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December 31, 2009

Foreign Language Teaching in U.S. Schools: Results of a National Survey

Nancy Rhodes & Ingrid Pufahl:

CAL has completed a comprehensive survey of K-12 foreign language programs nationwide, describing how our schools are meeting the need for language instruction to prepare global citizens. For comparative purposes, the survey has collected statistical data in 1987, 1997, and 2008. Elementary and secondary schools from a nationally representative sample of more the 5,000 public and private schools completed a questionnaire during the 2007-2008 school year. The 2008 survey results complement and enhance the field's existing knowledge base regarding foreign language instruction and enrollment in the United States.

The report of the survey, Foreign Language Teaching in U.S. Schools: Results of a National Survey, provides detailed information on current patterns and shifts over the past 20 years in languages and programs offered, enrollment in language programs, curricula, assessment, and teaching materials, qualifications, and trainings, as well as reactions to national reform issues such as the national foreign language standards and the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation. The survey results revealed that foreign language instruction remained relatively stable at the high school level over the past decade but decreased substantially in elementary and middle schools. Moreover, only a small percentage of the elementary and middle schools not teaching languages planned to implement a language program within the next two years. The findings indicate a serious disconnect between the national call to educate world citizens with high-level language skills and the current state of foreign language instruction in schools across the country. This report contains complete survey results, along with recommendations on developing rigorous long sequence (K-12 programs whose goals are for students to achieve high levels of language proficiency, and are of interest to anyone interested in increasing language capacity in the United States. 2009.

Jay Matthews comments.

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The truth about Arne Duncan and the Chicago schools

Jay Matthews:

My colleague Nick Anderson, the Post's national education reporter, has done a wonderfully balanced and nuanced job of answering a question I am often asked: If Arne Duncan is such a hotshot education secretary, then why are the Chicago schools he once led so bad?

Anderson's front page story Tuesday provides all the relevant facts---disappointing test score gains, watered-down Illinois state standards, Duncan turnaround projects that didn't work. But he also puts it in context, showing where Duncan forced some improvements and how daunting Chicago's problems are.

He also makes it clear that you can't expect anyone to transform our urban school systems in a big way quickly. The improvements that occur are always on the margins. Those districts will never rise to the level of their suburban neighbors. But you can see Duncan has been working at this very hard for many years, and (if you look at what he has actually said rather than what sloppy writers like me have suggested) he has been honest about how far his home town still needs to go.

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Getting an education--it's about power

Jay Matthews:

We all know that securing a good education for your children is strongly influenced by clout. Do we have it or not? The mayor's kid usually gets more attention than the grocery checker's kid. If you have taken the trouble to make friends with the principal, you are more likely to get your way than if you never appear in the building, or even PTA meetings.

But rarely have I seen a better illustration of this than my colleague Emma Brown's terrific piece leading the Monday Metro section about how much Army and Marine Corps families are gaining from those services' decisions to back their members when they seek help for children with disabilities.

Among other examples, she tells how Karen Driscoll, wife of a Marine Corps officer, was told by officials of a northern San Diego County school district that they could only offer a classroom aide for her son ten hours a week. The child's previous school in Fairfax County had provided 21 hours and told her that was what she deserved under federal law.

Most parents seeking special education services know what that means. They are in for a long period of testy meetings, long emails, expensive private evaluations and maybe even legal action before they get what they need, if they ever do. But because of a new Marine Corps initiative, Driscoll had the services of a caseworker and a special education attorney in her meetings with school officials, and soon got what she was looking for.

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Teacher Support for Compensation Reform Surveys Show Less Experienced Teachers Are More Supportive of Differentiated Compensation

Robin Chait:

Download this memo (pdf)

Policymakers have grappled in recent years with strategies for improving the effectiveness of the teaching workforce, particularly that segment serving students in poverty. There is a growing consensus that state and district systems for attracting, evaluating, developing, compensating, and retaining effective teachers are in need of a major overhaul. Three polls find that inexperienced teachers are open to reforms to one of these systems--compensation systems.

A number of promising compensation reform programs have shown that changes in payment structures often include upgrades to other systems as well, such as those needed for evaluating and developing teachers. It is unclear whether inexperienced teachers will continue to support differentiated compensation as they become more experienced, but these findings indicate that the time is ripe for targeting differentiated compensation to new teachers at the federal, state, and district level.

Targeting these new teachers is critical. Reforming the profession in ways that appeal to them could help increase the retention rates of the effective teachers in this group. Several forms of differentiated compensation reward the most effective teachers, hopefully increasing the proportion of highly effective teachers in the profession. And it is likely that these teachers will be more supportive of differentiated compensation as veterans if they have a positive experience with it early on in their career. If districts want to reform compensation systems more broadly, it is important that they eventually have veterans on board with these reforms.

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30% of Teens Report Abuse in Relationships

Katie Couric:

"All I remember was landing face first on the floor," said Tina, 18.

Tina - disguised for her safety - says the violence spiraled out of control during her six-month relationship with her 17-year-old boyfriend.

"I remember he got on top of me and he was slapping me back and forth," Tina said. "And he said, 'next time you walk by me, acknowledge me. Say that you love me.'"

Raped, beaten and berated on a regular basis, she stayed with him, believing the abuse was part of a normal relationship.

"I knew my aunt went through it so I thought, you know, if she stuck it out with him, with her husband for years, that I should just do the same and keep my mouth shut," she added.

When another 15-year old - who did not want to be indentified - met a cute boy in one of her high school classes - she was smitten.

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December 30, 2009

A much-needed message from state's education commissioner


David Steiner, New York's new education commissioner, gave a stirring address last week about where he hopes to lead public education in this state. He's setting his sights very high, and both his message and his method are laudable. The State Education Department has needed an effective communicator at the top.

"Teaching well is a deeply complex professional activity," Steiner told the Board..

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In East Bay, where pollution goes, health problems follow

Sandy Kleffman & Suzanne Bohan:

In some hardscrabble East Bay neighborhoods, people die of heart disease and cancer at three times the rates found just a few miles away in more well-to-do communities.

Children living near busy freeways in Oakland are hospitalized for asthma at 12 times the rate of young people in Lafayette's wooded housing tracts.

The East Bay's striking health inequities extend far beyond life expectancy and involve more than differences between the rich and the poor. Disparities exist up and down the East Bay's socioeconomic ladder, according to data compiled by the Alameda County Public Health Department for Bay Area News Group.

Middle-class communities in Dublin, Castro Valley and Fremont have higher heart disease death rates than wealthier neighborhoods in Walnut Creek and Berkeley, but lower rates than struggling areas of East Oakland and North Richmond.

These facts have led public-health leaders to advocate to equalize opportunities for healthful living, instead of focusing only on a never-ending battle to treat disease.

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December 29, 2009

Silicon Valley companies' help needed to shore up math education

Muhammed Chaudhry:

Thirteen-year-old Kayla Savage was failing math. Like many of her classmates in middle school, she hated the subject. Stuck in a large seventh-grade class with a teacher who had little time to offer individual help, Kayla was lost among rational numbers and polynomials.

Her frustration led to a phobia of math, an all-too-common affliction that often starts in middle school and threatens to derail students' future math studies in high school and chances for college.

Kayla is like thousands of students across America who struggle with math. The struggle in California is borne out by this grim U.S. Education Department statistic: Students in California rank 40th in eighth-grade math, a critical year in math learning that sets the path for math success in high school and beyond.

In Santa Clara County, only about 39 percent of eighth-graders meet the California standard for Algebra I proficiency. One study showed that less than one-third of eighth-graders have the skills or interest to pursue a math or science career. Yet these careers are the drivers of our future.

Silicon Valley Education Foundation.

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Notes on the history of information overload

David Weinberger:

I spent most of today tracking down some information about the history of information overload, so I though I'd blog it in case someone else is looking into this. Also, I may well be getting it wrong, in which case please correct me. (The following is sketchy because it's just notes 'n' pointers.)

I started with Alvin Toffler's explanation of info overload in the 1970 edition of Future Shock. He introduces the concept carefully, expressing it as the next syndrome up from sensory overload.

So, I tried to find the origins of the phrase "sensory overload." The earliest reference I could find (after getting some help from the Twitterverse, which pointed me to a citation in the OED) was in coverage of a June, 1958 talk at a conference held at Harvard Medical School. The article in Science (vol 129, p. 222) lists some of the papers, including:

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Educators face new challenges

Canan Tasci:

The decade began with ambitious plans for raising the bar on public education and student achievement.

After winning office as the nation's 43rd president, George W. Bush introduced a federal program, dubbed No Child Left Behind, aimed at improving education through higher standards and greater accountability.

For the better part of the decade, educators and school administrators worked diligently to implement the program and meet its expectations.

More recently, however, a recession of historic proportions has taken a heavy toll on the public school system, prompting deep budget cuts, and in some cases, a rethinking of what schools will offer.

"Our future depends on our ability to prepare the next generation for success in the hyper-competitive global economy," said Jack O'Connell, state superintendent of public instruction. "In order to deliver the quality education our students need, we must get off this budget roller coaster and find a stable, long-term solution to education funding. Our future depends on it."

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Kindness taught in Seattle school's online class

Linda Shaw:

If you recently found a shiny gold dollar coin in downtown Bellevue, thank the kindness class. Ditto if you stumbled upon a piece of glass art in Pioneer Square, or a lottery ticket taped to a bus shelter with a note saying, "This may be your lucky day."

Since mid-September, the 250 people in Puget Sound Community School's online course learned about kindness by practicing it.

Along the way, they took emotional risks, repaired relationships, improved their outlook on the world, and realized that kindness is contagious.

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Times Guest Column on STEM Education

Charlie Mas:

There was a guest column in the Seattle Times by Bonnie Dunbar, the president and CEO of The Museum of Flight and a former astronaut, encouraging the community to support STEM education efforts.

The column itself was the usual pointless pablum that we typically see in these guest columns. Lots of goals with no action plan. The interesting bit, as usual, comes in the reader comments in which members of the community writes that we DON'T need more engineers because there are lots of them standing in unemployment lines and that engineering jobs are being outsourced to India and China or to people from India and China who come to the U.S. on guest worker visas.

This article is also written completely without reference to the ineffective math education methods adopted over the past ten years.

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Rx for Hunger: Affordable Housing

Children's HealthWatch Boston:

A new report by Children's HealthWatch and the Medical-Legal Partnership | Boston finds that housing plays a significant role in protecting young children from food insecurity and the health risks of being seriously underweight. This new report confirms that increased support for subsidized housing must be part of the strategy for ending childhood hunger.

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Indicators of School Crime & Safety: 2008

National Center for Education Statistics:

A joint effort by the Bureau of Justice Statistics and National Center for Education Statistics, this annual report examines crime occurring in school as well as on the way to and from school. It provides the most current detailed statistical information to inform the Nation on the nature of crime in schools. This report presents data on crime at school from the perspectives of students, teachers, principals, and the general population from an array of sources--the National Crime Victimization Survey, the School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey, the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, the School Survey on Crime and Safety and the School and Staffing Survey. Data on crime away from school are also presented to place school crime in the context of crime in the larger society.

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December 28, 2009

Test Data Help Cloud Duncan's Legacy as Chicago Schools Chief

Nick Anderson:

Soon after Arne Duncan left his job as schools chief here to become one of the most powerful U.S. education secretaries ever, his former students sat for federal achievement tests. This month, the mathematics report card was delivered: Chicago trailed several cities in performance and progress made over six years.

Miami, Houston and New York had higher scores than Chicago on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Boston, San Diego and Atlanta had bigger gains. Even fourth-graders in the much-maligned D.C. schools improved nearly twice as much since 2003.

The federal readout is just one measure of Duncan's record as chief executive of the nation's third-largest system. Others show advances on various fronts. But the new math scores signal that Chicago is nowhere near the head of the pack in urban school improvement, even though Duncan often cites the successes of his tenure as he crusades to fix public education.

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On Teacher Mentoring

Amy Hetzner:

Every morning before their classes start at North Middle School in Menomonee Falls, teachers Becky Zimprich and Kristi Seston have a chance to catch up with each other.

Everything from instructional questions about how to handle specific issues with students to more technical inquiries about how to navigate the district's grading system is fodder for the discussions between the two. The fellow teachers of English language learners were paired up by the Menomonee Falls School District's mentoring program for Zimprich's first year teaching in the district.

"I find the mentoring program awesome," said Zimprich, who has 16 years teaching experience, mostly in elementary and technology education. "It doesn't matter if you're a new teacher or experienced teacher. It helps you acclimate to the school. It helps you acclimate to the district."

Menomonee Falls Superintendent Keith Marty is a consultant for the Madison school District's  "Strategic Planning Process".

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Technology Leapfrogs Schools and Jurisdictions

James Warren:

Plainfield East High School doesn't have a senior class. But it clearly possesses a new staple of American education: "sexting." I urge a surely chagrined Principal Anthony Manville to buy several large boxes of fig leaves.

A 16-year-old honors student took a nude photo of herself, used her cellphone to send it to a friend and, bingo, for the last two weeks the photo has made the rounds of the three-year-old school with 1,300 students. Plainfield police seized some students' phones and passed them on to computer forensic experts at the Will County Sheriff's Department.

The school is contemplating punishment, the police are interviewing students and James Glasgow, the Will County state's attorney, is mulling whether to prosecute anybody under Illinois child pornography statutes. In the meantime, everybody can spend time off over the holiday cheerfully consuming "Teens and Sexting," a study just completed by the Internet and American Life Project at the Pew Research Center.

Based partly on a survey of 800 teenagers, parents and guardians, it underscores the role of cellphones "in the sexual lives of teens and young adults." Four percent of the teenagers indicated that had dispatched "sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude images or videos of themselves" via text messaging, while 15 percent claimed they had received such images of a person they know.

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Autism epidemic in Monroe County, Indiana

Steven Higgs:

Data from local school and federal public health officials suggest that children in Monroe County, Ind., are diagnosed with autism at nearly double the epidemic rate that afflicts the nation.

On Dec. 18, 2009, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a new report that put the incidence of autism in the United States at 1 in 110 for children born in 1996, or 0.9 percent of the population. A survey, sponsored by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau of the Health Resources and Services Administration and published in the journal Pediatrics in October, showed 1 in 91 children between the ages of 3 and 17 had autism.

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Advantages and Drawbacks to Attending a (Mostly) Women's College

Susan O'Doherty:

Recent discussions on this blog about gender balance in colleges and universities have sparked a number of memories of my own college experiences. I thought it would be interesting to share them here and to invite you to share yours, as well.

As noted previously, in 1970 I entered a small college that had, until that year, been the "sister school" of a nearby men's university. There were only a handful of men in my class, and of course none in the more advanced classes.

I had applied to only three colleges in total, all chosen by my parents, and all in the South; two private women's schools and this, a well regarded branch of a state university system. I was accepted at all three, and my parents chose to send me to the cheapest school. I was in no position, or mood to argue; I had narrowly escaped secretarial school, at which I would have been a complete failure; I had no money, and because my parents did have money I was not eligible for the juiciest scholarships. I was grateful to be going anywhere.

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2010 Education Appropriations Guide

Jason Delisle:

Congress completed the fiscal year 2010 appropriations process on Dec. 13, 2009, finalizing annual funding for nearly all federal education programs through September 2010 at $63.7 billion, up $1.1 billion from the prior year, excluding economic stimulus funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Making sense of the federal education budget and the appropriations process can be a frustrating task for education advocates, state and local policymakers, the media, and the public. The now concluded fiscal year 2010 appropriations process is no exception.

This issue brief is intended to be a helpful guide to the appropriations process and recently enacted fiscal year 2010 education funding. It includes an analysis of funding for major education programs and a timeline of the 2010 appropriations process. It also includes exclusive tables comparing 2010 funding to prior years, the president's budget request, and funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Complete PDF Report

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Report Finds Problems Plague State-run Juvenile Detention Centers

Cindy Rodriguez:

A report by a state task force recommended today that Gov. David Paterson close or significantly downsize state run juvenile detention facilities. A draft copy of the report obtained by WNYC, says the facilities are damaging young people and wasting taxpayer dollars.

Jeremy Travis, President of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, headed the task force and says the state must shift from a punitive approach to one that's therapeutic.

The report says 1,600 youth enter the facilities annually, costing the state about $200,000 a year per child. Travis says those resources should be reinvested in services for youth.

"This is a big challenge that we are laying at the doorstep of the state of New York here," he says. "Other states have made the shift and we have every confidence that New York State can make this transformation as well."

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December 27, 2009

MMSD Reading and the Poverty Achievement Gap

"The research around early reading intervention illuminates the complex decision making required to meet individual student literacy needs. There seems to be no one right answer, no quick fix for success. While recent research brings up questions as to the cost/benefit of Reading Recovery, what other supports and options are available? One thing is certain, alternative interventions must be in place prior to removing current systems." Summary, "Reading Recovery: A Synthesis of Research, Data Analysis and Recommendations," Madison Metropolitan School District Report to the Board of Education, December, 2009.

How well are we teaching our children to read?

The "Annual Measurable Objectives" under No Child Left Behind for Wisconsin call for all students to achieve reading levels of proficient or better under the WKCE by the 2013-14 school year. Benchmarks toward that goal are phased in over time. The current intermediate goal (ending this school year) is 74%. (Put another way, the percentage of students who are below proficient should not exceed 26%.) The goals move up to 80.5% in 2010-11, 87% in 2011-12, and 93.5% in 2012-13.

71.7% of MMSD 3rd graders scored at or above the proficient level on last year's (November 2008) WKCE reading assessment (this and the rest of the WKCE data cited here are from the DPI web site). This did not quite meet the 74% Annual Measurable Objective. We should be concerned that achievement levels are going down even as achievement targets are going up:


The Annual Measurable Objectives also apply to demographic subgroups, including economically disadvantaged students. Economically disadvantaged students—whose futures are almost wholly dependent on the ability of their schools to teach them to read—and their achievement levels deserve particular attention.

How well are we teaching our children from low-income families to read?


Can we continue to explain/excuse/blame poverty rates for this failure?


What should we do to acknowledge and address this crisis?

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Austin, TX School District Budget Survey

Austin Independent School District:

Budget Shortfall: The district is facing a budget shortfall of $15M for FY 2010-11 just to cover normal operating expenses. This deficit grows even larger when additional budget increases are considered for new Instructional programming tied to the District's Strategic Plan and employee raises. The district is now contemplating various budget reduction proposals to assist in closing the budget gap for FY 2010-11. The District would like to obtain your input and feedback to the proposals that are currently being considered.

The Efficiency Study: In August 2008, the Board of Trustees commissioned an efficiency study that was conducted in May 2009. The study recommended a number of cost savings proposals to assist the District in making budgetary cuts. The District implemented nearly a quarter of the proposed recommendations from the report. A number of the proposals were rejected due to the severity of impact that would have occurred at local schools. Please click on the link: Budget Survey.

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YC-Funded Lingt Uses Games To Turn You Into A Language Learning Addict

Jason Kincaid:

If there's one thing that 2009 proved, it's that there's nothing like an addictive game to keep people coming back to your service for more. Over the last year, we've seen Foursquare and Gowalla tap into this with their colorful badges, and Zynga is making a killing off games like Farmville. But what if you could turn that habit into something that might actually be helpful to school or your career? That's the premise behind Lingt, a new startup that's looking to leverage gameplay elements to help with the mother of all repetitive tasks: learning a new language.

The Y Combinator funded company is launching today in public beta, offering a suite of matching games to help English speakers learn Chinese. Using the app is quite straightforward. First, you choose a set of words that you need to learn. You can use a one of Lingt's suggested lists, a list of vocabulary words drawn from one of thirty US/Chinese textbooks, or you can manually enter your own words. From there, the site will quiz you on the meaning of the words. You can either input your answers via text, by saying them aloud, or as a matching game (click on one of five choices).

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Students seek clout beyond campuses

Tim Holt:

An earlier generation of college students took on the Vietnam War. Now a new generation is poised to take on the mess in Sacramento.

This Christmas break, students from University of California and state and community college campuses will fan out across the state to collect signatures in support of an initiative that would free the Legislature from its two-thirds vote requirement on budget and revenue matters. Their goal is to collect enough signatures by April 15 to qualify for the November 2010 ballot.

Amid a welter of sit-ins, teach-ins and building takeovers, this is a bold effort to reach beyond the campuses and address the chronic problems of a dysfunctional Legislature and the state's fiscal crisis. If it passes, the California Democracy Act will allow a simple majority in the Legislature to pass a budget and balance it if necessary with new revenue sources.

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School district, Austin Education Association reach contract agreement: no salary increases and no benefit changes for two years

Rachel Drewelow:

Austin Public School (APS) District and the Austin Education Association announced Wednesday that they have reached a contract agreement.

The agreement includes no salary increases and no changes to insurance for the duration of the contract -- the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 years. Approximately 85 percent of association members voted this week. Of voters, 91 percent voted yes to ratify the new contract.>

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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Extending Foster Care Past 18

Daniel Heimpel:

George White, 17, knows what happens to many California kids like him when they age out of the foster-care system. One of White's eight biological siblings recently turned 18. When the payments stopped, his foster parents packed his belongings into plastic trash bags, leaving the teenager homeless while juggling work and classes at an L.A. trade school.

Of the roughly 4,500 18-year-olds who will "emancipate" from care in California every year, one quarter will experience homelessness like White's brother. To drive this statistic home, White has organized a 4K run through Compton and will ride his bike 1,149 miles: each mile representing one California foster youth who will spend time on the street, in a shelter, or couch surfing. "It's not enough having people on Capitol Hill saying they will or want to help you, you have to help yourself," he says in the Compton offices of Peace 4 Kids, an organization that works to provide opportunity for foster kids in a community where services are notoriously lacking.

