that there 222 high school boys who got perfect SAT math scores for every 100 high school girls.

The graph further shows that boys outperformed girls at all 23 math test scores between 580-800 (10 point intervals, with male-female ratios of 1.0 or above), and then for math test scores between 200 points and 570, girls outnumbered boys (male-female ratio below 1.0).

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100 Coolest Science Videos on YouTube

Online School:

Just about everybody can find a YouTube video they appreciate these days, whether they love animals, practical jokes, dance, politics, or academia-even science. From evolution to the future of medicine, the following videos encompass nearly every aspect of science a student would need to know. Some are 90 minutes long, while others are 20 seconds, but all of them are full of valuable information for the modern scientist.

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Youths see all parental control negatively when there's a lot of it

Science Codex:

A new study has found that young people feel differently about two types of parental control, generally viewing a type of control that's thought to be better for their development more positively. However, when parents are very controlling, young people no longer make this distinction and view both types of parental control negatively.

The study, conducted in the United States by researchers at Örebro University in Sweden, appears in the November/December 2009 issue of the journal Child Development. Unlike a lot of prior research on parenting that's focused on control, this study looked at how adolescents view and react to parental control.

Scholars tell us that parental control falls into two categories: behavioral control (when parents help their children regulate themselves and feel competent by providing supervision, setting limits, and establishing rules) and psychological control (when parents are manipulative in their behavior, often resulting in feelings of guilt, rejection, or not being loved). It's thought that behavioral control is better for youngsters' development.

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November 22, 2009

Gateses Give $290 Million for Teacher Evaluation, Effectivness and Tenure

Sam Dillon:

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on Thursday announced its biggest education donation in a decade, $290 million, in support of three school districts and five charter groups working to transform how teachers are evaluated and how they get tenure.

A separate $45 million research initiative will study 3,700 classroom teachers in six cities, including New York, seeking to answer the question that has puzzled investigators for decades: What, exactly, makes a good teacher effective?

The twin projects represent a rethinking of the foundation's education strategy, previously focused largely on smaller grants intended to remake troubled American high schools. With these new, larger grants, the foundation is seeking to transform teacher management policies in four cities in hopes that the innovations can spread.

The foundation committed $100 million to the Hillsborough County, Fla., schools; $90 million to the Memphis schools; $40 million to the Pittsburgh public schools. Some $60 million will go to five charter management organizations based in Los Angeles: Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, Aspire Public Schools, Green Dot Public Schools, Inner City Education Foundation and Partnerships to Uplift Communities Schools.

Now that the Gates foundation is "rethinking" its previous "small learning community" grants, will local thinking change on the same?

In my view, we as a community should do everything we can to hire (and pay) the best teachers. That does, as the Gates Foundation recognizes via this grant, require changes to the current UAW teacher union model.....

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Educational exchanges can help Michigan grow

Muskegon Chronicle Editorial:

A lot of phrases come to mind when you think about Michigan these days, but leader in international education probably isn't at the top of the list.

A new report, released during International Education Week, says the University of Michigan and Michigan State University are among the national leaders for educational exchange.

The Institute of International Education report, "Open Doors 2009," listed the University of Michigan as sixth in the nation in the number of international students attending the university in 2008-09. U-M had 5,790 foreign students. The University of Southern California led with 7,482. MSU was 10th with 4,757 foreign students.

The state is ranked eighth in the nation with 23,617 foreign students studying at our colleges and universities, an increase of 3.3 percent. Joining U-M and MSU as leading host campuses are Wayne State, Western Michigan and Eastern Michigan universities.
The foreign students spent about $592.4 million in Michigan on tuition and living expenses in 2008-09 -- a half-billion dollars is nothing to sneeze at.

Overall, 671,616 international students attended U.S. colleges, up 8 percent from a year ago. The foreign students mainly chose business and engineering courses and California and New York City were their top destinations.

Most of the foreign students come from India followed by China, South Korea, Canada and Japan. But in Michigan, Chinese students make up 18 percent of the foreign students followed by India at 16.5 percent; South Korea, 12.5 percent; Canada, 12 percent; and Taiwan, 3.9 percent.

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Tips for the Admissions Test ... to Kindergarten

Sharon Otterman:

Kayla Rosenblum sat upright and poised as she breezed through the shapes and numbers, a leopard-patterned finger puppet resting next to her for moral support.

But then came something she had never seen before: a visual analogy showing a picture of a whole cake next to a slice of cake. What picture went with a loaf of bread in the same way?

Kayla, who will be 4 in December, held her tiny pointer finger still as she inspected the four choices. "Too hard," she peeped.

Test preparation has long been a big business catering to students taking SATs and admissions exams for law, medical and other graduate schools. But the new clientele is quite a bit younger: 3- and 4-year-olds whose parents hope that a little assistance -- costing upward of $1,000 for several sessions -- will help them win coveted spots in the city's gifted and talented public kindergarten classes.

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The Providence Effect in Action

Mark Bauerlein:

Fifty minutes into The Providence Effect, a documentary profile of Providence-St. Mel School in Chicago, an extraordinary episode unfolds.

The school principal, Jeannette M. DiBella, strolls down the hall and peeks inside a math classroom. All is quiet. The teacher sits at his desk at the back of the room looking down at his notes. Each students sits at a desk at work on books and papers (they look like 8th or 9th Graders). Everything appears orderly and proper.

DiBella doesn't move on, though.

"Are they taking a test?" she whispers.

The teacher answers that the students are doing independent study to ensure that they are "ready for the next week." DiBella begins to wander the rows, asking the teacher with a grin, "Are you sure that's what they're doing?"

One student turns to look up at her as she approaches--a sure sign of uncertainty.

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Portfolio exams--wave of the future or big cop-out?

Jay Matthews:

Today's ed page has a startling story by my colleague Michael Alison Chandler on the rapid spread---and resulting score inflation---of portfolio exams in Virginia. These are collections of classwork of students with learning disabilities or insufficient English. They substitute for the usual state multiple choice tests in assessing those students' progress, and the progress of their school. At one Fairfax County elementary school, Chandler reports, the reading passing rate for English learners has gone from 52 to 94 percent and for special education students 34 to 100 percent in the two years this system has been in place. Sound fishy to you? It does to me, but I think it is going to force some interesting and likely beneficial changes.

I am NOT saying the teachers who compile their students' portfolios and the educators (who don't usually know the students) who grade them are trying to deceive us. I am sure they are doing their best to be fair and accurate. But it is difficult for empathetic human beings like educators to resist the temptation to err on the side of generosity when assessing students, particularly when we are talking about those struggling with disadvantages.

It is clear to me, and I suspect to most readers, that this system inflates achievement scores. Of course, so has the assessment system we have been using in schools since the beginning of public education---teachers grading their own students' work. We seem to have prospered as a nation despite giving many struggling students a break on their report cards. I don't think portfolios used in this limited way are going to ruin the effort to set strong national standards, but I think it is going to give a big push to the idea of introducing independent inspectors to assess the effectiveness of schools and teachers.

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Teacher Union Chief Paul Hubbert says he'll battle to keep charter schools out of Alabama

Rena Havner Philips:

Calling charter schools a "fad" that takes money away from public schools, teachers union boss Paul Hubbert said he will fight Gov. Bob Riley's proposal to bring them to Alabama.

Riley told the Press-Register on Tuesday that he would like the Alabama Legislature to pass a law enabling the creation of charter schools. It's the only way, he said, that Alabama will be able to compete against other states for $4.35 billion in education funds that President Barack Obama is giving out as part of his Race to the Top campaign.

But Hubbert, who holds influence as executive secretary of the Alabama Education Association, said Thursday that he'll fight any charter proposal.

"I intend to oppose it strongly," Hubbert said. "I think it's wrong and I think it will hurt far more than help.

"It would absolutely take money from the public schools and put it in a charter school, which basically operates like a private school," Hubbert said.

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New national study finds more than half of cheerleading injuries in US due to stunts

Science Codex:

Whether rallying the crowd at a sporting event or participating in competition, cheerleading can be both fun and physically demanding. Although integral to cheerleading routines, performing stunts can lead to injury. Stunt-related injuries accounted for more than half (60 percent) of U.S. cheerleading injuries from June 2006 through June 2007, according to a new study conducted by researchers at the Center for Injury Research and Policy of The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

Published as a series of four separate articles on cheerleading-related injuries in the November issue of the Journal of Athletic Training, the study focused on general cheerleading-related injuries, cheerleading stunt-related injuries, cheerleading fall-related injuries and surfaces used by cheerleaders. Data from the study showed that nearly all (96 percent) of the reported concussions and closed-head injuries were preceded by the cheerleader performing a stunt.

"In our study, stunts were defined as cradles, elevators, extensions, pyramids, single-based stunts, single-leg stunts, stunt-cradle combinations, transitions and miscellaneous partner and group stunts," said author Brenda Shields, research coordinator in the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

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Teaching the Golden Rules

Alina Dizik:

Creating a course to teach corporate social responsibility isn't as easy to do as, say, honing a curriculum for Finance 101.

After all, integrating public and societal interests into corporate decision-making strategies is tricky. Teaching students to become socially responsible managers first requires dispelling previous notions about where personal values fit in the workplace, says Daylian Cain, assistant professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management. Acting on your values is more complex than it might seem.

In an interview, Mr. Cain, who specializes in conflict of interest issues, spoke about imparting these ideals.

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Washington School Superintendent Calls for Delay on Math and Science Requirements

Teodora Popescu:

Yesterday, at the Washington State School Directors' Association (WSSDA) conference at the Westin in downtown Seattle, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn announced his new plans for math and science graduation requirements to an audience of over 1,000 statewide school board members.

Dorn, elected as a reformer last year, said it was necessary to postpone stricter graduation requirements for math until the class of 2015, and all graduation requirements for science until the class of 2017, to give students and teachers appropriate time to adjust to pending reforms.

For math graduation requirements until 2015, Dorn is okay with giving students a fall back option of earning two credits of math after tenth grade in order to graduate (a choice that is set to disappear in 2013) in place of passing a set of exams. Reformers want the scheduled changes--getting rid of the additional course work graduation option--to kick in for the class of 2013. They want students to have to pass either a state exam or two end-of-course exams to graduate starting in 2013--without Dorn's fallback.

For 2015 and onward, Dorn offered a two-tier proposal: Students either meet the proficiency level in two end-of-course exams or students meet the basic level in the exams and earn four math credits. Students who don't meet the basic level in the exams have the option of retesting with a comprehensive exam or using state-approved alternatives such as the SAT.

As far as the science graduation requirement, Dorn proposed postponing any requirements until the class of 2017, and replacing the current comprehensive assessment with end-of-course assessments in physical and life sciences. The 2010 legislature (starting this January) is supposed to define the science requirements.

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The problem with 'Oprah as Teacher'

Valerie Strauss:

Oprah Winfrey seems to love to teach--on her top-rated television show, through commencement speeches, in her successful magazine.

But in an era where educators say the one thing students need to learn is so-called "critical thinking skills"--or the ability to deeply analyze problems--Winfrey does very little to help on several levels.

Winfrey's mantra is self-empowerment, and that, of course, can be a very good thing--but only to a point. She goes well past that point way too often.

I've watched her show over the 23 years it has been televised (it was just announced that she is giving it up in 2011, and listened to speeches she has given, including one at Howard University's graduation in 2007. Her message is loud and clear. As she told the Howard graduates:

"I'm here to tell you today, 'Don't worry. Don't worry about it. Relax. . . . All you have to know is who you are.' "

Well, actually, no, that is not all people have to know to succeed. Furthermore, failure in this view means that you just aren't good enough to get where you want to go, as if there were no real roadblocks in your way. Life, simply, is not that simple.

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November 21, 2009

Now is the Time to Overhaul the Milwaukee Public Schools - Brown Professor Kenneth Wong

Alan Borsuk:

nter professor Kenneth K. Wong of Brown University in Providence, R.I., lead author of the 2007 book "The Education Mayor: Improving America's Schools." It was the fullest examination to date of the range of ways mayors have become involved in school governance in dozens of cities across the United States.

The book was generally favorable to well-executed mayoral involvement, broadly saying mayoral control creates a political environment for stronger decision making about improving schools. But the conclusions on academic impact were more tepid - Wong and his associates said there were improvements in reading and in math in many cases, but that, overall, getting the mayor involved didn't help and sometimes harmed efforts to close the achievement gaps between have and have-not students.

Both supporters and critics of mayoral control have cited things in the book as supporting their side.

Wong spent three days in Madison and Milwaukee, guest of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research and the Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs, both based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Wong was more assertive about the merits of mayoral control than he was in the book. "Mayoral control has a statistically significant positive effect on student achievement in reading and math at both elementary and high school grades," he said.

Mayoral control, he said, eliminates the "nobody's in charge culture" that leads to many school systems just keeping on doing things the way they've been done, even though they aren't succeeding overall. With a clear point of power, there is clear accountability and motivation to make needed changes, he said.

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From Oxford to Wall Street

Elliot Gerson:

Tonight, 32 young Americans will win Rhodes Scholarships. Their tenures at Oxford are funded by the legacy of the British imperialist Cecil Rhodes, a man whose life would not be honored today were it not for his vision that young people of outstanding intellect, leadership and ambition could make the world a better place.

For more than a century Rhodes scholars have left Oxford with virtually any job available to them. For much of this time, they have overwhelmingly chosen paths in scholarship, teaching, writing, medicine, scientific research, law, the military and public service. They have reached the highest levels in virtually all fields.

In the 1980s, however, the pattern of career choices began to change. Until then, even though business ambitions and management degrees have not been disfavored in our competition, business careers attracted relatively few Rhodes scholars. No one suggested this was an unfit domain; it was simply the rare scholar who went to Wall Street, finance and general business management. Only three American Rhodes scholars in the 1970s (out of 320) went directly into business from Oxford; by the late 1980s the number grew to that many in a year. Recently, more than twice as many went into business in just one year than did in the entire 1970s.

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The Growing Backlash Against Overparenting

Nancy Gibbs

The insanity crept up on us slowly; we just wanted what was best for our kids. We bought macrobiotic cupcakes and hypoallergenic socks, hired tutors to correct a 5-year-old's "pencil-holding deficiency," hooked up broadband connections in the treehouse but took down the swing set after the second skinned knee. We hovered over every school, playground and practice field -- "helicopter parents," teachers christened us, a phenomenon that spread to parents of all ages, races and regions. Stores began marketing stove-knob covers and "Kinderkords" (also known as leashes; they allow "three full feet of freedom for both you and your child") and Baby Kneepads (as if babies don't come prepadded). The mayor of a Connecticut town agreed to chop down three hickory trees on one block after a woman worried that a stray nut might drop into her new swimming pool, where her nut-allergic grandson occasionally swam. A Texas school required parents wanting to help with the second-grade holiday party to have a background check first. Schools auctioned off the right to cut the carpool line and drop a child directly in front of the building -- a spot that in other settings is known as handicapped parking.

We were so obsessed with our kids' success that parenting turned into a form of product development. Parents demanded that nursery schools offer Mandarin, since it's never too soon to prepare for the competition of a global economy. High school teachers received irate text messages from parents protesting an exam grade before class was even over; college deans described freshmen as "crispies," who arrived at college already burned out, and "teacups," who seemed ready to break at the tiniest stress.

This is what parenting had come to look like at the dawn of the 21st century -- just one more extravagance, the Bubble Wrap waiting to burst.

All great rebellions are born of private acts of civil disobedience that inspire rebel bands to plot together. And so there is now a new revolution under way, one aimed at rolling back the almost comical overprotectiveness and overinvestment of moms and dads. The insurgency goes by many names -- slow parenting, simplicity parenting, free-range parenting -- but the message is the same: Less is more; hovering is dangerous; failure is fruitful. You really want your children to succeed? Learn when to leave them alone. When you lighten up, they'll fly higher. We're often the ones who hold them down.

Read more about "The Growing Backlash Against Overparenting."

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D.C. Schools Chief Michelle Rhee Targets Teacher Tenure

Neil King, Jr. & John Hechinger:

The Obama administration says it wants to remake public education around the principle that the best teachers should be promoted and rewarded, regardless of seniority.

And a brawl over just that idea is now playing out in the shadow of the White House.

The chancellor of Washington's school system, Michelle Rhee, is wrestling with one of the most expensive, worst performing school systems in the country. The dropout rate has hit 40%, and the cost per student is $14,000 a year. Buildings are crumbling and thousands of parents have abandoned the system, which serves about 45,000 students.

Ms. Rhee is trying to reduce what she believes to be a bloated school management and wrest more control over the district's affairs from the powerful local teachers' union. She has replaced principals, laid off teachers and closed underperforming schools.

She has also challenged what she feels is one of the biggest impediments to improvement: tenure, or strong job protections for teachers. The idea is to promise teachers much richer salaries, as well as performance bonuses, if they give up tenure. Good performers would be rewarded, poor performers gotten rid of.

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German Students Fret Over Accelerated Degrees

Judy Dempsey:

Andrea Ballarin, 23, is a self-confident student hoping to graduate soon from Humboldt University in Berlin. But when she starts talking about getting a job once she graduates, her mood changes. The prospects, she said, are slim.

It is not because of the economic crisis facing Germany. Ms. Ballarin, who will graduate in Slavic studies, said the reason for such poor job prospects had more to do with the new higher-education policies the government recently introduced.

"It is not that I think the reforms are bad," Ms. Ballarin said. "They are needed, but they are so ill-thought out in the way they are being introduced."

In the past week, those changes have led to student demonstrations and sit-ins in many universities in Germany, which last year turned out over 309,000 graduates. Adding to the students' anger, several universities have introduced tuition fees, €200 to €500 a semester, or about $300 to $750, to a previously free system.

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Cal & Budget Cuts

Tamar Lewin:

As the University of California struggles to absorb its sharpest drop in state financing since the Great Depression, every professor, administrator and clerical worker has been put on furlough amounting to an average pay cut of 8 percent.

In chemistry laboratories that have produced Nobel Prize-winning research, wastebaskets are stuffed to the brim on the new reduced cleaning schedule. Many students are frozen out of required classes as course sections are trimmed.

And on Thursday, to top it all off, the Board of Regents voted to increase undergraduate fees -- the equivalent of tuition -- by 32 percent next fall, to more than $10,000. The university will cost about three times as much as it did a decade ago, and what was once an educational bargain will be one of the nation's higher-priced public universities.

Among students and faculty alike, there is a pervasive sense that the increases and the deep budget cuts are pushing the university into decline.

The budget cuts in California, topping $30 billion over the last two years, have touched all aspects of state government, including health care, welfare, corrections and recreation. They have led to a retrenchment in state services not seen in modern times, and for many institutions, including the state university system, have created a watershed moment.

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Formation of China's Ivy League hailed

China Daily:

China's Ministry of Education voiced on Monday its support for the formation of C9, an academic conference comprising nine domestic prestigious universities and referred to as China's Ivy League by some experts.

Xu Mei, the ministry's spokeswoman, said the establishment of the conference is a "helpful attempt that is conducive to the country's construction of high-quality colleges, cultivation of top-notch innovative talents and enhanced cooperation and exchanges between Chinese universities and their foreign counterparts."

On October 12, nine institutions of higher learning including the elite Peking University and Tsinghua Univerisity signed cooperative agreements that featured flexible student exchange programs, deepened cooperation on the training of postgraduates, and establishment of a credit system that allows students to win credits through attending classes in member universities of C9.

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University of Calif. approves big fee hikes

Michael Blood:

The governing board of the University of California approved a $2,500 student fee increase Thursday after two days of tense campus protests across the state.

The vote by the Board of Regents in a windowless University of California, Los Angeles, meeting room took place as the drone of protesters could be heard from a plaza outside. Scores of police in riot gear guarded the building.

The 32 percent increase will push the cost of an undergraduate education at California's premier public schools to over $10,000 a year by next fall, about triple the cost of a decade ago. The fees, the equivalent of tuition, do not include the cost of housing, board and books.

"Our hand has been forced," UC President Mark Yudof told reporters after the vote. "When you don't have any money, you don't have any money."

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November 20, 2009

Idaho urged to beef up public education

Bill Roberts:

More Idaho high school students should go to college.

They need more rigorous math and science instruction.

And the state needs to find more highly qualified teachers -- those who have degrees in the subjects they are teaching.

Those are among several recommendations expected to be unveiled Wednesday by a group of Idaho business leaders, parents and educators as a way for Idaho to provide a high-quality, cost-effective education.

The group, called the Education Alliance of Idaho, was formed after Gov. Butch Otter challenged business leaders in 2007 to look for ways to improve education in Idaho. Otter will introduce the alliance and the report at a news conference Wednesday morning.

The four broad goals and 17 recommendations are aimed at improving Idaho's educational quality as compared to the rest of the country, said Guy Hurlbutt, Alliance chairman.

A proposal that high school students graduate with up to 30 college credits goes back to plans offered by state schools Superintendent Tom Luna since he took office in 2007 to increase availability of college credits in high schools as a way to help kids get a leg up on higher education and save some money.

Demanding more rigor in high school math and science dates back to high school reform pushed by the State Board of Education earlier this decade. Then, the board succeeded in adding an additional year of math and science to high school graduation credits, beginning with the class of 2013.

Nor is the alliance's work the first shot at reform in Idaho public schools.

IBCEE press release.

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Minorities in gifted classes studied

Michael Alison Chandler:

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine announced Tuesday that the Virginia Education Department has launched a study of minority students' low participation in gifted education programs statewide.

African Americans represent 26 percent of the state's 1.2 million students but 12 percent of those in gifted education programs. Hispanics are 9 percent of the state's schoolchildren, but 5 percent of gifted students.

"Virginia is proud of both the high standards of our educational system and the wealth of diversity in our communities. . . . It's critical we assess any disproportionate barriers . . . so we can ensure students of all backgrounds have the opportunity to participate," Kaine said in a release.

NAACP officials have urged Kaine in recent months to address racial and ethnic disparities in new regulations for gifted education that he is expected to sign in the next few weeks. Some said a study does not go far enough to address their concerns.

Related: ""They're all rich, white kids and they'll do just fine" -- NOT!"

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Computer pioneer Sir Maurice Wilkes: vision and vacuum tubes

Jack Schofield:

Sir Maurice Wilkes, 96, one of the pioneers of British computing, strolls through the history the he helped create

Walk round the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park and sooner or later you'll hear a cry of recognition and someone will say: "I remember using one of those." It probably doesn't happen often to The Millionaire, a mechanical calculator that went into production in 1893, but Sir Maurice Wilkes spotted it, adding: "We used to have one in the lab. I hope it's still there."

In this case, "the lab" was what became the Cambridge University Computer Lab, which Wilkes headed from 1945 until 1980. It was where he built Edsac, one of the world's first electronic computers, using sound beams traversing baths of mercury for the memory units. Edsac (Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator) first ran in May 1949, so this year a dinner was held to celebrate its 60th birthday. And, of course, to celebrate Wilkes himself, who is a bright, sharp 96 years of age, and has seen most of the history of computing at first hand.

How sharp? On seeing the museum's air traffic control display, which fascinates many visitors, he immediately asks: "Where's the radar?" Ah, well, there isn't one. The displays are running real radar sequences but they're recorded. Wilkes, the consummate hardware guy, doesn't just see the screen, he looks to see how the whole system fits together.

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Golden Handcuffs: Teachers who change jobs or move pay a high price

Robert Costrell & Michael Podgursky:

Teacher pensions consume a substantial portion of school budgets. If relatively generous pensions help attract effective teachers, the expense might be justified. But new evidence suggests that current pension systems, by concentrating benefits on teachers who spend their entire careers in a single state and penalizing mobile teachers, may exacerbate the challenge of attracting to teaching young workers, who change jobs and move more often than did previous generations.

The design of teacher pension plans is a timely concern: like other public pension plans, those for teachers are becoming more costly. Employer contributions to pension funds tack on a larger percentage of earnings for public school teachers than for private-sector managers and professionals, and this gap is widening (see "Teacher Retirement Benefits," research, Spring 2009, Figure 1). Those data do not yet reflect the impact of the stock market decline since 2007: the drop in the value of pension funds means further increases in employer contributions will be required to fund promised benefits. As fiscal concerns force states to reevaluate the costs of teacher pension plans, officials might also consider the plans' consequences for teacher quality.

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Alternative test may inflate score gains

Michael Alison Chandler:

Lynbrook Elementary School, which serves one of the poorest communities in Fairfax County, seems to be a model for reform. Three years ago, the Springfield school failed to meet state testing goals in English. Since then, it has charted double-digit gains in passing rates for every one of its closely monitored racial and ethnic groups of students.

But the success at Lynbrook and other schools throughout the state is not only due to better teaching. More and more, students who have struggled to pass Virginia's Standards of Learning exams are taking different tests.

The trend dates to 2007, when federal officials approved an alternative assessment after the Fairfax School Board threatened to defy a mandate to give multiple-choice reading tests to students who were destined to fail -- students who, like many at Lynbrook, were just beginning to learn English.

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November 19, 2009

Madison School District Talented & Gifted Plan Presentation Audio / Video

Madison School District Talented & Gifted Plan Presentation 11/17/2009 from SIS.

Click to listen or CTRL-Click to download this 32mb mp3 audio file. Much more on the Madison School District's new talented & gifted plan.

Thanks to Jeff Henriques and Laurie Frost for recording this event.

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DFER Reforming Education Speaker Series: Lessons for Milwaukee - Jon Schnur

via a Katy Venskus email:

Through out the fall of 2009 Democrats for Education Reform will bring to Milwaukee national education leaders with a proven record of reform in urban districts. Our speakers will offer new perspectives and experience with what works and what does not in a challenging urban district.

We are pleased to invite you to the second installment in this series featuring one of the most powerful national voices on education reform:


CEO and Co-Founder: New Leaders for New Schools

As CEO and Co-founder of New Leaders for New Schools, Jon works with the NLNS team and community to accomplish their mission- driving high levels of learning and achievement for every child by attracting, preparing, and supporting the next generation of outstanding principals for our nation's urban schools. From September 2008 to June 2009, Jon served as an advisor to Barack Obama's Presidential campaign, a member of the Presidential Transition Team, and a Senior Advisor to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Jon also served as Special Assistant to Secretary of Education Richard Riley, President Clinton's White House Associate Director for Educational Policy, and Senior Advisor on Education to Vice President Gore. He developed national educational policies on teacher and principal quality, after-school programs, district reform, charter schools, and preschools.

When: Tuesday December 1, 2009

Where: United Community Center

1028 South 9th Street

Milwaukee, WI [Map]

Time: 5:30pm-7:00pm (Hors d'oeuvres and cash bar)

RSVP to:

Katy Venskus 414.801.2036

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Two Wisconsin AP Scholars Named

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction [40K PDF]:

Two graduates from Marshfield High School have been named Advanced Placement Scholars for Wisconsin. This is the third year that both scholars have been from the Marshfield School District. The College Board Advanced Placement (AP) Program recognized Kara Faciszewski and Stephen Nordin as 2009 State AP Scholars from Wisconsin for their performance on Advanced Placement exams. This is the 19th year that the organization has granted State AP Scholar Awards. The distinction goes to one male and one female student from each state and the District of Columbia with grades of three or higher on the greatest number of AP exams, and then the highest average score (at least 3.5) on all AP exams taken. For 2009, 109 students nationwide received AP Scholar Awards.
Related: Dane County High School AP Course Comparison. Marshfield High School offers 27 AP courses. Search high school AP course offerings here.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: America's fiscal deficit

The Economist:

STUDENTS at National Defence University in Washington, DC, were recently given a model of the economy and told to fix the budget. To get the federal debt down, they jacked up taxes and slashed spending. The economy promptly tanked, sending the debt to higher levels than before. The lesson: "You'll never get re-elected and you may do more harm than good," concluded Eric Bee, an air-force colonel who took part in the exercise.