Last year, Congress authorized giving states matching federal funds to extend foster care until age 21. But the way that law is interpreted could mean that in 27 states, including California and the District of Columbia, 18-year-olds would still be left out in the cold.

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December 26, 2009

Some See Benefits of Mentoring Teachers

Alan Borsuk:

Dion Haith was observing a new teacher and decided to make a chart of what she was doing. When the class was over, he showed it to her. She spotted something right away:

All the questions she asked were directed to girls. It wasn't something she did intentionally. But she did it.

Haith's observations drove home a lesson: You need to draw all your students into what you're doing. That's the kind of lesson Haith is supposed to be teaching as a full-time mentor for young teachers.

But the lessons go well beyond classroom tips. Stephanie Gwin-Matzat said her job requires her to be a bit of a marriage or relationship counselor, a bit of a financial counselor and a bit of a lot of other things. She'll tell the people she works with how to open a credit union account or how to get photocopies done efficiently.

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Cultures clash among classmates at SE Minnesota schools

Elizabeth Baier:

Abdalla Mursal moved his family from Atlanta to southeastern Minnesota a decade ago to raise his four children in an area with good schools and low crime.

"This city is a very peaceful city and everybody who lives here likes it," Mursal said of Rochester. "I like this city."

But in recent months, Mursal and other Somali parents have discovered that their children's schools aren't so tranquil, as Somali youngsters have been in fights with white and African American students.

On Oct. 14, another student teased Mursal's son, Abdirahman, a high school junior, and hit him with a baseball bat at school.

I took a cab some time ago with a Somali Driver in the Western United States. The driver's cell phone featured a 612 area code - surprising outside of Minneapolis. I asked about this and heard a remarkable story of his entire family leaving Somali as refugees and, finally, in the early 1990's receiving asylum in the United States. His large family settled in Mineapolis for more than a decade. We had a fascinating discussion about culture, academics, particularly rigor and assimilation.

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Rural school districts using 4-day weeks to save funds

Tom Weber:

When it rained in northern Minnesota a few weeks ago, water leaked into a room in Blackduck High School where students had stored art projects just a few hours earlier. Every project was damaged.

The school district is considering asking voters to approve higher taxes to raise $500,000 to repair the roof. But Superintendent Bob Doetsch is sure that voters would only agree to pay more if they're convinced the district has done everything possible to save money.

To cut costs, the rural Blackduck, Warroad and Ogilvie school districts decided four months ago to implement a four-day school week as did the MACCRAY district did last year. The four districts say the change hasn't solved their budget woes, but the shorter week helped. That's attracted the attention of school officials elsewhere in Minnesota who are considering the change.

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City Schools' New Criteria for Diversity Raise Fears

Crystal Yednak & Darnell Little:

The Chicago public schools' response to a recent court desegregation ruling -- a plan to use students' social and economic profiles instead of race to achieve classroom diversity -- is raising fears that it will undermine the district's slow and incremental progress on racial diversity.

Chicago schools, like the city itself, are hardly a model of racial integration. But a Chicago News Cooperative analysis of school data shows the district has made modest gains in the magnet, gifted, classical and selective-enrollment schools, where, for nearly 30 years, race has been used as an admission criterion. Those advances may be imperiled in the wake of court rulings that have prompted Chicago Public Schools to look for factors other than race when assigning students to such schools.

Nationwide, court rulings have prompted school districts to seek creative ways to diversify classrooms without using a student's race as a factor. In Chicago, school officials last week moved ahead with their own experiment.

Instead of race as an admissions factor, they now will use socioeconomic data from the student's neighborhood -- income, education levels, single-parent households, owner-occupied homes and the use of language other than English as the primary tongue -- in placing children in selective-enrollment schools.

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You Could Hire This Robot Teacher for $77,000

Kit Eaton:

The robot revolution is indeed on its way: Soon we'll have robovacuums, robot chefs, and now, robots teaching our kids about robots. But it's not a one-way evolution, as humans are becoming little more futuristic too, with the help of a robo-knee.

Japan's Bot for School Kids

The robot pictured above is yet another humanoid robot (that'll be an android, then) joining the ranks currently led by Honda's amazing Asimo. This unnamed machine is based on a design by ZMP and is pretty capable--even has a video-projection system built in. There's a lithium battery to give it some autonomy, and all the gyros and accelerometers to give it a sense of balance as its 21 joints let it amble across the floor. It can speak and hear, and it's WiFi enabled for remote control.

As you can see from the video below, this new robot just isn't quite in the same class as Asimo. Its locomotion is stilted, and it basically hops from foot to foot while walking--Asimo's gait, in comparison, is so very human that it can stroll, jog and even run pretty much exactly as we do. Asimo's sensor array is also smarter, and it has manipulator hands for doing physical tasks.

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'Virtual schools' gain popularity in Duluth

Minnesota Public Radio:

With the radio playing softly in the background and munching on spoonfuls of noodles and cheese, Maria Vespa sat at her family's kitchen counter to take her geography mid-term on a recent afternoon.

The 15-year-old stared intently at her computer screen as test questions popped up. She'd study each for a minute, take another bite of lunch and click on an answer. When she got stumped, she pulled out her notebook.

"That's one of the great things about online school," Maria said. "You get to use your notes when you're taking tests."

Another great thing about online school: instant grades. A few moments after Maria answered the last test question, her score popped up.

"I got a B," she said. "I would have loved an A, but a B is still pretty good."

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Recession? Teenagers Get It, and Are Cutting Back

Stephanie Rosenbloom:

After a year of observing their parents pinch pennies and fret about the economy, the nation's teenagers may be coming to grips with reality.

Sales are down sharply in recent months at nearly every major retail chain catering to teenagers, and interviews with teenagers suggest that the reasons go beyond their own difficulty finding part-time jobs.

"I think my sister and I, throughout this year we've kind of lost an interest in getting gifts and things like that," said Morgan Porpora, 16, who in the past had a list of things she wanted for Christmas. "I guess we've noticed the economy and we just kind of even feel bad I guess asking for a lot."

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Kentucky leads the nation in deaths from child abuse and neglect and at least half the deaths have come after the cases came to the attention of child welfare authorities.

Deborah Yetter:

Nearly 270 Kentucky children died of abuse or neglect during the past decade -- more than half of them in cases where state officials already knew of or suspected problems.

During one recent 12-month period, 41 children died -- the highest rate of any state, according to a recent report by the Every Child Matters Education Fund, a Washington child-advocacy group.

In a six-month review of the problem, The Courier-Journal found that:

-- Child-protection officials, day-care workers, and parents, friends and relatives missed signs of abuse such as suspicious bruising and evidence of previous injury, or were hesitant to act.

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Doyle proposes using possible federal windfall to change how schools are funded

Jason Stein:

Gov. Jim Doyle wants to use a possible federal windfall to change the way schools are funded in Wisconsin a plan that could help struggling schools but cost property taxpayers.

State schools could win up to $250 million in competitive "Race to the Top" stimulus money next year for programs to improve student learning. As that one-time money runs out, Doyle wants to lift state-imposed revenue caps on qualifying schools so they can raise property taxes if needed to keep the programs in place.

Doyle said his administration would provide more details on the plans in the state's application for the federal funds, due Jan. 19.

"Part of Race to the Top (reforms) is how you demonstrate that you can sustain them over time," Doyle said in a year-end interview with the State Journal. "If we can bring these two things together, we can make some really substantial long-term reform."

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December 25, 2009

Schools are a luxury not a right in Nepal

David Pilling:

The children walking along the dusty road, each with a thick stack of textbooks under their arm, are probably an hour away from school. For miles around, there is no sign of anything much: a scattering of stilted houses in the yellowing paddy fields, some buffalo trudging through a road-side ditch, a bridge over the trickle of a river.

In western Nepal, as in much of the country, indeed as in many rural areas in the developing world, schools are a luxury, not a right. In these parts, a 90-minute walk to school is an unremarkable fact of life. Among the children making this daily pilgrimage are girls sponsored by Room to Read, an educational charity that the Financial Times is supporting in this year's seasonal appeal.

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How teacher pay should work

Tom Vander Ark:

Kim Marshall's December 16 EdWeek commentary attempts to "demolish the argument for individual merit pay." He makes good points that suggest that individual bonuses based solely on value-added test scores are not a good idea. He suggests, instead, team-based bonuses and more pay for master teachers.

There's an alternative in between that most big organizations and it works like this:

  • In collaboration with peers and a manager, a Personal Performance Plan, sets out objectives for the year. For a teacher these objectives may include several objective assessments, but would also include team contributions, and a personal growth plan.
  • A pool for merit increases is set based on the financial health of the organization and cost of living (let's assume an annual target of 2.5%)
  • Quarterly conversations about performance are summarized in a year end document.
  • Merit increases would range from 0% for teachers that accomplished few objectives and 5% for teachers that exceeded expectations.

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Gov. Patrick talks education reform at charter school in Norwell

Dana Forsythe:

Norwell had an important visitor this past week.

Bay State Gov. Deval Patrick stopped by the South Shore Charter Public School on Friday (Dec. 18), where he held an on-location cabinet meeting and used the opportunity to talk up his education reform bill.

Patrick and his cabinet met with the students and staff at the charter school and talked with Pru Goodale, the school's executive director, about the school's initiatives to diversify education through various programs.

"The South Shore Charter School is helping students thrive and opening up worlds of opportunity for them," Patrick said. "All children deserve the same chance at a world-class education and that's what our reform package will give them."

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To Deal With Obsession, Some Defriend Facebook

Katie Hafner:

Facebook, the popular networking site, has 350 million members worldwide who, collectively, spend 10 billion minutes there every day, checking in with friends, writing on people's electronic walls, clicking through photos and generally keeping pace with the drift of their social world.

Make that 9.9 billion and change. Recently, Halley Lamberson, 17, and Monica Reed, 16, juniors at San Francisco University High School, made a pact to help each other resist the lure of the login. Their status might as well now read, "I can't be bothered."

"We decided we spent way too much time obsessing over Facebook and it would be better if we took a break from it," Halley said.

By mutual agreement, the two friends now allow themselves to log on to Facebook on the first Saturday of every month -- and only on that day.

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Alderman Jim Bohl's MPS Compromise

The Milwaukee Drum:

With competing plans for governing the Milwaukee Public Schools now petering out in Madison, I'm suggesting a modest compromise that gives each side something it wants.

First, give the Mayor of Milwaukee the ability to appoint the MPS Superintendent. The superintendent would be confirmed by the Common Council, and after confirmation, would serve at the pleasure of the mayor.

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Living with their choices Teenage sisters sought freedom in pregnancy, but one found confinement

NC Aizenman:

When the Marquez sisters set out to get pregnant, Edelmira was 14 and Angela was 15.

Having babies, the girls thought, would force their Salvadoran-born parents to stop trying to keep them and their teenage boyfriends apart.

Edelmira was the first to succeed, giving birth to a baby girl in the eighth grade. She regretted it almost immediately, and warned her sister not to get pregnant.

Angela, whose round, brown eyes and shy smile are so similar to Edelmira's they could almost be twins, stayed quiet.

"I didn't want her to know I was still trying," Angela recalls, sheepishly. "When I used to see my sister play with her baby, I was like, 'She's so cute; I want my own.' "

Related: Between Two Worlds: How Young Latinos Come of Age in America.

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December 24, 2009

4k-8 study Monona Grove School District Report

Peter Sobol:

At last nights board meeting former Winnequah Principal Patty McGuinness presented the results of the 4k-8 study commissioned by the board last summer. The report detailed the costs of implementing 4k-8 grade configurations in each community. The proposed configuration would require significant changes to Winnequah school to accomodate programming for Monona 3-8th grade students and some changes to Glacial Drumlin to shift CG 4th graders into the building.

The report (I'll link it here when it is up on the district website) was very thorough, and I found it a useful exercise to see all the costs and factors that go into making a school laid out in one place. It is worth a read on that basis. One issue identified from the study was that the scheduling wouldn't work with the current encore staff and additional staffing would be required. These additional requirements hadn't been worked out, but they would add to the costs included the study.

Complete Report: 5MB PDF.

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Human Identity

The Economist:

WITH the construction of the railways in the 19th century, a new sociological phenomenon was born: the travelling criminal. Until then, police had relied on local communities to recognise a bad apple in their midst, but now the felons were on the move, wreaking havoc in communities which had no knowledge of their past and hence no reason to be wary. For law enforcers trying to contain the problem by sharing descriptions of known recidivists, it became imperative to answer one question: what is it that identifies someone as a particular person?

This question has long troubled humanity, of course, and it is explored in all its facets in a new exhibition at the Wellcome Collection in London. One practical application lies in the forensic arena. The first solution offered, branding, was simple and effective. But even in a society that preferred to believe that criminals were born and not made, this was soon deemed unacceptable. So there was a need to find something innate to human beings that remains constant from the cradle to the grave, and that is sufficiently differentiated in the population to make it useful in identifying individuals.

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New Programs Aim to Lure Young Into Digital Jobs

Steve Lohr:

Growing up in the '70s, John Halamka was a bookish child with a penchant for science and electronics. He wore black horn-rimmed glasses and buttoned his shirts up to the collar.

"I was constantly being called a geek or a nerd," he recalled, chuckling.

Dr. Halamka grew up to be something of a cool nerd, with a career that combines his deep interests in medicine and computing, and downtime that involves rock climbing and kayaking.

Now 47, Dr. Halamka is the chief information officer at the Harvard Medical School, a practicing emergency-ward physician and an adviser to the Obama administration on electronic health records.

Hybrid careers like Dr. Halamka's that combine computing with other fields will increasingly be the new American jobs of the future, labor experts say. In other words, the nation's economy is going to need more cool nerds. But not enough young people are embracing computing -- often because they are leery of being branded nerds.

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20 Hilarious School Exam Answers

Speedy Wap:

The following questions were set in last year's GCSE examination in England.

These are genuine answers from 16 year olds, not very bright, but entertaining, 16 year olds.

Q. Explain one of the processes by which water can be made safe to drink
A. Flirtation makes water safe to drink because it removes large pollutants like grit, sand, dead sheep and canoeists

Q. How is dew formed
A. The sun shines down on the leaves and makes them perspire

Q. What causes the tides in the oceans
A. The tides are a fight between the earth and the moon. All water tends to flow towards the moon, because there is no water on the moon, and nature abhors a vacuum. I forget where the sun joins the fight

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Child care quality studied Better early education would benefit region, but at double the cost

Erin Richards:

Southeastern Wisconsin could benefit economically by increasing the quality of early childhood education centers, but doing so presents a daunting tradeoff: more than doubling the expense of caring for infants and young children up to age 5.

A three-year study by Public Policy Forum researchers released Tuesday found that a system of high-quality early childhood education programs would cost about $11,500 per child, per year.

In the current system, child care providers are estimated to spend about $5,625 per child annually.

The new report relies on research showing a correlation between high-quality early learning experiences and higher rates of achievement in school, especially for disadvantaged children.

The analysis for policy-makers includes the economic pros and cons of maintaining the status quo, funding a variety of mid-level improvements and implementing a high-quality system of early childhood education across southeastern Wisconsin, said Anneliese Dickman, research director at the Public Policy Forum.

Complete 1MB PDF Report.

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Senator seeks 'strict testing' for meat sent to schools

Blake Morrison & Peter Eisler:

A senator on the committee overseeing the National School Lunch Program called Monday for the government to raise its standards for meat sent to schools across the nation.
In a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., urged "a strict testing program" for ground beef similar to those "used by industry leaders such as Jack in the Box and Costco."

Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture already sets special inspection and testing requirements for the meat it sends to schools, a USA TODAY investigation this month found that those requirements lag those set by many fast food restaurants and grocery chains.

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December 23, 2009

Rotherham: Detroit schools are on a slow reform path

Andrew Rotherham:

Call it the soft bigotry of low expectations. As pressure increases on teachers unions to mend their ways and become better partners in school reform, the bar for what constitutes meaningful change seems to be getting lower.

In October, the New Haven (Conn.) Federation of Teachers agreed to a new labor agreement that was hailed by both American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as a breakthrough and national model. Yet the contract was actually a set of promises and processes to potentially undertake reforms after more discussion and mutual agreement.

Maybe the union was playing for time to make more reform-oriented deals away from the crucible of a labor negotiation. Critics were not buying it and argued the entire thing was a ploy. We'll know who was right by next summer.

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Beverly Hills Schools to Cut Nonresidents

Jennifer Steinhauer:

Daniel Kahn has never lived in this city, but he has attended its legendary public schools since the fourth grade. Now in eighth grade, he is vice president of the student council, plays in two school bands and is an A student who has been preparing to tread in his sister's footsteps at Beverly Hills High School.

But Daniel will almost certainly be looking for a new place to hang his backpack next fall. The school board here intends to do away with hundreds of slots reserved for nonresident children, most of whom live in nearby neighborhoods of Los Angeles where the homes are nice but the city's public school system is deeply distressed.

The students used to be a financial boon for Beverly Hills, bringing millions of dollars in state aid with them. But California's budget crisis is changing the way schools are financed in many wealthy cities, suddenly turning the out-of-towners into money losers.

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The Tyranny of the Explicit

Johnnie Moore's:

Bob Sutton has an interesting post linking to this New York Times story: After Bankruptcy, G.M. Struggles to Shed a Legendary Bureaucracy. A manager relates how the company's legendary bureaucracy is being cut down to size: his massively extensive performance review has been cut down to a single page. I liked his explanation for this:

We measured ourselves ten ways from Sunday. But as soon as everything is important, nothing is important.

My feeling is that what appears to be happening at GM needs to happen in a lot more places. It often seems to me that everytime we experience a crisis, the solution is to write more rules. A child dies due to failings in care, and more forms have to be filled in. In absurd extremes, a council bans parents from entering a play area as they've not had a criminal records bureau check.

Alongside this is a creeping extension of the need for academic qualifications, the ability to write clever essays. Social workers will have their initial training extended to four years; nurses will have to get a degree level qualification in future. Soon, psychotherapists will have to get a masters degree in order to practice.

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High School's Last Test: Ratcheting Up Accountability in Grade 13

JB Schramm E. Kinney Zalesne:

But the real revolution, tucked away in the Race to the Top guidelines released by the Department of Education last month, is that high school has a new mission. No longer is it enough just to graduate students, or even prepare them for college. Schools must now show how they increase both college enrollment and the number of students who complete at least a year of college. In other words, high schools must now focus on grade 13.

To be sure, this shift is long overdue. It has been a generation since a high school diploma was a ticket to success. Today, the difference in earning power between a high school graduate and someone who's finished eighth grade has shrunk to nil. And students themselves know, better even than their parents or teachers, according to a recent poll conducted by Deloitte, that the main mission of high school is preparation for college.

Still, this shift will be seismic for our nation's high schools, because it will require gathering a great deal of information, and using it. And at the moment, high school principals know virtually nothing about what becomes of their graduates. Most don't even know whether their students make it to college at all.

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Accept Defeat: The Neuroscience of Screwing Up

Jonah Lehrer:

It all started with the sound of static. In May 1964, two astronomers at Bell Labs, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, were using a radio telescope in suburban New Jersey to search the far reaches of space. Their aim was to make a detailed survey of radiation in the Milky Way, which would allow them to map those vast tracts of the universe devoid of bright stars. This meant that Penzias and Wilson needed a receiver that was exquisitely sensitive, able to eavesdrop on all the emptiness. And so they had retrofitted an old radio telescope, installing amplifiers and a calibration system to make the signals coming from space just a little bit louder.

But they made the scope too sensitive. Whenever Penzias and Wilson aimed their dish at the sky, they picked up a persistent background noise, a static that interfered with all of their observations. It was an incredibly annoying technical problem, like listening to a radio station that keeps cutting out.

At first, they assumed the noise was man-made, an emanation from nearby New York City. But when they pointed their telescope straight at Manhattan, the static didn't increase. Another possibility was that the sound was due to fallout from recent nuclear bomb tests in the upper atmosphere. But that didn't make sense either, since the level of interference remained constant, even as the fallout dissipated. And then there were the pigeons: A pair of birds were roosting in the narrow part of the receiver, leaving a trail of what they later described as "white dielectric material." The scientists evicted the pigeons and scrubbed away their mess, but the static remained, as loud as ever.

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Pittsburgh Mayor Strikes a Deal to Abandon Tuition Tax

Ian Urbina:

In what he described as a "leap of faith," Mayor Luke Ravenstahl of Pittsburgh agreed on Monday to shelve his plans for the nation's first tax on college tuition in exchange for an increase in voluntary contributions from local colleges and universities to the city.

City officials said the mayor also had a promise from university officials to help lobby state lawmakers in Harrisburg for changes to enable the city to raise certain taxes and fees.

"This is a leap of faith for us all; the future of our city and of our citizens is riding on it," Mr. Ravenstahl said. "But it is a leap of faith that, if successful, will result in the revenue, $15 million annually, that Pittsburgh needs to solve our legacy cost problem."

City and university officials declined to offer details about the commitment, but at a joint news conference on Monday morning, officials from the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University said they had pledged to make larger voluntary donations to the city than they did from 2005 to 2007. In addition, some local corporations, including the insurer Highmark, are contributing additional money.

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With Scant Jobs, Grads Make Their Own

Toddi Gutner:

Andrew Levine knew he wouldn't find a job in investment banking when he graduated with an M.B.A. from the University of Miami in 2008. Wall Street was in the midst of a financial collapse. So instead the 24-year-old focused his efforts on launching a start-up. "I figured that starting my own company was the best use of my time while I waited for the market to thaw," says Mr. Levine.

Faced with an unemployment rate of 16% for 20- to 24-year-olds, a growing number of recent college and grad-school graduates are launching their own companies, according to anecdotal evidence from colleges, universities and entrepreneurship programs around the U.S.