This is the ugly arithmetic of America's public finances. Recession and aggressive fiscal stimulus have hugely swollen the federal deficit. Stimulus was essential to cushion a collapse in private demand. In spite of that, the economy has barely emerged from recession and unemployment is still rising, feeding speculation that more stimulus is needed. Yet at the same time voters are growing alarmed at the tide of red ink, and it may be only a matter of time before markets do, too.

On current policies the federal deficit, which hit a post-war high of 10% of GDP in the fiscal year that has just ended, will fall to 4.2% by 2014 and will then head steadily higher. Aides to Barack Obama know this is unacceptable. With a new budget due in February, government departments are said to be preparing to tighten their belts. Meanwhile an advisory committee, chaired by Paul Volcker, who used to head the Federal Reserve, will report to the president in early December on options for tweaking the tax system, though not how to raise much more revenue from it.

It is clearly unlikely that the K-12 world will see significant amounts of new funds, beyond the 5%+ annual growth experienced over the past twenty years, if that.

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The Phony Funding Crisis: Even in the worst of times, schools have money to spend

Arthur Peng & James Guthrie:

Chicken Little is alive and seemingly employed as a finance analyst or reporter for an education interest group. If one relies on newspaper headlines for education funding information, one might conclude that America's schools suffer from a perpetual fiscal crisis, every year perched precariously on the brink of financial ruin, never knowing whether there will be sufficient funding to continue operating. Budgetary shortfalls, school district bankruptcies, teacher and administrator layoffs, hiring and salary freezes, pension system defaults, shorter school years, ever-larger classes, faculty furloughs, fewer course electives, reduced field trips, foregone or curtailed athletics, outdated textbooks, teachers having to make do with fewer supplies, cuts in school maintenance, and other tales of fiscal woe inevitably captivate the news media, particularly during the late-spring and summer budget and appropriations seasons.

Yet somehow, as the budget-planning cycle concludes and schools open their doors in the late summer and fall, virtually all classrooms have instructors, teachers receive their paychecks and use their health plans, athletic teams play, and textbooks are distributed. Regrettably, this story is seldom accorded the same media attention as are the prospects of budget reductions and teacher layoffs.

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Are Wisconsin Students Progressing?

The Wisconsin Taxpayer [Request a Copy]:

Wisconsin spent more than $10 billion in 2008-09 to educate 861,000 public school students. At more than $11,000 per student, this represents a public investment of over $I50,000 per student over their 13-year elementary and high school career.

The success of any investment-public or private-is measured by comparing its return wilh the amount invested. With public education, measuring returns can be difficult.

In an attempt to measure student progress, Wisconsin has tested public school students using the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exams (WKCE) since thc mid-
I990s. The tests are based on Wisconsin's Model Academic Standards. Although not a perfect measure of how students (and schools) are doing, the results can provide useful information on academic progress.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which was passed with bipartisan support in 2001, requires thai "not later than 12 years after the end of the 2001-02 school year, all students ... will meet or exceed the State's proficient level of academic achievement on the State assessments." Wisconsin uses the WKCE to test public school students in reading and math in third through eighth grades, and again in 10th grade. In fourth, eighth and 10th grades, Wisconsin tests students in language arts, science and social studies, as well as reading and math. Student test scores are rated as minimal, basic, proficient, or advanced.

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Wisconsin School District Tax Levies to rise an average of 7.16%

Amy Hetzner:

Wisconsin school districts' property tax levies will rise an average of 7.16% statewide for the current school year, according to new information from the state Department of Public Instruction.

Although a drop in state aid to public schools helped drive up property taxes in some areas, increased statewide restrictions on allowable per-pupil revenue as well as local decisions to keep the lid on potential tax increases kept the average levy from going higher.

In fact, this school year's average increase is less than the average rise for school districts in 2007-'08. In the Milwaukee area, the average increase was about 5%.

Levy increases varied widely from one district to another for 2009-'10, with the Seneca School District posting the highest - a 41% increase in its portion of property taxes.

The Seneca levy spike was due to a new voter-approved operational tax increase and a 15% drop in state aid, said David Boland, superintendent of the small southwestern Wisconsin school system.

The original proposal for almost a 50% tax increase was voted down in the district's annual meeting, as was a much smaller increase, he said.

Boland said the district's expenses were pretty much set by the time the state finalized its budget and he learned the district would be receiving dramatically less in state aid.

"When it was done that late, there was no way to prepare," he said. "We're the same as a lot of other districts."

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Brighter Choices in Albany Education: City's charter schools outshine the competition.

Peter Meyer:

All eyes turned to the dark-haired woman sitting on a folding chair along the back wall of the room. Some eyes rolled, as most of the group knew Eva Joseph, the embattled superintendent of Albany Public Schools (APS). They had seen her at countless education forums, on the local nightly news, and in the daily paper at every turn of the school budget clock, determinedly defending her district and, increasingly, railing against charter schools. "I'll make it quick," said Dr. Joseph. "I do want to thank you for acknowledging the situation in Albany, but going to the heart of what's real, we have 10 charter schools in Albany with a total public school population of 10,500 students. Compare that to 23 charter schools in the Big 5, with the exception of New York City. Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester, Yonkers. Twenty-three total charter schools and you total up their enrollment. The proliferation here. The oversaturation, per pupil and per capita, is glaring. And it has serious implications for the district. It destabilizes it on many fronts...."

Standing a few feet away, as Joseph plunged on, a man leaned against the wall, smiling. It was not a smug or obvious smile, nor the smirk of a man who was mocking or scornful. Tom Carroll was smiling because he had heard the speech before and because he knew, as founder of the charter school foundation that had siphoned off nearly a quarter of Dr. Joseph's 10,500 students, that he was at least an immediate cause of the vitriol. It was the smile of victory.

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November 18, 2009

K-12 Governance: Rhee on "Wasted Spending in the Washington, DC School District"

Wall Street Journal CEO Council:

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Blowback on Madison's "Talented & Gifted" Program: "TAG not a game Madison area schools need to play"

Sean Kittridge:

Bumper stickers are like tattoos for cars. They're gaudy, mighty tough to get off and, no matter how hard they try, rarely inspiring. We don't need goofy "coexist" decals to inform us that the person doing a mean 45 MPH in the passing lane is against religion-fueled hatred and wars. Of course that guy's against war. He's driving a Saturn Ion.

And we've just about had it up to here -- lower jaw area -- with those wretched honor roll notifications. "Oh really, Mrs. Johnson? Tommy's getting straight A's in middle school?" Somebody call NASA. Or, if nothing else, call B.S. Just wait 'til he starts listening to rap music.

But parents, as a species, aren't rational beings. After all, if they were, they would've put you up for adoption. Instead, they foolishly assume their child is The Great White Hope, with equal parts of Jim Brown, Barack Obama and Jesus Christ mixed in -- although, interestingly, none of them are white. In Madison, this wide-eyed parental belief that their genes will save the world is best represented by discussions surrounding programming for gifted youngsters.

As reported Monday in the Wisconsin State Journal, some area parents are becoming increasingly frustrated with the Madison school district's weak implementation of TAG programming. TAG, which stands for "talented and gifted," is class instruction designed to challenge more advanced students, and forever lost its credibility when it became loosely associated with a canned body spray. According to the article, the school district currently has eight and a half positions devoted to pushing TAG programming forward, and that's simply not enough to spawn effective change.

Fortunately, it's not necessary, especially when dealing with elementary and middle school students. Try and tell 9-year-olds they're gifted; they'll listen, but only after a good nose-picking and two minutes of straight laughter stemming from a joke that incorporated the word "butt."

Fascinating. The TAG initiative, from my perspective, ideally should lead to increased rigor for all students. That is obviously a contentious topic.....

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Cisco CEO: Education Is Top National Priority

Roger Cheng:

Education should be the top national priority ahead of health care, the economy and climate change, according to Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO) Chief Executive John Chambers.

Education should be an issue that brings together Democrats and Republicans at a time when they can agree on little else, Chambers said. He helped present the findings of an education-focused task force at the WSJ CEO Council conference Tuesday.

The task force determined that the government should form a national council for an educated work force, linking together the secretaries of education, labor and commerce, said Accenture Ltd. (ACN) Chief Executive William Green.

"We don't have a national agenda to be tops in the world in education," Green said. "On every measure, we're slipping."

Indeed, countries are doing a better job of preparing their children for the global work force, Chambers said.

AT&T Inc. (T) Chief Executive Randall Stephenson said that the talent pool coming out high schools is getting diluted.

"Parents need to recognize that their children are falling behind," he said.

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Leaders & Laggards: A State-By-State Report Card of Educational Innovation

Center for American Progress:

Two years ago, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Center for American Progress, and Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute came together to grade the states on school performance. In that first Leaders and Laggards report, we found much to applaud but even more that requires urgent improvement. In this follow-up report, we turn our attention to the future, looking not at how states are performing today, but at what they are doing to prepare themselves for the challenges that lie ahead. Thus, some states with positive academic results receive poor grades on our measures of innovation, while others with lackluster scholarly achievement nevertheless earn high marks for policies that are creating an entrepreneurial culture in their schools. We chose this focus because, regardless of current academic accomplishment in each state, we believe innovative educational practices are vital to laying the groundwork for continuous and transformational change.

And change is essential. Put bluntly, we believe our education system needs to be reinvented. After decades of political inaction and ineffective reforms, our schools consistently produce students unready for the rigors of the modern workplace. The lack of preparedness is staggering. Roughly one in three eighth graders is proficient in reading. Most high schools graduate little more than two-thirds of their students on time. And even the students who do receive a high school diploma lack adequate skills: More than 33% of first-year college students require remediation in either math or English.

Ben Paynter has more.

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School meals: the breakfast sugar overload

Valerie Strauss:

The first thing that jumped out at me about today's Washington Post story about kids in D.C. schools eating federally funded breakfasts was "sugar."

How much sugar was in the breakfast given to fourth-grader Alex Brown?

He had a bowl of Lucky Charms cereal, amount not mentioned; but a single serving, 1 cup, has 14 grams of sugar. That's not especially high in the sweetened cereal world,
but it's not great.

The breakfast also included graham crackers, amount not mentioned. But the amount of sugar per serving, which is one little square, in Nabisco graham crackers is 2.2 grams.
Then there was the juice. The article said the boy had milk and juice, amount and kind not mentioned. But one serving, which is 1 cup, of Minute Maid orange juice has 22 grams of sugar.

If the child had a cup of Lucky Charms, two graham cracker squares and an 8-ounce glass of Minute Maid orange juice, he would have consumed 40.4 grams of sugar for breakfast.

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Does the Gates Foundation Need a $500 Million Complex?

Robert Frank:

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has done ground-breaking work on such global problems as infectious disease and education. It has clearly made the world a better place as a result.

But the foundation's latest ground-breaking-on a new headquarters building-is bound to raise some eyebrows.

According a blog post by Kristi Heim of the Seattle Times, the Gates Foundation is in the middle of building a 900,000-square-foot headquarters, comprised initially of two six-story, boomerang-shaped buildings on 12 acres near the Seattle Center.

The estimated cost: $500 million.

That is more than three times what nearby Russell Investments paid for its 42-story headquarters tower to house its staff of 900 and manage more than $200 billion in assets.
Neighboring, with more than $19 billion in revenue and more than 20,000 employees, recently paid $700 million to lease about 800,000 square feet, wit

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Ex-Gates director looks to open a charter school in New York

Anna Phillips:

Former Gates Foundation education director Tom Vander Ark is behind one charter school's application to open in New York City next year.

For years, Vander Ark shaped the educational giving for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, overseeing grants the organization gave to cities that agreed to build small high schools. Now a partner at an education public affairs firm in California, Vander Ark has supported such causes as lifting New York State's charter cap and bringing more and better technology into classrooms.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education confirmed that Vander Ark is behind the application for Bedford Preparatory Charter School, a small high school school that, if approved, would open in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn next school year.

An overview of Bedford Prep describes the school as being modeled on NYC iSchool, a small, selective high school that opened in Tribeca last fall as the first school in the city's NYC21C initiative. Since then, the Department of Education has opened eight more schools based on the iSchool model.

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SEIU Threatens to Organize Charter School Teachers?

Mike Antonucci:

Can't find confirmation anywhere other than in this story about the infighting between SEIU and the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW). Reporter Randy Shaw says SEIU is upset with United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) for supporting NUHW. UTLA reportedly sponsored a fundraiser for NUHW in San Francisco, which was protested by SEIU activists.

According to Shaw, SEIU made a statement to UTLA that "it would seek to organize charter school teachers in retaliation for UTLA's pro-NUHW stance." If true, it's an empty threat. What makes SEIU think it would be any more successful organizing charter school teachers than UTLA has been? And how much damage would it really do if it were successful?

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Medical Schools Quizzed on Ghostwriting

Duff Wilson:

Senator Charles E. Grassley wrote to 10 top medical schools Tuesday to ask what they are doing about professors who put their names on ghostwritten articles in medical journals -- and why that practice was any different from plagiarism by students.

Mr. Grassley, of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, sent the letters as part of his continuing investigation of so-called medical ghostwriting. The term refers to publication of medical journal articles in which an outside writer -- sometimes paid by a drug or medical devices company whose product is being studied -- has done extensive work on the article without being named on the publication. Instead, one or more academic researchers may receive author credit.

Mr. Grassley said ghostwriting had hurt patients and raised costs for taxpayers because it used prestigious academic names to promote medical products and treatments that might be expensive or less effective than viable alternatives.

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A Writing Routine

Peg Boyle Single:

Recently I was talking with a group of master's and doctoral students about writing. A colleague asked me to talk with his students and I gladly agreed. We were sitting in a round circle in a nice tan-colored classroom with lots of windows on the west side. There were about 30 of us in the room. After I spoke about writing and read excerpts from my book, I fielded a bunch of questions that came in quick succession. Then after a pause in the question and answer session, one student across from and to the right of me asked a question. From his voice, I could tell that he had been hesitating. He said he really appreciated my presentation on prewriting and on developing a regular writing routine. Then he admitted that he struggles with writing and that my experience with procrastination resonated with him. But this was his dilemma. He had a deadline for his master's thesis in a few months and how does he go about trying to employ these new writing techniques while also getting a thesis written? Isn't that too much to take on?

Oh boy, it brought me back to when I was a doctoral student, who was struggling with writing to the extent that I was at risk for being ABD. I too had to learn habits of fluent writing while working on my dissertation. For this reason, I readily talk with any group about developing a regular writing routine, I wrote my book, and I am writing this column. If I can prevent one person from experiencing the struggles I had with writing, I would consider it worth it.

To his question, I replied: "You will eventually have to complete your master's thesis, and you will. You could probably gut it out without trying anything new, and it would be miserable, but you could do it." He nodded in agreement. Then I added, "But, why not try these techniques? Yes, it will take additional effort as you will be changing habits and writing a thesis at the same time. But your deadline is going to arrive whether you try new techniques or not. So why not work on some of these techniques and see how it goes." After talking a little more I concluded by saying: "I did it, and so can you."

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November 17, 2009

Making the Grade

A Second Grade Teacher:

There were a lot of things I was anxious about when I came out of the School of Ed. One was the switch from being the graded to the being the grader. It was really an odd sensation to grade someone else's work in black and white. All that time spent at a liberal undergraduate school attending vegan potluck dinners, talking about how terrible judging people can be, and now I was being paid to judge people every day.

It gets easier with time. At first you might pour over your grades for a very long time, thinking about how many points a student really deserves based on their effort and the demonstration of their comprehension of an idea. You might come up with rubrics for the littlest assignments to ensure fairness and award points to papers only after covering up their authors. A lot of that will disappear under the shear workload that is grading. Really, looking at students' work takes forever! A very good friend of mine back in Kansas has over 150 students on her rosters. Think about it: you assign a two page paper in all of your classes and all of a sudden you have a 300 page novel to tear apart, comment on, revise and turn back to its many authors. Who has time for that?

In addition to time, it's really difficult to do any kind of grading if things are going poorly in the first year of teaching. It's unfair to fail all of the students for not learning if you've not grabbed hold of the reigns and taken control of the class. While the vast majority of the students who failed my class last year were making very poor decisions that led to that failure, fewer would have done so poorly if I'd been able to give them the structure and support they needed. How many? Who knows.

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More New York City High Schools Get A's (and C's, and D's)

A. G. Sulzberger:

In releasing the third annual round of A through F grades for New York City high schools on Monday, the Education Department produced a rather murky picture: The number of schools receiving A's on the city's report cards increased this year, but more schools received C's and D's. And just one school received an F.

The Bloomberg administration has made the school report cards a central part of its accountability system, and the grades are likely to provoke renewed anxiety among large, struggling high schools in the city, which could be shut down for poor performance. The schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, has moved to close 28 schools, including nine high schools, since the city began issuing the grades in 2007.

State education officials have also said that they plan to close the bottom 5 percent of schools statewide to comply with guidelines for a competitive federal grant that will award billions of dollars to states making strong efforts to improve schools.

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Most oppose mayoral takeover of Milwaukee Public Schools, poll says

Larry Sandler:

A majority of city and suburban residents oppose giving Milwaukee's mayor control over the Milwaukee Public Schools, according to a survey released Tuesday.

The People Speak Poll also found support for a high-speed rail system and a regional parks district; opposition to a regional transit authority and gasoline tax increases; and deep divisions on other transportation and government finance issues.

Among the four counties surveyed, Milwaukee County residents were the only ones who thought their county government was on the wrong track. Milwaukee city residents were about evenly split on the question of whether the city was on the right or wrong track, while suburbanites voiced a more negative view of the city's direction.

Mayor Tom Barrett and Gov. Jim Doyle have been pressing the Legislature to approve a bill that would give the mayor the power to hire and fire the MPS superintendent, along with ultimate authority over the school district's budget and labor negotiations. They say the step is needed to improve student performance, following the lead of several other major U.S. cities.

But opponents object to taking power away from the elected School Board. A competing proposal would give the mayor the power to veto the School Board's superintendent choice and budget decisions, but would let the board override those vetoes.

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Do College Students Get Well-Rounded General Education?

Faiza Elmasry:

Before choosing where to go for college, high school students and their parents usually spend time shopping around, evaluating various colleges and universities. Many also consult the college rankings published by a number of magazines and organizations. Those lists rate schools on such criteria as tuition, student SAT scores, and teacher to student radio. This year, a new ranking considered a different criterion.

"What Will They Learn?" compares educational requirements, not academic reputation
What are students at this school expected to learn? That was the question posed by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni to 100 colleges and universities across the country. ACTA is an independent nonprofit dedicated to academic freedom, quality and accountability. Its president, Anne Neal, says ACTA wanted to compare educational requirements... not academic reputation.

The report looked at seven key subjects: math, science, composition, U.S. history or government, economics, foreign languages and literature. Courses in these key areas of knowledge are necessary for students to be successful in their careers and life, Neal says.

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Seattle PSAT Update: A Baseline for More Rigor in High Schools?

Melissa Westbrook:

As you may recall I was wondering how come the district had no results (by grade or school or district) for the PSAT given last fall to 9th, 10th and 11th graders. Bob Vaughn in Advanced Learning told me they had too much on their plate to get it done.

Joy Stevens, the Public Records officer said this:

I am writing in response to your email below requesting PSAT test results. In doing so, I learned that the test results that we receive are in a format that cannot be easily incorporated into our information, which would allow us to release statistical information without violating individual student confidentiality. I am looking into whether it would be possible to redact or remove student identification from the results we get from the College Boards and/or extract statistical totals.
I also placed a call to Boeing and got a very nice guy who was puzzled but said that they were expecting a report by Dec. 31. He got back to me on Friday and said he got a report and that the district said they would be releasing the results shortly.

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Human Resource

Simon Parry:

In a grimy shack near the entrance to an orphanage in the far north of Vietnam, Hoang's mother watches anxiously - seemingly torn between instinct and obedience - as her first-born child is taken from her and given to a woman offering to sell him for US$10,000.
"Look at him - he's such a handsome little boy," baby broker Tang Thi Cai says as the two-month-old kicks his legs and blinks. "If you want him, though, you've got to be quick. We've already started the paperwork to sign him over to the orphanage, so there's no time to lose."

Sensing my hesitation as she fusses around the fly-blown room, Cai adjusts her sales pitch. "If you'd prefer a girl, let me know," she says. "We have some pregnant women here about to give birth - and as soon as a girl is available, we can phone you."

When Hollywood superstars Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt adopted three-year-old Pax Thien from an orphanage in Ho Chi Minh City two years ago, it confirmed Vietnam's status as one of the world's most popular destinations for overseas adoptions. But a year later, adoptions from Vietnam to the United States were halted amid allegations of corruption, baby selling and irregularities in the way the infants were sourced. Today, the system is mired in even deeper suspicions.

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Learning Math From the Rubik's Cube

Jennifer Lee:

Can a Rubik's Cube boost student confidence?

About a dozen New York City schools have introduced a child-friendly Rubik's Cube-based math curriculum devised for students as young as 8. In addition, New York City's Department of Parks and Recreation is planning to introduce Rubik's Cube solving at its 32 after-school program sites citywide within the next few weeks.

These actions are happening under a program conceived around two years ago by the company that owns the license to the Rubik's Cube, Seven Towns, which is based in London. In an attempt to make the cube part of an educational curriculum, the company took the relatively cryptic problem-solving guides and made them more student-friendly by adding colorful illustrations and simplifying the instructions.

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Opposition grows to Massachusetts education reform bill

James Vaznis:

An unlikely opponent has joined the mounting opposition against a bill in the state Senate this afternoon that would expand the number of charter schools.

The Massachusetts Association of Charter Public Schools said today the bill could actually stifle the growth of charter schools because of changes made to the legislation last Friday in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Those changes would pull first-year funding for all new charter schools from the state's general education fund known as Chapter 70 and would create a new budget line for those costs, which the association fears could make it more vulnerable to line-item budget cutting.

Another change made by the committee would require that the first three new charter schools approved each year to be located in a district that ranks in the bottom 10 percent in MCAS scores. Given that the state only approves two or three applications a year, the association said the requirement would make it virtually impossible to open new charter schools in other parts of the state.

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Parents question focus and speed of Madison's gifted students program

Gayle Worland:

The parents of exceptionally bright students in Madison schools waited 18 years for a plan to raise the academic bar for their children. But now, they're really getting impatient.

Approved by the Madison school board in August, the district's new three-year plan for talented and gifted ("TAG") students already is raising questions from parents about focus and speed. The district's TAG staff, they note, consists of only 8.5 positions in a district of 24,622 students - and three of those positions are vacant.

"Change of a large system takes time," said Chris Gomez Schmidt, the mother of three young children who serves on the district's advisory committee for talented and gifted students. "But I think there's a lot of families within the system who are frustrated when they see that their students' needs are not being met. I think that families don't feel like they have a lot of time to wait."

The district's talented and gifted plan, which replaces a 1991 document, will be spelled out for the public Tuesday night in a community forum from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Hamilton Middle School, 4801 Waukesha St. The forum is meant to make the reforms understandable and "transparent" to the public, said Lisa Wachtel, executive director for teaching and learning for the district.

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The Edsel of Education Reform: The Ford Foundation finds a needy cause: teachers unions.

Wall Street Journal Editorial:

We hate to say it, but don't be misled by headlines. The biggest headline in education circles last week was that the Ford Foundation is making a whopping $100 million grant "to transform secondary education in the nation's most disadvantaged schools."

Our eyes raced to see which piece of the vibrant school-reform movement Ford was going to support. Would it be America's 4,600 charters schools, many outperforming their traditional school peers and some even closing the race gap? Maybe it would be Teach for America, busting at the seams and turning down Ivy League applicants by the hundreds. Or, who knows, maybe Ford's really on the leading edge, and would want to support voucher programs in cities like Washington.

Would you believe the recipients of Ford's largesse are the teachers unions? Yup. The folks at Ford are giving new meaning to the word "retro."

Ballyhooing the $100 million, the foundation's president Luis Ubinas said, "Improving our schools, and giving the most vulnerable young people real educational opportunities, benefits all of us. With this initiative we want to shake up the conversations surrounding school reform and help spur some truly imaginative thinking and partnerships."

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Legislators present alternative plan to mayoral control of MPS

Erin Richards:

The Milwaukee Public School Board would retain the right to choose the superintendent, and Milwaukee's mayor would co-chair a new committee with the School Board president to improve education in the city, according to a plan unveiled today by two Milwaukee-area legislators.

The RACE for Success plan from State Rep. Tamara Grigsby and State Sen. Spencer Coggs (both D-Milwaukee) is meant to counter an education reform bill from State Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) that would give the mayor the right to hire and fire the superintendent and assume much more financial control over the district.

Taylor's bill is called the Milwaukee TEACH Act.

Grigsby said she believes the RACE proposal has a good chance of winning support, especially now that Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has announced he will run for governor.

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Judge tells Chicago to let students transfer

Karen Hawkins:

A federal judge says Chicago Public Schools must arrange for the immediate transfer of students who want to leave a South Side high school after an honor student's brutal beating death.

U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman's ruling Monday came in a lawsuit filed last week against the district by 11 students who say they don't feel safe at Christian Fenger Academy High School. Along with the transfers, the students want a judge to order the district to make Fenger safer.

Derrion Albert, a 16-year-old Fenger honor student, was beaten to death in September during a sprawling fight that was caught by a cell phone video camera.

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Farewell, Milwaukee Mayoral Takeover

Christian Schneider:

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett's entrance into the race for Wisconsin Governor means many things; but perhaps most importantly, it means the death of the plan to have the mayor take over the Milwaukee Public Schools.

Last year, Wisconsin Interest magazine editor Charlie Sykes noted Barrett's reluctance to follow through on the plan:

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett continues to downplay his interest in a mayoral takeover, saying "I'm not interested in a power grab." But his call for a privately-funded assessment of the district marked a new activism on the mayor's part, reflecting the growing national movement toward putting mayors in charge of their city's schools.

In the last decade and a half at least a dozen of the nation's largest school districts have been handed over to mayoral control, most notably in Boston, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. Philadelphia's schools are run by a board jointly appointed by the mayor and the governor.

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November 16, 2009

The Last Days of the Polymath

Edward Carr @ Intelligent Life:

CARL DJERASSI can remember the moment when he became a writer. It was 1993, he was a professor of chemistry at Stanford University in California and he had already written books about science and about his life as one of the inventors of the Pill. Now he wanted to write a literary novel about writers' insecurities, with a central character loosely modelled on Norman Mailer, Philip Roth and Gore Vidal.

His wife, Diane Middlebrook, thought it was a ridiculous idea. She was also a professor--of literature. "She admired the fact that I was a scientist who also wrote," Djerassi says. He remembers her telling him, "'You've been writing about a world that writers know little about. You're writing the real truth inside of almost a closed tribe. But there are tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people who know more about writing than you do. I advise you not to do this.' "

Even at 85, slight and snowy-haired, Djerassi is a det­ermined man. You sense his need to prove that he can, he will prevail. Sitting in his London flat, he leans forward to fix me with his hazel eyes. "I said, 'ok. I'm not going to show it to you till I finish. And if I find a publisher then I'll give it to you.' "

Eventually Djerassi got the bound galleys of his book. "We were leaving San Francisco for London for our usual summer and I said 'Look, would you read this now?' She said, 'Sure, on the plane.' So my wife sits next to me and of course I sit and look over. And I still remember, I had a Trollope, 700 pages long, and I couldn't read anything because I wanted to see her expression."

Diane Middlebrook died of cancer in 2007 and, as Djerassi speaks, her presence grows stronger. By the end it is as if there are three of us in the room. "She was always a fantastic reader," he says. "She read fast and continuously. And suddenly you hear the snap of the book closing, like a thunder clap. And I looked at her, and she then looked at me. She always used to call me, not 'Carl' or 'Darling', she used to call me 'Chemist' in a dear, affectionate sort of way. It was always 'Chemist'. And she said, 'Chemist, this is good'."

Carl Djerassi is a polymath. Strictly speaking that means he is someone who knows a lot about a lot. But Djerassi also passes a sterner test: he can do a lot, too. As a chemist (synthesising cortisone and helping invent the Pill); an art collector (he assembled one of the world's largest collections of works by Paul Klee); and an author (19 books and plays), he has accomplished more than enough for one lifetime.

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The Preschool Picture - 4K?

Chester Finn, Jr.:

The campaign for universal preschool education in the United States has gained great momentum. Precisely as strategists intended, many Americans have come to believe that pre-kindergarten is a good and necessary thing for government to provide, even that not providing it will cruelly deprive our youngest residents of their birthrights, blight their educational futures, and dim their life prospects. Yet a troubling contradiction bordering on dishonesty casts a shadow over today's mighty push for universal pre-K education in America (see "Preschool Puzzle," forum, Fall 2008).

The principal intellectual and moral argument that advocates make--and for which I have considerable sympathy--is similar to that of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) backers: giving needy kids a boost up the ladder of educational and later-life success by narrowing the achievement gaps that now trap too many of them on the lower rungs. Serious pursuit of that objective would entail intensive, educationally sophisticated programs, starting early in a child's life, perhaps even before birth, and enlisting and assisting the child's parents from day one.

Yet the programmatic and political strategy embraced by today's pre-K advocates is altogether different. They seek to furnish relatively skimpy preschool services to all 4 million of our nation's four-year-olds (and then, of course, all 4 million three-year-olds), preferably under the aegis of the public schools.

4K is on the radar of our local Madison schools.

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Seattle School Board Meeting on Boundaries and Levies

Melissa Westbrook:

The School Board meeting for votes on both the new SAP boundaries and the levies is this Wednesday, the 18th at 6 p.m. You can sign up to speak starting tomorrow at 8 am by:

calling 252-0040 or e-mailing

Here's we are, almost to zero hour. I don't want to disappoint anyone but I'm not sure I believe any amendments will come forward. I think only a broad-based one like the "soft" boundaries one (allowing anyone within a block of a school to have access even if it isn't their attendance area school) or the "one-time" option (which would allow anyone within, say, 3 blocks of a non-attendance area school to make the one-time choice to commit to that school). Those would not require moving boundaries. But I think the Board will say they just can't at this point. (And that's why I do not like staff saying, "Oh yes, the Board can do anything up until the vote.")

Please let us know if you attended Director Carr or De Bell's community meeting yesterday. I heard from someone who attended Director Carr's that there were a couple of issues. One, that when parents pressed about amendments, Sherry said it was too late because of staff issues. Two, that many parents were pressing for changes based on personal issues for their children. However, this person did end with this:

"Either way, we'll work to make our kids' school the best it can be."

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Cyberbullies hit primary schools


Cyberbullying is a growing problem in primary schools, according to the Anti-Bullying Alliance.

In a small study carried out by the group in south east England, one in five children questioned said they had been bullied online or by phone.

And many of the 227 10 and 11-year olds questioned said they used social networking sites, even though users are meant to be over 13.

Campaigners say parents must learn how to help children protect themselves.

The Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA), which is a charity bringing together 60 organisations, also released the findings of a survey of parents on cyberbullying at the start of 'Anti-bullying week'.

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Boulder Valley open-enrollment process goes online

Vanessa Miller:

Open enrollment has become part of the educational path that many families in the Boulder Valley School District follow, and this year officials have made some changes to the application process to make it both easier and greener.

For the first time, parents can file a request for their child to attend a Boulder Valley school outside their neighborhood on the district's Web site, eliminating the need for applicants to pick up a paper form and drive it to the Boulder Valley Education Center. The online application will mirror the hard-copy version, allowing parents to choose their top choices and explain their reasoning.

"It will be more convenient, faster and it will mean that a person will not need to drop it by the education center," said district assessment director Jonathan Dings. "We think this will save paper and gas, in an effort to be as green as we can in this process."

Parents still will have the option of filling out a paper application and dropping it off, if that works best for them, Dings said. But, he said, the district is "hopeful that we will have a great deal of participation" in the inaugural online program.

"We know that if the product works well, a whole lot more people will try it," he said.

Open enrollment is a statewide option that allows families to send their kids to schools outside their neighborhoods. The option plays a substantial role in how Boulder Valley students are placed, Dings said.

Related: Wisconsin part-time and full-time open enrollment.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Washington adapts to eastwards power shift

Edward Luce:

A few months ago Tim Geithner, the US Treasury secretary, assured a group of Chinese students in Beijing that their country's US dollar investments were in good hands. "Chinese assets are very safe," Mr Geithner said. His comments brought the house down.

White House officials will be hoping that Barack Obama can avoid a similar loss of face on Monday when he meets a group of students in Shanghai for the set piece "town hall" that has become the US president's signature event.

The chances are that he will. But no amount of dexterity can disguise the fact that Mr Obama's visit to China crystallises a big shift in the global centre of gravity over the past few years. Just a decade ago Bill Clinton persuaded Capitol Hill that China's membership of the World Trade Organisation would strengthen the forces of democracy within China.

Today, almost nobody in Washington even tries to make that case. Subsequent developments in China - and elsewhere - make it hard to sustain the argument that economic liberalisation leads necessarily to political liberty. More importantly, the US no longer has the luxury of being able to play teacher to China's student (not that China ever took instruction).

It's difficult to see significant increases in K-12 spending over the next few years.

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A 'feel-good' label for 'at-risk' kids?

Jay Matthews:

I sympathize with those who might not be comfortable with the latest plan to rid our schools of at-risk kids. Several educators across the country, including Alexandria Superintendent Morton Sherman, have decided not to call them that anymore. Henceforth they will be known as "at-promise" children.

"We use the term 'at-promise' in Alexandria City Public Schools to describe children who have the potential to achieve at a higher rate than they are currently achieving," Sherman said in a July 23 op-ed in the Alexandria Gazette Packet. "Really, all children are at-promise, because we, as educators, have made a promise to each and every child that we will work toward higher achievement for all."

Cathy David, Alexandria schools deputy superintendent, explained at a School Board meeting last December: "The previous 'at-risk' model was a deficit model that identified and categorized children by criteria such as low income, special education, ethnicity or English language proficiency, with the assumption that if the criteria fit the child, then the child must have some sort of deficit. The 'at-promise' model comes from strengths."

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Hmong charter school has culture of learning

Alan Borsuk:

Give me some adjectives to describe your school, the visitor asked a couple of dozen eighth-graders at the Hmong American Peace Academy one morning last week.

Peaceful, one volunteered.

Dependable, another said.







Show me a school where kids volunteer a list like that, and I'll show you a bright spot on Milwaukee's educational landscape. Which is exactly the case with this school, popularly known as HAPA.

Entering its sixth year, HAPA has a kindergarten through eighth-grade enrollment of 435, nearly twice the number when the doors first opened in 2004. That's not counting another 60 in a partner high school, International Peace Academy, that is in its second year and just beginning to grow.

On a wall near that eighth-grade classroom, charts list the attendance each day, classroom by classroom. Most of the entries read: "100%." Overall attendance is not only higher than the Milwaukee Public Schools average, it is higher than the state average.

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No fit way to treat young athletes

Valerie Strauss:

How many concussions would you allow your child to suffer before you decided that perhaps he or she should retire from the travel soccer team?

In the past month alone, I have heard about several dozen injuries to young athletes, both on school and club teams, and I'm starting to wonder how so many families can be obsessed with sports to the point that a child's health suffers.

I've actually heard parents talk about their children's soccer concussions as if they were simple headaches: "He had another concussion last week but should be good to go soon." I know one child who has suffered at least three breaks in his hands from high school football and baseball. His parents know there could be long-term health consequences, but that is less important, somehow, than the glory of youth sports.

There was a story in The Washington Post this month about companies that have redesigned football helmets to cut down on concussions.

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November 15, 2009


Wisconsin Charter Schools Association (Video - What is a Charter School), via email [88K PDF]:

The Wisconsin Charter Schools Association (WCSA) has announced the winners of annual awards in four categories, as well as three career achievement honorees:

Charter School Person of the Year:
First Place: Dennis Conta
Second Place: Jan Bontz
Third Place: Lynne Sobczak & Kristi Cole (Milwaukee Public Schools)
Distinguished Merit: Robert Rauh (Milwaukee College Prep)
Distinguished Merit: Dr. Joe Sheehan and Ted Hamm (Sheboygan Area School District)

Charter School Teacher of the Year:
First Place: Victoria Rydberg (River Crossing Environmental Charter School, Portage)
Second Place: Erin Fuller (Carmen School of Science and Technology, Milwaukee)
Third Place: Kim Johnsen (WINGS Academy, Milwaukee)
Distinguished Merit: Darlene Machtan (Northwoods Community Secondary School, Rhinelander)
Distinguished Merit: Kirby Kohler (Rhinelander Environmental Stewardship Academy)

Charter School Innovator of the Year:
First Place: Department of Public Instruction (Project Based Learning Network)
Second Place: Danny Goldberg
Third Place: Seeds of Health Distinguished Merit: Valley New School (Appleton)

Overall Charter School of the Year: (overall winner, and 2 sub-categories within)
First Place (Platinum Award): Tenor High School (Milwaukee)

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Education reform tour stops in Baltimore

Arin Gencer:

An unlikely trio explored several Baltimore schools Friday as part of an effort to highlight education reform and challenges, and called on Maryland to give charter schools more autonomy.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich repeatedly emphasized the need for changes to the state's charter school law, which he called "too restrictive," as he, the Rev. Al Sharpton and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan toured three city schools and spoke with students, administrators and others about their schools - and what sets them apart.

"I hope that everybody in Maryland will call the governor, will call the legislators, and will let them know that if they want every child in Baltimore to have the chance to have a quality education ... they have to reform the charter school law," Gingrich said, standing with Duncan and Sharpton at Hampstead Hill Academy, a neighborhood charter. "If you have the ability to shape resources, to shape people, to focus time on the students, you really can have a dramatic impact. But to do that, you have to have a more flexible, a more creative charter law."

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Selling Lessons Online Raises Cash and Questions

Winnie Hu:

Between Craigslist and eBay, the Internet is well established as a marketplace where one person's trash is transformed into another's treasure. Now, thousands of teachers are cashing in on a commodity they used to give away, selling lesson plans online for exercises as simple as M&M sorting and as sophisticated as Shakespeare.

While some of this extra money is going to buy books and classroom supplies in a time of tight budgets, the new teacher-entrepreneurs are also spending it on dinners out, mortgage payments, credit card bills, vacation travel and even home renovation, leading some school officials to raise questions over who owns material developed for public school classrooms.

"To the extent that school district resources are used, then I think it's fair to ask whether the district should share in the proceeds," said Robert N. Lowry, deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents.

The marketplace for educational tips and tricks is too new to have generated policies or guidelines in most places. In Fairfax County, Va., officials had been studying the issue when they discovered this fall that a former football coach was selling his playbook and instructional DVDs online for $197; they investigated but let him keep selling.

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Seattle's education: credit requirements and assignments plans

Seattle Times:

Trying to fix academic problems in high school by adding more credit requirements would likely result in one thing for certain: more cost to educate, due to a need to hire more staff to teach 20 percent more classes ["Boost credits to ensure high-school grads are ready to succeed," Opinion, guest commentary, Nov. 12].

There are many school districts in this state that already have 24-credit programs, and they aren't preparing kids for graduation. In fact, Washington state is now 43rd in the nation in high-school completion.

Writer Trish Millines Dziko is so right when she stated we are not preparing kids for adulthood. Why? Our secondary schools, unlike those in most of the rest of the world, are more social halls than places of learning.

In a 20-credit school, you can obtain all of the credits and courses you need to gain admission to the most competitive colleges in this country.

What is needed is a much more serious, focused, deliberate approach to secondary schools by educators, parents and students.

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Madison School District Recognition Award Nominations

Madison School District:

Each year the Madison Metropolitan School District recognizes individuals who have given exceptional service to the MMSD. Consider nominating someone you know for an award.
Deadline: 1/25/2010 @ 4:00p.m.

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Madison School Board Updates

via an Arlene Silveira email:

Board of Education Progress Report, November, 2009

BOE updates:

Dual Language Immersion (DLI): The Board approved the expansion of our DLI program into our 4 attendance areas at specified schools at the elementary/middle school levels. We are still studying high school models. DLI is a program where children are taught in both Spanish and English. DLI programs are currently at Nuestro Mundo and Leopold Elementary Schools. Next year our first middle school program will be at Sennett.

Cultural Relevance: The Board received an update on our Cultural Relevance initiatives. This is included in the strategic plan as a Strategic Objective in Curriculum. The District has a number of new/expanding projects in this area. Of note is a pilot created at Mendota and Falk Elementary Schools. Staff are collaborating with UW-Madison faculty for professional development in: African American language development; family involvement; black communications; classroom management; teaching from principles; culturally relevant literacy principles.

School Food Committee: This committee was formed to look at possible options for our food service operations. The district is bringing in an expert (Ann Cooper) in transitioning food service programs. Early next year she will come to Madison to look at our operations and provide a cost estimate for a feasibility study of the MMSD.

Budget: The Board approved our final budget and set the tax levy in October. Summary:
  • Total levy: $234,240,964 (3.49% increase)
  • Tax rate: $10.18 (3.77% increase)
  • Impact on $250,000 home: $92.83
Going into the meeting, the proposed tax rate was $10.40 with the impact on a $250,000 home of $147.50. Aware of the difficult economic times facing our community, the Board approved 6 budget amendments designed to decrease these numbers to the approved numbers. As part of our effort to decrease property taxes, the Board voted to freeze "non-essential" maintenance spending by deferring or foregoing $3,080,000 in maintenance referendum tax levy spending in 2009-10. By doing so, we were able to decrease the tax impact on the average home by $33.16. What does this mean for the schools? We will continue to make essential repairs using existing maintenance funds or other existing district resources. We have already spent 91% of the maintenance referendum that passed 5 years ago. We will evaluate and prioritize the remaining "non-essential" maintenance projects on the list, and will make funding decisions on an as needed basis using a different source of funding.

Lighthouse Project: The Board and Superintendent are participating in the Lighthouse Project. A study focused on behavior of school boards/superintendents in high-achieving school districts. Our participation in this project over the next 6 months will focus on the 7 conditions of school renewal: 1) Shared leadership; 2) Continuous improvement and shared decision-making; 3) Ability to create/sustain initiatives; 4) Supportive workplace for staff; 5) Staff development; 6) Support for school sites through data/information; 7) Community involvement.

H1N1 Activities: We received a presentation on the district's H1N1 Pandemic Response Plan. The plan focused on 1) Education on H1N1; 2) Vaccination clinics; 3) Student/staff absences; 4) Supporting school operations; 5) Supporting students. An incredible amount of planning and communication went into the development of this plan and the district is now ready to deal with anything that comes our way as a result of H1N1.

If you have any questions/comments, please let us know.

Arlene Silveira (516-8981)

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Should the Wisconsin school superintendent have more power?

Matthew DeFour:

n a nutshell

To seek a share of $4.5 billion in federal "Race to the Top" funding for public education, the Legislature passed a recent bill that among other things allows teachers to be evaluated, though not disciplined or fired, based on their students' test scores.

However, to improve the state's chances of receiving the most grant money possible, the Legislature is contemplating other changes to existing law. A bill in the Assembly to grant the state Superintendent of Public Instruction the power to take corrective action in failing schools and school districts is one such proposal.

The bill would give the state superintendent the power to implement new curriculum, expand school hours, add individual learning plans for pupils, make personnel changes and adopt accountability measures to monitor the school district's finances.

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November 14, 2009

No decision on Kansas school funding litigation

Lori Yount:

Leaders from about 60 school districts made no decision Friday about whether to sue the state over education funding.

Most of the discussion by members of the Schools for Fair Funding coalition was in a one-hour session that was closed to media and other spectators.

"They're being very deliberate about this and taking it seriously," said John Robb, lead attorney for the coalition.

"They want to get more folks on board."

Paul Ciotti:
For decades critics of the public schools have been saying, "You can't solve educational problems by throwing money at them." The education establishment and its supporters have replied, "No one's ever tried." In Kansas City they did try. To improve the education of black students and encourage desegregation, a federal judge invited the Kansas City, Missouri, School District to come up with a cost-is-no-object educational plan and ordered local and state taxpayers to find the money to pay for it.

Kansas City spent as much as $11,700 per pupil--more money per pupil, on a cost of living adjusted basis, than any other of the 280 largest districts in the country. The money bought higher teachers' salaries, 15 new schools, and such amenities as an Olympic-sized swimming pool with an underwater viewing room, television and animation studios, a robotics lab, a 25-acre wildlife sanctuary, a zoo, a model United Nations with simultaneous translation capability, and field trips to Mexico and Senegal. The student-teacher ratio was 12 or 13 to 1, the lowest of any major school district in the country.

The results were dismal. Test scores did not rise; the black-white gap did not diminish; and there was less, not greater, integration.

The Kansas City experiment suggests that, indeed, educational problems can't be solved by throwing money at them, that the structural problems of our current educational system are far more important than a lack of material resources, and that the focus on desegregation diverted attention from the real problem, low achievement.

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James Howard Announces Run for Madison School Board

via a kind reader's email:

Hello, my name is James Howard.

I am running for School Board because I care about the success of our children. I want our schools to be even better. I strongly believe that in order for our community to be successful we need to support "ALL THE KIDS ALL THE TIME."

At the same, I understand the importance of maintaining fiscal responsibility to taxpayers. As an economist with over 35 years of experience I know it is critical to analyze and evaluate the economic impact of decisions.

My Priorities

  • High expectations for all students
  • Raise educational standards
  • Narrow the achievement gap
  • Base school curriculum, wellness and safety decisions on research
  • Ensure fiscal responsibility to taxpayers
  • Improve communication between teachers, parents, district administrators and the community

Press Release:

Today James Howard officially announced his candidacy for the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education. Mr. Howard is a candidate for Seat 4 which is currently held by retiring Board member Johnny Winston, Jr.

"I'm announcing my candidacy with great excitement," said Mr. Howard. "I care deeply about the success of our children. I strongly believe that in order for our community to have continued success we absolutely must support 'ALL THE KIDS, ALL THE TIME.' I want to work to ensure that happens."

Mr. Howard, an economist and scientist at the Forest Products Laboratory, has been active in education and community matters for many years. He served on the MMSD Strategic Planning Committee, the East Attendance Area Demographics and Long Range Facility Needs Task Force, and was co-chair of Community and Schools Together (CAST), the school referendum support group. He has also served on the South Madison Economic Development Committee and the Town of Madison Economic Development Committee.

In making this announcement, Mr. Howard thanked Mr. Winston for his many years of dedicated public service to Madison's children and community. "Mr. Johnny Winston, Jr. has been a leader on the board and in our Madison community. It will be a challenge for any newly elected board member to maintain the high standards that he exemplified," said Mr. Howard.

Mr. Howard has identified as his Board priorities: ensuring high expectations for all students, raising educational standards; narrowing the achievement gap; basing school curriculum, wellness and safety decisions on research; ensuring fiscal responsibility to taxpayers; improving communication between teachers, parents, district administrators and the community; and improving state funding of public schools.

He and his wife, Kathryn, have three children. His adult daughter is a UW Madison senior studying abroad in Kenya, his son attends Sherman Middle School, and his youngest daughter attends Emerson elementary.

More information on Mr. Howard can be found at his campaign website:

For questions or comments, please contact:
James Howard
email address:
telephone number: 244-5278

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Seattle Race Based School Assignment Policy Legal & Community Issues

via a kind reader's email:

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

The results of this lawsuit in the Seattle Public School district are very discouraging, especially the disparity in income, race and available resources between "south end" and "north end" schools. A new school assignment plan currently being implemented for 2010-2011 will only relegate neighborhoods of color to the poorest schools in the district. The blog, while mostly dealing with "north end" problems like APP programs and such, the fact that children will be forced into neighborhood schools is dividing an already divided district. Rainier Beach High School, for instance, demographic data indicates Caucasians at less than 7% and an African American at more than 65%, a graduation rate of 37% and test scores at the bottom of the barrel.

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Bracey's last report--trashing our educational assumptions

Jay Matthews:

I got to the last page of the last icon-shattering piece Gerald W. Bracey will ever write, and felt sad and empty. As usual, he had skewered--with great erudition and insight--some of my fondest beliefs about how to improve schools. As a consequence, my thinking and writing about these issues will (I hope) be better next time. But who is going to do that for me in the future?

Jerry Bracey, the nation's leading critic of unexamined assumptions in education, died Oct. 20 at age 69, apparently in his sleep, in his new home in beautiful Port Townsend, Wash. This was a shock to everyone who knew him because, although he had prostate cancer, it did not seem to have slowed him down.

The last person to receive one of his infamous emails questioning the ancestry and sanity of the recipient should frame the thing and put it on a wall. I don't know anyone else in our community of education wonks who matched him in passion, honesty and wit. The 2009 edition of the Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education proves it.

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The 'Highly Qualified Teacher' Dodge

New York Times Editorial:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has been widely held in high regard since he was appointed in January, but no honeymoon lasts forever. Mr. Duncan's came to an abrupt end earlier this week when he issued long-awaited rules that the states must follow to apply for his $4.3 billion discretionary fund, known as the Race to the Top Fund, and the second round of federal financing under the $49 billion federal stimulus package known as the state fiscal stabilization fund.


The language in the application reflects timidity at the White House and in Congress, where some voices wanted to delay the fight over this issue until next year when Congress will likely reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The language also reflects the sometimes excessive influence of boutique alternative certification programs, which want to keep doors open for teachers who might be shut out under traditional criteria.

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Arne answers your questions

Jay Matthews:

I had a good chat with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan this morning at his office. He had other important duties, but I would not let him go until he addressed each and every one of the questions sent in by readers last night and this morning. (Sorry, I missed questions that came in after 8:30 a.m. I had to get going. You know what D.C. traffic is like in the rain.) Here is what he said. I think most of his answers can be summed up as "we're handing out $4.35 billion in stimulus funds for innovation, and if we do it properly we will help solve a lot of problems."

From mhallet1: Ask him how he is coming on national Algebra I standards.

Duncan said that was the job of the group of 48 states and the Districts working to produce common standards. He said he is following their progress with great interest, but at the moment it is a state, not a federal, project.

From nicheVC: Disclosure: I spent the first 15 years of my career as an education practitioner, the last 10 investing in and discerning how the private sector might bring innovation and efficacy to the same.

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They Don't Read!

Rob Weir:

Over the years I've often taught Edward Bellamy's classic 19th century utopian novel Looking Backward. It's a blistering critique of Gilded Age America and a creative imagining of a future in which work, social class, gender relations, and the political economy have been radically reconfigured. The novel is provocative and rich in ideas, and its premises spark great debate. What it's not is a page-turner. Most of the book is an extended lecture interspersed with occasional questions and a contrived (and mawkish) romance. Students sometimes complain that the book is "boring." I'll take that -- they have to have read it to render such a judgment.

Any book we assign is useful only insofar as students actually crack the cover and consume its contents. One of the biggest complaints one hears in the hallways and faculty lounges of American colleges concerns literary dieting. The professorial mantra of the 21st century is: "They just don't read." All manner of villains emerge to explain students' repulsion toward reading: Internet surfing, video games, cell phone obsession, campus partying, over-caffeination, lack of intellectual curiosity.... When all else fails, professors whet their knives to slaughter tried-and-true scapegoats: television and inadequate high school preparation. Here's a tip about why they don't read: they never did! In previous articles I've noted that instructors often mistakenly assume that all students share their zest for learning. Alas, often we are but credit-accumulation obstacles that students must dodge.

There's been no Golden Age of student reading in my lifetime -- not when I was a student, a high school teacher, a community college instructor, a lecturer at an elite institution, or a prof at a state university. Move on. Think like Edward Bellamy; he was a utopian, but he was no fool. His ideal world did not rely upon people's good natures; it was structured to remove choice from the equation. Everyone had to work -- not a bad way to approach reading in your classrooms. If you want students to read, make it hard (or impossible) to avoid.

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How well do kids do research today? Should they ever look at Wikipedia?

Valerie Strauss:

Parents: How extensively do your children do research for school papers? Does anyone still own encyclopedias?
Teachers: What sources and how many of them do you require when you assign a research paper? Is Wikipedia acceptable as a source?

Posted by: jane100000
Adam, some would say (and I would agree) that neither conducting an on-line search nor consulting an encyclopedia counts as doing a research paper. Google and wikipedia can give a student a great start in gaining some grasp of the issues s/he is planning to address in a paper, but only reading entire chapters (or entire books) and being able to consult journal articles can get you even close to confidence that you're not missing the boat.

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November 13, 2009

Doyle's education reform plans could be held back in Senate

Erin Richards:

On the same day the federal government flicked a green light for states to apply for $4 billion in competitive education reform grants, the fate of two of Gov. Jim Doyle's key initiatives remained uncertain.

The U.S. Department of Education finalized the application Thursday for the Race to the Top program and the criteria it will use to assess reform efforts from states, especially in the areas of standards and assessments, data systems, recruiting and rewarding good teachers and principals, and turning around low-performing schools.

Two reform proposals that Doyle says are crucial for Wisconsin to compete for funding - giving Milwaukee's mayor the power to hire and fire the superintendent, and giving the state superintendent of public instruction more power to intervene in persistently poor-performing schools - are struggling to gain traction in the Legislature.

Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker (D-Weston) said Thursday that he believes the state can receive Race to the Top money without changing the governance of MPS and giving more power to the state schools chief. He expressed skepticism about the plan for mayoral control.

"This process needs to have community buy-in," Decker said in a news conference in his Capitol office. "This is a big takeover. . . . A lot of us are apprehensive at this point of just slam-dunking anything."

As for the state superintendent's powers, Decker said he was reluctant to give a statewide elected official that much authority to intervene in a local school district.

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Are Too Many Students Going to College?

Sandy Baum, Bryan Caplan, W. Norton Grubb, Charles Murray, Marty Nemko,Richard K. Vedder, Marcus A. Winters, Alison Wolf and Daniel Yankelovich:

With student debt rising and more of those enrolled failing to graduate in four years, there is a growing sentiment that college may not be the best option for all students. At the same time, President Obama has called on every American to receive at least one year of higher education or vocational training. Behind the rhetoric lies disagreement over a series of issues: which students are most likely to succeed in college; what kind of college they should attend; whether the individual or society benefits more from postsecondary education; and whether college is worth the high cost and likely long-term debt. The Chronicle Review asked higher-education experts to weigh in.
Who should and shouldn't go to college?

Alison Wolf: Anyone who meets the entry criteria and is willing to pay the fees should be able to go. In one sense, that just passes the buck--politicians then have to decide how much subsidy they are willing to provide. But it shouldn't be up to them to decide how many people go, what they study, and why.

Charles Murray: It has been empirically demonstrated that doing well (B average or better) in a traditional college major in the arts and sciences requires levels of linguistic and logical/mathematical ability that only 10 to 15 percent of the nation's youth possess. That doesn't mean that only 10 to 15 percent should get more than a high-school education. It does mean that the four-year residential program leading to a B.A. is the wrong model for a large majority of young people.

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Sidwell Friends deals with dark side of limelight

Michael Birnbaum:

Its parent-teacher conferences made the evening news. So did cases of swine flu. And Sidwell Friends School has recently been the target of a few small protests that seem aimed at prominent parents, not students.

The school, long a favorite of Washington's leading families, is no stranger to presidential children. But in the months since Barack and Michelle Obama decided to send their daughters there, Sidwell has been pulled into the spotlight of a distinctly 21st-century culture -- one that is increasingly celebrity-obsessed and often shockingly unmannered.

Educators and others at Sidwell have portrayed this as what their most famous parent might call a "teachable moment."