For his part, Mr. Levine built upon a business plan for a niche social-networking company he had created for an entrepreneurship class the prior year. He showed the plan to the father of a college friend who was an angel investor and got $40,000 in seed money in exchange for an equity stake in the business.

Armed with start-up cash, Mr. Levine created, an online social-networking site for musicians and their followers. It serves as a forum for the independent music community--both fans and musicians--to discover and promote new music. The site is in beta testing now with a launch expected in January.

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2009 Casey Medal Winner, Magazine: "Growing Up Bipolar" (Q&A)

Michelle Parks & Mary Carmichael:

How did you conceive the idea for the project?

At first, my editors and I were interested in childhood bipolar disorder simply because it's a controversial topic -- there's a lot of debate about how the disorder should be diagnosed and whether it even exists in kids. But then I found that most of what had already been written was focused on either the academic side of the controversy -- [such as] what is the definition of pediatric bipolar disorder -- or the dangers of medicating kids. There weren't many vivid descriptions of the actual experience of being, or raising, a child with the diagnosis. So I decided I wanted to bridge that gap -- to show as well as tell, to force the reader to think through the difficult decisions that parents have to make instead of just saying "parents of these kids have to make tough decisions."

I thought the best way to do it would be to zoom in on one family, to give the reader someone with whom to identify. I knew the Blakes were the right family when Amy [Max's mother] said to me in our first interview that "no one understands how it feels" to raise a child like Max -- after all, the whole purpose of the project was to show people how that feels.

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December 22, 2009

In many area school districts, a need for painful financial cuts

Gayle Worland:

When the Stoughton Area School District shuttered its Yahara Elementary School last June because of declining enrollments, shrinking funds and a failed school referendum in 2005-06, the total $1 million cost savings was meant to help balance the district's books into the next decade.

But despite that move, plus 68 staff layoffs and reduced bus routes in recent years, the district now faces another gap -- of $3 million over the next three years -- and the school board is considering taking a referendum to voters in April.

"The sense was that we would be okay for the 2010-11 school year," former Yahara principal Cheryl Price, now principal of the new Sandhill Elementary School, said of Yahara's closing. "They knew that this was one fix. But we thought we had a couple of years" without having to make more drastic cuts.

Those cuts could range from more staff reductions, increasing class sizes, raising athletic fees and eliminating talented and gifted programming.

Related: K-12 Tax & Spending Climate.

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The Gift of Learning

Ellie Schatz, via a kind reader's email:

What better gift to give that special child than the message that learning is cool. Most children really think that naturally as they begin to explore their world by walking, talking, and gaining new skills at a rapid rate as toddlers and preschoolers. A cartoon in the Dec. 14 "The New Yorker" shows two little kids in a sandbox. The older one says to the younger one: "It's all learning-is-fun and invented spelling, and then-bam!- second grade."

What's wrong with second grade? As a teacher, consultant, longtime educational specialist, it is sad to often see fewer smiles and sparkling eyes with each advancing grade of school. Rather than continuing to believe that learning is fun, cool, an ultimate aim, too many children dumb down, hide their talents, and proceed in a lock-step method of learning that doesn't fit them and holds little appeal. It doesn't have to be that way.

Schatz founded WCATY and has written a new book: Grandma Says It's Good to Be Smart.

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Reading Recovery: Effectiveness & Program Description

US Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, via a kind reader's email:

No studies of Reading Recovery® that fall within the scope of the English Language Learners (ELL) review protocol meet What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) evidence standards. The lack of studies meeting WWC evidence standards means that, at this time, the WWC is unable to draw any conclusions based on research about the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of Reading Recovery® on ELL.

Reading Recovery® is a short-term tutoring intervention designed to serve the lowest-achieving (bottom 20%) first-grade students. The goals of Reading Recovery® include: promoting literacy skills; reducing the number of first-grade students who are struggling to read; and preventing long-term reading difficulties. Reading Recovery® supplements classroom teaching with one-to-one tutoring sessions, generally conducted as pull-out sessions during the school day. The tutoring, which is conducted by trained Reading Recovery® teachers, takes place for 30 minutes a day over a period of 12 to 20 weeks.

Related: 60% to 42%: Madison School District's Reading Recovery Effectiveness Lags "National Average": Administration seeks to continue its use.

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Studying Young Minds, and How to Teach Them

Benedict Carey:

Many 4-year-olds cannot count up to their own age when they arrive at preschool, and those at the Stanley M. Makowski Early Childhood Center are hardly prodigies. Most live in this city's poorer districts and begin their academic life well behind the curve.

But there they were on a recent Wednesday morning, three months into the school year, counting up to seven and higher, even doing some elementary addition and subtraction. At recess, one boy, Joshua, used a pointer to illustrate a math concept known as cardinality, by completing place settings on a whiteboard.

"You just put one plate there, and one there, and one here," he explained, stepping aside as two other students ambled by, one wearing a pair of clown pants as a headscarf. "That's it. See?"

For much of the last century, educators and many scientists believed that children could not learn math at all before the age of five, that their brains simply were not ready.

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Teachers Defying Gravity to Gain Students' Interest

Kenneth Chang:

Before showing a video to the 11th and 12th graders in his physics class, Glenn Coutoure, a teacher at Norwalk High School, warned them that his mouth would be hanging open, in childlike wonderment, almost the whole time.

Mr. Coutoure then started the DVD, showing him and other science teachers floating in an airplane during a flight in September. By flying up and down like a giant roller coaster along parabolic paths, the plane simulated the reduced gravity of the Moon and Mars and then weightlessness in 30-second chunks.

The teachers performed a series of experiments and playful stunts, like doing push-ups with others sitting on their backs and catching in their mouths M & M's that flew in straight lines, that they hoped would help them better explain to their students the laws of motion that Sir Isaac Newton deduced centuries ago.

"You see the ball just hangs there," Mr. Coutoure said.

"That's hot," a student interjected.

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Arbitrator issues pay proposals for Calvert teachers

Christy Goodman:

An arbitrator recently released recommendations to help end an impasse over the current school year's contract between the Calvert County Board of Education and the teachers union.

At issue are the terms of the third year of the teachers' three-year contract. The board suggests a 0.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment, but the Calvert Education Association wants a 4.5 percent increase.

M. David Vaughn of the American Arbitration Association met with a member of the board and the union and recommended that the teachers receive a one-time payment of 1 percent of salary and that a sick leave bank be established.

The board and the teachers are working under the assumptions that all step increases would remain, and a 1.1 percent lump sum increase was included for employees at the highest tiers of the pay scale.

Locally: 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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December 21, 2009

AP Juggernaut

NYT: Room for Debate

Advanced Placement classes, once open to only a very small number of top high school students around the country, have grown enormously in the past decade. The number of students taking these courses rose by nearly 50 percent to 1.6 million from 2004 to 2009. Yet in a survey of A.P. teachers released this year, more than half said that "too many students overestimate their abilities and are in over their heads." Some 60 percent said that "parents push their children into A.P. classes when they really don't belong there."

Does the growth in Advanced Placement courses serve students or schools well? Are there downsides to pushing many more students into taking these rigorous courses?

Kristin Klopfenstein, economist
Trevor Packer, College Board
Patrick Welsh, high school teacher
Philip M. Sadler, Harvard-Smithsonian Center of Astrophysics
David Wakelyn, National Governors Association
Saul Geiser, Center for Studies in Higher Education

"The original point of the A.P. program was to make college-level study possible for advanced high school students.... But now, the A.P. program has been transformed to serve many more purposes.... The new uses of A.P. are not benign..."

"Advanced placement courses and exams are appropriate choices for students who have developed the knowledge and skills to study at the college level in high school. Of course, advanced placement is not a silver bullet if a district or school merely parachutes an A.P. course into a low-performing school without having fostered academic rigor in the grades prior to the A.P.... [T]eachers are right to insist on adequate student preparation for advanced placement work. But studies have indicated that teachers' preconceived notions of student potential are often at odds with student capability...."

"The original purpose of the Advanced Placement program was a noble one.... In the last 10 years, Advanced Placement has become a game of labels and numbers, a public relations ploy used by school officials who are dumping as many students as they can into A.P. courses to create the illusion that they are raising overall standards.... [T]he College Board is shamelessly pressuring public schools by creating the impression that A.P. courses are the only ones worth taking..."

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Homework-tracking Web sites won't work without teacher input

Jay Matthews:

My former Post colleague Tracy Thompson has two daughters in a Washington area school district. I promised not to say which one. It doesn't matter, because the issue she raises involves all high-tech schools, of which we have many.

People aren't using the new Web features designed to help families. Is it because parents like me are technophobes? Not entirely. The reluctant participants who concern Thompson are teachers.

Both of Thompson's kids have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. They have trouble getting their work done. Her school district, like several in the area, has Web sites on which parents can see their children's assignments. That way, they cannot be fooled by sly evasions when they ask their children, sitting in front of the TV, whether they have any homework.

Thompson was delighted to discover the Web homework schedules when her older daughter was a sixth-grader. Disappointment followed, she said, when "I found out only about half of her teachers used it. Some teachers were weeks behind in updating the info. My older daughter is off to high school next year and has matured amazingly over the past three years, so I don't have to worry that much about her stuff anymore. But now my younger daughter is in third grade, and I am in my second year of trying to get her teachers to use the Web."

Related Infinite Campus and the Madison School District. Read the Middle School Report Card Report, which includes information on the District's use of Infinite Campus.

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The Advanced Placement Juggernaut

Room for Debate:

Advanced Placement classes, once open to only a very small number of top high school students around the country, have grown enormously in the past decade. The number of students taking these courses rose by nearly 50 percent to 1.6 million from 2004 to 2009. Yet in a survey of A.P. teachers released this year, more than half said that "too many students overestimate their abilities and are in over their heads." Some 60 percent said that "parents push their children into A.P. classes when they really don't belong there."

Does the growth in Advanced Placement courses serve students or schools well? Are there downsides to pushing many more students into taking these rigorous courses?

Kristin Klopfenstein, economist
Trevor Packer, College Board
Patrick Welsh, high school teacher
Philip M. Sadler, Harvard-Smithsonian Center of Astrophysics
David Wakelyn, National Governors Association
Saul Geiser, Center for Studies in Higher Education

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Redefining Definition

Erin McKean:

If anything is guaranteed to annoy a lexicographer, it is the journalistic habit of starting a story with a dictionary definition. "According to Webster's," begins a piece, blithely, and the lexicographer shudders, because she knows that a dictionary is about to be invoked as an incontrovertible authority. Although we may profess to believe, as the linguist Dwight Bolinger once put it, that dictionaries "do not exist to define but to help people grasp meanings," we don't often act on that belief. Typically we treat a definition as the final arbiter of meaning, a scientific pronouncement of a word's essence.

But the traditional dictionary definition, although it bears all the trappings of authority, is in fact a highly stylized, overly compressed and often tentative stab at capturing the consensus on what a particular word "means." A good dictionary derives its reputation from careful analysis of examples of words in use, in the form of sentences, also called citations. The lexicographer looks at as many citations for each word as she can find (or, more likely, can review in the time allotted) and then creates what is, in effect, a dense abstract, collapsing into a few general statements all the ways in which the word behaves. A definition is as convention-bound as a sonnet and usually more compact. Writing one is considered, at least by anyone who has ever tried it, something of an art.

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Race to the Top: View from Monona Grove

Peter Sobol:

The district received an initial solicitation from the state DPI regarding "Race to the top" funds. The race to the top funds will be divided into two parts, with half of the funds going to districts that agree to implement programs in 5 areas outlined in the memorandum:

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Michigan urban school districts get most stimulus help


As Michigan school districts fight to cope with state cuts, urban districts have a fallback their suburban and rural counterparts are less likely to get: direct grants from the federal stimulus package.

Schools in low-income areas such as Detroit, Grand Rapids and Flint are getting direct grants from the Recovery Act that easily exceed the cuts of at least $165 per student districts will lose in state aid this fiscal year.

Wealthier suburban districts are getting far less direct help from the stimulus package. That leaves them with fewer sources to tap to avoid teacher layoffs and program cuts that some districts could see starting in January.

Detroit schools are "aggressively pursuing" the Recovery Act cash, spokesman Steven Wasko said. The district expects to receive roughly $800 million over more than two years from all sources of the broad program, including money that could help the district reduce class sizes and build or remodel schools.

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DPS union must partner in school reform

Rochelle Riley:

Enough talk about a teacher's strike.

Enough talk about recalling Detroit Federation of Teachers president Keith Johnson, the first president the union has had in a long time who is dealing with the reality of a broke district and broken economy.

In the wake of the DFT ratifying its contract with the district, a minority of unhappy teachers has called for Johnson's head.

To that vocal minority, let me say two things:

$219 million.

84,000 children.

The first is the school district's deficit. The second is the number of children who should be at the forefront of all of our thoughts and efforts.

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Hair incident besmirches MPS

Eugene Kane:

The facts of the braid-cutting case are not in dispute.

A Milwaukee Public Schools teacher was so upset with the behavior of a 7-year-old first-grader, she decided as punishment to cut off a section of her braided hair in front of a classroom of stunned students.

When she was done, she threw the piece of braided hair in a trash can and dared the girl to go home and tell her mother.

The child did just that.

The student's mother complained to school authorities that her daughter had been humiliated, confused and hurt by the teacher's actions. In response, the teacher was reported to authorities and she received a $175 ticket for disorderly conduct.

The girl was transferred to another classroom while the teacher faces a disciplinary hearing.

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Finally some sense about 21st century skills--part three, the Wagner dialogue

Jay Matthews:

As promised, to end this series on adjusting schools to the new economy, I had an email chat with Tony Wagner, co-director of the Change Leadership Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and author of "The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don't Teach The New Survival Skills Our Children Need--and What We Can Do About It." We limited ourselves to no more than 100 words per response, to keep it moving. Here goes:

Mathews: I loved your book, as you saw in my review last week. It is the best book ever written about the 21st century skills movement. But why were you so hard on Advanced Placement? There are many AP teachers who think the program is terrific for the typical schools where they work (you focused on some of the tiny upper crust schools that are a different issue) and who are trying to do everything you and I want them to do. Why not see AP (and IB, which is pretty near exactly what you want) as a great platform for change rather than the enemy?

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: New school, old funding problems

Alan Borsuk:

Conrad Farner is like a guy with a beautiful home and an ugly checkbook.

It's impossible to escape the irony as the superintendent of Greenfield schools conducts a tour of the community's high school, where the finishing touches are being put on a $48.5 million overhaul that has turned a building that was literally sinking into the ground and, in serious ways, falling apart, into a showcase.

Handsome classrooms, a spacious gym, great theater, terrific swimming pool, a set of new athletic fields. It's an impressive setting for the 1,200 students (22% of them not from Greenfield, by the way). Only a few parts of the old high school were kept while the new structure was built around it.

But the subject of our conversation is Farner's strong warnings that the actual work of education in Greenfield schools is being cut, year by year, in ways that are taking a serious toll.

And, he argues, unless something changes quickly in the way Wisconsin funds schools, Greenfield - along with numerous districts across the state - will reach a point where it will simply not be able to pay its bills or will have to go back to voters seeking operating money beyond the state-set limits.

The district budget this year "is not even close to what our students need," he said in a presentation to the Greenfield School Board before the budget was adopted. He has a list of 122 positions or services that have been eliminated or reduced since 2002-'03.

Some of them are pretty minor. Some of them are matters of doing business smarter and more efficiently. But some of them affect kids in ways that really matter - fewer teaching specialists, fewer counselors, fewer extra-curricular activities. The ratio of students to teachers has risen in Greenfield from 13.8 in 2004-'05 to 15.9 this year, a sizable jump.

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December 20, 2009

Progressive Dane Endorses Beth Moss for Madison School Board

Progressive Dane:

At the December 16, 2009 general membership meeting, Madison Board of Education Member Beth Moss and County Board Supervisors John Hendrick, Al Matano, Kyle Richmond and Barbara Vedder were enthusiastically endorsed for re-election.

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Madison grads say the district prepared them well

Susan Troller:

As college students finish up their first semester, it's not just time to take a break, it's also time to look at grades and study how well their college career is going. But it's not just an individual assessment -- it's also an assessment of how well their K-12 schooling prepared them to compete in the world beyond high school.

According to Madison School Board member Ed Hughes, information from students is one of the most important ways to test how effective schools or school districts are serving their communities.

"Probably the best single source of information about how well we're doing comes from students themselves, and how well-prepared they feel when they go out into the world," says Hughes, a board member since 2008 as well as an attorney and a parent.

Earlier this year, Hughes -- who has a daughter who is a senior at East High School and a son in college -- did an informal survey of students who had graduated from the Madison Metropolitan School District and were now either in college, graduate school or the work force. The 143 respondents ranged from the graduating classes of 1999 through 2008; most had graduated from Madison schools within the last five years.

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"A Throwback" Review keeps light shining on high school scholars

Adam Sell:

The Concord Review is a one-man outfit run from a cluttered office on Route 20 in Sudbury.

Back issues of the academic journal featuring research by high school history students sit in stacks, and editor Will Fitzhugh keeps his computer in the corner so he can leave even more room for books.

Fitzhugh, 73, has been running the quarterly publication for 22 years in an effort to keep old-fashioned term papers alive and well. He thinks scholarly research at the high school level has declined, and students are arriving at college unprepared.

"I think we're doing the majority of public high school students a disservice,'' said Fitzhugh. "They get to college and are assigned these nonfiction books and term papers, and they flame out. The equivalent is sending kids to college math classes with only fractions and decimals.''

Yet Fitzhugh, who started the journal while on sabbatical from his teaching job in Concord (hence the name), can't find anybody to take over when he retires. He took no salary from the journal for 14 years, and even now averages only $10,000 a year.

"It's going to be really hard, there's no job security. But most people don't want to work for nothing, and they don't want to leave the classroom,'' Fitzhugh said. "I don't know how long I can keep going.''

Despite a perpetual lack of funding for his project--Fitzhugh said he's been turned down by 154 foundations--The Concord Review has persevered.

The number of subscribers has grown to more than 1,400, and its printing runs every three months range from 2,500 to 4,000 copies. Filling each issue are 11 articles that Fitzhugh picks from more than 200 submissions.

Papers come in from all over the world; the most recent issue features one from the American School of Antananarivo in Madagascar. Of the other 10 articles, seven were from students in private schools, which Fitzhugh said is roughly the average proportion.

And these are no simple book reports the students are writing. This issue includes papers titled "Rise and Fall of Cahokia,'' "Andersonville Prison,'' "Arquebus in Japan,'' and "Civil War Medicine.''

"Obviously it's been difficult in some ways, but I've been inspired by the work of the kids,'' Fitzhugh said.

One of those is Jonathan Weinstein. When he started writing a research paper for his Asian studies class at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School, Weinstein said, he expected it to come out around 10 pages, roughly the assigned length. But as he kept digging into information on HIV/AIDS in China, his paper grew.

"As I got into the topic, there wasn't any way to do a proper analysis without making it around 34 pages,'' Weinstein said. He started looking toward other avenues of publication, and settled on The Concord Review.

Sandra Crawford, Weinstein's teacher at Lincoln-Sudbury, hopes the recognition he got for his report might drive other students to attempt the same.

"I know it's made me think about when I have students do excellent papers, how can I bring those to a wider audience?'' Crawford said.

Though public schools contribute fewer of the papers Fitzhugh publishes, The Concord Review has a fan in Robert Furey, head of the history department at Concord-Carlisle Regional High School.

"It's an extraordinary opportunity for kids to have their work viewed by a wider audience,'' said Furey. "I think there needs to be a Concord Review to give the most serious history students the chance to have their work read.''

But not all teachers are sold. Todd Whitten, who teaches Advanced Placement courses at Burlington High School and was formerly a department head at Beaver Country Day School in Brookline, says the standards that The Concord Review sets are a throwback to a different era of teaching history.

"I think it's feeling more and more anachronistic,'' Whitten said. Term papers "are the way college works, it's a format that needs to be taught, but anecdotally, it's been taken over by English departments.''

Whitten said from his perspective, history and social studies departments aren't having students write Fitzhugh's style of paper anymore. "The focus is on being generalists, not specialists. You're trying to cover the surface of a lot of stuff,'' Whitten said.

For Fitzhugh, it boils down to showing that high school students are capable of outstanding academic work. The Concord Review is just one facet of his Varsity Academics initiative. If he can help inspire students to strive beyond their own expectations, even if The Concord Review folds, he will have done his job, Fitzhugh said.

"Athletics are performed publicly. Good academics are a secret.''

© Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company
© Copyright 2009 Globe Newspaper Company.


"Teach by Example"
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
Consortium for Varsity Academics® [2007]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007;
Varsity Academics®

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'Duplicitous and Shameful' Democrats vote to send poor kids to inferior schools.

Wall Street Journal:

The waiting is finally over for some of the District of Columbia's most ambitious school children and their parents. Democrats in Congress voted to kill the District's Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides 1,700 disadvantaged kids with vouchers worth up to $7,500 per year to attend a private school.

On Sunday the Senate approved a spending bill that phases out funding for the five-year-old program. Several prominent Senators this week sent a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid pleading for a reconsideration. Signed by Independent-Democrat Joe Lieberman, Democrats Robert Byrd and Dianne Feinstein, and Republicans Susan Collins and John Ensign, it asked to save a program that has "provided a lifeline to many low-income students in the District of Columbia." President Obama signed the bill Thursday.

The program's popularity has generated long waiting lists. A federal evaluation earlier this year said the mostly black and Hispanic participants are making significant academic gains and narrowing the achievement gap. But for the teachers unions, this just can't happen. The National Education Association instructed Democratic lawmakers to kill it.

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Are we dumbing down 9th grade physics?