When five anti-Obama, anti-gay protesters appeared in front of the school's Wisconsin Avenue NW entrance Monday morning, they were met by 150 Sidwell students waving signs ranging from "There is that of God in Everyone" to "I Kissed a Girl and I Liked It."

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Virtual charter school enrollment 1,615 students under cap, Wisconsin says

Amy Hetzner:

The number of students who used open enrollment to attend the state's virtual charter schools this fall fell well short of the cap set last year by the state Legislature, according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

In the end, only 3,635 students enrolled in virtual charter schools for the 2009-'10 by using the state's public school choice system, the DPI says. That's 3,000 fewer than initially applied and 1,615 under the cap enacted as part of a legislation in response to a court ruling that threatened the schools' existence.

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November 12, 2009

School Board member Johnny Winston, Jr. not seeking a third term on Madison BOE

via a Johnny Winston, Jr. email:

Dear Friends:

This message is to inform you that I will not be seeking re-election for a third term on the Madison School Board, Seat #4.

For six years, it has been my honor to serve our community as an elected member of the Madison Board of Education. Thank you for your confidence in electing me in 2004 and 2007.

During my tenure on the board, I had the pleasure of serving as the President, Vice President, Treasurer and Clerk. I also served on many committees including Long Range Planning, Partnerships, Finance and Operations and currently Student Achievement and Performance Monitoring. Serving in these roles and on these committees gave me a well rounded outlook on the district and helped shape a collective vision that assisted me in my decision making.

In addition to serving within the capacities of the school board, I was able to reach out to our community and listen to their views. With your help, we were able to build a new school to alleviate overcrowding, develop strong partnerships and complete many district maintenance projects. Lastly, being elected to the school board afforded me the opportunity to listen to parents, students and community members and assist them in identifying an appropriate district staff member or service that would help meet their needs.

Despite less than desirable financial constraints, I believe the MMSD's future is brighter because of the development of a 4 year old kindergarten program, implementation of the district's new strategic plan and school board members that work in collaboration with each other, the superintendent, the district staff, and its stakeholders. I thank all of my school board colleagues both current and former, for their knowledge, skills and their service.

Although, I leave the Madison School Board, I will continue to be actively involved in our community as a member of organizations such as the 100 Black Men of Madison's Backpacks for Success event, Sable Flames, Inc. Scholarship Committee and other community groups that help make Madison a better place to live for everyone. I am also the proud parent of a current kindergartener so I will continue to be a proud supporter of the Madison Metropolitan School District and public education for many years to come.

Again, thank you for giving me the honor of serving our community.

Johnny Winston, Jr.

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Wisconsin Education reform package produces odd alliances

Susan Troller:

To even be eligible for the funds, however, Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan had said that Wisconsin would have to repeal its "firewall" law that banned the use of student scores in teacher evaluations.

In his remarks, Obama acknowledged that eliminating the law was controversial in some places but said it was a necessary first step toward bringing a new accountability to classrooms, especially with struggling students.

Normally, that would be a message the Wisconsin Association of School Boards would be eager to hear. But instead, the so-called firewall reform bill passed by the Legislature is a failure in the group's eyes because it doesn't allow school districts to use student test scores to discipline or dismiss a teacher whose performance doesn't measure up.

"While the wording of the legislation might meet the letter of the law, we don't think it really addresses its spirit," says Dan Rossmiller, a spokesman for the school boards association.

And because the new law requires collective bargaining over any teacher evaluation plan that includes student test scores, Rossmiller says the school boards association believes the requirement would make the process too unwieldy. "We think it will make it harder to use test scores to evaluate teacher effectiveness, not easier," he adds. "For that reason, I don't think we'll be recommending that school districts try to develop evaluation plans for teachers that include using test scores."

But Mary Bell, president of WEAC, says the new firewall reform law's most important purpose is to improve teacher effectiveness and that a focus on using data in a punitive way misses the point.

Classic legislative sausage making.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Wisconsin budget rated in worst 10

Tom Held:

Wisconsin residents should brace for more tax increases and service cuts, based on an analysis that rated the state's budget predicament among the 10 worst in the country.

The rise in unemployment and a steep drop in revenues from 2008 to 2009 suggest a dire future for a state that has struggled to fill perennial budget shortfalls, according to the Pew Center on the States and its report, "Beyond California: States in Fiscal Peril."

The top-10 ranking puts Wisconsin in a dubious group with California, a state that issued IOUs to contractors earlier this year. Wisconsin is ranked ninth-worst, tied with Illinois.

"A challenging mix of economic, political and money-management factors have pushed California to the brink of insolvency," said Susan Urahn, managing director of the Pew Center on the States. "But while California often takes the spotlight, other states are facing hardships just as daunting."

States will slow the country's climb out of the recession if they turn to tax increases or drastic spending cuts to balance their budgets, Urahn said. At a minimum, the shortfalls will lead to more furloughs of state workers, higher college tuition fees and less support for social services.

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Teaching at universities: A sense of entitlement

The Economist:

A COMIC novel, "Lucky Jim", published by Kingsley Amis in 1954, portrayed life as a university lecturer as a grubby, tiresome slog, for all that it was shot through with humour. A somewhat drier study of university life has now found that academics no longer devote as much time to teaching as they did because of the bureaucratic burdens they are now forced to carry.

The study, by Malcolm Tight of Lancaster University, examined surveys of academic workloads since 1945. He found that university staff have worked long hours, typically 50 hours a week, since the late 1960s. Academics fiercely protect the time they spend on research. They also do more administrative work than in the past. As a result, he concludes, "the balance of the average academic's workload has changed in an undesirable way... [making] it more difficult to pay as much attention to teaching as most academics would like to do."

The finding suggests that new ideas for promoting better university teaching may be addressing only half the problem. On November 3rd Peter Mandelson, the business secretary, whose department's wide remit includes universities, came up with a series of proposals for modernising them. He wants English universities to compete for students by publishing information on a whole host of issues, including how much direct contact they can expect to have with academic staff.

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Harlem Children's Zone Could Close Education Gap


We've blogged several times about Roland Fryer's research on education and the black-white achievement gap. Now Fryer thinks he has identified one system that successfully closes the gap. His new working paper, with co-author Will Dobbie, analyzes both the high-quality charter schools and the comprehensive community programs of the Harlem Children's Zone (which was chronicled in Paul Tough's excellent book Whatever It Takes), with hopeful results: "Harlem Children's Zone is enormously effective at increasing the achievement of the poorest minority children. Taken at face value, the effects in middle school are enough to reverse the black-white achievement gap in mathematics and reduce it in English Language Arts. The effects in elementary school close the racial achievement gap in both subjects." Fryer and Dobbie attribute the program's success to the high-quality schools or the combination of high-quality schools and community programs but find that community investments alone cannot close the gap. "The HCZ model demonstrates", the authors conclude, "that the right cocktail of investments can be successful."

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At N.J. school, Governor-Elect Christie's remarks political, personal

Adrienne Lu & Jonathan Tamari:

Gov.-elect Christopher J. Christie reiterated many of the themes of his campaign in an appearance at a suburban New Jersey high school yesterday, and offered glimpses of his personal life at the end of the campaign trail.

Christie told a crowd of hundreds of students at Steinert High School in Hamilton, Mercer County, that his priorities were cutting taxes and government spending.

Asked by a student how he defeated Gov. Corzine - who had the advantages of wealth and the support of national Democrats, including President Obama - Christie said, "I have absolutely no idea."

Christie, who was joined by Lt. Gov.-elect Kim Guadagno and a handful of state lawmakers from the region, told students he wanted them to be able to afford to build lives in New Jersey as they grow older. Christie has four children, the eldest a teenager who now asks to be dropped off behind school so the new security detail following the family does not draw too much attention.

In a meeting with reporters after the event, Christie promised tough negotiations with labor unions representing teachers and state workers. He said the New Jersey Education Association, which represents teachers and opposes many of the urban education ideas he has backed, "has been a strong advocate for the status quo."

"They need to get realistic about the fact that change is coming," Christie said.

In dealing with state workers, Christie said he would be fair, but added, pointedly, "I'm not going to be a pushover, and that's going to be a change."

When negotiating with state workers' unions, Christie said, he and Guadagno "are there to represent the taxpayers."

Corzine was often criticized as being too close to unions.

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The hard road of Michelle Rhee's CFOs

Bill Turque:

D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi named a new interim school system CFO Tuesday. Noel Bravo, a former senior budget adviser to Mayor Anthony A. Williams, replaces Noah Wepman, who resigned or was fired, depending on who you ask.

Bravo is walking into what has become one of District government's most punishing posts. Wepman's departure marks the second time on Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's watch that the school system's top fiscal officer has left in the wake of questions about the transparency of the agency's budget process.

Wepman and his predecessor, Pamela Graham, took different paths to the exit sign. But both ultimately discovered that trying to keep the numbers straight under Rhee's high-velocity attempt at transformation can be dangerous to your career health.

Part of the peril is structural. A congressional directive from the financial control board era gives the District's independent chief financial officer, not the head of the school system, power over spending. The set up put Wepman and Graham in a difficult position from the start: answering to Gandhi but facing enormous pressure to say "yes" to a chancellor given virtual carte blanche by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty to fix the schools.

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Blast 'eyeQ' with Science

Daniel Willingham:

Every week or two I get an email from a teacher, parent, or school board member seeking my opinion about a curriculum or product. I'm not a product reviewer, so until now I've declined. But some of the products seem so ill-conceived that I thought it was worth writing about them. So I'm starting an occasional series on this blog called "Hall of Shame" in which I'll feature educational products that are unsupported or contradicted by scientific evidence, and yet are actually in use in schools.

eyeQ is a computer program currently being tested in Salt Lake City Schools which the makers describe as "an effective tool for Brain Enhancement, Reading Improvement, and Vision Therapy or Eye Training." Near-sighted users are promised that they likely will see an improvement in their vision. Improvements in reading speed of 100% in less than one month are described as typical.

You can try the first lesson free at the website. You are encouraged to read at different paces (some that are clearly meant to be faster than you could possibly read), to follow a moving object as it appears and disappears at different spots on the screen, and to visualize an object expanding, guided by an oval that increases in size.

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Duncan's raison d'etre for reform

Elizabeth Brown:

Humans are fallible and have a tendency to repeat past failures. Education is no exception. The pendulum of reform has had its swing back and forth over the decades with minimal progress. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is taking the bull by the horns, purporting that the very teachers, who have entrusted him as their chief, are not to be trusted to do the proper job without close supervision, re-training, and additional monetary rewards. He calls for scrutiny, an uphauling of current educational institutions by employing a trace back system that will mark the culprit, the raison d'etre for the failure of our children.

Duncan's tough, paternal scolding sends a clear message: teachers beware.

Revolutionary or some of the same? The 4.35 billion Race to the Top reform resonates a familiar cadence, the mantra of the Bush administration and No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the gotcha mentality that fails to consider a teacher's moral intentions, or the common good. Certainly, within education, there exists a few bad apples, as in any profession. Yet, the majority of teachers choose the field of teaching for the intrinsic rewards rather than the monetary rewards.

Our failing schools reflect , more likely, a society gone amuck, an evolution of insidious issues that have seeped into the classroom, rather than inept teachers.Yet, Duncan argues that it is the teachers that are ill prepared and failing our students.

Critics who agree, suspected soft bigotry, low expectations, or inept teachers, are coming out in droves and applauding Duncan's reform as brilliant. Ruben Navarrette, in his article entitled "An Apple for the Secretary" (San Diego Union-Tribune, 10/28/09), argues that the "trace back" method is "groundbreaking stuff" and will finally flesh out the culprits. He points to Louisiana, currently using the trace back theory: students in grades 4-9 with low scores are traced back to teachers and the teachers are then traced back to the institutions that trained them. The state then provides the institution with information and "urges schools to improve."

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True school performance levels at last

Adelaide Now:

BY promising basic information on the performance of our schools, Education Minister, Julia Gillard has landed a blow for common sense and for parents.

For too long, the argument about whether national testing on literacy and numeracy should even be done, let alone published, has been deadlocked.

Education experts, state education departments, teachers and their professional bodies, have long resisted the move arguing that such comparisons were worse than meaningless, they would be misleading.

The argument went that there were many more elements to the education of a young person than simply teaching he or she to read, write, and add up - the so called three "Rs". But while this argument may be true, it has never been a convincing argument against gathering good information on those things that can be measured well, and then providing it freely.

Acknowledging the "whole person" objective of school education, Ms Gillard says a fundamental prerequisite to becoming a productive community member is basic literacy and numeracy.

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India education faces overhaul

Amy Kazmin:

ndia's Congress-led government is undertaking a radical overhaul of the country's higher education system that will include legislation allowing foreign universities to operate in the country, the human resource development minister said on Monday.

Kapil Sibal, one of the most energetic reformers in the cabinet assembled after May's parliamentary election, said the administration intends to establish a new legal framework to unshackle India's universities, currently controlled by a huge, rigid and highly centralised bureaucracy in New Delhi.

"World class institutions can't be built overnight, but that doesn't mean we can't lay the foundations for world class universities over the next five to 10 years," Mr Sibal told executives at the Indian Economic Forum. "We have no time. This should have happened 15 years ago."

Mr Sibal said the government plans to introduce the foreign education bill, which would open the higher education sector to foreign participation, in the upcoming parliament session.

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Congress should make sure children are protected from food-borne illnesses

Las Vegas Sun Editorial:

The chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee wants an investigation into the safety of school lunches. Judging by what the nation has seen with E. coli outbreaks and other food scares, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., has good reason to be concerned that potentially fatal contaminants could be served up in school cafeterias.

A recent report to Congress found that the Agriculture Department's Food and Nutrition Service, which provides up to 20 percent of the food served in the nation's schools, doesn't always provide the schools with timely recall notices. That increases the risk of contaminated food making its way onto children's plates.

Miller notes that schools receive food from other sources and points to the recent E. coli outbreak from a meat packing plant in New York. None of the 500,000 pounds went to schools, but the contaminated meat -- which caused two deaths and sickened 16 others -- highlights another problem. The federal schools program mandates that all its beef be tested for E. coli. However, the meat that schools receive from other sources is not required to undergo E. coli testing.

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November 11, 2009

Community Forum to Introduce the New MMSD "Talented and Gifted" Education Plan

The MMSD is hosting a community forum to introduce the District's new "Talented and Gifted" (TAG) Education Plan.

Tuesday, November 17
6:00 - 7:30 p.m.
Hamilton Middle School LMC (4801 Waukesha Street)

Superintendent Nerad, Teaching and Learning Director Lisa Wachtel, Interim TAG Coordinator Barbie Klawikowski, and MMSD TAG staff will be there. The focus of the forum will be to provide an overview of the new Plan and its implementation, as well as an opportunity for discussion.

All are welcome! Parents and guardians of K-12 students who are concerned that their children are not being adequately challenged are especially encouraged to attend.

Link to MMSD Talented and Gifted Division homepage (includes a link to the new TAG Plan):

Link to parent-written and other supporting documents (see especially "Background and Rationale for the TAG Plan" and "Letter from Parents to the BOE in Support of the Plan"):

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Infographic of the Day: Does Adding Teachers Improve Education?

Cliff Kuang:

Politicians seem to have temporary set aside the debate about improving our schools, but you can bet that when the issue rises again, one solution will be raised, over and over: Improving student/teacher ratios--that is, hiring more teachers. But is it really a silver bullet for increasing results? What sort of results can we expect?

The graph above offers a few clues--but unraveling them takes a bit of explanation. The crucial point being: Adding teachers might improve student performance relative to past results, but it's a weak lever for effecting aggregate improvements.
So, let's dig into the graph. Each of the lines--colored in blue or green--represents data from a single state. To the left is that state's student/teacher ratio; to the right is that state's average SAT score.

The graph looks sort of confusing at first, but it actually does a pretty good job at showing that student/teacher ratios and SAT scores aren't closely related. If they were highly correlated, you'd expect to see lines with slopes all at a 45-degree angle (whether sloping up or down). But as you can see, they're actually a tangle. The states with the highest SAT achievement have relatively low student/teacher ratios--but those ratios alone don't account for their performance, since plenty of other states have similar ratios but don't score nearly as well.

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Deal struck between Palo Alto school district and employee unions

Diana Samuels:

The Palo Alto Unified School District would spend an extra $740 on benefits for each of its employees under proposed contracts the school board is to review tonight.

The proposed 2009-2013 contracts do not give raises beyond scheduled "step-and-ladder" annual increases, and aim to lessen the impact of a $1.3 million rise in health care costs through such measures as increasing co-pays for doctor's visits and giving retirees incentives to opt out of the district's health care coverage.

Without those cuts, the district would have to contribute "significantly higher" amounts for benefits, said Scott Bowers, assistant superintendent for human resources.


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Will a longer school day help close the achievement gap?

Amanda Paulson:

A longer school day can help improve student test scores, closing the achievement gap. But critics question the cost of those additional hours.

Going to school from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. may sound like a student's nightmare, but Sydney Shaw, a seventh-grader at the Alain Locke Charter Academy on Chicago's West Side, has come to like it - as well as the extra 20 or so days that she's in class a year.

"I'm sure every kid at this school says bad things about the schedule sometimes," says Sydney, who was at school on Columbus Day, when most Chicago schools had a holiday. "But deep down, we all know it's for our benefit."

Finding ways to give kids more classroom time, through longer hours, a longer school year, or both, is getting more attention. President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan support a lengthier timetable. Many education reformers agree that more time at school is a key step.

Charter schools like Alain Locke and KIPP schools (a network of some 80 schools that are often lauded for their success with at-risk students) have made big gains in closing gaps in student achievement, partly through expanded schedules. Other schools have been making strides, too - notably in Massachusetts and in the New Orleans system.

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Universities are not there to spoon-feed

AC Grayling:

Peter Mandelson wants more contact hours in higher education, but this would reduce students' ability to think for themselves

Both the National Union of Students and Lord Mandelson, whose ministerial brief includes higher education, are making an issue of the number of "contact hours" between faculty and students, especially in the arts and humanities. It appears that Lord Mandelson wishes universities to market themselves along the lines of commercial organisations, now that students have to pay more out of their own pockets for their education. Accordingly, he wishes universities to compete with each other, among other things, over the amount of time they offer students.

The assumption that lies behind the contact hours issue is a deeply mistaken one. It is that universities are a simple extension of school, and that as at school, students should be given as much attention as possible. This misunderstanding is astonishing coming from Peter Mandelson, who read PPE at Oxford, though comprehensible enough among students first encountering a much more independent working style than they had while being prepared for the endless hoop-jumping at school. But before the unthinking campaign over contact hours gets out of hand, both the nature of a university education in the arts and humanities, and the role of faculty at universities, should be re-clarified.

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Portland Teachers Overpower School Board Meeting

Beth Slovic:

Several hundred Portland Public Schools teachers gathered outside Monday night's school board meeting to protest contract talks that have dragged on since before June 2008, when the teachers' contract expired.

Their chanting outside delayed the meeting's start time -- then threatened to overpower the opening minutes. As school board chairwoman Trudy Sargent pounded the gavel to start the meeting around 7:15 pm, hundreds of teachers who had poured into the room shouted her down. "We are P-A-T" -- the Portland Association of Teachers union -- they cheered.

Union president Rebecca Levison was then given a few minutes to address the board. She said teachers didn't feel respected by the district, which is asking teachers to take five furlough days and a retroactive cost-of-living increase only in the first year of the two-year contract. (All PPS employees are being asked to take five furlough days to help cover a statewide budget shortfall, but other labor groups already got their COLA.) Levison also mentioned WW's story from two weeks ago about the surplus sale that got rid of school supplies. She cited the story as an example of PPS not looking out for teachers.

The two speakers who followed Levison were the human equivalents of one-two punches. Curtis Wilson, a second grade teacher at Sitton K-8 School, used to be a PPS custodian until he and all of his coworkers were outsourced in a move later found to be illegal. After he was let go in 2002, he returned to school to become a teacher. This year, he said, he "began to doubt the choice."

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

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Madison School Board Meeting 11/9/2009 Audio

65mb mp3 audio file recorded during Monday's meeting. Topics include: Strategic Plan benchmarks and the recent passage of Wisconsin education "reform" legislation.

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Pittsburgh's mayor says he'll pursue 1 percent higher-ed tax

Rich Lord:

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl plans to propose a 1 percent college-education privilege tax to council today, in a move that's likely to set off a fight with the city's schools of higher learning.

College and university representatives met with the mayor on Wednesday and argued against the tax, which would be assessed on a college student's tuition. It technically would not be a levy on the students or their schools, but rather on the privilege of getting a higher education in Pittsburgh.

"They weren't pleased to hear that this was an option we were pursuing," Mr. Ravenstahl said. But he said he is ready for "a fight, or a battle, if you will," if that's what it takes to plug a $15 million gap in his 2010 budget and help the struggling Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

"We don't believe that [1 percent] is too burdensome on college students," Mr. Ravenstahl said. "The city taxpayers are paying for the services that are provided to those college students," including police, building inspection and fire service, he said. "The students have a role to play."

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Judge's ruling allows autism helper dog in class


A first-grader in central Illinois gets to keep his autism helper dog in school, a Douglas County judge ruled Tuesday.

Judge Chris Freese sided with the family of Kaleb Drew, who argued that the boy's yellow Labrador retriever is a service animal allowed in schools under Illinois law. They say the dog is similar to a seeing-eye dog for the blind and is trained to help Kaleb deal with his disabilities, keeping him safe and calm in class.

The Villa Grove school district had opposed the dog's presence and argued that it isn't a true service animal.

The case and a separate lawsuit involving an autistic boy in southwestern Illinois are the first challenges to an Illinois law allowing service animals in schools.

Authorities in both school districts have said that the needs of the autistic boys must be balanced against other children who have allergies or fear the animals.

Kaleb Drew's dog, Chewey, has accompanied him to school since August under court order, pending the judge's final ruling Tuesday on the family's lawsuit against the school district.

Similar lawsuits have been filed on behalf of autistic children in other states, including California and Pennsylvania.

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November 10, 2009

Education & Copyright

Larry Lessig:

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A Look at the University of Wisconsin's Value Added Research Center:

Todd Finkelmeyer:

Rob Meyer can't help but get excited when he hears President Barack Obama talking about the need for states to start measuring whether their teachers, schools and districts are doing enough to help students succeed.

"What he's talking about is what we are doing," says Meyer, director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Value-Added Research Center.

If states hope to secure a piece of Obama's $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" stimulus money, they'll have to commit to using research data to evaluate student progress and the effectiveness of teachers, schools and districts.

Crunching numbers and producing statistical models that measure these things is what Meyer and his staff of 50 educators, researchers and various stakeholders do at the Value-Added Research Center, which was founded in 2004. These so-called "value-added" models of evaluation are designed to measure the contributions teachers and schools make to student academic growth. This method not only looks at standardized test results, but also uses statistical models to take into account a range of factors that might affect scores - including a student's race, English language ability, family income and parental education level.

"What the value-added model is designed to do is measure the effect and contribution of the educational unit on a student, whether it's a classroom, a team of teachers, a school or a program," says Meyer. Most other evaluation systems currently in use simply hold schools accountable for how many students at a single point in time are rated proficient on state tests.

Much more on "value added assessment" here, along with the oft-criticized WKCE test, the soft foundation of much of this local work.

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Join the Fall Madison West High Drama Club Production of "The Miracle Worker" at 7:30 on November 6, 7, 13 and 14.

via a kind reader's email:

Purchase your tickets in advance online to ease congestion at the box office on show nights. Tickets will also be available at the box office while they last..($10/adult, $5/student)
Ticket Website:

Director Holly Walker and Stage Manager Catherine Althaus have created a fantastic production. Immortalized on stage and screen by Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke, this classic tells the story of Annie Sullivan and her student, blind and mute Helen Keller. The Miracle Worker dramatizes the volatile relationship between the lonely teacher and her charge. Helen, trapped in her secret world, is violent, spoiled and almost subhuman--and treated as such by her family. Only Annie realizes that there is a mind and spirit waiting to be rescued from the dark tortured silence. Following scenes of intense physical and emotional dynamism, Annie's success with Helen finally comes with the utterance of a single word: "water".

The Cast: David Aeschlimann (doctor), Eleana Bastian (Aunt Ev), Andrea DeVriendt (Little Annie), Kevin Erdman (Keller), Sam Gee (Jimmie), Emma Geer (Helen), Denzel Irby (Percy), Simon Henriques (Anagnos), Sarah Maslin(Annie), James Romney (James), Sasha Sigel (Kate), Bayaan Thomas (Viney), and Claire Wegert(Martha); plus Sam Barrows, Khadijah Bishop, Allison Burdick-Evenson, Heather Chun, Sophia Connelly, Molly Czech, Ryan Eykholt, Ellen Ferencek, Henry Fuguitt, Maddie Gibson, Erendira Giron-Cruz, Maddie Hoeppner, Emily Hou, Janie Killips, Elena Livorni, Marianne Oeygard, Frankie Pobar-Lay, Ari Pollack, Kaivahn Sarkaratpour, and Laura Young.

The Crew Heads: Sound: Bryna Godar, Sasha Sigel, Sam Factor, David Aeschlimann Lighting: Catherine Althaus, Zander Steichen Stage: Laura Young, Lindsey Conklin Costumes: Heather Chun, Leah Garner Administrative: Charmaine Branch, Nina Pressman, Thalia Skaleris Props: Jenny Apfelbach, Jamie Kolden Makeup: Margie Ostby

Cookies, Candy, Water and Fan-Grams will be for sale! Proceeds go to Friends of Madison West High Drama.

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An Alabama High School Makes Literacy a Schoolwide Job
An Alabama school that is seen as a national model shows how to teach reading and writing in every subject.

[and the wordless picture books have been a big hit, too!!...Will Fitzhugh]

"The staff cobbled together an approach that incorporates methods and materials used with younger children, such as art projects and wordless picture books, into high-school-level instruction. The idea is to use engaging activities and easy-to-access materials as door-openers to more complex subject matter.

The result is a high school that 'looks more like an elementary school,' Mr. Ledbetter said, because teachers find that letting students sketch, cut out, or fold their ideas seems to work well."

Catherine Gewertz:

The sheep's-brain dissections are going rather well. Scalpels in hand, high school students are slicing away at the preserved organs and buzzing about what they find. It's obvious that this lesson has riveted their interest. What's not so obvious is that it has been as much about literacy as about science.

In preparing for her class in human anatomy and physiology to perform the dissections, Karen Stewart had the students read articles on the brain's structure and use computer-presentation software to share what they learned. She used "guided notetaking" strategies, explicitly teaching the teenagers how to read the materials and take notes on key scientific concepts. She reinforced those ideas with more articles chosen to grab their interest, such as one on how chocolate affects the brain.

The class also watched and discussed a recent episode of the hit television show "Grey's Anatomy," about a patient with an injury to one side of the brain. The students' work is graded not just on their grasp of the science, but also on the quality of their research and writing about it.

Ms. Stewart isn't the only teacher who weaves literacy instruction into classes here at Buckhorn High School. It pops up on every corridor. A teacher of Spanish shows his students a self-portrait of the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo and asks what cues it conveys about her culture. A physical education teacher brings his class to the school library to study body mass. And a mathematics teacher burrows into the Latin roots of that discipline's vocabulary to help students see their related meanings, and uses "concept maps"--visual depictions of ideas--to help them grasp an idea's steps or parts.

Literacy is shot through everything at this 1,350-student Alabama school in a former cotton field 10 miles south of the Tennessee state line. It's been an obsession for a decade, ever since school leaders tested their students and found that one-third of the entering freshmen were reading at or below the 7th grade level, many at the 4th or 5th grade level.

"Those numbers completely changed my professional life," said Sarah Fanning, who oversees curriculum and instruction at Buckhorn High. "I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep. Each of those numbers had a face, and that face went to bed with me at night."