Jay Matthews:

I am keeping my weekly Extra Credit column alive on this blog with occasional answers to reader questions, the format of that column I did for many years in the Extras before they died. This teacher, Michael Feinberg (no relation to the co-founder of the KIPP schools with the same name), sent me a copy of an intriguing letter about physics he sent to the Montgomery County school superintendent, and agreed to let me get an answer and use it here.

Dear Dr. Weast:

I am a retired MCPS teacher; I taught Physics at both Kennedy H.S. and Whitman H.S. until the time that I retired in 2005. After retirement I have, on occasion, tutored Physics students.

When the 9th grade Physics curriculum was introduced I opposed it on the grounds that Physics should be taught at a higher mathematical level. While tutoring students in both grades 9 and 11/12 I see that this is true; students in 11th grade learn rigorous Physics with mathematical applications while students in 9th grade usually do descriptive worksheets. I believe that it unfair that students in 9 th grade receive the same honors credit for what is promoted as the same curriculum but is not the same.

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Detroit Public Schools' teachers move to oust union president

Gina Damron & Chastity Pratt Dawsey:

On the heels of the Detroit Federation of Teachers approving a contract agreement with Detroit Public Schools, an effort to oust the union president is heating up.

Union members said Saturday they've nearly collected the 1,000 signatures needed to force a re-vote on Keith Johnson -- a driving force behind the new contract, which requires most union members to defer $10,000 in pay and calls for wide-ranging school reforms.

"We're not going to accept this," Heather Miller, a math teacher at Marquette Elementary School, said Saturday, adding that a grievance has been filed over the voting process, including alleged flawed voter rosters and what those who filed the grievance consider wrongly placing information on the ballot about the dangers of a no vote. She said a hearing date on the grievance has not yet been set.

"This is about the future of Detroit; the future of our school district," she said.

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Stones Into Schools

Greg Mortenson via Jay Matthews:

Greg Mortenson's first book, "Three Cups of Tea," was a gravity-defying, wide-screen, wilderness adventure. It began with the author's failed attempt to climb the world's second-highest mountain. It included a daring rescue, a bonding with an alien tribe in a tiny cliffside village and his establishment of several dozen schools in Taliban territory despite being kidnapped and threatened with death.

That book, which came out in 2006, was a publishing-industry cliffhanger, too. Mortenson hated the subtitle Penguin insisted on: "One Man's Mission to Fight Terrorism One School at a Time." It sold nicely in hardcover, enough to merit a paperback edition and to persuade the publisher to insert Mortenson's preferred subtitle: "One Man's Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time."

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90 cameras to be installed outside Chicago Public schools

Fran Spielman:

Ninety cameras will be installed outside Fenger and 39 other Chicago Public high schools to stop what Mayor Daley called the ugly "epidemic of children killing children," thanks to a $2.25 million gift from the banking giant that employs the mayor's brother.

Last year, a bloody weekend for CPS students prompted Daley to link 4,844 cameras inside schools and 1,437 exterior school cameras to police districts, squad cars and the 911 center. Until that time, real-time video from school cameras was accessible only to school security.

Thanks to J.P. Morgan Chase, where William Daley serves as Midwest chairman, 40 more high schools will get exterior cameras. They include Fenger, where 16-year-old Derrion Albert was beaten to death in September during a brawl captured on videotape and played around the world.

Another camera will be installed outside Walter H. Dyett High School, 555 E. 51st St., where two students have been murdered this year.

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Facebook Target of FTC Privacy Complaint

David Coursey:

Ten privacy groups have filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission over recent changes to Facebook's privacy policy.

Led by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), the groups criticize Facebook for changes that made previously private information public.

"More than 100 million people in the United States subscribe to the Facebook service," Marc Rotenberg, EPIC's executive director, said Thursday in a prepared statement. "The company should not be allowed to turn down the privacy dial on so many American consumers."

In response, Facebook said it was "disappointed" that EPIC took its complaints to the FTC instead of the company itself.

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The education gap of greatest concern is the out-of-wedlock birthrate

Edward Hayes:

Before Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941, the out-of-wedlock birthrate for African-Americans was nineteen percent. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, in 2004 the illegitimate black birthrate was 69.4 percent. In contrast, the out-of-wedlock rates that year for Caucasians and Hispanics were 25 and 45 percent respectively. Consequently, in America well over half of our minority population enters the education sweepstakes with one parent tied behind their back. Our largest minorities groups have a parent gap that not only precedes the performance differential in math in reading, it guarantees it.

We are living in a moment in time where otherwise reasonable people debate the merits of raising a child in a same-sex-marriage home. Consequently, it is culturally reasonable to argue whether wealthy Americans can raise children in single-parent homes without handicapping their education. That said, it is criminally insane to suggest that a single parent of limited means is doing anything other than providing a rough life for both child and mother. Frankly, I have had it with televised images of sobbing single parent mothers lamenting the demise of their fatherless children because of the misdeeds of someone else's single-parent child.

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Wisconsin risks stumbling in 'Race to Top'

University of Wisconsin School of Education Dean Julie Underwood:

President Barack Obama spoke at Wright Middle School in Madison last month and urged our nation to make improving K-12 education a national priority.

The president underscored the critical link between improving education and our nation's future economy. He called for our schools to push all students to achieve at higher levels.

The president also spoke about our need to raise the bar for student achievement and to close existing achievement gaps. He is offering the states $4.35 billion in competitive "Race to the Top" grants to try to spur improvement.

His call for reform comes at a critical time for our schools. Our graduates face an increasingly competitive world. The future of our state rests on our ability to prepare our students with the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed.

In recent years, however, the real struggle in Wisconsin has been in maintaining the quality public school system created by previous generations. Our public schools operate under a financial system that chokes reform and chips away at quality.

Underwood's School of Education has a close relationship with the Madison School District via grants and other interactions. Former Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater now works for the School along with former Administrator Jack Jorgenson. Underwood attended the 2008 Madison Superintendent candidate public appearances.

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December 19, 2009

Los Angeles Unified often hands out tenure with little or no review of novice instructors' ability or their students' performance.

Jason Felch, Jessica Garrison & Jason Song:

It is a chance L.A. Unified all but squanders, according to interviews with more than 75 teachers and administrators, analyses of district data over the last several years, and internal and independent studies. Among the findings:
  • Nearly all probationary teachers receive a passing grade on evaluations. Fewer than 2% are denied tenure.
  • The reviews are so lacking in rigor as to be meaningless, many instructors say. Before a teacher gets tenure, school administrators are required to conduct only a single, pre-announced classroom visit per year. About half the observations last 30 minutes or less. Principals are rarely held responsible for how they perform the reviews.
  • The district's evaluation of teachers does not take into account whether students are learning. Principals are not required to consider testing data, student work or grades. L.A. Unified, like other districts in California, essentially ignores a state law that since the 1970s has required districts to weigh pupil progress in assessing teachers and administrators.

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Education Secretary Arne Duncan calls himself a big fan of National Board Certification for Teachers. "What if every child had a chance to be taught by a National Board Certified teacher? I think the difference it would make in our students' lives woul

Birmingham News:

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan calls himself a big fan of National Board Certification for Teachers.

"What if every child had a chance to be taught by a National Board Certified teacher? I think the difference it would make in our students' lives would be extraordinary," he said recently.

Unfortunately, every child doesn't have that chance. In fact, most don't. But a growing number of teachers nationally and in Alabama are becoming board certified.

Nationally, more than 82,000 teachers are board certified, with nearly 8,900 joining the ranks this year. Alabama has 233 newly certified teachers, bringing the state's total to 1,781, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards announced Wednesday. Alabama ranks 11th nationally in the number of teachers board certified this year, and 13th in the total number of certified teachers.

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We need best education at least cost

Thomas Wasco:

I applaud the work of the Board of Education in their efforts to downsize the district's infrastructure. During my service on the board, I learned how difficult that process can be when various factions of the community come before the board pleading to save their favorite schools. In fact, many current board members have campaigned for their buildings in the past. They cited educational studies praising the positive influences of small neighborhood schools and how important it was to maintain the configuration at that time. It appears they have now come to realize instead that what they once called warehousing of students does not lead to an adverse learning environment and that larger schools can indeed contribute to student success. That observation is supported by their decision to replace the plan that placed 400 students in each of six buildings to one that has three buildings with approximately 500 students and three with many fewer students.

Now the public is being asked to spend millions on four buildings Ridge Mills, John Joy, Denti and Gansevoort. I suggest that the board reconsider the proposition and look to renovate three buildings. Instead of closing Ridge Mills, they could close both Ridge Mills and John Joy that currently serve a total of 481 students. The combination would still be smaller in size than either Denti or Bellamy (about 500 and 485 students, respectively). The board can renovate either one of the closed buildings and reopen it to provide adequate space for their students and result in one less building for the district to maintain.

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A Plan for California's Failing Schools

Marisa Lagos:

Parents would be able to yank their children out of failing schools and ask any other school in the state to admit them under a compromise bill approved Thursday by the state Senate.

That change and other proposals are part of the state's plan to compete for President Obama's Race to the Top grants - up to $4.3 billion for all states and as much as $700 million for California alone.

States have until next month to apply for the federal grants, but political fighting over how to make California as competitive as possible has killed two competing proposals and left little time before the Jan. 19 application deadline.

To qualify, states have been asked to demonstrate a commitment to education reform. Under the bill, California would establish specific plans for failing schools, including closing a school, dismissing the principal and up to half of the teachers, or allowing the school to become a charter school.

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Oprah Winfrey makes $1.5M donation to Atlanta school

Maria Parece:

Talk-show superstar extraordinaire Oprah Winfrey has made a very generous donation to an inner-city school in Atlanta, Georgia. The $1.5M donation isn't the first time that Oprah Winfrey has contributed to this school.

In December 2008, Oprah gave The Ron Clark Academy $365,000.00 to be used toward their operating costs. The private middle school's founder Ron Clark has made several appearances on Oprah's wildly popular talk show. Ron Clark is also the author of "The Essential 55," a book about life lessons that adults should teach to children.

Plans for the generous donation include the construction of a theater, a cafeteria, and a gym.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:56 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

School fees

Financial Times:

Arriving in Christmas mail, the heaviest letter of them all: next term's school fees. A century ago, the cost of a private education at a secondary British school was about seven guineas, roughly £7.35 or one and half ounces of gold. Today, the average bill is £4,000 a term, or six ounces of gold. At the most prestigious boarding schools, such as Eton, a term's fees can reach £9,000 (before extras). That takes the total cost of a private secondary education to as much as £135,000 - about half a gold ingot.

Talk about a heavy load. During the past decade, school fees have risen by three-quarters. Broader UK inflation, meanwhile, has been about 20 per cent. Everything is relative, however, and by some measures school fees have actually fallen. Take what is typically the largest asset owned by a private educating family, their home. Now match it against their largest cost. In 1999, the value of an average UK house was equivalent to five years of Eton fees. Today it would buy almost 6 years.

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Auditioning Their Hearts Out, for High School

Jennifer Medina:

Like a Lincoln Center hopeful, Aislee Nieves spends most afternoons in her cramped living room, the couch pulled aside so she can perfect her pointed toes and pirouettes. A spreadsheet tells her the tryouts she has attended, where and when the next one is and the one after that.

On a recent Sunday she flitted about her apartment in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, collecting what she needed that day: ballet slippers, leotard, footless tights, all slipped into her bright green knapsack.

"Mommy, you have the admission ticket? And my transcript?" she asked, her 13-year-old voice betraying a slight edginess.

Yes, yes, her mother, Blanca Vasquez, answered. After all, they had been auditioning for high school nearly every weekend for the last month.

The high school admission process in New York City is notoriously dizzying, with each eighth grader asked to rank up to a dozen choices, and the most competitive schools requiring tests, essays or interviews. But for hundreds of students who sing, dance, act or play an instrument, trying out for the ninth grade is now an all-consuming routine.

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More Michigan - Funky Rubber Room!

Andrew Rotherham:

Yesterday we checked in on the Race to the Top debate in Michigan. Today, Detroit News editorial writer and columnist Amber Arellano writes up a guest post on the debate in Motown over the possible arrival of “rubber rooms,” which as we’ve noted on this blog aren’t as fun as the name implies.

Detroit’s New Rubber Room

New York City's embarrassment is Detroit's education reform "revolution"

This month the Detroit Public Schools posted the lowest student achievement results in the 40-year history of the NAEP. Educators began weeping when briefed on the news. And city charter schools, once Motown's hope for change, on average are performing just as terribly as the school district.

As if Detroit's education reputation couldn't get any worse, consider: a new teachers' contract, if ratified today, would create Detroit's first Rubber Room.

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The GMAT Sentence Correction Challenge

Nick Saint:

What does mastery of the finer points of English grammar have to do with succeeding in business?


But if you want to get into a top business school, you need to do well on the GMAT. And that means tangling with some very ugly verbal questions.

Specifically, it means psychoanalyzing the folks who put the test together, who sometimes don't include a correct English answer as one of the options.

When there's no right answer to a question (which there often isn't in business), you have to figure out the least-wrong answer--without being driven insane by rage at the stupidity of your questioner. Thus, the GMAT tests your aptitude for all sorts of things you WILL need in business.

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December 18, 2009

Give diligencing its due in the lexicon of 2010

Michael Skapinker:

The New Oxford American Dictionary has announced its 2009 word of the year. It is "unfriend", as in "I decided to unfriend my roommate on Facebook after we had a fight".

Unfriend has "currency and potential longevity", says Christine Lindberg, senior lexicographer for Oxford's US dictionary programme. It is true, she says, that most words with the prefix "un-" are adjectives (unacceptable, unpleasant) but there are some "un-" verbs, such as unpack and uncap. "Unfriend has real lex-appeal," she says.

"Unfriend" will irritate those who oppose the nasty habit of turning nouns into verbs. But nouns have been turning into verbs for ages. In his book The Language Instinct, Steven Pinker estimates that a fifth of English verbs started as nouns, including "to progress", "to contact" and "to host".

Also, many supposedly new words are not new at all. "Unfriend" has an ancient past, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. In 1659, Thomas Fuller wrote in The Appeal of Injured Innocence: "I hope, Sir, that we are not mutually Unfriended by this Difference which hath happened betwixt us."

I am interested in the words that did not make word of the year. They included "paywall" (admitting only paying subscribers to part of a website) and "birther" (someone who believes Barack Obama was not born in the US).

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Milwaukee School Board Approves Condom Giveaways

Tom Kertscher:

Without discussion, the Milwaukee School Board voted 7-0 Thursday night to make condoms available at many of the city's high schools, paving the way to make Milwaukee Public Schools one of the relatively few districts in the nation to provide contraception to students.

The communicable disease prevention program, as the district calls it, could be in place as soon as the 2010-'11 school year.

The proposal sparked some opposition after being made public Dec. 2, but the board approved the condom distribution without much dissent. Comments from the public are not allowed at board meetings and a board committee had voted 5-0 on Dec. 9 to recommend adopting the program.

The condoms will be available free of charge, but only to students in high schools that have school nurses and only after students request them at the nurse's office, according to a fact sheet circulated by the school district. Up to two condoms will be distributed at a time.

Thursday's vote does not authorize funding for the program, but the district has said it will not use taxpayer money to buy condoms and instead will seek other sources of funding.

Somewhat related: and have been going back and forth on Obama Administration "safe school czar" Kevin Jenning's K-12 sex education activities.

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The Explosion of Charter Schools in America

US News & World Report:

With 809, California leads the nation in the number of charter schools. In less than 20 years, the education activists have started nearly 5,000 of these institutions, which are publicly financed and free for students to attend but independently operated.

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Rules on teachers, schools could change to snare aid

Dawson Bell:

Determined not to leave up to $400 million in federal funds on the table, state lawmakers appear determined this week to resolve differences in House and Senate bills that mandate significant changes in public schools.

To qualify for the Race to the Top federal stimulus money, Michigan would have to make changes to allow merit pay for teachers, lessen restrictions on opening charter schools, plan for sanctions for underperforming schools and make it easier for people to become teachers. Teachers unions and local school officials have fought the ideas in the past.

Rep. Tim Melton, D-Auburn Hills, said state and federal initiatives will produce "a sea change" in the way troubled schools operate and kids learn. "It's a huge deal," he said.

And it's a lot of money for a state with big money problems. The Democrat-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate have approved different versions of legislation that must be resolved before Gov. Jennifer Granholm can sign it.

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TJX hacker mulls Asperger's defense

Dan Goodin:

The international hacker who has admitted to stealing more than 130 million payment card numbers has mounted a new defense claim that he might suffer from Asperger's syndrome, a court filing indicates.

On Tuesday, attorneys for Albert Gonzalez filed a report from a forensic psychologist that questioned the criminal hacker's "capacity to knowingly evaluate the wrongfulness of his actions and consciously behave lawfully and avoid crime," according to federal prosecutors. The report went on to state that his "behavior was consistent with description of the Asperger's disorder."

Gonzalez becomes the latest hacker under prosecution to raise the Asperger's defense in arguing for leniency. Most notably, NASA hacker Gary McKinnon has cited the Autism-related disorder in fighting extradition to the US to face computer trespass charges. UK Home Secretary Alan Johnson has repeatedly rejected claims raised by McKinnon's attorneys and supporters and has indicated he will not stop the forced transfer.

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When College Students Start to Think

Christian Schneider:

University of Wisconsin campuses have a well-deserved reputation for being safe havens for liberal thought. But at the UW-Fox Valley, something odd is happening - it appears a backlash is underway.

It all began in November, when Campus Dean Dr. James Perry suggested on his blog that the campus should have more "green" parking spaces. Apparently, the campus has set aside certain choice parking spots for students with Priuses (Prii?) or other "low emitting and fuel efficient" (LEFEV) vehicles. Dr. Perry suggested expanding the number of "green" spaces, to encourage more students to buy these cars, saying:

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A holiday guide to books for kids

Jay Matthews:

I share this secret only with recluses like myself who lack the imagination to conceive of any gift better than a book. If you are buying for a child -- particularly if you are in a last-minute Christmas shopping panic -- scan this list compiled by a company called Renaissance Learning.

It is an amazing document. Parents who keep track of what their children are doing in school, particularly in this area, might be vaguely aware of Renaissance Learning and its famous product, Accelerated Reader, the most influential reading program in the country. It was started 23 years ago by Judi Paul and her husband, Terry, after she invented on her kitchen table a quizzing system to motivate their children to read.

Students read books, some assigned but many chosen on their own, and then take computer quizzes, either online or with Accelerated Reader software, to see whether they understood what they read. Students compile points based in part on the difficulty and length of each book and sometimes earn prizes from their schools.

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A reason to hope for better schools

St. Petersburg Times:

They are two of the clearest reasons to be both discouraged and hopeful about public education in Tampa Bay. The wide disparities in passing rates for Advanced Placement exams, often within the same high school, indicate a failure by district superintendents and school principals to hold teachers accountable for performance. Looking forward, a $100 million grant to Hillsborough schools by the Gates Foundation offers a wonderful opportunity to improve teacher training and match salaries to more sophisticated measures of performance. The bold experimentation in Hillsborough could show the way to address the sorts of shortcomings exposed by the analysis of AP exams.

There are more immediate steps that can be taken to address a system that rewards schools for increasing the number of students taking AP exams but ignores teachers with ridiculously low exam passing rates. The state should proceed with plans to put more weight on passing rates in evaluating high schools. The schools should re-examine their policies that encourage even unprepared students to take college-level AP classes. Students should be challenged with rigorous courses, but it is a disservice to admit those who have virtually no chance to grasp the material well enough to pass the exam. That is a waste of time and taxpayers' money.

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48 DISD campuses on state's list of worst public schools

Terrence Stutz:

Dallas has more public schools rated as failures by the Texas Education Agency than any other district, with 48 campuses among the 499 on this year's list of the state's worst.

The list released Tuesday consists of schools where student test scores were too low or recent school ratings were "unacceptable," giving students the right to transfer next year under the state's Public Education Grant program.

The number of Dallas Independent School District campuses on the list is down slightly from last year, when 52 schools were singled out. But Dallas is by far the state leader; Fort Worth and Houston tied for second with 30 campuses each.

Schools on the list had 50 percent or more students fail the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills in two of the last three years, or an "academically unacceptable" rating in one of the last three years.

Only a small number of the estimated 350,000 students eligible to transfer from the 499 schools - about 6.5 percent of the state's campuses - are expected to do so, because the state provides no funding for transportation. Officials have said lack of transportation is one of the biggest obstacles for students and parents interested in switching schools under the program.

Typically, fewer than 1,000 students statewide exercise the transfer option each year.

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Massachusetts Father Angered At School Over Controversy About Son's Jesus On Cross Drawing

ABC News:

A Taunton, Massachusetts father is furious that his 8-year-old son was sent home from school and required to undergo a psychological evaluation.

All this comes the boy drawing a picture of Jesus on the cross. It was part of a second grade Christmas assignment.

The student was ordered into counseling by his principal. After the little boy did go into counseling, and the doctor said he was fine, but his father says his son is now uncomfortable in school.

Chester Johnson, father: "I want to transfer him to another school and I want something done about this. They owe my family an apology and they owe me an apology."

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December 17, 2009

Wisconsin Race to the Top: Governor/DPI Letter and "Memorandum of Understanding"

via a kind reader's email; Letter from Governor Doyle and Department of Public Instruction Superintendent Tony Evers [107K PDF]:

We are excited to invite you to participate in Wisconsin's Race to the Top application to the federal government. Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, President Obama and Congress provided $4 billion in competitive grant funding to states that move forward with innovations and reform in education.