'Relentless From the Beginning'

The Buckhorn staff immersed itself in figuring out how to improve student learning by boosting literacy skills in all subjects, something few high schools do now, and even fewer were doing then. That work has made the school a national model. Hosting visitors and making presentations--including at a White House conference in 2006--have become routine parts of its staff members' schedules.

Adolescent-literacy work such as that at Buckhorn High is taking on a rising profile nationally, as educators search for ways to improve student achievement. Increasingly, scholars urge teachers to abandon the "inoculation" model of literacy, which holds that K-3 students "learn to read," and older students "read to learn." Older students are in dire need of sophisticated reading and writing instruction tailored to each discipline, those scholars say, and without it, they risk being unable to access more-complex material. The Carnegie Corporation of New York recently released a report urging that adolescent literacy become a national priority. ("Literacy Woes Put in Focus," Sept. 23, 2009.)

Selected literacy resources at Buckhorn High School:

Professional Reading
Reading Reminders, Jim Burke
Deeper Reading, Kelly Gallagher
Content Area Reading, Richard R. Vacca and Jo Anne L. Vacca
I Read It, But I Don't Get It, Cris Tovani
Do I Really Have to Teach Reading? Cris Tovani

Wordless Picture Books
Anno's Journey, Mitsumasa Anno
Free Fall, David Wiesner
Tuesday, David Wiesner
Freight Train, Donald Crews
Zoom, Istvan Banyai

Content-Area Picture Books and Graphic Novels
Chester Comix series, Bentley Boyd
Just Plain Fancy, Patricia Polacco
Harlem, Walter Dean Myers
The Greedy Triangle, Marilyn Burns

High-Interest, Easy-to-Understand Books for Adolescents
A Child Called "It," Dave Pelzer
Hole in My Life, Jack Gantos
Crank, Ellen Hopkins
Burned, Ellen Hopkins
The "Twilight Saga" collection, Stephenie Meyer
The "Soundings" and "Currents" series, Orca Publishing
The Bluford High series, Townsend Press

Source: Buckhorn High School

"We've seen a lot of focus on early literacy, but more recently people are saying, 'Wait a minute, what about kids in the upper grades?'" said Karen Wood, who focuses on adolescent literacy as a professor of literacy education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

"The days are passing by rather rapidly of middle and high school teachers' being able to say, 'Either you get the content or you don't.' I think we are starting to see a greater acceptance of the need for this," Ms. Wood said. "And it has to be a whole-school responsibility, not just something that's put off on teachers."

Sherrill W. Parris is the assistant state superintendent of education who oversees the 11-year-old Alabama Reading Initiative. Buckhorn High, she says, was on the leading edge of the state's adolescent-literacy work by enlisting in the project in its second year, 1999. It was one of the few high schools to do so.

"They have been relentless from the beginning," she said.

In Search of Expertise

When Buckhorn joined the reading initiative, its teachers and top administrators attended the state's two-week summer workshop, and were inspired by its vision of literacy instruction across the content areas. But they quickly saw they would have little guidance in putting the vision into action.

"We called the state department of education and said, 'Can you recommend some good books or programs?' and they said, 'No, but if you find some, call us,'" recalled Tommy Ledbetter, who has been Buckhorn's principal for 28 years.

Ms. Fanning said the state paid for a reading coach that first year, but Buckhorn "didn't know enough then to know how to use her."

The state program's fluctuating funding and focus, and a shortage of expertise in guiding middle and high schools, have meant that adolescent literacy has not received the consistent support in Alabama that originators of the initiative would have liked, Ms. Parris said.

On its own, Buckhorn's staff scoured the field for expertise. Gradually, they assembled a list of authors such as Kelly Gallagher and Cris Tovani, whose theories and strategies seemed to click, and who became their shining stars. ("Kelly Gallagher is our Brad Pitt," quipped Buckhorn English teacher Tracy Wilson.)

Higher Scores

Buckhorn High School has exceeded county and state averages on Alabama's 10th grade writing test. SOURCE: Alabama Department of Education

The staff cobbled together an approach that incorporates methods and materials used with younger children, such as art projects and wordless picture books, into high-school-level instruction. The idea is to use engaging activities and easy-to-access materials as door-openers to more complex subject matter.

The result is a high school that "looks more like an elementary school," Mr. Ledbetter said, because teachers find that letting students sketch, cut out, or fold their ideas seems to work well.

Colorful student work lines the school's walls and dangles from its ceilings. In one poster, a math student drew a picture of himself next to a streetlamp, and described his reasoning in deciding how to calculate its height. He included the calculation and the answer.

On a "word wall" in an English classroom, a student didn't simply write the definition of the word "ostracize." To show its meaning, he insisted that his teacher hang it several inches away from the wall, as if it had been rejected by the other words.

That teacher, Donna Taylor, said she was a skeptic when school leaders began emphasizing visual and artistic depictions of ideas a decade ago.

"It seemed kind of elementary," said Ms. Taylor, who's been teaching for 17 years. "I thought, hey, I'm a high school teacher--we need to be preparing [students] for college, doing serious, deep work, one step away from a bachelor's degree. But once I saw how this visual stuff helps the kids learn, I was on board."

Avoiding 'Assumicide'

Will Culpepper is just such a student. "It's hard for me to understand something when I write it down or read it, but if I do a picture or hands-on stuff with it, I can get it better," said the 16-year-old junior.

Teachers use a variety of strategies to build comprehension. Recognizing that many students are intimidated by vast gray stretches on textbook pages, English teacher Tracy Wilson uses shorter articles or excerpts to teach the same content. That builds students' knowledge and confidence to tackle the full versions, she says.

Taking a cue from math teachers, she uses "talk-alouds," stopping frequently as the class reads a fiction passage to discuss what is happening. Instead of only writing definitions of vocabulary words, her students often make "foldables," colorful projects with sections that open to show a word's meaning, context, origin, and use.

Math teacher Carrie Bates asks students to explain their problem-solving reasoning, in class and in homework. When a student struggles, she finds that simple picture books, like The Greedy Triangle by Marilyn Burns, can work wonders to get a concept across. Then she can build more-complex understanding onto that.

Buckhorn teachers try to avoid committing what Kelly Gallagher calls "assumicide": assuming students have the skills to access the content. They explicitly teach those skills.

Ms. Wilson walks her students through ways to get clues about meaning from context, helping them deduce from the sentence "the phlox is blooming in the garden," for instance, that phlox is a flower.

Career and technical education teacher Connie Mask helps her students get the most from their textbooks, acquainting them with the table of contents and the index, and explaining the significance of photographs and captions. "This was stuff I just thought students knew how to do," she said.

Each week, the teachers work on specific literacy strategies. One week, it's using graphic organizers or Venn diagrams to help students understand content. Another week, it's building students' retelling and summarizing skills or practicing guided-reading techniques.

A good chunk of teachers' weekly professional development focuses on such strategies as well. And in an ongoing "book group," they tackle tomes by literacy experts. Teachers also spend a lot of time scrutinizing data from state and school tests to see how their instruction needs adjusting.

Social studies teacher Jenny Barrett says she didn't used to think her job description included teaching literacy skills. But now she sees that she has to help her students learn how to spot places in the textbook to mark with Post-its, understand the common roots of words like "oligarchy" and "monarchy," and draw pictures of ideas when that helps them understand. She also has learned strategies like breaking text into "chunks" to help students parse the meanings.

Librarian's Key Role

School librarian Wendy Stephens has played a key role in Buckhorn's literacy work, revamping the library's holdings in support of both students and teachers. She helped Ms. Barrett expand the list of materials she uses, such as picture books and comic books, for instance, and works closely with her on a project in which students research aspects of Thomas L. Friedman's The World Is Flat, such as globalization or outsourcing, and make videos about them.

Ms. Stephens has built up collections that typically are popular with boys, such as manga, or Japanese cartoon, magazines, books by Edgar Allan Poe, and a series of books by Dave Pelzer recounting his abuse as a child. For girls, she makes sure to stock the "Twilight Saga" by Stephenie Meyer, and works by Maya Angelou and Ellen Hopkins.

She added wordless picture books, which many teachers use to help students construct storylines in various subjects, and content-area comic books.

Expanding the library's pop fiction collection required a shift in attitude, Ms. Stephens said.

"I had to put aside my own bias," she said recently in the school's large, airy library. "Sure, I thought everyone should be reading Hemingway. But I just want to increase their fluency."

It seems to be working. The number of books checked out of the library has soared from fewer than 200 a month when Ms. Stephens took over in 2003 to more than 1,600. About a dozen students come in early for a book group, and she has set up computer-based videoconferences for students with favorite authors.

Measuring the impact of the literacy work at Buckhorn High isn't easy, since the school no longer uses the standardized test it used in 1998. It does outpace the 19,000-student Madison County district and the state in the proportion of students who score proficient on the reading portion of the state graduation exam, but only by a small margin. (Ninety-eight to 100 percent of Buckhorn's students have been passing in recent years; statewide, the percentage is in the mid- to high 90s.)

The school's proficiency scores on the state's 10th grade writing test are significantly better than district or state averages.

Ms. Fanning points in particular to the fact that one-quarter or more of Buckhorn's freshmen enter as "struggling readers"--two or more grade levels behind--but nearly every student passes the graduation exam by 12th grade.

"We think we are really making a difference here," she said.

Coverage of pathways to college and careers is underwritten in part by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Vol. 29, Issue 10, Pages 20-23

"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®

Posted by Will Fitzhugh at 5:58 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Forget about rating teachers---rate schools instead.

Jay Matthews:

Those unfortunate people in the District may worry about the quality of their teachers, and wait anxiously for the results of the school system's controversial new evaluation of classroom techniques and test score improvement. But those of us in the Washington area suburbs don't have to worry because we already know that close to 100 percent of our teachers are entirely satisfactory. How? Our school districts say so.
I asked suburban school officials to share the latest results from their teacher evaluations, which are usually done by principals and subject specialists. Here are the percentages of teachers rated satisfactory, in some cases called meeting or exceeding the standard: Alexandria 99 percent, Calvert 99.8 percent, Charles 98.4 percent, Culpeper 97 percent, Fairfax 99.1 percent, Falls Church 99.55 percent, Loudoun 99 percent, Montgomery 95 percent, Prince George's 95.56 percent, and Prince William 98.3 percent.

Anne Arundel, Arlington, Fauquier and Howard, and Manassas City say they don't collect such data. Carroll says it is doing it for the first time and hasn't finished yet.
Those numbers in the high 90s sound good, but they don't impress some advocates of better teaching. Near perfect teacher evaluation passing rates are common throughout the country.

One reason why D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee has launched her complex IMPACT evaluation of the District's teachers is that the research and training organization she founded, the New Teacher Project, is a sworn enemy of those standard evaluation systems. Since teacher ratings in most districts are as discerning as peewee soccer award night, with everyone getting a trophy, why bother?

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:22 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Parental anxiety is ruining playtime

Valerie Strauss:

It is well known that many preschool parents have become super-anxious trying to give their kids a leg up on kindergarten, but I didn't realize just how nutty things had become until I talked to several dozen preschool program directors.

What child development experts know is that youngsters best learn the fundamentals of literacy through well-designed play. But lots of parents don't understand that. Here is what's going on in the preschool world of the greater Washington region and, I have no doubt, in other places across the country as well.

Parents are:

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Bill stirs debate on religion, school

Jay Lindsay:

proposal before Massachusetts lawmakers aimed at protecting students who voice religious views at public schools is being assailed by advocates of separation of church and state, who say it forces religion on people.

Critics also argue it would open a backdoor for teaching creationism.

But the bill's sponsors say opponents are misreading the measure. They say it would simply ensure the existing free speech rights of religious students that are sometimes neglected at schools around the country. "What we're trying to do with this bill is create an even playing field,'' said Evelyn Reilly of the Massachusetts Family Institute, which wrote the bill.

The bill has bipartisan backing and is pending before the Legislature's Joint Committee on Education.

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Press Release: Wisconsin Governor Doyle Signs Education "Reform" Laws

Governor Doyle's Office [PDF]:

Governor Jim Doyle today signed into law Senate Bills 370, 371, 372 and 373, which take the first steps toward reforming education in Wisconsin and ensuring every student has a chance to succeed. Governor Doyle signed the laws at Wright Middle School just days after President Obama visited the school to call for states to make significant education reform. The bills take important steps to align Wisconsin with federal education reform goals laid out by the President and position Wisconsin to compete for Race to the Top funds.

"I want to thank state legislative leaders for acting swiftly to take these critical first steps toward major education reform," Governor Doyle said. "We are really proud of our state's great schools but we know we have to step it up and strive to reach the highest levels. We must continue moving forward reforms that put our students first and answer President Obama's challenge to race to the top."

The Governor will continue to work closely with the Legislature to move forward reform efforts to create clear lines of accountability at Milwaukee Public Schools, strengthen the State Superintendent's ability to turn around struggling schools and raise math and science standards so every student can compete in the global economy.

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November 9, 2009

Wisconsin Governor Doyle's "Race to the Top" Press Conference Today @ Madison's Wright Middle School

Via a kind reader's email. It will be interesting to see the intended and unintended consequences of the recently passed (47-46 in the Wisconsin Assembly) legislation. The news conference is scheduled for today @ 12:45p.m. at Madison's Wright Middle School.

A reader mentioned that the Madison School District's budget, has, in the past been approved by the City's "Board of Estimates". A return to this practice has its pros and cons. However, it may actually improve financial transparency, which, in my view has declined recently. Susan Troller's recent MMSD budget article mentions a $350M 2009/2010 budget while the District's budget site does not include the November, 2009 budget update 1.1MB PDF, which mentions a $418,415,780 2009/2010 Budget ($412,219,577 2008/2009 and $399,835,904 in 2007/2008).

Related: Doug Newman - For Debate: Who Picks School Board?. Greg Bump covered Doyle's most recent press conference, which included a relevant discussion.

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The end of false choices on schools

Colorado State Senator Michael Johnston:

When President Barack Obama spoke to education groups on the campaign trail, he said he didn't believe in the false choices currently offered by the education debate. He didn't believe that it was a choice between supporting unions or supporting charters. He didn't believe it was about striving for either equity or excellence.

Instead, Obama reiterated that this moment in education is about moving beyond ideology and moving toward results. What matters is not whether a kid goes to a charter school or a district school or a magnet school; what matters is they go to a good school. What matters is not whether a child has a union teacher or a non-union teacher; what matters is that every child has an effective teacher.

The recent DPS school board elections have been miscast as a referendum on the false choice Obama sought to dispel. In the aftermath, it is important to focus on what has actually driven both Denver and Colorado's educational improvements in recent years and how that illuminates the road ahead.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has been the perfect national symbol of this clear-eyed pragmatism, with a relentless focus on results. Long before he was a Cabinet member, Duncan found himself caught in a classic version of this false choice Obama dismissed. There were two competing groups of educators that released their own set of principles to guide the Obama presidency. One group was backed by "reformers" who insisted that the system needed radical changes to make sure we recruited, retained and released educators based on merit. The other was backed by a set of "union leaders" who argued that we must attend to the out-of-school variables that impact learning, including more counseling, support services and professional development.

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What's Really up With Online Study Scholarships?

Joyce Lain:

I must have landed on an Internet marketing list, because I receive so many e-mails pitching my chances to win a scholarship to an online college. Like: "Hey, mom, apply for a full-tuition scholarship, earn your degree and have a career!" Are these scholarships for real? -- B.R.

A few people will win these scholarships, but the advertised financial-aid awards are really hooks cast by companies in the lead-aggregation industry. They're marketing ploys.

Notice that virtually all the schools offering these scholarships are for-profit colleges. Higher-education experts tell me that on average, online for-profit colleges cost three times more than online nonprofit colleges.

Here' the inside story. Lead-generating marketers require scholarship seekers to provide their personal information on a scholarship application -- in reality, a "lead form." The marketers aggregate the forms and sell them to participating schools at a price of up to $100 per qualified lead. It's little wonder that you're receiving so many scholarship pitches.

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Blame parents, not SATs, for inequities

Eugene Veklerov:

This is in response to a "Teen Rant" of Oct. 18 by Lizzie Logan, who complained about SAT tests. Lizzie believes that the tests are unfair because they give an advantage to students from rich families. Here is what I'd like to tell Lizzie:

Yes, Virginia, the colleges do prefer knowledgeable students who are already fluent in trigonometry and calculus, who have a reasonably rich lexicon and who can convey their thoughts in the form of an essay. Otherwise, the students will have to spend two out of four college years taking remedial classes. Our society does not need engineers who study engineering subjects proper for only the two remaining years.

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Community colleges: credit where it is due

Robert Preer:

As classes changed one recent weekday morning at Massasoit Community College in Brockton, the line of cars leaving the campus stretched more than a mile back from the lights on Route 27.

As other students arrived, campus parking lots overflowed and classrooms filled to capacity. Almost two years into a national recession, this low-tuition, two-year state institution is a very busy place.

"I looked into other schools, but for classes I can take anywhere, Massasoit is a lot more affordable,'' Chelsea Gardner, 22, said as she waited between classes at the student union. A Long Island native who took a few years off after high school, Gardner commutes daily from Boston to the campus on Brockton's east side.

The scene is also crowded at Massasoit's other campus, in Canton, as well as at Quincy College's three sites in Quincy Center, North Quincy, and Plymouth.

Across Massachusetts, students are flocking to two-year public colleges, which have become refuges in the recession. The schools have open enrollment for most programs, and tuitions markedly cheaper than four-year private or public institutions. Students who earn an associate's degree at a two-year college can usually transfer the credits to four-year schools.

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Charter schools are one strategy, not a cure-all

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

The State Journal's call for more charter schools in the editorial welcoming the president to Madison was a bit off the mark.

A charter school is not an end in itself - it's a means to achieve an end. If there are impediments to learning that we're unable to address, or opportunities for improvement that we're unable to provide through our neighborhood schools, then a charter could be an effective way to address the issue

For example, I'd be interested in a charter proposal designed to attack our achievement gap by providing a more intense academic focus in a longer school day and longer school year for students who are behind. But if a charter idea lacks that sort of vital justification, then for me there's insufficient reason to deviate from our traditional neighborhood school approach.

The same is true for the school district's recently-adopted strategic plan. More charter schools is not a goal, it's a strategy. If charters can be an effective means of achieving our goals of improving academic outcomes for all students and ensuring student engagement and effective student support, for example, we should and likely will consider them.

As I understood the president's remarks at Wright, this approach is consistent with the laudable goals he described.

- Ed Hughes, member, Madison School Board

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University-industrial complex corrupts meaning of education

John Calvert:

According to the established wisdom, President Joseph Chapman's tenure at North Dakota State University has been a fabulous success. He's the fellow who made everything grow - enrollments, sports, construction, institutional status, research and graduate programs to suit the quirkiest of tastes.

It was all so extravagantly admired that to ask whether any of it had anything to do with education would have seemed impertinent; indeed, over the past 11 years, Chapman himself never, so far as I know, uttered a single word about issues that are related to education, such as student quality, the dissolution of the core curriculum, the adjunctification of the faculty, and so on. That didn't seem odd because no one else ever talks about them, either - not the governor, not the Legislature, not the State Board of Higher Education, not the trustees and not the leaders of other institutions.

It isn't entirely their fault, because the anti-intellectualism that has always been a part of American life makes education a dangerous topic. Much, perhaps most, of the public expects education to yield a direct material payoff, and when it doesn't, there are mutterings about public resources being wasted on something that is plainly "useless."

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Three's a crowd when it comes to Los Angeles Eastside schools

Esmeralda Bermudez:

Things were a bit discombobulated last week on the Eastside, where a generations-old allegiance to Roosevelt Senior High School has been upset by a new relative: the recently opened Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez Learning Center.

At Roosevelt, hallways shimmered with gold and crimson banners hung in anticipation of the biggest football game of the season, against Garfield High School.

At the new Mendez high school -- populated by many students transferred from Roosevelt's overcrowded campus -- the walls were bare; the gymnasium empty.

At Roosevelt, students celebrated spirit week and crowned a homecoming queen.

At Mendez, students felt unsure about their newly selected mascot, the jaguar. There were murmurs of school spirit. But there is no football team, no cheerleading squad, no queen to crown.

"We're starting with nothing," said Michael Mena, 15.

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November 8, 2009

Madison Teachers, staff trying the 'Wright way'

Doug Erickson & Gayle Worland:

Founded in 1993 as Madison Middle School 2000, the school alleviated crowding in the West High School attendance area and served as a hopeful sign to the ethnically diverse South Side, which lacked a middle school. The school moved to its building at 1717 Fish Hatchery Road (Panoramic view) in 1997 and was renamed for the late Rev. James C. Wright, a prominent local black pastor and civil rights leader.

The school's early years were marred by lax discipline, high staff turnover, the resignation of the original principal and clashes among parents and teachers over governance. Stability arrived in 1998 with Ed Holmes, whose six-year tenure as principal earned praise from many parents and students.

"I would characterize (Wright) as one of the district's grand experiments," said Holmes, now West High principal.

As a charter school, students choose it; no one is assigned there. Enrollment is capped at 255, and classes rarely exceed 20 students. The school's mission stresses civic engagement, social action and multicultural pride.

Related: Wright economically disadvantaged WKCE test scores compared to other Madison middle schools. Notes and links on President Obama's recent visit to Madison's Wright Middle School.

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Mayoral Control Coming Soon to Madison Schools?

via a kind readers email - The Milwaukee Drum:

TMD has obtained an internal memo sent from Sen. Taylor (1.5MB PDF) to other state representatives (dated 11/5/09 7:35 pm) seeking their co-sponsorship for the MPS Takeover legislation. This memo not only asks for co-sponsorship, but it provides specific details of the upcoming (draft) legislation. This is what the public has been waiting for... details!

Beloved, one thing you will continue to read from me is the mantra follow the money. This entire reform gets down to one thing, money... more specifically, Race To The Top federal grants. State governors must apply for the grant and that is where this all begins with Doyle. Did you know that 50% of any grant received must be given to local educational agencies (LEAs), including public charter schools identified as LEAs under State law? I guess you won't see many preachers in Milwaukee opposing this Takeover since their schools stand to benefit financially. Where did Doyle have that press conference in Milwaukee last week?

Let me back this thing up for you quickly. Some of you still are wondering what gives? Jump down the worm hole with me again just for a second... President Obama and Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) aka the Stimulus Package (2/17/09). Inside this legislation is approximately $4.3 billion set aside for states that implement education reform targeted to increase student achievement, closing achievement gaps, improving graduation rates and preparation for success in college/careers. Follow the money family...

A reader mentioned that the governance changes may apply to other Wisconsin Districts, perhaps rendering local boards as simple wallflowers....

More to come, I'm sure.

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Madison School District Strategic Plan Action Steps & Budget Recommendations

Superintendent Dan Nerad [1.5MB PDF]:

Included in the 2009/10 budget is $324,123 for the implementation of activities specifically related to the approved Strategic Plan.

Attached are:

Strategic Plan: Objectives organized by Priority 1 Action Steps

Strategic Objectives: Action Steps, Priority 1 Recommended Budget.

The total identified in the Priority 1 Recommended Budget is $284,925.

We are continuing to plan in the areas of:

  • implementing Individual Learning Plans,
  • using ACT Standards as part of assessments,
  • supporting technology,
  • program evaluation, and
  • a possible expulsion abeyance options pilot for second semester.
Budget recommendations for these areas will come to the Board at a later date.
The electronic based ILP (Individual Learning Plan) developed in collaboration with University of Wisconsin staff to meet the unique needs ofthe MMSD. The ILP will be based off of the WisCareers platform which will interface with Infinite Campus, the District's information management system.

Identify a subgroup of the ILP Action Team to create an ILP implementation plan that includes a mechanism for feedback and evaluation (e.g., Survey instruments, external evaluation conducted by the Wisconsin Center for Educational Research).

Curriculum Action Plan Focus Areas

  • Accelerated Learning
  • Assessment
  • Civic Engagement
  • Cultural Relevance
  • Flexible Instruction
Related: Proposed Madison School District Strategic Plan Performance Measures.

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"Dad, You Make it Sound Like Social Media is Ruining My Life! It's Not!

Doonesbury covers the Facebook pulse....

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School board chief asks kids: 'How can I help?'

Mary Mitchell:

Last Thursday morning, Chicago School Board President Michael Scott stood on a corner at Altgeld Gardens and surveyed the landscape.

The unseasonable chill was a warning of things to come.

It would not do to have students waiting in a snowstorm for a bus to take them to Fenger High School.

Scott thought arrangements had been made with a local community center.

"What community center? Where?" asked Marguerite Jacobs, the lone parent on hand when the yellow school bus rolled up at 7 a.m.

Although her son is not yet in high school, Jacobs said she is concerned about CPS' plan to keep sending students to Fenger.

"My kid is not going to walk into this mess," she said.

Turns out, the community center that Scott thought would be a haven is a couple of blocks away and doesn't open so early in the morning.

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Obama's subtle message spoke volumes about Milwaukee schools

Alan Borsuk:

The only way President Barack Obama could have been any more indirect about his message on Wednesday in a speech at a middle school in Madison was by giving it in another state.

He never mentioned Milwaukee, he barely mentioned Wisconsin. It might seem hard to be boring when you're talking about giving away billions of dollars to places that shake up their education systems, but Obama succeeded, so much so that a Washington Post story described his speech as "turgid."

And yet, there was a very pointed message in there, aimed right at Wisconsin and Milwaukee. How do I know? Arne Duncan told me so.

Being president may mean rarely being able to say what's really on your mind, but, in a telephone interview after the speech, the outspoken secretary of education was more than willing to tread almost all the places his boss didn't want to go.

In short, the message of the visit was: Get with the program, Wisconsin.

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"Fast Food" Learning


In a Wellstone Elementary classroom, the five minutes before class have become the quietest part of the school day.

You can't blame the students for not talking. They're busy eating.

A growing school-breakfast program in St. Paul, called Breakfast to Go, allows these students to grab a free nutritious meal in the cafeteria and take it to class. This "fast food" ensures more children are eating their morning meal and can cut down on tardiness and other barriers to their education.

"There were people that had concerns about food in the classroom. But now they've seen the benefit of it and are very supportive of it," said Christine Osorio, principal of St. Paul's Paul and Sheila Wellstone Elementary, the site for the district's pilot program last year.

"Teachers really like having the kids up in class and getting started," Osorio said. "It's built community in classrooms. It's given us a much more relaxed start to our day."

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Demerit Pay

Dennis Danziger:

In the spirit of generosity I've been thanking the gods that private school teachers' salaries are not connected to students' standardized test scores. Else Malia Obama's science teacher at the Sidwell Friends School might have lost her job faster than you can say "grade inflation."

On November 3, 2009, the one-year anniversary of his election, President Obama, speaking at a middle school in Madison, Wisconsin, told his audience that First Daughter Malia had recently come home from school with a 73 on a science test, but after renewed educational vigor she aced her next test. This was the same day President Obama reiterated his call for public school teachers' merit pay to be based in part on student performance on standardized tests.

I'm a 17-year veteran English teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District, so naturally I thought, "Yep, change has finally come."

After numbing my students with No Child Left Behind tests for the past seven years, I can now depend on Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to turn it all around.

But Secretary Duncan's not going to hand over any federal grant money willy-nilly. No sir. No money changes hands until the states beat down those all-powerful teacher unions (and if you want to see how powerful teacher unions are, just drive by your local public school and check out the cars in the faculty parking lot. The Cash for Clunkers program rejected my 1997 Toyota Corolla and most of my colleagues' cars as well)

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Spotlight on schools

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

President Barack Obama handed out some difficult assignments Wednesday at a Madison middle school.

Elected leaders, educators, parents and students need to get these tasks done. The future of Wisconsin and our nation is at stake.

Obama didn't sugar coat what needs to occur. He talked tough about closing failing schools and firing bad teachers. He told parents and students they were more responsible than anyone for student success, which hinges on high expectations and follow-through.
Yet the "educator in chief" also offered reassurance and rewards, including a chance to win hundreds of millions of dollars in competitive grants.