Earlier this fall, at our request, the Wisconsin Legislature passed bills to make Wisconsin both eligible and more competitive for the Race to the Top grants. Now our local school district leaders - school board members, superintendents, principals, teachers, and other staff - need to prepare their district for participation in Wisconsin's grant application. Enclosed is the Race to the Top district memorandum of understanding (MOU) that the federal government requires participating districts to sign as part of the state's Race to the Top grant application. The MOU provides a framework of collaboration between districts and the state articulating the specific roles and responsibilities necessary to implement an approved Race to the Top district grant.

The MOU is divided into two parts - Exhibit I and Exhibit II. To receive any Race to the Top funding, a district must agree to the activities in Exhibit I. Districts that agree to Exhibit I are eligible, if they so choose, to participate in Exhibit II. In Exhibit II districts will receive additional funding for participating in the additional activities. Exhibit I is included in this information and Exhibit II will be forthcoming in the very near future.

"Memorandum of Understanding" [208K PDF]:
I'm told that Madison's potential intake of "Race to the Top" funds is less than 1% of the current $400MM budget.

Related: US National Debt Tops Debt Limit.

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Book Whisperer: Are good readers born or made?

Donalyn Miller via Valerie Strauss:

My guest today is Donalyn Miller, a sixth-grade language arts teacher in Texas and literacy expert. She is the author of "The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child," and writes about literacy for

By Donalyn Miller
A recent Carnegie Mellon University research study indicates that children engaged in a 100-hour intensive reading remediation program improved both their reading ability and the white matter connections in their brains.

While the study shows promise for educators and clinicians who work with developing readers, one casual mention in the study stood out for me-- the 25 children designated as "excellent readers" in the control group still outperformed the 35 third and fifth graders who participated in the remediation program.

The widespread belief that some readers possess an innate gift, like artists or athletes, sells many children short. I often hear parents claim, "Well, my child is just not a reader," as if the reading fairy passed over their child while handing out the good stuff.

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Keeping Score When It Counts: Assessing the 2009‐10 Bowl‐bound College Football Teams - Academic Performance Improves but Race Still Matters

Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports [182K PDF]:

Overall academic progress continued while the gap between white and African‐American football student‐athletes increased slightly for the 67* Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) schools (formerly known as Division I‐A schools) playing in this year's college football bowl games according to a study released today by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida.

Richard Lapchick, the Director of TIDES and the primary author of the study Keeping Score When It Counts: Assessing the 2009‐10 Bowl‐bound College Football Teams - Academic Performance Improves but Race Still Matters, noted that, "The academic success of big time college student‐athletes that grew continuously under the leadership of the late Dr. Myles Brand continued this year and will be part of his legacy. The new study shows additional progress and reinforces the success of Dr. Brand's academic reform package. This year, 91 percent (61 of the 67 schools), the same as in the 2008‐09 report and up from 88 percent in the 2007‐08 report, had at least a 50 percent graduation rate for their football teams; approximately 90 percent of the teams received a score of more than 925 on the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate (APR) versus 88 percent in the 2008‐09 report."

The NCAA created the APR in 2004 as part of an academic reform package designed to more accurately measure student‐athlete's academic success as well as improve graduation rates at member institutions.

Lapchick added that, "In spite of the good news, the study showed that the disturbing gap between white and African‐American football student‐athletes remains a major issue; 21 teams or 31 percent of the bowl‐bound schools graduated less than half of their African‐American football student‐athletes, while only two schools graduated less than half of their white football student‐athletes."

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Beyond the Classroom: Using Title IX to Measure the Return to High School Sports

Betsey Stevenson [317K PDF]:

Previous research has found that male high school athletes experience better outcomes than non-athletes, including higher educational attainment, employment rates, and wages. However, students self-select into athletics so these may be selection effects rather than causal effects. To address this issue, I examine Title IX which provides a unique quasi- experiment in female athletic participation. Between 1972 and 1978 U.S. high schools rapidly increased their female athletic participation rates--to approximately the same level as their male athletic participation rates--in order to comply with Title IX. This paper uses variation in the level of boys' athletic participation across states before Title IX as an instrument for the change in girls' athletic participation over the 1970s. Analyzing differences in outcomes for both the pre- and post-Title IX cohorts across states, I find that a 10-percentage point rise in state-level female sports participation generates a 1 percentage point increase in female college attendance and a 1 to 2 percentage point rise in female labor force participation. Furthermore, greater opportunities to play sports leads to greater female participation in previously male-dominated occupations, particularly for high-skill occupations.

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Latest College athletics fiscal data hint at moderation

Gary Brown:

ata from the NCAA's most recent study on revenue and expenses [6MB PDF Complete Report] at Division I institutions show a slight moderation in the rate of spending in the aggregate within the division and a reduced growth in the gap between the so-called "haves" and "have-nots," though the gap continues to be wide.

The report summarizing Division I athletics program finances between 2004 and 2008 also reveals that 25 schools - all in the Football Bowl Subdivision - reported positive net revenue for the 2008 fiscal year, six more than in the 2006 fiscal year. Only 18 FBS institutions, however, have reported revenue over expenses when the data from all five years are aggregated.

The findings make NCAA officials cautiously optimistic that the advice from former NCAA President Myles Brand's Presidential Task Force three years ago to moderate spending is being heeded, though those same officials acknowledge that these data through the end of the 2008 fiscal year (June) do not reflect the subsequent economic downturn that may reveal a different story on spending in next year's report.

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Kills 99.9% of Germs -- Under Some Lab Conditions

Carl Bialik:

A decade of pesky germs, from SARS to avian flu to H1N1, has given rise to dozens of products bragging about their microbe-killing properties. Everything from hand-sanitizing liquids to products like computer keyboards, shopping carts and tissues tout that they kill 99.9%, or 99.99%, of common bacteria and fungi.

But some of these numbers look like the test scores in a class with a very generous grading curve. They often don't include all pesky germs, and are based on laboratory tests that don't represent the imperfections of real-world use. Human subjects, or countertops, in labs are cleaned first, then covered on the surface with a target bug. That is a far cry from a typical kitchen or a pair of grimy hands.

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In study, 1 in 7 U.S. teens say they're recipients of 'sexting'

Donna St. George:

About 1 in 7 American teens with cellphones say they have received nude or nearly nude photos by text message, according to a new survey on the phenomenon known as "sexting."

Helping to define the little-understood trend in teen life, the poll found that 15 percent of adolescents ages 12 to 17 have received sexually suggestive photos or videos on their personal cellphones. Just 4 percent acknowledged sending out a naked image.

Older teens were more likely to report sexting, with 30 percent of 17-year-olds saying they had received such photos, compared with 4 percent of 12-year-olds, according to the report by Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project.

The provocative photos are usually sent as part of a romantic relationship -- or one that is wished-for, the study found.

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Put power over California's schools in hands of parents

Ben Austin:

Let me tell you about my recent trip to Sacramento. It is a story about why we need a revolution.

Earlier this month, Senate leaders introduced a "parent trigger" into California's "Race to the Top" education reform legislation.

Under the policy, parents at a systemically failing school could circulate a petition calling for change. If 51% of the parents signed it, the school would be converted to a charter school or reconstituted by the school district, with a new staff and new ways of operating. The concept recognized a truth that school officials often discount: Parents are in the best position to make decisions about what's right for their kids.

Last week, the parent trigger legislation moved to the Assembly Education Committee, chaired by Assemblywoman Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica). Thousands of parents sent letters, made calls, staged protests and showed up to testify before her committee about the importance of parents taking back power over our schools.

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Why I have no use for the achievement gap

Jay Matthews:

I don't mean this as a criticism of my talented colleague Bill Turque. He was reporting the news, as usual. But I did not like the focus of his otherwise irreproachable Sunday story on the achievement gap not narrowing in the D.C. schools.

Turque was letting us know that despite the growth in D.C. math scores, the gap between black and white students had gotten larger for fourth-graders. This was an important topic in education circles, so he had to report it.

But I think the achievement gap is useless as a measure of school improvement, and we would be much better writing about how much each ethnic group, each school, each child is improving, or not improving. Our gap fixation puts us in a very awkward position.

You see it. It's simple. It forces us to hope that white kids, or middle class kids, or high achieving kids, don't improve.

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December 16, 2009

Green Schools National Conference

Dear Green Schools Advocates,

We have extended our Early Bird registration rate for the Green Schools National Conference to January 15th. We are encouraging everyone to register early as space is limited for this ground breaking green schools event.

Purchase Orders are now being accepted so you can lock in the lower rate now and pay later. Low rates are also being offered for groups of 4 or more from one school / organization.

Please go online to register at:

Registration Questions?
Email: or call 1.800.280.6218 between 9am-5pm Pacific Coast Time.

We have received exciting commitments from two of our featured speakers.

TOM FEEGEL, Author of "Green My Parents" and the mastermind behind "Earth Hour & Live Earth". Tom is continuously making positive contributions for educators, students and parents in the green schools movement.

MICHAEL STONE, Author of "Smart By Nature: Schooling for Sustainability." He is Senior Editor at the Center for Ecoliteracy. Michael coedited "Ecological Literacy" and was managing editor of "Whole Earth" magazine.

Plan to attend the GREEN SCHOOLS NATIONAL CONFERENCE on October 24-26, 2010 in Minneapolis, MN.

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Wauwatosa teachers get raises; district gets health care concession

Amy Hetzner:

The Wauwatosa School Board has ratified a contract that will give steep pay raises to the district's most experienced teachers while also winning an important concession for the district with a change in retiree health insurance benefits.

The agreement, approved by the board on Monday and by the Wauwatosa Education Association on Friday, increases teachers' salaries and benefits by 4.76% this school year and by 4.25% in the following year. The top pay for the most experienced teachers will increase by more than 8% to $74,030. Teachers with doctorate degrees can receive annual stipends of $1,415.

With the agreement, district officials were able to accomplish a goal by getting teacher approval to change health insurance benefits for future retirees. While teachers now receive health insurance after they retire based on the number of years they have worked for the district, teachers hired after July 2010 will be awarded stipends tied to their final salaries with which they can pay for their health insurance, said Daniel Chanen, Wauwatosa's director of human resources.

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Mesquite ISD a pioneer on dealing with student concussions

Karel Holloway:

With a concussion, there is no obvious injury - no blood, no swelling, no arm at an awkward angle.

Coaches and athletic trainers have to look for subtle signs from an athlete, such as a shake of the head, a vacant expression or a long pause before a football player lines up for the next play.

Until the past few years, a student athlete in Mesquite might have gone back into the game after a quick assessment. But that's changing as officials realize how common concussions are and how profound their effects can be over time.

"If a kid suffers a concussion in Mesquite, they are going to miss a minimum of two weeks," said Bucky Taylor, Mesquite High School's head athletic trainer.

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Bill could solve Milwaukee Public Schools Governance debate

Erin Richards:

A bill that would give the state schools chief more power to fix chronically low-performing schools might improve education in Milwaukee and circumvent the fractious debate over mayoral control, said the chairman of the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday.

Sen. John Lehman (D-Racine) said the education committee took executive action Tuesday to introduce the bill, which Lehman requested be tweaked from an earlier version to zero in on the state superintendent's attention to a handful of schools in MPS.

A similar bill that passed the Assembly's education committee earlier this fall was not as specific about what qualified as a low-performing school.

"The state superintendent powers bill has not seen the same kind of 'draw a line and plant your feet firmly in the sand and don't move' that mayoral control has seen," Lehman said. "The state superintendent powers bill is more about turning to thoughtful public policy on this to see what we can do for Milwaukee Public Schools."

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'Coastie' song, video spark debate at UW

Annysa Johnson:

o, what's a coastie?

Chances are until this fall, most folks, even in Madison where the term appears to have originated, would have told you it's one of two things:

Anyone not from around here.

Or, a privileged East or West Coast transplant, often a woman of a certain look: black tights, Ugg boots, oversize sunglasses and sporting a Starbucks cup.

Now a song and music video out of Madison suggest she's all of that, and Jewish, provoking debates in and out of the classroom over stereotyping, anti-Semitism and the boundaries of humor.

Most of the Jewish students interviewed for this story said they find the tune and video "What's a Coastie" by UW-Madison undergrads Cliff Grefe and Quincy Harrison - who are not Jewish - harmless and funny.

But some are offended.

"The song went too far," said Nicole Halpern, a 19-year-old sophomore from New Jersey who describes herself as "technically a coastie."

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Will Cleveland High School Become Seattle Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson's Crown Jewel or Albatross?

Nina Shapiro:

As Seattle Public Schools released new details about its latest transformation plan for perpetually-troubled Cleveland High School over the past week, there's been a collective eye roll among some teachers there.
"I've been here for 15 years and every other year we do this," says math teacher David Fisher, referring to a long string of ballyhooed overhauls that the Beacon Hill school has embarked on at the behest of the district.

One thing is different: The district is promising to pour money into this reinvention of Cleveland as the School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). It proposes to spend more than $4 million over the first three years, according to a report at last Wednesday's school board meeting by Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson. That's a lot of money for a school that is already up and running. (See the breakdown of spending on page 8 of this pdf.)

Melissa Westbrook has more.

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Senator Taylor on MPS-Mayoral Takeover: "If the bill comes to the floor in the Senate, it's going to pass."

Bill Osmulski:

[Milwaukee...] Wisconsin State Senator Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) proclaims that if her bill giving the mayor of Milwaukee control of Milwaukee's Public Schools comes up in Special Session this week, it will pass the State Senate.

"I believe if the bill comes to the floor in the Senate, it's going to pass," Taylor said in an exclusive interview with the MacIver News Service. "I don't hesitate on that."

Taylor's bill, co-authored by Rep. Pedro Colon, (D-Milwaukee) is the result of a compromise between legislative supporters, the mayor and the governor. It grants the mayor authority over MPS and allows him him to pick the superintendent. City residents would still be allowed to elect the school board, but many of its powers would be transferred to the superintendent. Current Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett originally wanted the ability to appoint the school board himself.

Some of Taylor's Democratic colleagues from Milwaukee are opposed to her proposal. Two of them, Milwaukee Senator Spencer Coggs and Representative Tamara Grigsby, recently announced their own proposal, which would allow the mayor more say in MPS, but their plan stops short of handing over full control of the district. The Coggs-Grigsby plan has the support of the teachers' union and several prominent community activists.

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What's with the new U.S. News high school list?

Jay Matthews:

I occasionally communicate with Montgomery County school superintendent Jerry D. Weast, but usually it is one of his people who call to set up the appointment. Yesterday he was so bothered about something he called himself. It wasn't me who upset him, but my friends and fellow members in good standing of the School Ranking Scoundrels club, the editors of U.S. News & World Report.

They just came out with their latest list of America's Best High Schools. Weast was astonished to see that none of the three Montgomery County schools that had been on the U.S. News top 100 list in the past were mentioned this time. In fact there were no Maryland, Virginia or D.C. schools on the list at all, except for Langley, number 47, and the Thomas Jefferson High School of Science and Technology in Fairfax County which was, as usual, number one in the country.

Weast wanted me to find out from U.S. News why this was. I told him I thought it was better if he contacted the magazine himself, and gave him the email address of the U.S. News director of data research, Robert Morse, whose work for the last several decades, beginning with the magazine's America's Best Colleges list, I highly admire.

I am uncomfortable saying more about this, because of my personal involvement in rating high schools. I invented and still produce each year Newsweek's America's Top High Schools list. That list started a decade before the U.S. News list, and rates schools in a somewhat different way, although many schools appear on both lists. I exclude very selective schools like Jefferson from my list, but include about 70 percent of Washington area schools, including every school in Montgomery County, based on their students' participation rates in college level exams like Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate.

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Finally some sense about 21st century skills--part two, the Wagner book

Jay Matthews:

My wife was enjoying a quiet flight back to Washington after a week off in California when I, sitting next to her, started thrashing around. I was reading a book, but in a way that any person would find disturbing. I was marking and remarking pages. I was filling margins with unreadable scrawls. I was flipping back and forth. I was talking to myself: "Whoa! No! Yes!"

"What is that?" she asked.

It's a good question. The simple answer is: the latest book by school improvement activist Tony Wagner: "The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don't Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need." Wagner is co-director of the Change Leadership Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is also a great writer and speaker. I consider this book more of an experience than a read.

My habit is to write on the last page, next to the inside of the back cover, any column ideas that come to me from a book. The last page of my copy of Wagner's book is a maze of my jottings. I have been making fun of the 21st century skills movement as a high-cost, high-level, often incomprehensible conversation among people who have forgotten to explain what it means to teachers.

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Psychology Alone in the crowd

The Economist:

ON THE surface, Framingham, Massachusetts looks like any other American town. Unbeknown to most who pass through this serene place, however, it is a gold mine for medical research. Since 1948 three generations of residents in Framingham have participated in regular medical examinations originally intended to study the spread of heart disease. In the years since, researchers have also used Framingham to track obesity, smoking and even happiness over long periods of time. Now a new study that uses Framingham to analyse loneliness has found that it spreads very much like a communicable disease.

Feeling lonely is more than just unpleasant for those who yearn to be surrounded by warm relationships--it is a health hazard. Numerous studies show that loneliness reduces fruit-fly lifespans, increases the chances of mice developing diabetes, and causes a host of adverse effects in people, including cardiovascular disease, obesity and weakening of the immune system. Simply being surrounded by others is no cure. In people, the mere perception of being isolated is more than enough to create the bad health effects. However, in spite of its significant impact, precious little is known about how loneliness moves through communities.

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Some out-of-state schools try 4-day week

Amy Graff:

Public schools across the country are trying to figure out how to manage with shrinking budgets. School districts are increasing class size, firing teachers, and cutting art programs and field trips. Some districts have gone as far to try a four-day school week.

School districts can save money by parking their buses for three days.
Last week, the four-day week was a hot topic in Oklahoma media as the state now has four districts that have dropped a day from the traditional school week. Mostly rural school systems in at least 10 other states have made the switch to save money: Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming, according to the LA Times.

The increasing number of districts changing over to the new schedule is no surprise. Last year, the American Association of School Administrators surveyed school boards and found that 1 in 7 boards nationwide was considering whether to drop a day, according to Time.

San Francisco Unified School District is not a district that has considered the four-day schedule. "In my year on the board, the idea of a four-day school week has never even been remotely mentioned as an option," says board member Rachel Norton. "In fact, I'd be shocked to hear if it had ever been mentioned in recent memory! To my mind, the four-day school week would be tremendously difficult for families, and I can't imagine that teachers and other school staff would consider cutting a day of school to be a good option, not when all of the research says that more, rather than less, school is what our children need."

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Phila. school violence abetted by Pa. officials

Jack Stollsteimer:

Another school-violence crisis is unfolding in Philadelphia's public schools. Asian American students at South Philadelphia High School felt they had to boycott classes to bring attention to a reign of terror by violent kids and an indifferent staff. State officials, who run the district in a "reform partnership" with city leaders, have responded with a deafening silence.

When the state Department of Education closed Philadelphia's Office of the Safe Schools Advocate last summer for supposed want of chump change in its multibillion-dollar budget, officials said the city's school-violence victims need not worry: Unnamed Harrisburg bureaucrats would protect them. A more hollow promise was never made.

Last year, state Auditor General Jack Wagner confirmed that the department had violated state law since 1995 by failing to establish a safe-schools office to gather violence data from all 501 of the state's school districts and to address safety issues. Instead, the department has reported false data to the public for years. For example, the Philadelphia School District habitually and significantly underreported school violence until 2005, when investigations by The Inquirer and the safe-schools advocate revealed the truth.

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December 15, 2009

Milwaukee schools face booming retiree health care costs

Erin Richards:

The Milwaukee School Board has spent 20 years ignoring a "fiscal time bomb" in the form of generous and unfunded health insurance benefits for retired MPS teachers and staff that will cost the district $5 billion by 2016, according to a new report by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.

On Monday, the president of the conservative institute that conducted the report, George Lightbourn, said the study raises serious questions about the School Board's ability to provide financial oversight of the district and that it lends support to changing the governance structure of MPS.

The report comes in the same week that the Legislature is expected to convene a special session to consider a bill that would give the Milwaukee mayor power to appoint a superintendent and authority over the district's budget.

"Even if the mayor took over (the school system), the mayor would have to deal with this thing," Lightbourn said. "But it's more likely that somebody who has a different approach to this might actually look at this and if nothing else say: 'We have to slow down these costs.' "

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Public United States Debt Rose from 41 to 53% of the Gross Domestic Product in the Past Year

Peterson-Pew Commission on Budget Reform PDF Report

Over the past year alone, the public debt of the United States rose sharply from 41 to 53 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Under reasonable assumptions, the debt is projected to grow steadily, reaching 85 percent of GDP by 2018, 100 percent by 2022, and 200 percent in 2038.

However, before the debt reached such high levels, the United States would almost certainly experience a debt- driven crisis--something previously viewed as almost unfathomable in the world's largest economy. The crisis could unfold gradually or it could happen suddenly, but with great costs either way. The tipping point is impossible to predict, but the United States is already hearing con- cerns about its fiscal management from some of its largest creditors, and the country is uncomfortably vulnerable to shifts in confidence around the world.

Wisconsin ranks 10th amongst the States in State-Local debt service. Exploding debt levels mean that it is highly unlikely school districts will see significant new revenues. Like many organizations, they must change and spend precious dollars where most needed and automate elsewhere (virtual learning tools are a natural, as this post demonstrates).

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Are Colorado's Education school graduates ready to teach reading and mathematics in elementary classrooms?

National Council on Teacher Quality [PDF report]:

Improving teacher effectiveness is hgh on the list of most education reformers in colorado, as it is nationally. Effective teaching in the elementary years is of vital importance to ensure not only that children master fundamental skills, but that performance gaps narrow rather than widen beyond repair. We now know that disadvantaged students can catch up academically with their more advantaged peers if they have great elementary teachers several years in a row.