It's time to act.

A day after Obama's visit to Wright Middle School on Madison's South Side, the Wisconsin Legislature barely approved a bill allowing student test scores to be used in teacher evaluations - something Obama specifically called for. Obama's Education Secretary Arne Duncan had called Wisconsin's ban on tying teachers to test data "ridiculous."

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Young, Talented and Unhappy Playing Basketball Overseas

Pete Thamel:

Jeremy Tyler came to this scenic city overlooking the Mediterranean as a trailblazer. As the first American basketball player to skip his senior year of high school to play professionally overseas, Tyler signed a $140,000 deal to play for Maccabi Haifa this year. The grand plan revolves around him being a top pick, if not the top pick, in the 2011 N.B.A. draft.

But after nearly three months of professional basketball in Israel's top division, Tyler is at a crossroads. Caught in a clash of cultures, distractions and agendas, he appears to be worlds away from a draft-night handshake with Stern, the N.B.A. commissioner.

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November 7, 2009

Photos from CTM's Recent Production: "Little Women"

Click to view the photo gallery. Children's Theater of Madison website.

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Virtual schools chart new course

D. Aileen Dodd:

Representatives of five would-be virtual charter schools will file into the administrative towers of the Georgia Department of Education today to pitch their brand of public education, which lets students study at home computers in their pajamas.

Some contenders will come with national representatives from education management companies touting their records of student achievement in other states. Some will rely on the moms and dads who sit on the boards of petitioning schools to make their case.

If they're successful, they stand to be funded just as any other Georgia public school. Some state officials, however, aren't ready to prop open the door of school choice and let more cyber campuses in without first doing more homework on the subject.

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Will 21st century skills weaken our federal education programs?

Jay Matthews:

The Common Core blog, which shares my distrust of the 21st century skills movement, is warning about the appointment of Apple executive Karen Cator as head of the U.S. Education Department's Office of Education Technology. I don't know Cator. Common Core says she once chaired the board of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, the movement's leading organization, and might push their agenda in Washington. I think the partnership is led by well-intentioned people, but so far they have done a lousy job showing how their approach will improve schools.

My recent column about a book by two partnership leaders made this case in more detail. Lynne Munson and James Elias, who wrote the Common Core post about Cator, seem to think she would use her new job to divert more education dollars to technology companies and forget about giving students a deep and balanced education.

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An Open Letter to the Department of Education

Dean Dad:

Thanks for the wonderful grant support you've offered recently to community colleges. With enrollments up and state support down, it couldn't have come at a better time.

That said, though, I wonder if a simple procedural change could save untold reporting and staff costs, and allow us to focus more resources on direct service delivery. I'm referring to "time and effort reports."

As anyone who has worked on grant-supported projects can attest, time and effort reports are detailed accounts of how people who receive grant support spend their days. Personnel whose salaries are partly or entirely grant-supported are supposed to spend a proportionate amount of their time on grant-related activities. That means that someone whose salary is half Perkins funded and half college funded is supposed to spend two and a half days per week on grant activity.

While I can appreciate the idea behind time and effort reports - they're a way to prevent 'supplanting' college resources with grant money - they're untenably detailed, and they focus on the wrong thing. They focus on inputs, rather than outputs. They reward "but I tried really hard!," as opposed to "I got it done." And the paperwork involved in doing them is non-trivial.

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November 6, 2009

How Do Students at Wright Compare to Their Peers at Other MMSD Middle Schools?

Via Jeff Henriques:

Examining the performance of only economically disadvantaged students in 8th grade, after two years and a quarter at Wright Middle School, compared with other MMSD middle schools.
Click for a larger view:

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A Few Comments from Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz on President Obama's Visit

Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz:

The last sitting President to visit Madison didn't have a plane. This one had a very big plane, which pulled to a stop in Madison right on time (The commander of the 115th Fighter Wing, Col. Joseph Brandemuehl told me that Air Force One is never more than two minutes off schedule). It was fitting that he came here to give a serious policy speech about education and that he visited a Madison public school with both high diversity and high achievement. And it was an honor to host the President one year after his election. All in all, it was experience those kids - and most of the rest of us - will never forget.

At the school the President did trip a little on the pronunciation of my name. But this is his third attempt and he's getting closer each time. And here's the thing. When the President of the United States mispronounces your name you don't think 'gee, I wish that guy would get it right.' No. You think, 'gee, the President tried to pronounce my name.'

This job has its long days and its share of difficult stretches but once in awhile you get a moment that is just undeniably cool. As we waited for President Obama to walk down the stairs from Air Force One, I was thinking about the last time I was at that spot. It was exactly five years ago when I got a ride with the Colonel in an F-16. Taking a flight in a fighter jet or greeting the leader of the free world qualifies as one of those times when I take a moment to thank the voters of Madison for giving me the chance to be there on their behalf. This is not a job that lacks interesting days, but yesterday is one I'll remember long after someone else gets the honor of saying, "Welcome to Madison, Mr. President."

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Has Federal Involvement Improved America's Schools?

Andrew Coulson:

The No Child Left Behind Act is up for renewal. It costs taxpayers tens of billions of dollars every year but the Obama administration is giving its reauthorization less serious attention than most people pay to their phone bill. Families facing tight budgets actually consider cancelling a service that doesn't benefit them. ("Do I really need a landline if I already have a cell phone?") But ending federal involvement in k-12 schooling is not something that education secretary Arne Duncan is even willing to talk about.

Here are three good reasons why we need to have that conversation:

First, we have little to show for the nearly $2 trillion dollars spent on federal education programs since 1965. As the chart demonstrates, federal education spending per pupil has nearly tripled since 1970 in real, inflation-adjusted dollars -- but achievement has barely budged. In fact, the only subject in which achievement at the end of high school has changed by more than 1 percent is science, and it has gotten worse.

This overall average masks some tiny gains for minority children, such as a 3 to 5 percent rise in the scores of African American 17-year-olds. But even these modest improvements can't be attributed to federal spending. Almost all of the gain occurred between 1980 and 1988, a period during which federal spending per pupil actually fell. And the scores of African American 17-year-olds have declined in the twenty years since, even as federal spending has shot through the roof.

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Wisconsin Legislature Passes (47-46!) Education "Reform" Bills: Teachers Cannot Be Disciplined or Removed using Test Data


The Wisconsin Legislature passed a series of education reform bills designed to make the state compete for nearly $4.5 billion in federal stimulus money.
The Assembly voted 47 to 46 in favor of the reform bills around 3 a.m. on Friday morning after a long closed door meeting among Democrats. The Senate approved the measures earlier on Thursday.

The action came after President Barack Obama came to Madison on Wednesday to tout the Race to the Top grant program.

One of the bills would create a system to track student data from preschool through college. A second bill would tie teacher evaluation to student performance on standardized tests. Another bill would require all charter schools to be created under federal guidelines. The last bill would move grants awarded to Milwaukee Public Schools for student achievement to move from Department of Administration to Department of Public Instruction control.

The bills remove a prohibition in state law from using student test data to evaluate teachers.

Even with it removed, teachers could not be disciplined or removed based on student test scores. And the teacher evaluation process would have to be part of collective bargaining.
Republicans argued that means most schools won't even attempt to use the test data when evaluating teachers. Attempts by them to alter the bill were defeated by Democrats.
Senate Republicans expressed concern about the teacher evaluation portion, saying collective bargaining could become a hurdle to the Race to the Top guidelines and that teachers should also be disciplined or fired based on standardized testing results, not only rewarded.

"(Obama) said we have to be bold in holding people accountable for the achievement of our schools. Well, trust me, if we pass this legislation requiring mandatory negotiations we're not bold, we're a joke," said Sen. Luther Olson, R-Ripon.

Four education bills aimed at bolstering the state's application for federal Race to the Top funds were also moved through the Legislature. In the Assembly, passage of a bill allowing the use of student performance on standardized tests to be used in evaluating teachers. Republicans objected to the bill because they say it requires school districts to negotiate how the data is used in the teacher evaluations and would tie the hands of administrators who seek to discipline or dismiss poor performing teachers.

The bill barely passed the Assembly on a 47-46 vote.

The Assembly session wrapped up at about 4 a.m.

It will be interesting to see how these bills look, in terms of special interest influence, once Governor Doyle signs them. I do - possibly - like the student data tracking from preschool through college. Of course, the evaluations may be weak and the content may change rendering the results useless. We'll see.

In related news, Madison School Board Vice President Lucy Mathiak again raised the issue of evaluating math curriculum effectiveness via University of Wisconsin System entrance exam results and college placement at the 11/2/2009 Madison School Board meeting. This request has fallen on deaf ears within the MMSD Administration for some time. [Madison School Board Math Discussion 40MB mp3 audio (Documents and links).]

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How best to add value? Strike a balance between the individual and the organization in school reform

Susan Moore Johnson:

Two developments in public education converged near the turn of the century to bring rare prominence to the issue of teacher policy. First, several researchers reported with confidence that teachers are the single most important school-level factor in students' learning. Although schools could not influence the prior experience or socioeconomic status of a student, they could decide who the child's teachers would be, and those decisions would have long-term consequences for students' academic success. Meanwhile, school officials faced the challenge of replacing an enormous cohort of retiring veterans with new teachers. The demand for teachers in low-income schools was especially great.

Recognizing this pressing need for new, effective teachers, policy makers and administrators began to adopt strategies for recruiting, hiring, supporting, motivating, assessing, and compensating the best possible individuals. Their efforts succeeded in highlighting for the public the importance of teachers. Over the past decade, however, this sharpened focus on the individual teacher has eclipsed the role that the school as an organization can and must play in enhancing the quality and effectiveness of teachers and teaching. As a result, teachers are getting less support than they should and schools are less successful than they might be.

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Race & Elite Colleges

Scott Jaschik:

Thomas J. Espenshade, a professor of sociology at Princeton University, used that question to answer a question about his new book, No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal: Race and Class in Elite College Admission and Campus Life (Princeton University Press), co-written with Alexandria Walton Radford, a research associate at MPR Associates. In fact, he could probably use the glass image to answer questions about numerous parts of the book.

While Espenshade and Radford -- in the book and in interviews -- avoid broad conclusions over whether affirmative action is working or should continue, their findings almost certainly will be used both by supporters and critics of affirmative action to advance their arguments. (In fact, a talk Espenshade gave at a meeting earlier this year about some of the findings is already being cited by affirmative action critics, although in ways that he says don't exactly reflect his thinking.)

Unlike much writing about affirmative action, this book is based not on philosophy, but actual data -- both on academic credentials and student experiences -- from 9,000 students who attended one of 10 highly selective colleges and universities. (They are not named, but include public and private institutions, research universities and liberal arts colleges.)

Among the findings:

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Teacher Compensation Ripe for Change, Authors Say

Ford Foundation:

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) has released "Redesigning Teacher Pay," the second volume in its series on Alternative Teacher Compensation Systems. The Ford Foundation provided support for the report, which takes on the debate over performance-based pay systems for public school teachers, an approach that aims to better serve students and academic goals. The foundation funded the research and collaboration of EPI's leading scholars as part of our reform work in education and scholarship.

Published in Education Week (subscription required): October 13, 2009

The current movement for paying teachers based on how well they teach, rather than how long they've been on the job, represents at least the fourth wave of national interest in performance-pay plans, two scholars say in a new book.

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75% of Potential Military Recruits Too Fat, Too Sickly, Too Dumb to Serve

Noah Schachtman:

More than three-quarters of the nation's 17- to 24-year-olds couldn't serve in the military, even if they wanted to. They're too fat, too sickly, too dumb, have too many kids, or have copped to using illegal drugs.

The armed services are willing to grant waivers for some of those conditions - asthma, or a little bit of weed. But the military's biggest concern is how big and how weak its potential recruits have become.

"The major component of this is obesity," Curt Gilroy, the Pentagon's director of accessions, tells Army Times' William McMichael. "Kids are just not able to do push-ups... And they can't do pull-ups. And they can't run."

23 percent of 18- to 34-year-old are now obese, up from just six percent in 1987.

The group of potential enlistees is further slimmed by the "propensity to serve" among American youths, which social scientists say also is declining. According to Gilroy, research shows that about 12 percent of all U.S. military-eligible youth show an interest in military service.

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How Tough Times Yield Model Children

Anjali Athavaley:

Natacha Andrews recently signed up her 4-year-old daughter, Anaya, with a modeling agency. Anaya says she wants to be "like Tyra"--that is, model-turned-media-personality Tyra Banks.

Her mother, a 36-year-old Phoenix attorney, has another motivation. "I know people who successfully saved money this way," she says. In a weak economy, with five kids' college tuitions to plan for, Ms. Andrews says, "I want to make the most out of whatever resources we have."

More parents are signing their children up with modeling agencies and talent classes, in search of fame and, even better, a little extra money in a weak economy. Agencies like Wilhelmina International Inc.'s Wilhelmina Kids and Teens and Funnyface Today Inc. in New York City and Peak Models & Talent in Los Angeles say they have seen the numbers of child applicants grow in the past few years. Charlie Winfield, head booker at Funnyface, estimates the agency's children's division has seen a 50% increase in applicants in the past three years. Modeling Camp in Tyson's Corner, Va., saw a 30% increase in attendance at its workshops last summer from the year earlier and plans to expand to New York and Florida next year.

The economy is driving the trend, says Funnyface's Mr. Winfield. The agency is getting more calls from parents who are out of work and now have the time to take their children to auditions. With kids' modeling wages typically about $100 to $125 an hour, he says, "it's another way to subsidize their income."

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Ford Foundation gives $100 million to reform urban high schools

Mitchell Landsberg:

The Ford Foundation pledged $100 million Wednesday to "transform" urban high schools in the United States, focusing on seven cities, including Los Angeles.

The seven-year initiative is among the largest philanthropic efforts aimed at improving education in the United States and, as described, could both complement and challenge aspects of the Obama administration's education reform efforts. It will fund research and reform in four areas: teacher quality, student assessment, a longer school day and year, and school funding.

The initiative is being led by Jeannie Oakes, who until recently was head of the Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access at UCLA, where she was a strong advocate for reform aimed at helping disadvantaged students in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Besides Los Angeles, the Ford Foundation effort will focus on schools in New York, Newark, N.J., Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit and Denver.

Oakes said the foundation has already begun working with L.A. Unified Supt. Ramon C. Cortines to find ways to better distribute finances in the district. She said Ford also hopes to help Los Angeles land one of the Obama administration's "Promise Neighborhood" grants, which place public schools at the center of a comprehensive strategy of combating poverty and improving educational achievement.

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Will State Education Reforms Get a Boost from Obama?

Alan Borsuk:

When, if ever, has a president of the United States inserted himself as directly into a legislative issue in Wisconsin as President Barack Obama is doing by visiting Madison on Wednesday? Obama's visit to a middle school a couple miles from the State Capitol will focus on education - and it comes as Gov. Jim Doyle and others are ramping up their push for a series of educational reforms, including giving much of the power over Milwaukee Public Schools to Milwaukee's mayor.

Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who will be with him, are firm supporters of many of the ideas being incorporated into the legislative package. Wisconsin clearly has to make changes such as these if it wants a decent chance at a share of the $5 billion in the Race to the Top money and other incentive funds Obama and Duncan will distribute over the next couple years.

It appears highly likely a special session of the Legislature will be called in November to consider the education proposals. The outcome is not clear.

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November 5, 2009

The Greatest Generation (of Networkers)

Jeffrey Zaslow:

A 17-year-old boy, caught sending text messages in class, was recently sent to the vice principal's office at Millwood High School in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The vice principal, Steve Gallagher, told the boy he needed to focus on the teacher, not his cellphone. The boy listened politely and nodded, and that's when Mr. Gallagher noticed the student's fingers moving on his lap.

He was texting while being reprimanded for texting.

"It was a subconscious act," says Mr. Gallagher, who took the phone away. "Young people today are connected socially from the moment they open their eyes in the morning until they close their eyes at night. It's compulsive."

Because so many people in their teens and early 20s are in this constant whir of socializing--accessible to each other every minute of the day via cellphone, instant messaging and social-networking Web sites--there are a host of new questions that need to be addressed in schools, in the workplace and at home. Chief among them: How much work can "hyper-socializing" students or employees really accomplish if they are holding multiple conversations with friends via text-messaging, or are obsessively checking Facebook?

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Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America's Public Universities

William G. Bowen, Matthew M. Chingos & Michael S. McPherson:

Long revered for their dedication to equal opportunity and affordability, public universities play a crucial role in building our country's human capital. And yet--a sobering fact--less than 60 percent of the students entering four-year colleges in America today are graduating. Why is this happening and what can be done? Crossing the Finish Line, the most important book on higher education to appear since The Shape of the River, provides the most detailed exploration ever of the crisis of college completion at America's public universities. This groundbreaking book sheds light on such serious issues as dropout rates linked to race, gender, and socioeconomic status.

Probing graduation rates at twenty-one flagship public universities and four statewide systems of public higher education, the authors focus on the progress of students in the entering class of 1999--from entry to graduation, transfer, or withdrawal. They examine the effects of parental education, family income, race and gender, high school grades, test scores, financial aid, and characteristics of universities attended (especially their selectivity). The conclusions are compelling: minority students and students from poor families have markedly lower graduation rates--and take longer to earn degrees--even when other variables are taken into account. Noting the strong performance of transfer students and the effects of financial constraints on student retention, the authors call for improved transfer and financial aid policies, and suggest ways of improving the sorting processes that match students to institutions.

Chad Alderman:
Crossing the Finish Line has things to say about virtually every important factor in college life, but by far the most important thing is this:

The SAT and ACT do not matter in predicting college success.

I have been an unequivocal supporter of using the SAT/ACT* in making college admissions decisions (see here and here), but this sample of students and the rigor of this study are impossible to ignore. Here's what the authors found:

  • Taken separately, high school GPA is a better predictor of college graduation rates than SAT/ACT score. This findings holds true across institution type, and gets stronger the less selective an institution is. High school GPA is three to five times more important in predicting college graduation than SAT/ ACT score.
  • SAT and ACT scores are proxies for high school quality. When the authors factored in which high schools students attended (i.e. high school quality), the predictive power of high school GPA went up, and the predictive power of SAT/ ACT scores fell below zero.
  • High school quality mattered, but not nearly as much as the student's GPA. Other research, most notably on Texas' ten percent admission rule, has proven this before. It's somewhat counter-intuitive, but it shows that a student's initiative to succeed, complete their work, and jump any hurdles that come up matters more than the quality of their high school.

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Schooling for Sustainability

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

Bringing Bioneers to Wisconsin

Green Schools National Conference

Tales From Planet Earth

Going GREEN?

Education / Evolving Disrupting Class

Network of EdVisions Schools

Audubon Center Charter Schools


Alliance for the Great Lakes

Collaborative for Sustainability Education

What's NEXT?

Join the Green Charter Schools Network as an organization member and we'll send you a FREE copy of SMART By NATURE. Click organization membership form.

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

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

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Milwaukee Public School system in serious need of repair

Sean Kittridge:

Helen Lovejoy is more than a minister's wife. She is an icon, the yellow-faced bulldog behind one of society's most enduringly annoying mantras:

Won't somebody please think of the children?

In Milwaukee, this cry often falls on deaf ears. The Milwaukee Public School system is less an educational structure than it is a punch line on fail blog. Students are performing far below expected levels, resources are few, and ultimately too few people are thinking about the children.

Fortunately, Gov. Doyle decided to step in. Knowing there needed to be a change in MPS, and potentially motivated by a larger desire to make Wisconsin attractive for the Obama administration's Race To The Top grants, Doyle announced a bill that would take significant authority away from the school board and put it in the hands of Milwaukee's mayor. These powers, which include the ability to select the superintendent and set the annual tax levy, should not be taken lightly, and one would hope a busy mayor would find adequate time to thoroughly look at the city's public school system. After all, if you have time to lose a fight at a state fair, you can budget a few days to deal with education.

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NJ gov.-elect renews pledge to improve education

Angela Delli Santi:

New Jersey's next governor, making his first post-Election Day appearance at a thriving charter school in the state's largest city, renewed a campaign pledge to reform urban education.

Chris Christie, speaking to grade-schoolers in green uniforms who addressed him as "Governor Chris," used the event at the Robert Treat Academy in Newark's North Ward to demonstrate his commitment to improving education and reducing crime in New Jersey's cities.

"When I had to decide what I was going to do with my day, the day I was elected governor, there was no place else I wanted to be than here with all of you," Christie said. "And I knew, because I was just elected yesterday, that all these people would come," he said referring to the reporters and photographers who ringed the podium in the school's auditorium.

The visit was also politically symbolic for the Republican governor-elect: the school was founded by Essex County Democratic Party boss Steve Adubato Sr.

A hoarse and worn-looking Christie was joined by Adubato, Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo Jr., also Democrats. Christie said he was sending a message that his new administration would encourage bipartisan cooperation but is not afraid to fight for his principles.

Booker seemed eager to accept Christie's offer.

"Politics is over," said the mayor, who campaigned hard for Gov. Jon Corzine. "I've got to find partners for progress."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:13 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Schools improve certification for school lunches

Henry Jackson:

Schools are doing a better job of identifying students who are eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches, but some states are much better than others, the Agriculture Department says in a report to Congress.

In 2008-2009, 78 percent of schools identified eligible students by using government records of which households already receive aid like food stamps. Use of the so-called direct certification method, the most efficient way to enroll school children in subsidized lunch programs, was up 11 percentage points from the previous year, according to the report, which is being delivered to Congress on Tuesday. A copy was obtained by The Associated Press.

Direct certification helps eliminate the lengthy application process for free meals.

Despite the overall improvement, the report shows a wide disparity in performance from state to state. The top four states - Alaska, Delaware, New York and Tennessee - all directly enrolled more than 90 percent of students from households that receive food stamps.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:42 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

School board meeting descends into chaos as lawsuit approved, Mayoral Control Battle

Ethan Shorey:

Jim Chellel suggests 'regionalized' superintendent, but Breault-Zolt wants Mercer

The Pawtucket School Committee fights about everything.

And no one, not even its members, would argue with that.

The fracturing of the Pawtucket School Department's governing body has been a gradual one, its members tell The Valley Breeze, but they say last Wednesday's special meeting, when members argued loudly over everything from rules of order to a lawsuit against the city, "marked a new low" in basic civility.

Member Jim Chellel, who would later be unanimously elected new chairman of the School Committee, was forced to pound his gavel early and often, while even the man who controls the microphone soundboard was having trouble mitigating the eruptions as his fingers danced over the volume controls.

Despite all the arguing, School Committee members still found the time last Wednesday to move forward with a number of big-ticket items, including approving by a 4-3 vote a Caruolo lawsuit against the city of Pawtucket and its taxpayers seeking more than $4 million in additional funds.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:32 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Obama Shares Story About Malia's Test Scores

Peter Maer:

President Obama is telling tales out of school.

As he promoted administration education goals today, Mr. Obama uncharacteristically departed from his prepared text to share details of a First Family situation.

He told a Madison, Wisconsin school audience that his 11-year-old daughter Malia recently "became depressed" after scoring a 73 on a sixth grade science test. According to the president, that was disappointing news in a household where "our goal is 90 percent and up" on school tests.

He went into surprising detail as he recounted his daughter's complaint that the test differed from the class study guide. The president told the audience of parents, students and teachers that Malia was determined to improve. After changing her study habits she scored a 95 on the next science exam. He quoted Malia as saying, "I like having knowledge." The audience applauded the accomplishment.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:17 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Obama calls for end of 'firewall' rules that shield teachers

Christi Parsons:

Declaring there should be "no excuse for mediocrity" in public schools, President Obama on Wednesday pledged to push for recruitment of better teachers, better pay for those who succeed and dismissal of those who let their students down.

When principals are trying to determine which teachers are doing well, he said, they should be able to consider student performance as part of the evaluation.

And when schools are failing, "they should be shut down," Obama said. "But when innovative public schools are succeeding, they shouldn't be stifled, they should be supported."

The president's tough words came as Obama spoke to students and teachers at a charter middle school in Wisconsin's capital, Madison. But as he announced the criteria by which states can win grants from his Department of Education's $4.35-billion "Race to the Top" fund, Obama spelled out standards that depart from conventional Democratic dogma.

For one thing, Obama called for the abolition of "firewall" rules, which prevent many schools from judging teacher performance based on student performance.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:04 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

November 4, 2009

Comments on Obama & Race to the Top

Peter Sobol:

The Department of Education will be accepting proposals for projects aimed at four reform areas:
To reverse the pervasive dumbing-down of academic standards and assessments by states, Race to the Top winners need to work toward adopting common, internationally bench marked K-12 standards that prepare students for success in college and careers.
  • To close the data gap -- which now handcuffs districts from tracking growth in student learning and improving classroom instruction -- states will need to monitor advances in student achievement and identify effective instructional practices.
  • To boost the quality of teachers and principals, especially in high-poverty schools and hard-to-staff subjects, states and districts should be able to identify effective teachers and principals -- and have strategies for rewarding and retaining more top-notch teachers and improving or replacing ones who aren't up to the job.
  • Finally, to turn around the lowest-performing schools, states and districts must be ready to institute far-reaching reforms, from replacing staff and leadership to changing the school culture
  • There is one issue standing in the way for Wisconsin: a state law that prevents standardized test results from being used to evaluate teachers, which makes WI ineligible for "Race to the Top" funds. A bill in the legislature aims to repeal that law.

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

    Teacher Performance: White House Press Gaggle by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan Aboard Air Force One 11/4/2009

    Q Secretary Duncan, can you articulate why it's important to link student achievement data with teacher performance, and also why it's important to lift these caps on the charter schools?

    SECRETARY DUNCAN: I'll take one at a time. On the first one -- it's amazing, I always use the California example because California is a big state -- California has 300,000 teachers -- 300,000 teachers. The top 10 percent, the top 30,000 teachers in California, would be world-class, would be among the best teachers in the world. The bottom 10 percent in California, the bottom 30,000, probably need to find another line of work, another profession. And nobody can tell you of those 300,000 teachers who's in what category. There's no recognition.

    And so what I fundamentally believe is that great teaching matters and we need to be able to identify those teachers who routinely are making an extraordinary difference in students' lives. And to say that teaching has no impact on student performance, on student achievement, just absolutely makes no sense to me. It absolutely degrades the profession.

    So the counterargument -- so right now as a country basically zero percent of student achievement relates to teacher evaluation. I think that's a problem. I also think 100 percent -- if all you do is look at a test score to evaluate a teacher, I think that's a problem. So zero is a problem; 100 is a problem. As a country, we're here, we're trying to move to a middle point where you would evaluate teachers on multiple measures -- that's really important -- not just on a single test score, but, yes, student achievement would be a part of what you look at in evaluating a teacher.

    And so whether it's an individual teacher, whether it's a school, whether it's a school district, whether it's a state, the whole thing as a country we need to do is we need to accelerate the rate of change. We have to get better faster. And there are teachers every single year -- just to give you an illustration -- there are teachers every single year where the average child in their class is gaining two years of growth -- two years of growth per year of instruction. That is herculean work. Those teachers are the unsung heroes in our society. And nobody can tell you who those teachers are.

    There are some schools that do that, not just one miraculous teacher or one miraculous student. There are schools that year after year produce students that are showing extraordinary gains. Shouldn't we know that? Isn't that something valuable? Shouldn't we be learning from them?

    And the flip side of it, if you have teachers or schools where students are falling further and further behind each year, I think we need to know that as well. And so we just want to have an open, honest conversation, but at the end of the day, teachers should never be evaluated on a single test score. I want to be absolutely clear there should always be multiple measures. But student achievement has to be a piece of what teachers are evaluated on.

    And there's a recent study that came out, The New Teacher Project, that talked about this Widget Effect where 99 percent of teachers were rated as superior. It's not reality.