It is for these reasons that the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), a nonpartisan research and advocacy group dedicated to the systemic reform of the teaching profession, evaluates the adequacy of preparation provided by undergraduate education schools. These programs produce 70 percent of our nation's teachers. We think it is crucial to focus specifically on the quality of preparation of future elementary teachers in the core subjects of reading and mathematics.

Teacher preparation programs, or "ed schools" as they are more commonly known, do not now, nor have they ever, enjoyed a particularly positive reputation. Further, there is a growing body of research demonstrating that teacher preparation does not matter all that much and that a teacher with very little training can be as effective as a teacher who has had a lot of preparation. As a result, many education reformers are proposing that the solution to achieving better teacher quality is simply to attract more talented people into teaching, given that their preparation does not really matter.

In several significant ways, we respectfully disagree. NCTQ is deeply committed to high-quality formal teacher preparation, but, importantly, we are not defenders of the status quo. We also do not believe that it is a realistic strategy to fuel a profession with three million members nationally by only attracting more elite students. Yes, we need to be much more selective about who gets into teaching, and we strenuously advocate for that goal. But even smart people can become better teachers, particularly of young children, if they are provided with purposeful and systematic preparation.
NCTQ has issued two national reports on the reading and mathematics preparation of elementary teachers in undergraduate education schools. The first, What Education Schools Aren't Teaching about Reading and What Elementary Teachers Aren't Learning was released in May 2006.1 The second, No Common Denominator: The Preparation of Elementary Teachers in Mathematics by America's Education Schools, followed just over two years later.2 These reports provide the methodological foundations for this analysis of teacher preparation in every undergraduate program in Colorado.

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Schools race to -- where, exactly? California's pursuit of federal Race to the Top grants seems directionless, even reckless.

Los Angeles Times:

What wouldn't California do for $700 million right now? That's not a rhetorical question. With U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan parceling out more than $4 billion to states that conform to his vision of school reform, California's Legislature is just one of dozens that are frantically revamping their states' education systems for some of that cash. Should California succeed, its share would be somewhere between $350 million and $700 million.

To obtain the money, Sacramento must pass legislation that would serve as the basis for an application. This has given Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger a perfect opportunity to push for more parent choice and fewer restrictions on charter schools, while the teachers unions have pushed an agenda that would handcuff the charter movement. There is some merit to both sides' proposals -- charter schools should be more accountable, and parents should have more say in the education process -- but they have been poorly executed in ways that could have negative repercussions. Applications for Duncan's "Race to the Top" grants are due in January, so who has time for a thoughtful debate?

Related: Joe Williams DFER blog. Mike Antonucci looks at the California Teachers Association lobbying.

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Close knowledge gap with transformative education

Alem Asres:

Today, all available data indicates that students of color are "much more likely than white students to fall behind in math and science courses, drop-out, and much less likely to graduate from high school, acquire a college or advanced degree, or earn a middle-class living." Even though data cites numerous factors contributing to the achievement gap, it failed to include the most important factors such as lack of culture-inclusive curriculum, and lack of teachers' knowledge, skills, and desire to teach non-European contributions and accomplishments in all areas of human endeavor to all learners, especially to students of color.

In my opinion, the achievement gap cannot be closed until we close the knowledge gap about various ethnic groups we teach. The gap will persist as long as we continue teaching the way we have been teaching for nearly 400 years.

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Salman Khan, math master of the Internet

James Temple:

During the years Salman Khan spent scrutinizing financials for hedge funds, he rationalized the profit-obsessed work by telling himself he would one day quit and use his market winnings to open a free school.

It began with long-distance tutoring in late 2004. He agreed to help his niece Nadia, then a seventh-grader struggling with unit conversion, by providing math lessons over Yahoo's interactive notepad, Doodle, and the phone.

Nephews and family friends soon followed. But scheduling conflicts and repeated lectures prompted him to post instructional videos on YouTube that his proliferating pupils could watch when they had the time.

They did - and before long, so did thousands of others. Today, the Mountain View resident's 800-plus videos are viewed about 35,000 times a day, forming a virtual classroom that dwarfs any brick and mortar school he might have imagined. By using the reach of the Internet, he's helped bring education to the information-hungry around the world who can't afford private tutors or Kaplan prep courses.

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California's neediest high school students have the least prepared teachers, study says

Mitchell Landsberg:

The neediest students in California high schools are being taught by the least prepared teachers, a new study shows.

Fewer than half the principals in high-poverty schools said their teachers had the skills to encourage critical thinking and problem-solving among their students, while more than two-thirds of their counterparts in wealthier communities said their teachers possessed those abilities, the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning said in a study being released today.

The nonprofit center also found that teachers in the lowest-performing schools are more than twice as likely as those in the highest-achieving schools to be working without at least a preliminary credential.

The center's study, "The Status of the Teaching Profession 2009," is the latest to show that the most disadvantaged students don't have access to the same quality of teaching as those in more affluent, high-achieving schools.

Jill Tucker has more.

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Chicago Public Schools may shake up magnet schools with new policy

Azam Ahmed & Joe Germuska:

The number of outside applicants being offered a seat would drop at nearly every Chicago magnet school next year under new admissions criteria to be voted on Wednesday, according to a Tribune analysis.

By giving greater priority to siblings of current students and applicants who live within 1 1/2 miles of each magnet school, the policy could reduce the offers extended to other applicants by about 14 percent overall.

In some schools, the reduction is far greater. At Drummond Elementary, where the acceptance rate hovers around 3 percent, offers to students outside the neighborhood would drop almost 55 percent. At Black Magnet on the South Side, where just 1 in 10 students is accepted, 32 percent of the offers would dry up.

Some observers say the policy will undermine the essence of magnets, which were created nearly 30 years ago to integrate schools in the nation's most segregated large city. By raising the number of students from the neighborhood who can attend, magnets once meant for all public school kids would increasingly become de facto neighborhood schools.

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Repayment sought from teachers union

Bruce Lieberman:

Vista school trustees are seeking reimbursement from the teachers union for about $128,000 in salary payments made to the union's president over the past three years.

Under a 1995 agreement, the Vista Unified School District has been paying for the union president's salary, even though that person is on leave from the classroom. In exchange, the union has paid the salary of a replacement teacher, who invariably is on a lower pay scale. As a result, the school district has paid more money to the union than the union has returned to the district.

A court decision last year found that state education laws require school district unions to reimburse school districts for all salary payments they make to union presidents on leave from the classroom, said Myrna Vallely, assistant superintendent for human resources at Vista Unified.

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Reforming Education is Critical

Artur Davis:

I am a proud graduate of Montgomery's public schools, and my progression from the railroad tracks in west Montgomery to the halls of Congress proves that education can transform lives. As governor I will do everything in my power to build a public school system that gives our children the chance to cross the bridge that I have walked.

The next governor of Alabama will need to launch a decade-long effort to revitalize public education. In a century where Alabama's workers must compete globally, we can no longer afford to sit near the bottom of national categories that rank college affordability and high school graduation rates. We cannot be afraid of reform and we cannot dismiss the possibility that new ideas can work.

I will make it a priority to strengthen Alabama's nationally recognized early learning programs. Our pre-kindergarten program is an Alabama success story, and many more children in our state should have access to it. Similarly, the Alabama Reading Initiative, which helped produce the biggest jump in fourth-grade reading performance in the country, must be broadened to reach middle school and above.

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December 14, 2009

Commentary on Madison's "High Fliers" and its Large Achievement Gap

Steve Rankin - via a kind reader's email:

Dear Editor: In the article "Racial Divide," you quote the Madison School District's Kurt Kiefer as saying "We celebrate the high fliers" and state that Madison has 57 National Merit semifinalists this year.

But did we "celebrate" them? Two were named last week in the Wisconsin State Journal, and they were named because of their disabilities. I could not find reference to the other 55 on the school district's website. (By searching archives, I did find a list of 62 from September, including private school students.) How many high school athletes did we celebrate this week, by posting their names, their accomplishments, and their pictures in the paper?

The State Journal names a male and female athlete of the week, and runs a feature story. When did we name a scholar of the week? A thespian? A musician? Do we cover the State Solo and Ensemble Competition as though it were newsworthy? How about math meets? Debate and forensics? Do we review high school plays with the same attention as weekly football games?

When academic and artistic pursuits are covered with even a quarter of the vigor with which we cover sports, when students of color are served by the district as gifted in fields other than athletics, when we let students know in a public way that we value them for those gifts and that hard work, then we can begin to talk about celebrating the high fliers, and then we can begin to scratch our heads about an achievement gap.

When we send the clear message to students, especially students of color, that they are of value to society for their entertainment value on an athletic field, we do not serve them or us.

Steve Rankin

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Academic Writing

"More time on writing!" came an immediate reply. I asked how many agreed with this, and all twelve hands shot up into the air. And this was a high school nationally known for its excellent writing program! "Research skills," another student offered and went on to explain: "In high school, I mostly did 'cut and paste' for my research projects. When I got to college, I had no idea how to formulate a good research question and then really go through a lot of material."

Tony Wagner
The Global Achievement Gap
New York: Basic Books 2008, p. 101-102

College Ready?

A few years ago, I was asked by the leaders of one of the most highly regarded public high schools in New England to help them with a project. They wanted to start a program to combine the teaching of English and history because they thought that such a program would give their graduates an edge in college--and more than 90 percent of their students went on to college. They thought that teaching the two subjects together would help students gain a deeper understanding of both the history and literature of an era. Yet when I asked them how they knew that this would be the most important improvement they might make in their academic program, they were stumped. They'd just assumed that this innovation would be helpful to students.

Personally, I think interdisciplinary studies make a great deal of sense, but I also know that schools have very limited time and resources for change and so must choose their school and curriculum improvement priorities with great care. I proposed that we conduct a focus group with students who'd graduated from the high school three to five years prior, in which I would ask alums what might have helped them be better prepared for college--a question rarely asked by either private or public high schools. The group readily agreed, though, and worked to identify and invite a representative sample population of former students who would be willing to meet for a couple of hours when they were back at home during their winter break.

The group included students who attended state colleges and elite universities. My first question to them was this: "Looking back, what about your high school experience did you find most engaging or helpful to you?" (I would ask the question differently today: "In what ways were you most well prepared by high school?") At any rate, they found
the topic quite engaging and talked enthusiastically and at length about their high school experiences.

Extracurricular activities such as clubs, school yearbooks, and so on topped the list of what they had found most engaging in high school. Next came friends--there were no cliques in this small school, they claimed, and so everyone got along well. Sports were high on the list as well: Because the school was small, nearly everyone got a good deal of playing time.

"What about academics?" I asked.

"Most of our teachers were usually available after school to help us when we needed it," one young man replied. Several nodded in agreement, and the the room fell silent.

"But what about classes?" I pressed.

"You have to understand, " a student who was in his last year at an elite university explained to me somewhat impatiently. "Except for math, you start over in all your courses in college--we didn't need any of the stuff we'd studied in high school."

There was a buzz of agreement around the table. Then another students said, with a smile: "Which is a good thing because you'd forgotten all the stuff you'd memorized for the test a week later anyway!" The room erupted in laughter.

I was dumbfounded, not sure what to say next. Finally, I asked: "So, how might your class time have been better spent--what would have better prepared you for college?"

"More time on writing!" came an immediate reply. I asked how many agreed with this, and all twelve hands shot up into the air. And this was a high school nationally known for its excellent writing program! "Research skills," another student offered and went on to explain: "In high school, I mostly did 'cut and paste' for my research projects. When I got to college, I had no idea how to formulate a good research question and then really go through a lot of material."


"Teach by Example"
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
Consortium for Varsity Academics® [2007]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007;
Varsity Academics®

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Who's Got Michelle Rhee's Back?

Wall Street Journal:

The Washington, D.C., public school system, with its high dropout rates and low test scores, has long been a national embarrassment. But things seem to be improving under maverick Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. So it's curious that the White House hasn't done more to support her reform efforts, especially since they track so closely with the Obama Administration's own stated education goals.

New student test scores released by the U.S. Department of Education last week showed that Washington's fourth-graders made the largest gains in math among big city school systems in the past two years. D.C.'s eighth-graders increased their math proficiency at a faster rate than all other big cities save San Diego. Washington still has a long way to go, but it's no longer the city with the lowest marks, a distinction that now belongs to Detroit.

Before Ms. Rhee's arrival, the nation's capital went through six superintendents in 10 years. Since taking over as Chancellor in 2007, Ms. Rhee has replaced ineffective principals, laid off instructors based on "quality, not by seniority" and shuttered failing schools. These actions have angered teacher unions to the point of bringing (unsuccessful) lawsuits, yet academic outcomes are clearly improving.

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Years Of Schooling Leaves Some Students Illiterate

Scott Simon:

Author Beth Fertig says that as many as 20 percent of American adults may be functionally illiterate. They may recognize letters and words, but can't read directions on a bus sign or a medicine bottle, read or write a letter, or hold most any job. Her new book, Why cant U teach me 2 read, follows three young New Yorkers who legally challenged the New York City public schools for failing to teach them how to read -- and won. Host Scott Simon talks to Fertig about her book.


SIMON: The No Child Left Behind Act is often criticized. But you suggest in this book that it perhaps did force teachers to not just let a certain percentage of students slip through the cracks.

Ms. FERTIG: That is the one thing that I do hear from a lot of different people is, by not just looking at how a whole school did and saying, you know, 60 or 70 percent of our kids passed the test, they now have to look at how did our Hispanic kids do, how did our black students do, how did our special ed students do, how did English language learners do - students who aren't born to parent who speak English.

And this way, by just aggregating the data, they're able to see which kids are falling behind and hopefully target them and give them more interventions, more help with their reading. And the ideal is that a child like Umilka isn't going to be caught, you know, in high school and they're going to figure out then that they weren't reading.

SIMON: You make a point in the book you can't get a job cracking rocks these days without having to probably fill out a computer form as to how many rocks you cracked.

Ms. FERTIG: Exactly. Antonio is now working at UPS as a loader. He had to take a basic orientation test. And because he had improved his reading skills to a fourth or fifth grade level, he was able to pass that. But he feels stuck now.

Related: Madison School District Reading Recovery Review & Discussion.

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The Closing of New York City Public Schools: A Case of "Persistently Failing DoE Management"

Leo Casey:

With the last of the official announcements of the schools targeted for closure by Chancellor Klein, the final grim toll can be tallied. An unprecedented twenty-one schools have been told that the Department of Education will begin their phase out in September 2010. Fifteen of those schools -- a completely disproportionate number -- were high schools.*

With this wide swath of devastation, there can be no illusion that this is a process based on an educational calculus. The evidence simply tells a very different story: the Chancellor could not close significant numbers of Elementary and Middle Schools, once 97% of them scored A and B on School Progress Reports that so heavily weighted the wildly inflated and broken state exams. So Klein decided that to reach his targets, he would close high schools in much larger numbers. Among the high schools slated for closure are schools which are in good standing with the New York State Education Department and schools which are meeting their Annual Yearly Progress benchmarks under No Child Left Behind, as well as a school which just received the school-wide bonus. The list includes schools which never received a School Progress grade lower than C, and schools which actually improved on every measure in the School Progress Reports.

Why take a machete to New York City public high schools in this way? The reason is not difficult to decipher. The Chancellor needs a great deal of space in public school buildings to pursue his political and ideological agenda of creating and supporting new charter schools and new DoE schools. Since it had become politically untenable to create that space by closing large numbers of elementary and middle schools, the space would have to be found in high schools.

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Since hearing, states take little action on restraint in schools

Greg Toppo:

A handful of states have moved to restrict or regulate school staff members who restrain or seclude hard-to-handle children against their will in the wake of abuses exposed by congressional investigators seven months ago. But many more states have done little or nothing, advocates say.
"There has been a lot of attention, a lot of advocacy, a lot of family members involved, but it's slow going," says Jane Hudson, an attorney for the National Disability Rights Network, based in Washington, D.C.

Many states still have no rules in place to address how and when school staff can restrain and seclude children, says Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. So he and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., also on the committee, are pushing legislation to set federal rules.

"Without a federal standard to set the bar, it's the Wild West," Miller says. "We believe the right approach is a balanced one that provides federal guidance to states but still allows states the flexibility to tailor their regulations to their specific needs."

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An Interview with Montgomery (Alabama) School District Superintendent (an former Madison Lapham Elementary Principal) Barbara Thompson

David Zaslawsky, via a kind reader's email:

MBJ: As superintendent, you are the CEO of a $311 million budget, 32,000 students and 4,500 employees. What are your priorities?

Thompson: Basically, moving the school district forward so we are considered one of the No. 1 school districts in the state. Making sure that our students are successful and that they have skills that will allow them to compete in what I consider a global society. My priority is to make sure first and foremost that we have kids in the classroom - so we have to tackle that dropout rate.

MBJ: Any other initiatives?

Thompson: The Career Academies is another way we're looking at deterring our dropout rate. We hope that this gives our kids some idea of the light at the end of the tunnel; some skill set they can see and some jobs they can do. Potentially, we see (Career Academies) being a linkage for those kids for reasons why to stay in school because this can give you jobs - these are classes you can take while you're in high school so when you graduate, you actually have a job. And the last component of that - that three-tier component that I consider -- is prevention. We increased seven pre-K programs because the other part of dropout prevention is that part. We added seven pre-K programs this year for a total of 21. The reason that is so critical is because one of the reasons kids drop out is because they don't have the skills that they need. We're trying to increase giving the kids skills as 4-year-olds so when they come into kindergarten, they are caught up. That's part of that three-pronged approach.

MBJ: What are some of the things that you learned about MPS since you took over in August, and what has surprised you?

Thompson: I learned a lot about the commitment that this community has towards education, particularly the business (community), work force development and the chamber. They are very committed to making sure that the public schools in Montgomery are successful. I guess I was surprised at the Career Academies. They are cutting-edge in terms of what you want to be doing in the school district and the involvement that we have in the chamber in the (Career Academies) is exciting and unusual.

Montgomery, AL school district website & Thompson's blog.

Lapham Elementary's success with Direct Instruction (phonics) was discussed during a Reading Recovery conversation at the December 7, 2009 Madison School Board meeting.

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December 13, 2009

Reading Recovery Discussed at the 12/7/2009 Madison School Board Meeting and Administration Followup

Click for a Reading Recovery Data Summary from Madison's Elementary Schools. December 2009

Madison School Board 24MB mp3 audio file. Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad's December 10, 2009 memorandum [311K PDF] to the board in response to the 12/7/2009 meeting:

Attached to this memo are several items related to further explanation of the reason why full implementation is more effective for Reading Recovery and what will happen to the schools who would no longer receive Reading Recovery as part of the administrative recommendation. There are three options for your review:
  • Option I: Continue serving the 23 schools with modifications.
  • Option II: Reading Recovery Full Implementation at Title I schools and Non-Title I Schools.
  • Option III: Serving some students in all or a majority of schools, not just the 23 schools who are currently served.
The first attachment is a one-page overview summary ofthe MMSD Comprehensive Literacy Model. It explains the Balanced Literacy Model used in all MMSD elementary schools. It also provides an explanation of the wrap around services to support each school through the use of an Instructional Resource Teacher as well as Tier II and Tier III interventions common in all schools.

The second attachment shows the detailed K-5 Title I Reading Curriculum Description in which MMSD uses four programs in Title I schools: Rock and Read, Reading Recovery, Apprenticeship, and Soar to Success. As part of our recommendation, professional development will be provided in all elementary schools to enable all teachers to use these programs. Beginning in Kindergarten, the four instructional interventions support and develop students' reading and writing skills in order to meet grade level proficiency with a focus on the most intensive and individualized wrap around support in Kindergarten and I" Grade with follow up support through fifth grade.

Currently these interventions are almost solely used in Title I schools.
The third attachment contains three sheets - the frrst for Reading Recovery Full Implementation at Title I schools, the second for No Reading Recovery - at Title I Schools, and the third for No Reading Recovery and No Title I eligibility. In this model we would intensify Reading Recovery in a limited number of schools (14 schools) and provide professional development to support teachers in providing small group interventions to struggling students.

The fourth attachment is a chart of all schools, students at risk and students with the highest probability of success in Reading Recovery for the 2009-10 school year. This chart may be used if Reading Recovery would be distributed based on student eligibility (districtwide lowest 20% of students in f rst grade) and school eligibility (based on the highest number of students in need per school).

Option I: Leave Reading Recovery as it currently is, in the 23 schools, but target students more strategically and make sure readiness is in place before the Reading Recovery intervention.

Related: 60% to 42%: Madison School District's Reading Recovery Effectiveness Lags "National Average": Administration seeks to continue its use.

Props to the Madison School Board for asking excellent, pointed questions on the most important matter: making sure students can read.

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Verona, WI School Board Discussion of the New Century Charter School

via a kind reader's email, who notes that Verona's video archives include very helpful topic based navigation!

At the most recent meeting on Dec. 7, the school board heard a final presentation from New Century School's site council. Developments with New Century's charter renewal are reaching a critical point, since we need approval from the school board by early January to participate in kindergarten recruitment. New Century is one of Wisconsin's oldest charter schools (established in May 1995), and our school community is fighting for the charter's continued existence. It's been a challenging journey.
Click "video" for the December 7, 2009 meeting and look for "D", the New Century Presentation. Interestingly, "E" is a presentation on a proposed Chinese immersion charter school.

Unfortunately, Madison lacks significant charter activity, something which, in my view, would be very beneficial to the community, students and parents.

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With Wisconsin's QEO Gone, schools bargain harder on teachers' contracts

Amy Hetzner:

So far this school year, the approximately 100 school districts that have reached agreements with their teachers have average settlements that increase salaries and benefits by 3.75%, according to Bob Butler, staff counsel for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards. That compares with an average total compensation increase of 4.11% for teachers in the 2008-'09 school year.

Given that settlements tend to go down the longer negotiations take, Butler said the average increases for 2009-'10 and 2010-'11 are likely to be below what they have been in the past and what was considered a minimum settlement under the QEO law.

The recession, even in growing and financially stable districts, is the main reason behind the settlement drops, Butler said. Even though the Legislature removed the QEO salary restrictions, it left revenue limits in place so that any increase in teacher compensation almost certainly means staff cuts, he said.

In addition, facing pressure from taxpayers, some school districts, such as Whitnall, refused to enact a tax levy up to their state-imposed revenue limits this year.

"We have seen such a drastic reduction in the amount of money we have coming in from the state, it would have been hard to settle at 3.8% even if the QEO still stood there," Whitnall School Board President Bill Osterndorf said.

Related, 9/25/2009: Madison School District & Madison Teachers Union Reach Tentative Agreement: 3.93% Increase Year 1, 3.99% Year 2; Base Rate $33,242 Year 1, $33,575 Year 2: Requires 50% MTI 4K Members and will "Review the content and frequency of report cards".

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State schools admit they do not push gifted pupils because they don't want to promote 'elitism'

Laura Clark:

As many as three-quarters of state schools are failing to push their brightest pupils because teachers are reluctant to promote 'elitism', an Ofsted study says today.

Many teachers are not convinced of the importance of providing more challenging tasks for their gifted and talented pupils.

Bright youngsters told inspectors they were forced to ask for harder work. Others were resentful at being dragooned into 'mentoring' weaker pupils.

In nearly three-quarters of 26 schools studied, pupils designated as being academically gifted or talented in sport or the arts were 'not a priority', Ofsted found.

Teachers feared that a focus on the brightest pupils would 'undermine the school's efforts to improve the attainment and progress of all other groups of pupils'.

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Poor Children Likelier to Get Antipsychotics

Duff Wilson:

New federally financed drug research reveals a stark disparity: children covered by Medicaid are given powerful antipsychotic medicines at a rate four times higher than children whose parents have private insurance. And the Medicaid children are more likely to receive the drugs for less severe conditions than their middle-class counterparts, the data shows.

Those findings, by a team from Rutgers and Columbia, are almost certain to add fuel to a long-running debate. Do too many children from poor families receive powerful psychiatric drugs not because they actually need them -- but because it is deemed the most efficient and cost-effective way to control problems that may be handled much differently for middle-class children?

The questions go beyond the psychological impact on Medicaid children, serious as that may be. Antipsychotic drugs can also have severe physical side effects, causing drastic weight gain and metabolic changes resulting in lifelong physical problems.

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Milwaukee Public Schools have heard the criticism; what's next?

Alan Borsuk:

I give William Andrekopoulos credit - the school superintendent has invited outside scrutiny of what's going on in Milwaukee Public Schools, and he hasn't flinched when that has brought bad news time after time.

He says it takes courage to do this, and, especially compared with the mealy-mouthed way lots of executives in public and private businesses act, he's right.

"If you don't put the truth on the table . . .  there will never be a sense of urgency to improve," he said in a phone conversation. He said he wants his successor - whom the School Board is on pace to pick soon - to have a clear understanding of what the score is.

So here's some of the score:

In 2006, Andrekopoulos invites the Council of the Great City Schools, a professional organization for big city school administrators, to assess the education program in MPS. The result: A report that is strongly critical, saying efforts in city schools are a hodgepodge of practices, many of them weak. The report also says there is a pervasive lack of urgency about getting better results in MPS.

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December 12, 2009

"A Girl Like Me"

All of the hoopla over Disney's "The Princess and the Frog" made me remember this honest, hard-hitting short documentary by Kiri Davis.

A Girl Like Me
Kiri Davis


For my high-school literature class I was constructing an anthology with a wide range of different stories that I believed reflected the black girl's experience. For the different chapters, I conducted interviews with a variety of black girls in my high school, and a number of issues surfaced concerning the standards of beauty imposed on today's black girls and how this affects their self-image. I thought this topic would make an interesting film and so when I was accepted into the Reel Works Teen Filmmaking program, I set out to explore these issues. I also decided to would re-conduct the "doll test" initially conducted by Dr. Kenneth Clark, which was used in the historic desegregation case, Brown vs. Board of Education. I thought that by including this experiment in my film, I would shed new light on how society affects black children today and how little has actually changed.

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Wisconsin School Property Tax Levies Set for 2009-10 Tax Bill, Up 6.0%

Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance:

School property tax levies for 2009-10 are up 6.0%, from $4.28 billion last year to $4.54 billion this year, according to the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX), a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization. The rise in school taxes exceeded last year's increase of 5.2%, due principally to state budget cuts in aid to K-12 schools.

According to WISTAX, tax changes ranged from increases of 41.2% in Seneca and 32.8% in Gilmanton to reductions of more than 19% in Ladysmith and Sharon J1. However, increases larger than those in prior years were the norm, and 116 districts (27%) of the state's 425 districts had increases of 10% or more. In another 151 districts, levies were up between 5% and 10%. Only 42 districts cut property taxes.

"Although state budget reductions and tighter school revenue limits have made the headlines," noted WISTAX President Todd A. Berry, "the more telling stories are coming from budget details."

For example, schools raised their general fund levies more than 8%, well above the overall 6% increase. They pared back the overall increases by retiring or refinancing debt and by rearranging expenditures formerly charged to a little-known fund exempt from state revenue limits: fund 80, or the community services fund. This fall, 78 of 425 districts trimmed community service levies that fund such items as community recreation and adult classes; 10 districts eliminated the tax altogether. These actions served to reduce what would otherwise have been an 8.2% tax increase.

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Bill gives Milwaukee Mayor Barrett mega power over schools

Larry Sandler & Erin Richards:

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett would have more power over the Milwaukee Public Schools superintendent and budget than nearly any other U.S. mayor holds over a big-city school system, under a bill the Legislature is to consider Wednesday.

"If they go ahead with the present plan, it will make for one of the most powerful education mayors in the country," said Joe Viteritti, a professor of public policy at Hunter College who led a commission to study mayoral control in New York City and has edited a book, "When Mayors Take Charge."

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee), would allow the mayor to appoint the superintendent without confirmation by the School Board or Common Council, and would let the superintendent set the school budget and tax levy without a vote by the board or council.

Elected School Board members - who now select the superintendent and approve the budget - would be limited to an advisory role on the budget and would control only such functions as student discipline, community outreach and adult recreation.

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The Class War: Public Employees vs. the Rest of Us

Matt Welch:

Nick Gillespie pointed earlier to the latest evidence that federal workers have long since lapped their private sector benefactors in salary and job growth, in addition to their traditional advantages in job security and benefits. (Fun fact! Back in February 2008, before Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, and George W. Bush's disaster socialism, The New York Times reported that Dubya was "in line to be the first president since World War II to preside over an economy in which federal government employment rose more rapidly than employment in the private sector.")

Here's an anecdotal sign that conventional wisdom is turning against those who are using the guaranteed revenue stream of tax dollars to pad their paychecks and pensions: A scathing piece from L.A. Times metro columnist Steve Lopez. Excerpt:

A reader sent me a posting for an executive secretary position at the [Department of Water and Power], and the salary range is $68,089 to $97,864, with great benefits. [...]

I checked with the personnel department and found that the same position in other city departments starts at $54,000 and ranges up to $72,000.

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Let big city mayor pick school chief

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

Something big needs to happen with Milwaukee Public Schools to boost student performance and graduation rates.

And Gov. Jim Doyle's push to give the city's mayor more influence is worth a shot.

The Legislature should accept Doyle's call for a special floor session this week to change how Milwaukee chooses its school superintendent.

Doyle wants the city's mayor, rather than the Milwaukee School Board, to appoint the superintendent. In addition, Senate Bill 405 would give the superintendent more power over the district's budget, contracts and staff.

If city voters didn't like the results by 2017, they could change back to the current system through a binding referendum.

The Legislature is already planning to meet this week to OK tougher drunken driving laws. So it can easily take up SB 405 as well. The bill needs quick action to help Wisconsin compete for federal "Race to the Top" innovation grants.

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Do we need lunch periods, or even cafeterias?

Jay Matthews:

A flood of emails Monday resisting my suggestion of longer school days to raise achievement leads me to wonder if parts of the regular school day could be put to better use. Is the typical raucous high school lunch period, in an overcrowded and sometimes dangerous cafeteria, really necessary? My colleague Jenna Johnson wrote last week of imaginative principals letting students avoid the cafeteria in favor of staying in classrooms to catch up with work or having club meetings. Can lunch become a time for stress-free learning, rather than Lord of the Flies with tile floors?

Okay, I confess I have long considered lunch a waste of time. I avoided the cafeteria during high school. My favorite lunch was eating a sandwich in a classroom while convening the student court, of which I was chief justice, so we could sanction some miscreant for stealing corn nuts from the vending machine. (I heard a radio ad for that classmate's business when I was home recently---he has become a successful attorney.) At the office these days I stay in my cubicle and have crackers and fruit juice, maybe a cookie if somebody has brought them from home.

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December 11, 2009

America's Best High Schools; Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology is #1

US News & World Report:

We looked at more than 21,000 public high schools in 48 states and the District of Columbia. The following are the 100 schools that performed the best in our three-step America's Best High Schools ranking analysis.
Kenneth Terrell:
Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va., the top school in U.S. News & World Report's America's Best High Schools rankings, is designed to challenge students. A course load of offerings that include DNA science, neurology, and quantum physics would seem to be more than enough to meet that goal. But students and the faculty felt those classes weren't enough, so they decided to tackle another big question: What are the social responsibilities of educated people? Over the course of the school year, students are exploring social responsibility through projects of their own design, ranging from getting school supplies for students with cerebral palsy in Shanghai to persuading their classmates to use handkerchiefs to reduce paper waste. The One Question project demonstrates the way "TJ," as it's referred to by students and teachers, encourages the wide-ranging interests of its students.

"None of our students has the same passion," says TJ Principal Evan Glazer. "But having a passion is widely accepted and embraced."

This enthusiasm has placed TJ at the top of the America's Best High Schools ranking for each of the three years that U.S. News has ranked high schools. U.S. News uses a three-step process that analyzes first how schools are educating all of their students, then their minority and disadvantaged students, and finally their collegebound students based on student scores on statewide tests, Advanced Placement tests, and International Baccalaureate tests.

Wisconsin high schools ranked 44th among the 50 states. No Dane County schools made the list.

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Announcing our January Reading Day

Wisconsin First Lady Jessica Doyle, via email:

Warm wishes this winter season!

Thank you for your continued participation in the Read On Wisconsin! book club. We had a fantastic semester traveling to classrooms across Wisconsin and inviting numerous classes and authors to the Executive Residence for Reading Days.

Throughout the fall, we spoke to elementary, middle, and high school students about the importance of reading and suggesting the excellent books chosen by the Literacy Advisory Committee. Three Cups of Tea: The Young Reader's Edition by Greg Mortenson has been one of our most popular choices and has connected so many students and staff with community service. (You can learn more at:

We have held very successful Reading Days at the Residence. In November, we welcomed three authors: Rachna Gilmore (Group of One), Sylviane Diouf (Bintou's Braids), and James Rumford (Silent Music). Each of these authors shared their enthusiasm for writing and answered many student questions about their international experiences.

Our next Reading Day will be: Thursday, January 21, 2010 from 9:00 - 2:30. At our January Reading Day, we will welcome John Coy, the author of our high school selection, Box Out. This book shares a courageous story of a high school basketball player who speaks up against an unconstitutional act occurring at his school. Box Out reaches all students. We are seeking five middle or high school classes for this Reading Day.

Please e-mail Ashley Huibregtse at or call 608-575-5608 to reserve your middle or high school group a spot in the schedule. Each class will be scheduled for one hour. Please share your time preference when you call or e-mail. Remember we offer bus reimbursement up to $100 to help with transportation costs if needed.

E-mail or call today! This will be an exciting Reading Day to start 2010! All the best for a happy holiday season, and Read On!


Jessica and Ashley

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Test Your IQ

Pew Research Center. The results - at the end - are rather shocking.... or not.

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Why gifted classes are not enough: the Warren Buffett case

Jay Matthews:

lexandria School Superintendent Mort Sherman has discovered that the city's gifted education program needs revision. Sherman likes to poke at beehives. Few issues inspire as much angry mail as changing gifted programs. He wants to find ways to get more black and Hispanic kids into the program, but if I were he, I would go much further than that.

Start with the story of one particularly troublesome Washington area gifted child, Warren Buffett, as described in the biography "The Snowball," by Alice Schroeder. By age 13, Buffett, later to be the richest man in the world and a Washington Post Co. board member, had had it with school. I wonder whether it might have been better if his parents had let him quit right then.

At newspaper gatherings, Buffett sometimes mentions the Washington Post paper route he had as a boy. It sounds quaint and charming, until you read the book and discover that the kid had so many routes that his annual income (including proceeds from his tenant farm and other investments) was greater than that of his teachers at Deal Junior High and Wilson High in the District. His father was a congressman. His family was comfortable. But he had made all that money himself as a boy genius entrepreneur. By age 14, he had filed his first tax return.

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Tap Michigan water supply for education funds?

Robin Erb:

Lt. Governor John Cherry this afternoon proposed using Michigan's water supply to fund its education system.

More specifically, businesses that make a profit by selling Michigan's water should pay a fee of 10 cents per bottle. That money, in turn, could replace the recently-dismantled Promise Scholarship, Cherry said.

He said the state's two most precious natural resources -- its people and its water -- are being depleted.

"We are losing one resource -- our talented work force and the energy of our young people, and we are giving away another resource -- our water -- for free," he said. "You don't need a PhD in mathematics to know this is a terrible equation."

"It's time for the bottlers to pay their water bill, just like you and I do," he said.

Cherry was speaking at the University of Michigan on a panel discussing the 2004 report that made 19 recommendations on education reform in Michigan.

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Cuts Ahead, a Bronx Principal Maps Out What May Have to Go

Sharon Otterman:

Like many other principals across the city, Edward Tom has developed something of a nervous habit. Each morning, when he switches on his computer at the Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics, he checks to make sure his school has the same amount of money it had the night before.

Mr. Tom is not a principal one would normally suspect of anxiety. Eighty-three percent of the students in the senior class at his small South Bronx high school graduated this spring, well above the 52 percent borough average. More than three-quarters of them enrolled in four-year colleges, winning $3 million in scholarships.

"These are the students people said couldn't learn," Mr. Tom, who has been principal since the school opened in 2005, said proudly.

But budget cuts are coming, even if it is too soon to say exactly when and how much. Most city agencies have been asked to submit plans for cost savings; the Department of Education has been asked to prepare for a 1.5 percent midyear cut and a 4 percent cut for next autumn's entering class.

While it is not known how much individual schools will be asked to shave, principals like Mr. Tom are preparing for the worst. It is part of their role, since 2007, of managing a large portion of their own operating budgets.

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Mobile Phones & Learning @ Gumley House Convent School


In a majority of schools around the country mobile phones/devices are locked away or 'banned' from use as they are perceived as a distraction or danger. The premise of this study is to see how mobile technologies can be used as a tool for learning within schools, by both staff and students.

30 students have been given the loan of an iPhone 3GS until then end of the academic year. They will be able to use these devices as part of their every day lessons in school and use them in whichever way they feel will aid their learning, working closely with their teachers. The increasing availability of 'apps' (applications) on these phones means that a wealth of possibilities may be accessed, and the group involved in the study will meet at regular intervals to share ideas on how they are being used as well as look at their regular attainment to see if, in reality, and change in learning can be monitored.

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Women, Literacy And Angry Young Men

Strategy Page:

Americans serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are amazed at how poor these places are, and how difficult it is to make a living. On top of that, there are lots of children, who are destined to be even less well off than their parents. This is one reason for Islamic terrorism. There are too many Moslems. At least in the sense that the economies of Islamic countries cannot create enough jobs for all the young people coming of age. Consider that for the last fifty years, the population of all Moslem countries has tripled. That's population growth that is more than double the rate of the world as a whole, and about ten times the rate of Europe. It's about five times the rate in the United States.

Many of those unemployed young men are angry, and making war is a typical activity of angry young men. But the women are not too happy either, and this is becoming a major threat to Islamic terrorists. In Islamic societies, women's activities are greatly restricted. One thing they are encouraged to do is have lots of children. Many women in Islamic countries are rebelling against this. You don't hear much about this, because women don't rebel in the same loud, headline grabbing way that men do. What unhappy women often do is stop having children. Not so easy to do, you think? Well, think again.

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Pulaski teachers protest board vote against union

Chuck Bartels:

Union-represented teachers in the Pulaski County School District stayed home Thursday to protest a school board decision to end recognition of their union.
All 39 schools in the 18,000-student district remained open, with substitute teachers and parent volunteers filling in for the absent teachers, Acting Superintendent Rob McGill said.
"Our first priority was getting students in the classrooms, getting substitutes or volunteers in the classrooms and proper supervision for the students," McGill said.

"I've had no phone calls as far as schools saying (they are) overwhelmed and can't handle the situation," he added.

Of the district's 1,380 teachers, 690 were out Thursday, exactly half. About a dozen teachers are out on a typical day, McGill said.

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December 10, 2009

4K reaches 80 percent of Wisconsin school districts

Wisconsin DPI, via a kind reader's email:

Eighty percent of Wisconsin school districts offer 4-year-old kindergarten (4K), educational programming that has been growing throughout the state.
Sixteen school districts opened 4K programs this year. The 333 districts that provide 4K programs are serving 38,075 children, an enrollment increase of more than 4,000 from last year. Of the districts providing 4K, 101 do so through the community approach, which blends public and private resources to allow more options for the care and education of all 4-year-olds.

Licensed teachers provide instruction for all public school district 4K programs. In the community approach, some districts provide a licensed 4K teacher in a private child care setting, some contract with Head Start or the child care setting for the licensed teachers, and others bring child care into the licensed 4K public school program or mesh licensed 4K services with a Head Start program. Wisconsin is one of the nation's leading models for combining educational and community care services for 4-year-olds.

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Board of Education Progress Report, December, 2009

Madison School Board President Arlene Silveira, via email:

4-Year-Old Kindergarten (4K): The Board received updates from the community-based 4K planning committee in the areas of: 1) logistics; 2) curriculum; 3) public/community relations; 4) family outreach/involvement; 5) funding. The Board voted to have the District continue to work with the community in planning for 4K with an anticipated start date of September 2010, pending the determination of the availability of the resources necessary to support the new program. A presentation on financial resources will be made to the Board in December.

Financial Audit: As required by state statute, the MMSD hires an independent audit firm to perform an audit of our annual financial statements and review our compliance with federal program requirements. The audit looks at the financial operations of the District. This audit was completed by Clifton Gunderson LLP. The Board received the audit report and a summary from Clifton Gunderson.

When asked what the summary message was that we could share with the community, the response was that the District is in a very sound financial position. Results of operations for 2009 were very positive with $10M added to fund balance. The fund balance is critical to the operation of the District and the cash-flow of the District. We were pleased with the audit outcome.

Math Task Force: The Board approved the administrative response to the 13 recommendations listed in the MMSD Math Task Force Report. The recommendations focused on middle school math specialists; district-wide curricular consistency; achievement gap; assessment; teacher collaboration; parent/community communication; balanced math approach; addressing failing grades in algebra; and algebra in 8th grade. The Board also asked for regular updates on the progress of plan implementation. The Task Force Report is located on the District's web site.

Enrollment Data: The Board reviewed the enrollment data and projections for the District. One area that stood out was the overcrowding in some of the elementary schools in the La Follette attendance area. The Long Range Planning Committee is starting a series of meetings to study the overcrowding in this area and to develop recommendations for the Board on how to address this issue. It is anticipated that recommendations will be brought back to the Board in February. The Board will have the final say on how to deal with the overcrowding issues.

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

Arlene Silveira (516-8981)

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Tracking/Grouping Students: Detracked Schools have fewer advanced math students than "tracked schools"

Tom Loveless:

What are the implications of "tracking," or grouping students into separate classes based on their achievement? Many schools have moved away from this practice and reduced the number of subject-area courses offered in a given grade. In this new Thomas B. Fordham Institute report, Brookings scholar Tom Loveless examines tracking and detracking in Massachusetts middle schools, with particular focus on changes that have occurred over time and their implications for high-achieving students. Among the report's key findings: detracked schools have fewer advanced students in mathematics than tracked schools. The report also finds that detracking is more popular in schools serving disadvantaged populations.
Valerie Strauss:
A new report out today makes the case that students do better in school when they are separated into groups based on their achievement.

Loveless found that de-tracked schools have fewer advanced students in math than do tracked schools--and that de-tracking is more popular in schools that serve disadvantaged students.

Chester Finn, Jr. and Amber Winkler [1.3MB complete report pdf]:
By 2011, if the states stick to their policy guns, all eighth graders in California and Minnesota will be required to take algebra. Other states are all but certain to follow. Assuming these courses hold water, some youngsters will dive in majestically and then ascend gracefully to the surface, breathing easily. Others, however, will smack their bellies, sink to the bottom and/or come up gasping. Clearly, the architects of this policy have the best of intentions. In recent years, the conventional wisdom of American K-12 education has declared algebra to be a "gatekeeper" to future educational and career success. One can scarcely fault policy makers for insisting that every youngster pass through that gate, lest too many find their futures constrained. It's also well known that placing students in remedial classes rarely ends up doing them a favor, especially in light of evi- dence that low-performing students may learn more in heterogeneous classrooms.

Yet common sense must ask whether all eighth graders are truly prepared to succeed in algebra class. That precise question was posed in a recent study by Brookings scholar Tom Loveless (The 2008 Brown Center Report on American Education), who is also the author of the present study. He found that over a quarter of low-performing math students--those scoring in the bottom 10 percent on NAEP--were enrolled in advanced math courses in 2005. Since these "misplaced" students are ill-pre- pared for the curricular challenges that lie ahead, Loveless warned, pushing an "algebra for all" policy on them could further endanger their already-precarious chances of success.