    On your second point, on charter caps, I've been really clear I'm not a fan of charter schools, I'm a fan of good charter schools. And what we need in this country is just more good schools. We need more good elementary, more good middle, more good high schools. No second grader knows whether they're going to a charter school, or a gifted school, or traditional school, or magnet school. They know, does my teacher care about me? Am I safe? Is there high expectations? Does the principal know who I am?

    We need more good schools. And where you have -- where you have good charters, we need to replicate them and to learn from them and to grow. Where you have bad charters, we need to close them down and hold them accountable. And so this is not let a thousand flowers bloom, this is trying to take what is being successful and grow.

    And what I would say is if something is working, if you reduce -- we talked about the graduation rate, if you're doing something to reduce the dropout rate and increase the graduation rate, would you put a cap on that strategy? Would you ever say that we're going to cap the number of students who can take AP classes this year? We're going to limit the number of kids who take -- we're going to limit the number of kids that graduate? We would never do that.

    So if something is working, if that innovation is helping us get better, why would you put an artificial cap on it? So let's let that innovation flourish, but at the same time actually have a high bar and hold folks accountable.

    So I was a big fan of successful charter schools in Chicago when I was a superintendent there, but I also closed three charter schools for academic failure. And you need both. Good charters are a big piece of the answer. Bad charters perpetuate the status quo and we need to challenge that.

    Prior to the President's visit, I emailed a number of elected officials and education stakeholders seeking commentary on the Wright Middle School visit. One of my inquiries went to the Wisconsin Charter Schools Association. I asked for a statement on charters in Madison. They declined to make a public statement, which, perhaps is a statement in and of itself.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:35 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Madison schools -- "the biggest loser"

    Susan Troller:

    Despite an ailing economy, Madison School Board members were guardedly optimistic last spring as they put together the district's preliminary 2009-2010 budget. The community had overwhelmingly passed a referendum the previous fall that allowed the district to exceed state revenue caps, providing an extra $13 million to the district through 2012.
    As a result, the board was anticipating a rare year where public school programs and services were not on the chopping block and was looking forward to crafting a budget with minimal property tax increases. Initial projections worked out to a $2.50 increase on an average $250,000 Madison home on this year's tax bill.

    For once, it looked as if both parents and taxpayers would be happy with the budget, a rare scenario in Wisconsin where school spending formulas and revenue caps often seem tailor-made to pit taxpayers against school advocates.

    But the preliminary budget plan the Madison district drew up and approved in May predated the news that Wisconsin's revenue situation was far worse than predicted. The result was a steep reduction in what the state's 438 school districts would get from Wisconsin's general school aid fund. The drop in general school aid amounted to $149 million, or 3 percent.

    These cuts, however, would not be shared equally across every district, and the formula used was particularly unkind to Madison, which overnight saw a gaping hole of more than $9 million, a drop in aid not seen by any other district in the state.

    "We were so happy last spring. In retrospect, it was really kind of pitiful," says Lucy Mathiak, vice president of Madison's School Board. The mood was decidedly more downbeat, she notes, in late October when the board gave its final approval to the $350 million 2009-2010 school district budget.

    I'm glad Susan mentioned the District's total spending. While such budget changes are difficult, many public and private organizations are facing revenue challenges. The Madison School District has long spent more per student than most Districts in Wisconsin and has enjoyed annual revenue growth of around 5.25% over the past 20+ years - despite state imposed "revenue caps" and flat enrollment.

    Some can argue that more should be spent. In my view, the District MUST complete the oft discussed program review as soon as possible and determine how effective its expenditures are. Board Vice President Lucy Mathiak again raised the issue of evaluating math curriculum effectiveness via University of Wisconsin System entrance exam results and college placement. This request has fallen on deaf ears within the MMSD Administration for some time. [Madison School Board Math Discussion 40MB mp3 audio (Documents and links).] I very much appreciate Lucy's comments. The District's extensive use of Reading Recovery should also be evaluated in terms of effectiveness and student skills. The District should be planning for a tighter budget climate in this, the Great Recession.

    Finally, I found Marj Passman's comments in the article interesting:

    "I understand that the economy is terrible, but for years we heard that the reason we had this school funding mess was because we had Republicans in charge who were basically content with the status quo," says board member Marj Passman. "I had expected so much change and leadership on school funding issues with a Democratic governor and a Democratic Legislature. Honestly, we've got Rep. Pocan and Sen. Miller as co-chairs of the Joint Finance Committee and Democratic majorities in both houses! Frankly, it's been a huge disappointment. I'd love to see that little beer tax raised and have it go to education."
    In my view, we're much better off with "divided" government. The current Governor and legislative majority's budget included a poor change to the arbitration rules between school districts and teacher unions:
    To make matters more dire, the long-term legislative proposal specifically exempts school district arbitrations from the requirement that arbitrators consider and give the greatest weight to revenue limits and local economic conditions. While arbitrators would continue to give these two factors paramount consideration when deciding cases for all other local governments, the importance of fiscal limits and local economic conditions would be specifically diminished for school district arbitration.
    Madison School District Spending History.

    It's good to see Susan Troller writing about local school issues.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:07 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Remarks by The President and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in Discussion with Students

    1:05 P.M. CST

    SECRETARY DUNCAN: Well, we're thrilled to be here and this is a school that's getting better and better, and you guys are working really, really hard. And we've been lucky. We have a President here who has got a tough, tough job. Being President is tough without the -- he's fighting two wars, a really, really tough economy -- I like your shirt.

    STUDENT: Thanks. (Laughter.)

    SECRETARY DUNCAN: And what amazes me is that week after week, month after month, he just keeps coming back to education, and he's absolutely passionate about it. He and his wife, the First Lady Michelle Obama, received great educations. Neither one was born with a lot of money, but they worked really hard and had great teachers and great principals and made the most of it. And now he's our President. So it's a pretty remarkable journey. The only reason he's the President is because he got a great education.

    So we're thrilled to be here. He might want to say a few things, and looks like you guys have questions for him. And so we'll be quick and we'll open up to your questions.

    THE PRESIDENT: Well, it is good to see all of you. Thanks so much for having us.

    First of all, I've got a great Secretary of Education in Arne Duncan. So he helps school districts all across the country in trying to figure out how to improve what's going on in the schools. And let me just pick up on something that Arne said earlier.

    I was really lucky to have a great education. I didn't have a lot of money. My parents weren't famous. In fact, my father left when I was two years old, so I really didn't grow up with a father in the house; mostly it was my mom and my grandparents. But they always emphasized education and they were able to send me to good schools, and by working hard I was obviously in a position to do some good stuff.

    My wife, Michelle, same thing. She grew up on the South Side of Chicago. Her dad was actually disabled, he had multiple sclerosis, but he still worked every day in a blue collar job. And her mom didn't work, and when she did she was a secretary. But because she worked really hard in school she ended up getting a scholarship to Princeton and to Harvard Law School and ended up really being able to achieve a lot.

    So that's the reason why we are spending a lot of time talking to folks like you, because we want all of you to understand that there's nothing more important than what you're doing right here at this school. And Wright has a great reputation, this school is improving all the time, but ultimately how good a school is depends on how well you guys are doing.

    And the main message that I just wanted to deliver to you is, every single one of you could be doing the same kinds of things that Arne is doing or I'm doing or you could be running a company or you can be inventing a product or you could -- look, anything you can imagine, you can accomplish, but the only way you do it is if you're succeeding here in school. And we are spending a lot of money to try to improve school buildings and put computers in and make sure that your teachers are well trained and that they are getting the support they need.

    So we're working really hard to try to reform the schools, but ultimately what matters most is how badly you want a good education. If you think that somehow somebody is just going to -- you can tilt your head and somebody is going to pour education in your ear, that's just not how it works. The only way that you end up being in a position to achieve is if you want it, if inside you want it.

    And part of the reason why we wanted to talk to you guys is, you're right at the point now in your lives where what you do is really going to start mattering. My daughters are a little younger than you -- Malia is 11, Sasha is eight -- but when you're in grade school, you're playing -- hopefully somebody is making sure you're doing your homework when you get it, but to some degree you're still just kind of learning how to learn.

    By the time you get to middle school, you're now going to be confronted with a lot of choices. You're going to start entering those teenage years where there are a lot of distractions and in some places people will say you don't need to worry about school or it's uncool to be smart or -- you know, all kinds of things. And, look, I'll be honest, I went through some of that when I was in high school and I made some mistakes and had some setbacks.

    So I just want everybody to understand right now that nothing is going to be more important to you than just being hungry for knowledge. And if all of you decide to do that, then there are going to be teachers and principals and secretaries of education who are going to be there to help you. So hopefully you guys will take that all to heart.

    All right. Okay. Now we're going to kick out everybody so I can let you -- you guys can ask me all the really tough questions without having the press here.

    1:09 P.M CST

    Much more on the President's visit to Madison's Wright Middle School.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:39 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Background on President Obama's trip to Madison's Wright Middle School, via a kind reader's email:

    1:00 PM CDT

    The President and Secretary Arne Duncan will meet with approximately 40 students at James C. Wright Middle School, one of two public charter schools in Madison, Wisconsin. The group of 6th, 7th and 8th graders was chosen based on teacher recommendation.

    1:30 PM CDT

    The President will deliver remarks to students, parents, teachers, school officials and state/local leaders at James C. Wright Middle School on strengthening America's education system and putting the interests of the nation's students first. In coming weeks, states will be able to compete for a grant from one of the largest investments ever made in education - over $4 billion - the Race to the Top Fund. These grants will be made available to states committed to transforming the way we educate our kids so that they can develop a real plan to improve the quality of education across the nation.

    The audience will be composed of approximately 500 Wright Middle School students, parents, teachers, and school officials as well as state and local leaders. Secretary Duncan will also be in attendance.

    - Principal Nancy Evans will welcome students, parents and invited guests.
    - Ari Davis (6th grade) will lead the Pledge of Allegiance.
    - Miko Jobst (8th grade), Laura Sumi (7th grade), and Erika Meyer (orchestra teacher) will perform the National Anthem.
    - Governor Jim Doyle will introduce the President.

    The mission of the Wright Middle school is "to educate all students to develop the knowledge, skills and confidence required to participate fully in an evolving global society." A public charter school established in 1997, the Wright school is the smallest and most ethnically and economically diverse middle school in Madison (38% African-American, 37% Latino, 13% White, and 86% low-income). The school also has a significant population of students with disabilities (22%) and English language learners (39%), and outpaces both the school district and statewide average achievement for both student subgroups.

    Wright offers a core curriculum of language arts, social studies, math and science at each grade level, and provides enrichment courses in physical education, music, art, and technology. All grades at the school participate in a social action project focused on the environment at the sixth grade level; the economy at the seventh grade level; and government at the eighth grade level. Among the school's signature reforms are a small and tailored instructional program; bilingual resource specialists (Spanish and Hmong languages); an academic acceleration program in literacy to support struggling 6th and 7th graders; and a mentorship and afterschool homework program.

    Wright is also one of three middle schools in Madison that partners with the University of Madison in a teacher preparation program through an innovative model that pairs new teachers with veterans and delivers professional development and ongoing support.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:40 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Many Tennessee school districts get low marks on report card

    Michael Grider:

    The Tennessee Department of Education released its 2009 report card Tuesday.

    State officials changed the way the TDEC "value added" and "achievement" report card scores were calculated this year.

    "Because we have been on an aggressive path to improvement with the Tennessee Diploma Project," Education Commissioner Timothy Webb said, "it was necessary to utilize this transition year to change our calculation methods and more accurately demonstrate student progress in an effort to pursue higher standards."

    Officials changed the baseline year used to compare student scores and achievement, and they've implemented a new grading scale that could see previously high A marks lowered to the B or C level, according to a TDEC release.

    Referring to the scoring changes, Knox County Schools spokesperson Melissa Copelan, in a news release, said, "This makes comparison of the 2009 Report Card data with previous years' scores not possible or valid."

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:22 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Bye-bye Arne: Why we don't need an education secretary

    Jay Matthews:

    Arne Duncan is the latest in a splendid crop of U.S. education secretaries over the last few decades. The ones I have known best include, in alphabetical order: Bill Bennett, Rod Paige, Dick Riley and Margaret Spellings--all fine people who care about kids and understand the issues. But I wish all of them had not spent valuable time trying to deal with the painfully slow pace and often politically-addled reasoning of national education policy. Their best work for kids, in my view, happened when they were NOT education secretary. So let's abolish the office and get that talent back where it belongs, where school change really happens, in our states and cities.

    Secretary Duncan is going to reject this idea immediately, and I know why. He took the job because his friend the president needed him. Both are from Chicago, and know how much that city has struggled to improve its schools. The president, I suspect, thought that Duncan, the former chief of the Chicago public schools, could use all he had learned there to raise achievement for students across the country.

    It sounds great, but it was the same thought that led previous presidents to appoint those previous fine education secretaries to their posts. How much good did that do? Test scores for elementary and middle school students have come up a bit in the last couple of decades, but not enough to get excited about. High school scores are still flat. If national education policy had made a big jump forward, I would say we should continue to fill this job, but that hasn't happened either. I think the No Child Left Behind law, supported by both parties, was an improvement over previous federal policies, but it was only copying what several states had already done to make schools accountable and identify schools that needed extra help.

    Duncan will never admit this, but I am betting that soon he will realize, if he hasn't already, that he had the potential to do much more for students when he was running the Chicago schools. He was able to make vital decisions like appointing principals, rather than push papers and give speeches in his new Washington gig.

    I agree.

    Duncan appears in Madison today with President Obama.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    No Child Left Behind: New evidence that charter schools help even kids in other schools.

    Wall Street Journal:

    Opponents of school choice are running out of excuses as evidence continues to roll in about the positive impact of charter schools.

    Stanford economist Caroline Hoxby recently found that poor urban children who attend a charter school from kindergarten through 8th grade can close the learning gap with affluent suburban kids by 86% in reading and 66% in math. And now Marcus Winters, who follows education for the Manhattan Institute, has released a paper showing that even students who don't attend a charter school benefit academically when their public school is exposed to charter competition.

    Mr. Winters focuses on New York City public school students in grades 3 through 8. "For every one percent of a public school's students who leave for a charter," concludes Mr. Winters, "reading proficiency among those who remain increases by about 0.02 standard deviations, a small but not insignificant number, in view of the widely held suspicion that the impact on local public schools . . . would be negative." It tuns out that traditional public schools respond to competition in a way that benefits their students.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:42 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Advocating Indiana Teacher Licensing Reform

    Eric Berman:

    Bennett says instead of assuming people will pick teaching careers and stay for life, schools could consider front-loading pay for beginning teachers to lure more people in, while also instituting closer evaluations for those rookie teachers to make sure they're qualified.

    The Professional Standards Board is scheduled to discuss Bennett's call to license teachers based on non-school experience at its November 18 meeting. Bennett says he expects the board to make some changes to the details of the plan, but says he hopes for final approval before year's end.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:28 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Hillsborough Schools stand on the verge of massive, Gates-funded reforms to boost teaching

    Tom Marshall:

    You could lure new talent with competitive pay and support. Give teachers the power to evaluate each other's work. Reward those who perform, and fire those who don't.

    It could spark a seismic change in the nation's schools, or prompt a backlash that alters nothing.

    With a little luck, the Hillsborough County Public Schools will soon embark on a seven year, $202 million journey to find out. The district would join a national effort to improve teacher effectiveness, the one factor experts say makes the biggest difference in a student's success or failure.

    Officials worry about cost overruns, dissension from teachers and their union, and other glitches which have doomed similar efforts across the nation. But success would create a generation of great teachers, and bolster the district's reputation as a laboratory for educational reform./em>

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:52 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Duncan's reform hinges on an ancient theory

    Elizabeth Brown:

    Teachers, historically, have had to fight for respect in a society that placed a lower premium on teaching. From its origins, teaching has been held as a lowly position held by unskilled clergy and masters (mostly men) who, as long as they could recite the Bible, were equipped. Those that couldn't do, taught. As a matter of fact, not too long ago, before unions fought for higher pay, teaching was the one of the lowest paid professions.

    Currently, in Connecticut, along with other states across the country, we have raised the bar, and set the highest standards for our teachers. Susan Engel suggests otherwise. In an article in the New York Times entitled "Teach Your Teachers Well" (11/01/09), she agrees with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's reform that in order to have good schools "we need great teachers." Engel goes onto say that "once we have a better pool of graduate students, we need to train them differently than we did in the past." Engels calls for a more rigorous teacher preparation program with a 3.5 GPA minimum requirement and an "intensive application process."

    The implication is that our failing schools are due to dumb teachers teaching the students. As she states: "weaker students are in the less intellectually rigorous programs and the ones training to become teachers."

    Before the 19th century, teachers didn't require a license to teach. Today, we have increased standards, dramatically, yet, oddly enough, our students are failing to make the grade. It's hard to believe that we were better off just teaching the Bible.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:35 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    School Boards Unhappy with Wisconsin Test Score Teacher Evaluation Bill, Teacher Union supports it

    Scott Bauer:

    Wisconsin schools could use student test scores to evaluate teachers, but they still couldn't use the information to discipline or fire them under a bill moving quickly through the Legislature.

    Lawmakers must remove a ban on using test scores in evaluations for Wisconsin to compete for about $4.5 billion in Race to the Top stimulus money for education. Race to the Top is intended to improve student achievement, boost the performance of minority students and raise graduation rates.

    Republicans and the Wisconsin Association of School Boards say Doyle and Democrats who control the Legislature are still giving teachers too much deference even as they work to qualify the state for the program.

    Wisconsin and Nevada are the only states that don't allow test results to be used to evaluate teachers. A similar prohibition in New York expires next year, and California removed its ban earlier this year to compete for the federal stimulus money.

    Doyle and Democratic lawmakers are moving quickly to get Wisconsin's ban removed with a vote this week. There is urgency because applications for the Race to the Top money will likely be due in a couple of months and the Legislature ends its session for the year on Thursday.

    Doyle supports a proposal that would lift Wisconsin's restriction on tying test scores with teacher evaluations. However, it would keep in place a ban on using the scores to fire, suspend or discipline a teacher.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:13 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Call to punish parents who 'steal' places at best schools

    Richard Garner:

    Tough new measures, including fines to punish parents who cheat their way into securing school places for their children, were demanded by the Schools Adjudicator yesterday.

    Ian Craig, who is in charge of policing school admissions policies, revealed that up to 3,000 parents a year are conning their way into finding a school place by lying or bending the rules. He argued that the parents were guilty of "theft".

    "They are depriving another child of their school place. It is theft of a school place which belongs to another child. The Secretary of State [Ed Balls] needs to launch a campaign to persuade parents it is wrong - it is not fair," said Dr Craig, who was charged with mounting an investigation into parental malpractice.

    Among the suggested measures for tackling the "fraudulent and misleading applications" were banning younger siblings from taking advantage of their older brother or sister winning a school place, and warning councils to take tougher action by immediately expelling any child whose parents had tried to cheat the system. Fines could also be levied through civil court action. A survey of 123 authorities found 1,100 cases where a child had subsequently had a place withdrawn as a result of their parents supplying misleading information.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:02 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    School spotlight: Director sparks interest in drama at Middleton High

    Pamela Cotant:

    Thanks to a burgeoning drama club, audiences in Middleton High School's Performing Arts Center this week will be treated to two performances each night, not one.

    The double bill exemplifies the drama program under Lynda Sharpe, who recently received the John C. Barner Teacher of the Year award from the American Alliance of Theater in Education.

    With 87 students in the drama club, drama director Sharpe needed two productions so more students could take part.

    "She (Sharpe) works to get us all involved as individuals as well as the whole circle," said junior Katy Dallman, secretary of the drama club.

    Sharpe has all of those involved in a production stand in a circle before and after each rehearsal and before each show.

    "I use a circle because we are all equal," said Sharpe, who also teaches at Middleton High.

    "Live Broadcast," a 1940s-style live radio drama, will kick off the evening Thursday and Friday at 7:30 p.m. Written by former Middleton students Charles Stone and Timothy Wendorff, who are now students at UW-Madison, the performance will include live entertainment and live commercials.

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

    November 3, 2009

    Madison's Wright Middle School Panorama; -24 to the Obama / Duncan Education Speech

    Click to view a panoramic image shot earlier today (click the full screen icon - lower right - to view full quality). The calm before the storm, as it were at Madison's Wright Middle School. President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan will give an education speech tomorrow at one of Madison's two charter schools.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:00 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Perils of rating teachers--Part one, the District

    Jay Matthews:

    In the last half of the 19th century, many inventors pursued the dream of building an airplane. Duds and crashes were frequent and skeptics numerous. Only a decade before the Wright brothers' 1903 flight, British physicist and engineer Lord Kelvin had declared that "heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible." American educators are similarly scrambling to create a teacher evaluation system that will raise the level of instruction and student achievement in the same reliable way that modern jetliners take us home for Thanksgiving. They have not been very successful.

    Many smart teachers have concluded the idea is a loser. They are artists, they say, whose work cannot be reduced to numbers for placement, pay and promotion.

    Still, many people are trying to be teacher assessment's answer to Wilbur and Orville Wright. Take, for instance, D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and a team of educators led by Jason Kamras, the 2005 national teacher of the year. You can find their IMPACT plan, the result of input from more than 500 D.C. educators, by clicking on the "Teaching and Learning" tab|

    Will it crash and burn? Many think so. George Parker, president of the Washington Teachers' Union, said "it takes the art of teaching and turns it into bean counting."

    I have been sending the plan to experts around the country, however, and they are more optimistic than I expected.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 11:22 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    The new myths of gifted education

    Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore and Washington DC (November 2, 2009) - More than 25 years after myths about gifted education were first explored, they are all still with us and new ones have been added, according to research published in the current Gifted Child Quarterly (GCQ), the official journal of National Association for Gifted Children.

    Providing specialized and organized gifted education courses was a relatively new concept in 1982 when an article entitled "Demythologizing Gifted Education" was first published in GCQ. Research at that time found that certain myths were widely believed, such as the idea that the gifted constituted a single, homogeneous group of learners, or that just one curriculum would serve all equally.

    In "The Myths of Gifted Education: A Contemporary View," the journal takes a new look at the current state of gifted education. Researchers found that all 15 of the 1982 myths are still with us, though some have been modified over time, and several new ones have emerged. A few of the now 19 myths in this special issue of GCQ include:

    • Creativity is too difficult to measure

    • Gifted education means having a program

    • High ability students don't face problems and challenges

    • It's "fair" to teach all children the same way

    • Advanced Placement (AP) is an adequate secondary program

    "Our hope is that this issue will stimulate lively discussion, critical thinking, and creative research in the field," writes guest editor Donald J. Treffinger. "We hope to help 'shake loose the grip' of some common myths and suggest promising directions for more productive foundations for inquiry and practice."


    "The Myths of Gifted Education: A Contemporary View" a special issue of Gifted Child Quarterly (published by SAGE) is available free for a limited time at A Podcast interview with the editor about the differences (or not) in the myths since 1982 is available at

    Posted by Jeff Henriques at 9:19 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Teach Your Teachers Well

    Susan Engel, via a kind Barb Williams email:

    ARNE DUNCAN, the secretary of education, recently called for sweeping changes to the way we select and train teachers. He's right. If we really want good schools, we need to create a critical mass of great teachers. And if we want smart, passionate people to become these great educators, we have to attract them with excellent programs and train them properly in the substance and practice of teaching.

    Our best universities have, paradoxically, typically looked down their noses at education, as if it were intellectually inferior. The result is that the strongest students are often in colleges that have no interest in education, while the most inspiring professors aren't working with students who want to teach. This means that comparatively weaker students in less intellectually rigorous programs are the ones preparing to become teachers.

    So the first step is to get the best colleges to throw themselves into the fray. If education was a good enough topic for Plato, John Dewey and William James, it should be good enough for 21st-century college professors.

    These new teacher programs should be selective, requiring a 3.5 undergraduate grade point average and an intensive application process. But they should also be free of charge, and admission should include a stipend for the first three years of teaching in a public school.

    Once we have a better pool of graduate students, we need to train them differently from how we have in the past. Too often, teaching students spend their time studying specific instructional programs and learning how to handle mechanics like making lesson plans. These skills, while useful, are not what will transform a promising student into a good teacher.

    Barb Williams is a teacher at Madison's Hamilton Middle School.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:11 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Madison School Board Members on President Obama and Education Secretary Duncan's 11/4/2009 Wright Middle School Visit

    The elected Madison School Board will be present at Wednesday's visit and rightfully so. There will be plenty of other politicians, but these people truly deserve a bit of time in the spotlight.

    Love them or loath them, we should all be thankful for the time and effort our board members devote to that most important public expenditure: public schools. It is truly an essential but thankless job. I believe boardmembers are paid $4,000 annually.

    I emailed our board and asked for a quote prior to the President's arrival. Four responded thus far:

    President Arlene Silveira:

    "How exciting for our students at Wright. To meet the president of the United States is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I hope his visit awakens the civic responsibility in all who attend".
    Ed Hughes:
    We're honored by the President's visit. I'm pleased that the visit will shine a positive light on the great work the Principal Nancy Evans and her staff have been doing at Wright, and that we're able to provide Wright students with a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

    If the President is able to find the time to visit one of our Madison schools, I hope that any Madison parents who have questions about what's best for their kids will similarly make the effort to visit their neighborhood schools and see for themselves what we have to offer.
    Beth Moss:
    The President's visit to a Madison school is an honor for our entire community. Nancy Evans, her staff, students, and the Wright Middle School families deserve to be recognized for their success in creating and maintaining a school community worthy of the President's attention. This is an experience that none of us will forget, and we should be extremely proud that we have been chosen to host a presidential speech on education.
    Marj Passman:
    President Obama and I may not always agree about what is best for education
    but I am very grateful that he has returned the importance of education to
    center stage. It is an honor to have been invited to meet him.
    It will be interesting to observe the Board when and if President Obama discusses mayoral control of schools in Milwaukee, as Alexander Russo muses.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:55 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Ex-Portland Superintendent Vicki Phillips: It's all about the teacher

    Betsy Hammond:

    Former Portland Superintendent Vicki Phillips, now director of education for the Gates Foundation, didn't break any news in her speech to big city school board members and superintendents in Portland last week.

    Instead, she reinterated what she and others already have said about Gates' version 2.0 of fixing American high schools: Essentially, it's all about the teacher.

    The Gates Foundation first tried to improve students' readiness for college and decrease the dropout rate by getting high schools to morph into smaller, more personalized academies. It poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the effort, but ultimately, it didn't work.

    Gates and Phillips now openly admit: School structure is not the key. (Parents and educators in Portland Public School make use that same line about Phillips' main, and unfinished, initiative while in PPS: creating K-8 schools in place of middle schools.)

    So, the foundation now plans to pour at least half a billion dollars into a teacher quality initiative.

    It will sponsor rigorous research to help determine which qualities or skills that a teacher exhibits translate into the greatest gains in student learning, so that school districts can identify, recruit and retain the best performers. And it will award millions to several pioneering urban districts that agree to hire, place, train and pay teachers differently, with much more weight given to helping ensure that students get highly effective teachers, particularly students in greatest academic need.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:22 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Education reform long troubled in Washington, DC

    Bill Turque:

    When Kathy Patterson learned about Thursday's D.C. Council hearing, during which Chairman Vincent C. Gray and Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee pelted each other with accusations of law-breaking and secret meetings, she had one immediate reaction.

    "Here we go again," said Patterson, a former council member and chairwoman of its education committee. It looked as if another attempt at public school reform was disintegrating in a hail of recriminations and rhetoric, with Rhee destined to join Franklin L. Smith, Lt. Gen. Julius Becton, Arlene Ackerman, Paul L. Vance and Clifford B. Janey, the school leaders who preceded her in the past two decades.

    It was supposed to be different this time. The 2007 legislation that disbanded the old D.C. Board of Education and gave control of the school system to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) was designed to minimize the push-and-pull of ward politics, making a single executive accountable. But Thursday's hearing vividly illustrated that no legislation can completely account for the mix of personalities who come together to execute it.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:13 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Learning Curve: A troubling score gap

    Maureen Downey:

    In a new report contrasting proficiency scores on state exams to federal tests, Georgia comes across as a very easy grader.

    "States are setting the bar too low," said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan in response to the release Thursday of the study "Mapping State Proficiency Standards onto NAEP Scales: 2005-2007."

    The federal study compares proficiency standards of states using the results of the National Assessment of Education Progress -- often called the Nation's Report Card -- as the common yardstick.

    A national test given to select students in every state, NAEP is the only nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America's students know and can do in various subject areas.

    Because students across the nation take the same NAEP assessment, state-to-state comparisons can be made.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Highest paid private college presidents


    Leaders in Total Compensation at Private Colleges, 2007-8. Source: IRS tax reports analyzed by the Chronicle of Higher Education.
    1. Shirley Ann Jackson, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute: $1,598,247
    2. David Sargent, Suffolk University: $1,496,593
    3. Steadman Upham, University of Tulsa: $1,485,275
    4. Richard Meyers, Webster University: $1,429,738
    5. Cornelius M. Kerwin, American University: $1,419,339
    6. Lee C. Bollinger, Columbia: $1,380,035

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:24 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Education reform long troubled in Washington, DC

    Bill Turque:

    When Kathy Patterson learned about Thursday's D.C. Council hearing, during which Chairman Vincent C. Gray and Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee pelted each other with accusations of law-breaking and secret meetings, she had one immediate reaction.

    "Here we go again," said Patterson, a former council member and chairwoman of its education committee. It looked as if another attempt at public school reform was disintegrating in a hail of recriminations and rhetoric, with Rhee destined to join Franklin L. Smith, Lt. Gen. Julius Becton, Arlene Ackerman, Paul L. Vance and Clifford B. Janey, the school leaders who preceded her in the past two decades.

    It was supposed to be different this time. The 2007 legislation that disbanded the old D.C. Board of Education and gave control of the school system to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) was designed to minimize the push-and-pull of ward politics, making a single executive accountable. But Thursday's hearing vividly illustrated that no legislation can completely account for the mix of personalities who come together to execute it.

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

    California's deficit of common sense

    Rebecca Solnit:

    The state has plenty of money and resources. What we've been lacking is a real-world discussion about how we distribute them.

    California is rich. Even in the midst of a drought, we have lots of water, and in the midst of a recession, we have lots of money. The problem is one of distribution, not of actual scarcity.

    This is the usual problem of the United States, which is not just the richest and most powerful nation on Earth now, but on Earth ever, and one of the most blessed in terms of natural resources. We just collectively make loopy decisions about how to distribute the money and water, and we could make other decisions. Whether or not those priorities will change, we could at least have a reality-based conversation about them.

    Take water. My friend Derek Hitchcock, a biologist working to restore the Yuba River, likes to say that California is still a place of abundance. He recently showed me a Pacific Institute report and other documents to bolster his point. They show that about 80% of the state's water goes to agriculture, not to people, and half of that goes to four crops -- cotton, rice, alfalfa and pasturage (irrigated grazing land) -- that produce less than 1% of the state's wealth. Forty percent of the state's water. Less than 1% of its income. Meanwhile, we Californians are told the drought means that ordinary households should cut back -- and probably most should -- but the lion's share of water never went to us in the first place, and we should know it.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:12 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    November 2, 2009

    Wis. teachers couldn't be fired over test scores

    Scott Bauer:

    Wisconsin schools could use student test scores to evaluate teachers, but they still couldn't use the information to discipline or fire them under a bill moving quickly through the Legislature.

    Lawmakers must remove a ban on using test scores in evaluations for Wisconsin to compete for about $4.5 billion in Race to the Top stimulus money for education. Race to the Top is intended to improve student achievement, boost the performance of minority students and raise graduation rates.

    Republicans and the Wisconsin Association of School Boards say Doyle and Democrats who control the Legislature are still giving teachers too much deference even as they work to qualify the state for the program.

    Wisconsin and Nevada are the only states that don't allow test results to be used to evaluate teachers. A similar prohibition in New York expires next year, and California removed its ban earlier this year to compete for the federal stimulus money.

    Doyle and Democratic lawmakers are moving quickly to get Wisconsin's ban removed with a vote this week. There is urgency because applications for the Race to the Top money will likely be due in a couple of months and the Legislature ends its session for the year on Thursday.

    Doyle supports a proposal that would lift Wisconsin's restriction on tying test scores with teacher evaluations. However, it would keep in place a ban on using the scores to fire, suspend or discipline a teacher.

    Related: Notes and Links: President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan Visit Madison's Wright Middle School (one of two Charter Schools in Madison)..

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:23 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    For Debate: Who Picks School Board

    [Sent to: Winnie Hu]

    Terrific job with your article "For Debate: Who Picks School Board".

    A suggestion for a follow-up piece would be not only who Picks the School Board, but also to examine how do candidates get on the ballot. For example in Connecticut, School Board candidates come through the local political ranks yet we always hear, "politics don't belong on the Board of Education".

    Then there is another issue of strategically running just enough candidates and thereby severely limiting voter choice. In my town for example there are six BOE candidates and five seats to be filled; that is an 83% chance of winning a BOE seat based on shear numbers and no other factor --- is that an election? Voters are not even provided the opportunity to vote a poor performing member off the board under this archaic method. FYI, running just enough candidates is a very well thought out strategy by the local political parties to avoid cannibalizing votes with more candidates to ultimately win Board control which is the end game; but remember, politics don't belong a the BOE.

    There will be a legislative bill re-introduced for a second time in February allowing Connecticut towns to have non-partison BOE elections, if they so choose. FYI, approximately 90% of all BOE's nationally are non-partisan and all candidates run as petition candidates.

    For more information, please visit

    Thank you,

    Doug Newman
    Guiflord, CT
    Cell: (203) 516-1006

    Posted by Doug Newman at 3:23 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    NCES High School Longitudinal Study 2009

    National Center for Educational Statistics:

    The High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09) is a nationally representative, longitudinal study of more than 23,000 9th graders in 944 schools who will be followed through their secondary and postsecondary years. The study focuses on understanding students' trajectories from the beginning of high school into postsecondary education or the workforce and beyond. What students decide to pursue when, why, and how are crucial questions for HSLS:09, especially, but not solely, in regards to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) courses, majors, and careers. This study features a new student assessment in algebraic skills, reasoning, and problem solving and includes, like past studies, surveys of students, their parents, math and science teachers, school administrators, as well as a new survey of school counselors. The first wave of data collection for HSLS:09 begins in the fall of 2009 and will produce not only a nationally representative dataset but also state representative datasets for each of ten states.
    The study's basic facts are here.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:22 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Student achievement standards higher in South Carolina than other states

    Liz Carey:

    According to a new national report, South Carolina student achievement standards are among the highest in the nation.

    The report said many states declare students to have achieved grade-level mastery of reading and math when the children have not, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, a division of the U.S. Department of Education. [Complete Report 3MB PDF.]

    The agency compared state achievement standards to the standards behind the federally funded National Assessment of Educational Progress.

    The report, which was released Thursday, said many states deemed children to be proficient or on grade level based on state standards when those students would rate "below basic," meaning lacking even partial mastery, in reading and math under the NAEP standards.

    State standards vary significantly from state to state, according to the report. But South Carolina standards measured among the highest.

    In 15 states the standards a student had to meet to score proficient on state reading tests for eighth-graders were not as high as the standards to score basic on NAEP, according to the report. But South Carolina standards for eighth-grade reading were the highest in the nation.

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

    N.Y. Harbor School Seeks Sea Change In Education

    Jacki Lyden:

    Murray Fisher had a dream: Take the 600 miles of New York City's coastline and all the water surrounding it, and start a maritime high school that would teach inner-city kids about their watery world -- everything from boat building and ocean ecology to oyster growing.

    Next year, the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School will open its doors on Governors Island, a tree-covered jewel sold to the Dutch for two axes and a necklace, 800 yards off the coast of Manhattan. But for now, the Harbor School is in Bushwick, in the heart of Brooklyn.

    Urban Environment Meets Natural World

    At the Harbor School, each student wears a T-shirt emblazoned with the school's name. Tanks burble with classroom-grown fish.

    Brendan Malone teaches maritime technology -- his classroom is big enough to build wooden boats in.

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

    Grade the Teachers: A way to improve schools, one instructor at a time

    Michael Jonas:

    A good teacher equals a good school year. Not always, but far more often than not. Ask any parents of an elementary-grade child how the school year is going, and it won't be long before you'll hear them rave about - or bemoan - the teacher their child has been assigned to. There are teachers who are duds, who can find a way to drain the fun out of a unit on dinosaurs for second-graders. And there those with a gift for reaching the eighth-grader slouched in the back of the classroom with a penchant for eye rolling. These teachers can bring to life to Poe's fascination with the dead, or deliver just the right contemporary analogy to make sense of the War of 1812.

    Nearly everyone can probably recall a teacher who lit their passion for poetry or who was able to help them connect all the dots in a seemingly incomprehensible algebra formula. We know that individual teachers can make a huge difference.

    But public schools in America have been bent on ignoring the obvious: Almost nothing about the way we hire, evaluate, pay, or assign teachers to classrooms is designed to operate with that goal in mind. Most teachers receive only cursory performance evaluations, with virtually every teacher graded highly. We use a one-size-for-all salary structure, in which the only factors used in raises are teachers' higher-education credentials and number of years in the system, neither of which is strongly linked to their effectiveness. And we often let seniority, rather than merit, drive decisions about where a teacher is placed. It is in many ways an industrial model that treats teachers as identical, interchangeable parts, when we know that they are not.

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

    Education rights for American Indian children need protecting

    Lewis Diguid:

    Robert Cook gave people at a multicultural education convention in Denver a patriotic history lesson that was different from any that most people had heard before.

    Cook, president of the Oglala Lakota Indian Education Association, said Saturday that Article I Section 8 and Article VI of the U.S. Constitution ensure rights through treaties for American Indians. That includes the right for American Indian children to receive a good education that will prepare them for college and good careers.

    Sadly, however, American Indian schools, with an average age of 60 years, are in horrible condition, and the dropout rate of Native people is disproportionately high.

    "Our schools are literally falling apart," Cook told the 19th Annual International Conference of the National Association for Multicultural Education, which ends today. "They don't serve the needs of our students."

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

    Wilson High School track athlete killed after football game in Long Beach

    Ruben Vives & Ben Bolch:

    Friends and family gathered today at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach to mourn the death of a 16-year-old honors student and track athlete who was gunned down as she and her friends were leaving a football game the night before.

    Melody Ross, a junior in advanced-placement honors and a pole vaulter on the track team, was randomly hit by gunfire that also injured two young men, police said. It is not known if the shooting was gang-related. No arrests have been made.

    Ross was identified by her uncle, Sam Che, who said their family emigrated to Southern California in the mid-1980s from Cambodia. "We escaped the killing fields," said Che, 36.

    Ross was dressed as Supergirl for the homecoming game against Polytechnic High School that was attended by many other students in costume on the day before Halloween. Ross was "an innocent kid" said Mario Morales, the Wilson High football coach.

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

    November 1, 2009

    Notes and Links: President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan Visit Madison's Wright Middle School (one of two Charter Schools in Madison).


    President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan will visit Madison's Wright Middle School Wednesday, November 4, 2009, purportedly to give an education speech. The visit may also be related to the 2010 Wisconsin Governor's race. The Democrat party currently (as of 11/1/2009) has no major announced candidate. Wednesday's event may include a formal candidacy announcement by Milwaukee Mayor, and former gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett. UPDATE: Alexander Russo writes that the visit is indeed about Barrett and possible legislation to give the Milwaukee Mayor control of the schools.
    Possible Participants:
    Wright Principal Nancy Evans will surely attend. Former Principal Ed Holmes may attend as well. Holmes, currently Principal at West High has presided over a number of controversial iniatives, including the "Small Learning Community" implementation and several curriculum reduction initiatives (more here).

    I'm certain that a number of local politicians will not miss the opportunity to be seen with the President. Retiring Democrat Governor Jim Doyle, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Superintendent Tony Evers, Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk (Falk has run for Governor and Attorney General in the past) and Madison School Superintendent Dan Nerad are likely to be part of the event. Senator Russ Feingold's seat is on the fall, 2010 ballot so I would not be surprised to see him at Wright Middle School as well.

    Madison's Charter Intransigence
    Madison, still, has only two charter schools for its 24,295 students: Wright and Nuestro Mundo.

    Wright resulted from the "Madison Middle School 2000" initiative. The District website has some background on Wright's beginnings, but, as if on queue with respect to Charter schools, most of the links are broken (for comparison, here is a link to Houston's Charter School Page). Local biotech behemoth Promega offered free land for Madison Middle School 2000 [PDF version of the District's Promega Partnership webpage]. Unfortunately, this was turned down by the District, which built the current South Side Madison facility several years ago (some School Board members argued that the District needed to fulfill a community promise to build a school in the present location). Promega's kind offer was taken up by Eagle School. [2001 Draft Wright Charter 60K PDF]

    Wright & Neustro Mundo Background
    Wright Middle School Searches:
    Bing / Clusty / Google / Google News / Yahoo
    Madison Middle School 2000 Searches:
    Bing / Clusty / Google / Google News / Yahoo

    "Nuestro Mundo, Inc. is a non-profit organization that was established in response to the commitment of its founders to provide educational, cultural and social opportunities for Madison's ever-expanding Latino community." The dual immersion school lives because the community and several School Board members overcame District Administration opposition. Former Madison School Board member Ruth Robarts commented in 2005:
    The Madison Board of Education rarely rejects the recommendations of Superintendent Rainwater. I recall only two times that we have explicitly rejected his views. One was the vote to authorize Nuestro Mundo Community School as a charter school. The other was when we gave the go-ahead for a new Wexford Ridge Community Center on the campus of Memorial High School.

    Here's how things happen when the superintendent opposes the Board's proposed action.
    Nuestro Mundo:
    Bing / Clusty / Google / Google News / Yahoo
    The local school District Administration (and Teacher's Union) intransigence on charter schools is illustrated by the death of two recent community charter initiatives: The Studio School and a proposed Nuestro Mundo Middle School.
    About the Madison Public Schools
    Those interested in a quick look at the state of Madison's public schools should review Superintendent Dan Nerad's proposed District performance measures. This document presents a wide variety of metrics on the District's current performance, from advanced course "participation" to the percentage of students earning a "C" in all courses and suspension rates, among others.
    Education Hot Topics
    Finally, I hope President Obama mentions a number of Education Secretary Arne Duncan's recent hot topics, including:This wonderful opportunity for Wright's students will, perhaps be most interesting for the ramifications it may have on the adults in attendance. Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman recent Rotary speech alluded to school district's conflicting emphasis on "adult employment" vs education.
    Wisconsin State Test Score Comparisons: Madison Middle Schools:
    WKCE Madison Middle School Comparison: Wright / Cherokee / Hamilton / Jefferson / O'Keefe / Sennett / Sherman / Spring Harbor / Whitehorse
    About Madison:
    UPDATE: How Do Students at Wright Compare to Their Peers at Other MMSD Middle Schools?

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:05 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Will reforming teacher salaries bring mile high results?

    Alan Borsuk:

    Denver is to reform in the way teachers are paid what Milwaukee is to private school vouchers: It's the place that's broken a lot of new ground and been a magnet for national attention.

    With the likelihood that the Wisconsin Legislature will take important steps in the next few weeks that will substantially increase the prospects for changing the classic system for teacher salaries, here's some advice for Wisconsin from Brad Jupp, a central architect of the Denver system:

    "The most important thing to do is not to be so cautious that you don't move forward," Jupp said. "Breaking the barrier doesn't kill you."

    Nationwide for almost a century, salaries of teachers have been set almost entirely by how many years a person has taught and whether the person has a master's degree or certain amounts of college credits beyond a bachelor's degree. Research has pretty firmly established that there is little, if any, correlation between teaching quality and those traditional measurements.

    The political appeal of changing the way teachers are paid is huge now. The idea of paying good teachers more than bad teachers or using pay as an incentive to improve educational results has become popular across the political spectrum. President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit Madison this week to speak on education, and you can bet he will hit on this point.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 11:18 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Racial Achievement Gap Still Plagues Schools

    Nancy Solomon via a kind reader's email:

    American schools have struggled for decades to close what's called the 'minority achievement gap' -- the lower average test scores, grades and college attendance rates among black and Latino students.

    Typically, schools place children who are falling behind in remedial classes, to help them catch up. But some schools are finding that grouping students by ability, also known as tracking or leveling, causes more problems than it solves.

    Columbia High School in Maplewood, N.J., is a well-funded school that is roughly 60 percent black and 40 percent white. The kids mix easily and are friendly with one another. But when the bell rings, students go their separate ways.

    Teacher Noel Cooperberg's repeat algebra class last year consisted of all minority kids who had flunked the previous year. There were only about a dozen students because the school keeps lower-level classes small to try to boost success. But a group of girls sitting in the middle never so much as picked up a pencil, and they often disrupted the class. It was a different scene from Cooperberg's honors-level pre-calculus class, which had three times as many students -- most of them white.

    These two classes are pretty typical for the school. Lower-level classes -- called levels two and three -- are overwhelmingly black, while higher-level four and five are mostly white. Students are assigned to these levels by a combination of grades, test scores and teacher recommendations.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:44 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Madison School District Administration Response to the Math Task Force

    The local school district's increasing use of reform math programs lead to the creation of a "Math Task Force". The District Administration's response is outlined in this 2.6MB PDF document:

    The purpose of this report is to describe the recomrnendations in response to the Madison Metropolitan School District Mathematics Task Force Report: Review of Mathematics Curriculum and Related Issues, submitted to the Board of Education June, 2008.

    Administrative Recommendations Summary The materials included in this packet update and replace those distributed to the Board of Education in April 2009. Included in the materials is a proposed budget.

    Middle School Mathematics Specialists (see Recommendations 1-5)

    The Superintendent and UW-Madison Deans of Letters and Sciences and the School of Education commissioned a representative and collaborative group to design a professional development plan for this initiative. The group was convened in June and has since met four times during the summer to research and design a professional development plan to support middle school mathematics teachers.

    The Middle School Math Partnership committee has tentatively planned five courses for the professional development proposal. Those courses are Number and Generalization, Rational Number and Proportional Reasoning, Geometry, Measurement and Trigonometry, and Algebra and Functions. The courses would be spread out over two years and be co-facilitated by UW and MMSD staff.

    Research, data gathering and design will continue through 2009-2010 with the initial cohort of middle school teachers beginning in summer 2010. Upon completion of an initial draft, the plan will be presented to district teachers for further input and refinement.

    In collaboration with the above group, a National Science Foundation Targeted Partnership proposal, Professional Learning Partnership K-20 (PLP K-20), was submitted on August 20, 2009. A UW-Madison and MMSD team of nearly 30 members worked during the summer to craft a proposal focused on systemic and sustainable mathematics professional development. The vision described in the proposal creates "a lasting interface to coordinate material, human, social, and cyber resources" among the UW-Madison and District. The principal investigator of the NSF proposal is Eric Wilcots. Co-Pl's include Provost Deluca, Superintendent Nerad, Dean Sandefur and Dean Underwood.

    Background notes and links: Again, it will be interesting to see what, if any substantive changes occur in the local math programs.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:55 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    "Chicago Muscle" on Education Reform and the Democrat Party

    Jonathan Alter:

    Kennedy worked closely with President Bush on the flawed and deeply unpopular No Child Left Behind Act. Like a packaged-goods company with a tainted product, the Obama administration has left that name behind and now calls its program the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, LBJ's original title in 1965. But the accountability-and-standards movement Kennedy and Bush launched is essential, and Obama has moved much faster than expected to advance it. He and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are showing some Chicago muscle and giving states a "choice" right out of The Untouchables: lift your caps on the number of innovative charter schools allowed and your prohibitions on holding teachers accountable for whether kids learn--or lose a chance for some of Obama's $5 billion "Race to the Top" money. Massachusetts recently lifted its charter cap and nearly a dozen other states are scampering to comply. Now that's hardball we can believe in.

    This issue cleaves the Democratic Party. On one side are Obama and the reformers, who point out that we now have a good idea of what works: KIPP and other "no excuses" charter models boast 80 percent graduation rates in America's roughest neighborhoods, nearly twice the norm. On the other side are the teachers' unions and their incrementalist enablers in the political class. They talk a good game about education but make up phony excuses for opposing real reform and accountability.

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

    Madison School District 4K Proposal

    Superintendent Dan Nerad [1.5MB PDF]:

    Providing four year old kindergarten (4K) may be the district's next best tool to continue the trend of improving academic achievement for all students and continuing to close the achievement gap.

    The quality of care and education that children receive in the early years of their lives is one of the most critical factors in their development. Empirical and anecdotal evidence clearly shows that nurturing environments with appropriate challenging activities have large and lasting effects on our children's school success, ability to get along with others, and emotional health. Such evidence also indicates that inadequate early childhood care and education increases the danger that at-risk children will grow up with problem behaviors that can lead to later crime and violence.

    Background/Charge On February 9, 2009, the Board of Education asked the Superintendent to reconvene staff, and community members to begin planning for a collaborative 4K program in the Madison Metropolitan School District. The committee was directed to develop recommendations and timelines to present to the BOE.

    Process Membership is attached and was generated by the AFSCME Child Care Representatives with membership growing as the months proceeded. Kathy Hubbard began facilitation and Jim Moeser is currently facilitating the committee work. Throughout the months of meeting, membership and attendance has been constantly high with energy and enthusiasm the same. The matrix presented in this packet includes a brief overview of the five committees below.

    Related: Perhaps the District might implement these initiatives first - and evaluate their effectiveness prior to expanding the organization (and budget) for 4K.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    New York Governor's Charter Shock

    Brendan Scott & Yoav Gonen:

    In a surprise move, Gov. Paterson said yesterday he doesn't plan to push for changes to state laws that experts have warned could jeopardize New York's chances of raking in hundreds of millions of dollars in federal education aid.

    Federal officials have highlighted two state laws in particular -- one limiting the number of charter schools to 200 and another prohibiting the use of student test scores in determining whether a teacher deserves tenure -- as potential barriers to the state's bid for a share of the $4.3 billion competitive pot, known as Race to the Top.

    While legislation was introduced last week to enhance New York's standing by scrapping those laws, a spokeswoman for Paterson -- who has supported charter schools in the past -- said the governor would not be among its boosters.

    "At this time, we believe New York state is eligible for Race to the Top funds and that legislative changes are currently not needed," said the spokeswoman, Marissa Shorenstein.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:55 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Madison School District: School Enrollment & Capacity Planning

    Superintendent Dan Nerad [1.75MB PDF]:

    Attached to this memo are several items related to enrollments, both actual and projections, as well as school capacities. We also include data on the enrollment data for students on the basis of their residence. Additional enrollment data will be provided in summary for the Board of Education at the December meeting.

    The first attachment is a one-page overview summary of the past five years of enrollment history, the current year enrollment, and five years of projected enrollment by grade level. Overall, enrollment is generally flat for the district as a whole. However, the projections begin to show a slight increase starting in 2012-13 into 2014-15 at which time we will have increased enrollment to its highest level over the past ten years. By level, elementary and middle schools will continue to see increases in enrollment during the next five years whereas high schools will decline in enrollment.

    The second attachment shows the detailed K-12 enrollment history and projections for each school. Historical data go back to the 1989-90 school year. Projections are through 2014-15. Projection years are boldfaced. The precision of projections at a school level and for specific grade levels within a school are less accurate when compared to the district as a whole. Furthermore, projections are much less reliable for later years in the projection timeline. Also, the worksheet reflects various program and boundary changes that were implemented and this accounts for some large shifts within schools and programs from one year to the next.

    The third attachment contains two sheets - one for elementary and one for middle and high combined - and details the maximum capacities for each school, the current enrollment and capacity percentage, and the projected 2014-15 enrollment and capacity percentage. The sheets are organized by attendance area. Summaries are provided for levels. From the data, it appears elementary schools that have long term capacity constraints include Gompers,.Lake View, Sandburg, Allis/Nuestro Mundo, Kennedy, Orchard Ridge, and Van Hise. However, the schools that share a building with a middle school have access to other space. Among middle schools, Jefferson Middle School is the only school that may experience capacity concerns. None of the high schools are expected to have capacity issues for the foreseeable future.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:36 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    College Competitiveness Reconsidered

    Scott Jaschik:

    Everybody knows that college is harder to get into today than ever before, right? That's why students flock to test-prep courses, and spend countless hours trying to transform themselves into what they imagine admissions deans want.

    Admissions deans have tried to play down the hype, and just last week the National Association for College Admission Counseling released data showing that the acceptance rate at four-year colleges has declined from 71.3 percent in 2001 to 66.8 percent in 2007 -- hardly an impossible bar to get over. So why are so many people convinced that the story in higher education admissions is about increased competitiveness?

    The problem -- according to a major research project released Monday by a leading scholar of higher education -- is that there are two trends at play.

    A small number of colleges have become much more competitive over recent decades, according to Caroline M. Hoxby, an economist at Stanford University. But her study -- published by the National Bureau of Economic Research -- finds that as many as half of colleges have become substantially less competitive over time.

    The key shift in college admissions isn't increased competitiveness, Hoxby writes. Rather, both trends are explained by an increased willingness by students generally, and especially the best students, to attend colleges that aren't near where they grew up. This shift increased the applicant pool for some colleges but cut it for others.

    "Typical college-going students in the U.S. should be unconcerned about rising selectivity. If anything, they should be concerned about falling selectivity, the phenomenon they will actually experience," Hoxby writes.

    Hoxby's paper:
    This paper shows that although the top ten percent of colleges are substantially more selective now than they were 5 decades ago, most colleges are not more selective. Moreover, at least 50 percent of colleges are substantially less selective now than they were then. This paper demonstrates that competition for space--the number of students who wish to attend college growing faster than the number of spaces available--does not explain changing selectivity. The explanation is, instead, that the elasticity of a student's preference for a college with respect to its proximity to his home has fallen substantially over time and there has been a corresponding increase in the elasticity of his preference for a college with respect to its resources and peers. In other words, students used to attend a local college regardless of their abilities and its characteristics. Now, their choices are driven far less by distance and far more by a college's resources and student body. It is the consequent re-sorting of students among colleges that has, at once, caused selectivity to rise in a small number of colleges while simultaneously causing it to fall in other colleges. I show that the integration of the market for college education has had profound implications on the peers whom college students experience, the resources invested in their education, the tuition they pay, and the subsidies they enjoy. An important finding is that, even though tuition has been rising rapidly at the most selective schools, the deal students get there has arguably improved greatly. The result is that the "stakes" associated with admission to these colleges are much higher now than in the past.

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

    New Global Academy to offer specialized courses to students in eight Dane County school districts

    Gena Kittner:

    The initial program in biomedicine would include courses in the principles of biomedical sciences; human body systems; medical interventions; and science research. The classes likely would be taught by high school teachers, but would incorporate business and academic experts to help teach, offer apprenticeships and career placement.

    The academy's location won't be decided until leaders know how many students are interested in the program. However, one possibility is holding classes at MATC's West campus in the former Famous Footwear building, Reis said.

    Students - organizers hope about 150 - would travel from their respective high schools to Madison's Far West Side every day for the courses, which would be part of the academy's two-year programs. Depending on the interest in the biomedical class, three sections would be taught during the day and possibly one in the evening, Reis said.

    Offering a night class would maximize the use of the facility and offer some flexibility to students who live farther outside of Madison, he said.

    Verona, Middleton Cross-Plains, Belleville, McFarland, Mount Horeb, Oregon, Wisconsin Heights and Madison school districts have agreed to participate in the academy.

    Related: Credit for non Madison School District Courses.

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