When American education produced this situation by abolishing low-level tracks and courses, did people really believe that such seemingly simple--and well-meanin --changes in policy and school organization would magically transform struggling learners into middling or high-achieving ones? And were they oblivious to the effects that such alterations might have on youngsters who were al- ready high-performing?

Related: English 10.

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The Perfect Example of Communalism

Andreal Davis - Madison School District Instructional Resource Teacher for Cultural Relevance, via a kind reader's email:

Communalism is the concept that the duty to one's family and social group is more important that individual rights and privileges. On November 4, 2009 I personally experienced this concept through President Barack Obama's visit to James Coleman Wright Middle School.

The experience began with my 12 year old son, Ari Davis, being selected to lead the Pledge of Allegiance during the ceremony. Minutes after being informed of this special occasion, I was invited to attend the event as a member of the Madison Metropolitan School District staff. Thus, I attended the ceremony wearing two hats, one as a parent and the other as an educator.

On the day of this event, several of us anxiously awaited - for more than four hours - the arrival of President Obama. During this period I experienced first hand the spirit of communalism. A recap of my educational career began to unfold in the parking lot as I held conversations with past and current MMSD colleagues. As I entered Wright Middle School I had the opportunity to interact with students I had taught at Lincoln Elementary. This allowed me to see some products of my work by listening to their thought provoking reactions to the President's impending visit.

Clusty Search: Communalism.

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Will Obama's School Reform Plan Work?

Kim Clark:

America has tried many strategies over the decades to reverse the slow, steady decline in its public schools. Few of these have delivered real results. The "classrooms without walls" of the 1970s, for example, were supposed to open students' minds to creativity and curiosity. It worked for some kids, but too many others ended up merely distracted. In the '90s, school vouchers--publicly financed scholarships for low-income students to attend private schools--were praised as a way to give families choices and pressure schools to improve. Vouchers helped a fraction of families across the country but didn't instigate any real change. The 2002 No Child Left Behind requirements were supposed to guarantee that every kid learned at least the "three R" basics. English and math scores for elementary students did inch up, but the scores of average American high schoolers on international science and math tests continued to sink. The United States currently ranks 17th in science and 24th in math, near the bottom of the developed world.

Now President Obama has launched the Race to the Top campaign to improve schools by holding students to higher standards, paying bonuses to teachers whose students excel, and replacing the worst schools with supposedly nimbler and more intimate charter schools. This time will be different, he insists, because he's only going to promote strategies proven to help students, and he's going to reward the winners of his reform race with prize money from a stimulus fund of at least $4 billion, a slice of the more than $100 billion he set aside for education in the stimulus bill.

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Facebook's New Privacy Changes: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Kevin Bankston:

Five months after it first announced coming privacy changes this past summer, Facebook is finally rolling out a new set of revamped privacy settings for its 350 million users. The social networking site has rightly been criticized for its confusing privacy settings, most notably in a must-read report by the Canadian Privacy Commissioner issued in July and most recently by a Norwegian consumer protection agency. We're glad to see Facebook is attempting to respond to those privacy criticisms with these changes, which are going live this evening. Unfortunately, several of the claimed privacy "improvements" have created new and serious privacy problems for users of the popular social network service.

The new changes are intended to simplify Facebook's notoriously complex privacy settings and, in the words of today's privacy announcement to all Facebook users, "give you more control of your information." But do all of the changes really give Facebook users more control over their information? EFF took a close look at the changes to figure out which ones are for the better — and which ones are for the worse.

Our conclusion? These new "privacy" changes are clearly intended to push Facebook users to publicly share even more information than before. Even worse, the changes will actually reduce the amount of control that users have over some of their personal data.

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"Bloomberg to Tie Student Test Scores to Decisions on Teacher Tenure"

Melissa Westbrook:

You can't say it more plainly than that so I reprinted the headline from this NY Times article.

Apparently NYC already uses test scores as a factor in teacher/principal bonus pay (yes, they have that too), for the grade a school gets (A-F) and for which schools are closed because of poor performance. A lot of this effort is to get Race to the Top money.

The article suggests that the Mayor (he just won his third term despite having said he would follow the law that he couldn't run again - he got that changed) may put forth his political capital to take on the teachers union.

And from the article of interest to us:

"The mayor also said the state should allow teacher layoffs based on performance rather than seniority, as they are now."

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Latest cause of foreclosures: Kids didn't learn it in school

Jo Egelhoff:

Nanny State Update: I don't get this. Why would instructions be issued to teach kids - to be required to teach kids - about taking out a mortgage and the risks of a home loan?.

Why would teachers need to be told to teach kids about money management? How much more of this stuff are these poor teachers going to be mandated to teach?

The state's Model Academic Standards for Personal Financial Literacy are extensive and detailed. A quick glance at the Table of Contents tells you DPI has it covered. Peek inside (Credit and Debt management, pp. 8 - 10) and you'll see tons of objectives and sub-objectives for 4th graders, 8th graders and 12th graders. Check it out. Yes, I think we're covered!

Basic knowledge of Math should be sufficient to help all of us understand loans that make sense, vs those that don't. I continue to be amazed at the financial pitches that apparently work: $89/month for a new Honda Civic (fine print: big down payment and a balloon payment after x years).

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Where schooling is sabotaged


Kennji Kizuka was a consultant to the children's rights division of Human Rights Watch and conducted research for their new report, Sabotaged Schooling: Naxalite Attacks and Police Occupation of Schools in India's Bihar and Jharkhand States. The opinions expressed are his own. -

Late in the evening of November 29, 2008, a group of guerrilla fighters entered the remote village of Dwarika in the Indian state of Jharkhand and detonated improvised bombs inside the village's only school. Doors blew apart, desks and chairs splintered, and portions of the classroom walls crumbled. No longer suitable or safe for learning, the school closed.

When I visited Dwarika in June of this year, local residents attributed the attack to the "Naxalites"--the term used in India to refer to Maoist-oriented insurgent groups who seek to overthrow the Indian state and establish a new social order to protect oppressed and marginalized people. They wage their armed struggle by attacking police, assassinating politicians, extorting businesses, and targeting government infrastructure - trains, roads, and schools.

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Expand charter schools? Here's how

Nelson Smith:

ducation reform advocates have been cheered by the election of Chris Christie as New Jersey's next governor. A key plank of his education plan is creating more high-quality public charter schools -- a goal shared with the administration of President Obama.
Since the first charter school law was passed in 1991, the movement has enjoyed bipartisan support at the federal and state levels. Now, in part because of the emphasis on charters in the administration's "Race to the Top" competition, we're seeing a firestorm of renewed interest in many states.

As Carlos Lejnieks, chairman of the a, rightly says, we need to move charters "from mediocre to good; from good to great; and from great to growth." The good news is that New Jersey has assets to build from and is already doing some things right.

From Ryan Hill and Steve Adubato in Newark to Gloria Bonilla-Santiago in Camden, some of the nation's leading charter leaders are in New Jersey. In terms of policy, there is no statewide "cap" on the number of charter schools that can be created; the New Jersey Department of Education has created a reasonably rigorous process for approving new charters while adding greater numbers of new schools in recent years; and the statewide public school-finance reforms enacted in 2008 helped establish a more level playing field for charters that had suffered huge disadvantages under the previous funding program.

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Now it's time to manage a school district

Dallas Morning News Editorial:

We have a simple message to newly elected Dallas schools trustees Bernadette Nutall and Bruce Parrott: The politicking is over; now it's time to manage a school district.

This urging is not to be taken lightly. DISD is making academic progress and beginning to put its battered financial house in order; it must continue to improve in those directions.

Tuesday's runoff elections give us both hope and cause to pause. Nutall, District 9 trustee, has constructively criticized the school board and administration. We anticipate that she will responsibly hold DISD administration, including Superintendent Michael Hinojosa, accountable to trustees and, ultimately, to taxpayers, parents and students. We recommended her in this race because she's done strong work in the district as a school-community liaison and brings a grassroots understanding of the issues facing DISD.

However, we're less certain about Parrott, whose campaign in District 3 consisted of mostly unfocused critiques of DISD, Hinojosa and board incumbents. The new trustee, whose style we've found to be potentially combative and unproductive, must deliver more. While we did not recommend him in this election, we hope he proves our concerns unfounded.

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Charter Schools Against the Odds

Wall Street Journal Editorial:

Charter schools reached a new milestone this year. According to the Center for Education Reform, more than 5,000 charters are now operating in 39 states and the District of Columbia. Considering that the first charter didn't open until 1992, and that these innovative schools have faced outright hostility from teachers unions and the education bureaucracy, their growth is a rare gleam of hope for American public schools.

More than 1.5 million students now attend charters, an 11% increase from a year ago. That's only about 3% of all public school students, but the number has more than quadrupled in the past decade. And it would be much higher if the supply of charter schools was meeting the demand. As of June, an estimated 365,000 kids were on waiting lists.

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An Update from the Madison School Board's Student Member

Sarah Maslin:

4k is really exciting, since it provides a great opportunity for four year olds to get a head start with learning before they get to kindergarten. It's also a promising step towards eliminating the achievment gap. Right now, we're smooting out some rough edges-- deciding whether to start with all of the buildings and teachers, or whether to "phase in," starting with 1/3 or 2/3 the amount of resources, and then increase it in the next few years.

However, though there's still some negotiating to go, the 4k plan seems to be on its way. Another issue that involved a lot of intense discussion was the district's Reading Recovery Program.

Reading Recovery is a program for first grade students who are really struggling with reading. Targeted at the lowest 20% reading level students, Reading Recovery provides very intense one-on-one training every day which, when continued throughout the year, has very good national results of getting kids back on track.

However, in the last few years, RR in the MMSD has had less success than the national average (42% students finish the program versus around 60% nationally). This lead the district to worry and evaluate the program. At our meeting, we discussed schools that had experienced success with reading recoverey, and other ones that had not. The team that evaluated the program has recommended "full implementation" of reading recovery at schools with the most needy children, which would hopefully increase the success rate at those schools. However, due to limited resources, Reading Recovery can not be implemented at every school.

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Just How Long Has The Milwaukee Public Schools Takeover Been Planned?

The Milwaukee Drum:

Troy Shaw (Focus On Diversity) held a panel discussion 3 years ago to discuss something similar to a MPS Takeover. Look at who was on the panel then... interesting how long this issue has been on the table. Dr. Onick tells the audience exactly what he believes should be done with underperforming schools... shut 'em down.

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December 9, 2009

More Texas students taking, failing Advanced Placement exams

Holly Hacker:

Robust Advanced Placement programs are often seen as a seal of quality for high schools. And in its quest for excellence, Texas has seen an explosion of the classes that offer the promise and prestige of college credit.

But the latest data show Texas high school students fail more than half of the college-level exams, and their performance trails national averages.

Some say Texas failure rates are higher because more students from an increasingly diverse pool take AP classes here. But high failure rates from some of the Dallas area's elite campuses raise questions about whether our most advantaged high school students are prepared for college work.

More: Inequities found in Advanced Placement Course Choices.

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Online Education and the Market for Superstar Teachers

Alex Tabarrok:

I have argued that universities will move to a superstar market for teachers in which the very best teachers use on-line instruction and TAs to teach thousands of students at many different universities. The full online model is not here yet but I see an increasing amount of evidence for the superstar model of teaching. At GMU some of our best teachers are being recruited by other universities with very attractive offers and some of our most highly placed students have earned their positions through excellence in teaching rather than through the more traditional route of research.

I do not think GMU is unique in this regard--my anecdotal evidence is that the market for professors is rewarding great teachers with higher wages and higher placements than in earlier years.

The online aspect, which enhances the market for superstars, is also growing. Here from a piece on online education in Fast Company are a few nuggets on for-profit colleges which have moved online more quickly than the non-profits.

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An online teaching surprise

Daniel Willingham:

The benefits of online schooling have always seemed obvious to me: A student can work at his or her own pace and desired time and will likely have a larger selection of courses from which to choose.

The chief drawback of online schooling was equally obvious to me: The teacher-student relationship, funneled through an Internet connection, would necessarily suffer. How could a teacher really get to know students when all of the interactions were via email and webcams?
That disadvantage was obvious to me until I mentioned it, in passing, to a friend who is an online teacher. Her experience was the just the opposite. She felt that she knew her students better in an online environment than she had in a bricks-and-mortar school.

I was intrigued enough that I tracked down five other online teachers at different grade levels, all of whom had taught in traditional schools. They all reported the same feelings.

Once they explained the reasons, it seemed not only plausible, but obvious.

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An undesirable inheritance
Children of illegal immigrants twice as likely as other kids to face poverty

N.C. Aizenman:

Eight-year-old Alex picked up a 75-cent can of fruit punch from one of the grocery store's shelves and called excitedly to his mother in Spanish.

Maria, 38, gave her stocky third-grader a sympathetic smile. She'd already made Alex and his 3-year-old sister, Emelyn, walk 30 minutes under a broiling sun from their house in suburban Maryland to the Safeway, the closest place that accepts Emelyn's federal milk and cereal vouchers. Then they'd trekked 20 minutes more to this cheaper Latino grocery so Maria, an illegal immigrant from Mexico who can't afford a car and wouldn't be eligible for a driver's license anyway, could save $3.40 on chicken.

"At home, my son," Maria said soothingly. "When we get home, you can drink some water."

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A New Front in War on Cavities

Shirley Wang:

Cavities have made a dismaying comeback in children in recent years, and the search is on among scientists to find new ways to fight tooth decay.

The prevalence of cavities in children aged 2 to 5 decreased steadily through the 1970s and 1980s, thanks largely to the expansion of water fluoridation and to advances in treatment and prevention, dental experts say. The trend appeared to hit a low around the mid-1990s, when about 24% of young children had cavities, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But tooth decay then began heading higher. A CDC survey found that 28% of small children--a significant increase, according to the agency--had cavities in the five years ended 2004, the latest data available. The reasons for the increase aren't entirely clear. But dental experts suggest it may be due to children drinking more bottled water that doesn't contain fluoride, and to changes in dietary habits.

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The Race to the Top Starts Now

Antonio Villaraigosa:

It is far past the time for California to step up and reform its education system. As a state, our schools were once the fourth-highest in the nation in reading and math. Now, we now rank below 40. In science, our students were once proudly some of the highest in the nation and now they are now some of the lowest.

This is simply unacceptable.

We have to reform the way we educate our children and, thanks to the Obama administration, we have a chance to do just that.

Thanks to the Race to the Top funds - $4.35 billion worth of competitive grants - states have the opportunity to compete for these funds that are intended to "encourage and reward states that are creating the conditions for education innovation and reform." Essentially, the White House and Department of Education have issued a challenge to states - come up with a workable plan to fix your failing schools and they will reward you with funding.

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Doyle calls special legislative session for Milwaukee Public Schools changes

Patrick Marley:

Citing low Milwaukee Public Schools' scores on a new national assessment, Gov. Jim Doyle called for a special legislative session for Dec. 16 to give the Milwaukee mayor the power to appoint the school superintendent.

That's the same day lawmakers hope to pass a bill to toughen drunken driving laws.

Doyle for weeks has pushed for the change to help secure a share of $4.35 billion in federal Race to the Top funds. But he faces strong opposition from some of his fellow Democrats who control the Legislature.

"I am calling a special session of the Legislature because we must act now to drive real change that improves students' performance, month after month and year after year," Doyle said in a statement. "The children at Milwaukee Public Schools are counting on the adults around them to prepare them for success."

But opponents of the plan said they will continue to fight the measure.

"It is disappointing that Gov. Doyle has decided to ignore the will of Milwaukee's citizens and continue his push for a mayoral takeover of Milwaukee Public Schools," Rep. Tamara Grigsby (D-Milwaukee) said in a statement. "MPS needs serious reform, but the top-down approach for which he advocates lacks the level of community engagement and consideration that any proposal of this magnitude requires."

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40 years later, chemistry show is still a hit

Deborah Ziff:

It would seem to hold all the appeal of listening to someone read the dictionary aloud.

But hundreds of people will pack into a room on the UW-Madison campus Saturday to attend a presentation on the properties of carbon dioxide, liquid nitrogen and zirconium.

In short, the choice activity in Madison on Saturday is a chemistry lecture.

If it sounds like a snooze, then you don't know Bassam Shakhashiri.

This is the 40th time the UW-Madison professor has held his annual Christmas show extravaganza, otherwise known as "Once upon a Christmas cheery, in the lab of Shakhashiri."

With a flair for showmanship, Shakhashiri is like a magician who wows audiences by using science, rather than sleight of hand or illusions. Beakers erupt with material, solutions turn psychedelic colors, chemicals explode thunderously - all to an audience oohing and ahhing as if they were watching Harry Houdini.

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December 8, 2009

Math Gains Stall in Big Cities

John Hechinger:

Most urban school districts failed to make significant progress in math achievement in the past two years, and had scores below the national average, according to a federal study.

The results, released Tuesday by the Department of Education, offer more ammunition to critics who question claims of academic progress in districts such as New York City. But federal and schools officials said that many of these districts had shown large gains since 2003, and didn't lose ground despite budget constraints.

Four of the 11 school districts the study has tracked since 2003 -- including Washington, D.C., which is in the throes of a turnaround effort -- bucked the trend and showed solid gains between 2007 and 2009.

Urban districts are central to federal efforts to improve U.S. education, especially among poor and minority students, who are disproportionately taught in underperforming schools. Congress is likely to look at the fresh data when it considers, as soon as next year, reauthorizing George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind law, which requires that all students be proficient in reading and math by 2014. The law relies on state tests, but critics -- liberals and conservatives -- worry that states may be making the tests too easy.

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2009 NAEP Math Results

The Nation's Report Card:

Scores for most districts higher than in 2003, but few make gains since 2007

Representative samples of fourth- and eighth-grade public school students from 18 urban districts participated in the 2009 assessment. Eleven of the districts also participated in the 2007 assessment, and 10 participated in 2003. Between 1,800 and 4,300 fourth- and eighth-graders were assessed in each district.

  • In comparison to 2007, average mathematics scores for students in large cities increased in 2009 at both grades 4 and 8; however, only two participating districts at each grade showed gains.
  • Scores were higher in 2009 for Boston and the District of Columbia at grade 4, and for Austin and San Diego at grade 8.
  • No districts showed a decline in scores at either grade.
  • In comparison to 2003, scores for students in large cities were higher in 2009 at both grades 4 and 8.
  • Increases in scores were also seen across most urban districts that participated in both years, except in Charlotte at grade 4 and in Cleveland at grades 4 and 8, where there were no significant changes.
Complete 13MB pdf report can be found here.

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The dumbing down of education

Peggy Alley:

Childs Walker's article "Poor, minority students lose ground in college, study says" (Dec. 4) was quite chilling for anyone who has watched the demise of our public school system. The thinking seems to be that if minorities can't pass tests than the tests must be too difficult and should be made easier. That has become American education's mindset and has produced high school graduates who can't read, write, do basic math or think for themselves. It is much easier to dumb down education than to address the real problems of lack of parenting skills and inadequate teaching methods.

Of course America will be at a competitive disadvantage; while the rest of the world is raising educational standards, we are focused on making sure minority testing and graduate percentage rates are as high as non-minorities no matter how closing the gap is achieved.

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National education group gives N.J. charter school laws a 'C' grade

Jeannette Rundquist:

New Jersey's laws governing charter schools received a "C" from a Washington, D.C. non-profit group that ranked the statutes governing charter schools across the nation.

The Center for Education Reform, which advocates for charter schools and school choice, found New Jersey's laws fell right in the middle -- 17th strongest -- among the 40 states and districts that allow charter schools.

Only three places received an "A": California, Minnesota and the District of Columbia. And only 13 of 40 states have strong laws that do not require revision, according to the report released today.

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How to make responsible education reform a reality

Russ Feingold:

Last month, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a study, which I requested, reaffirming these concerns, particularly in schools that serve our most disadvantaged students. As Congress undertakes reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) next year, NCLB should be overhauled significantly. That is why I am pushing for key reforms of the federal testing mandate, including supporting the development of higher quality tests and ensuring students and schools are measured by more than test scores.

In the coming weeks, I will reintroduce the Improving Student Testing Act, which would provide competitive grants to states and school districts to develop alternatives to multiple choice tests. These assessments measure more complex academic skills, can give a more detailed analysis of student achievement, and can also provide more immediate feedback to teachers and students than the current tests used in most states.

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Catholic education, then and now

Colman McCarthy:

Models of academic longevity, Peter Walshe, Michael True and Tom Lee have a combined 114 years of teaching at Catholic colleges and universities. Having transitioned from full-time classroom toil, they are among the emeriti: seasoned and serene veterans buoyed by the satisfactions of the professorial life that they treasured through the decades.

Convivial and opinionated, part of the liberal wing of Catholic academia, they are the kind of old hands you would hunt down for reflections on the state of Catholic higher education. Going back awhile, I've had many conversations with each of the professors on their campuses: Walshe at the University of Notre Dame, True at Assumption College in Worcester, Mass., and Lee at St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H.

For this essay, I asked each of the three to focus on the positives and negatives they came upon at their schools.

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The School Turnaround Folly

Andrew Smarick:

The Obama administration's Department of Education recently launched what I believe will become its most expensive, most lamentable, and most avoidable folly. Declaring that, "as a country, we all need to get into the turnaround business," Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the availability of $3.5 billion in School Improvement Grants.

Years of research have clearly demonstrated that efforts to fix our most persistently failing schools seldom work. Moreover, turnarounds in other fields and industries have the same distressing track record. (This Education Next article fully discusses this matter.)

If the secretary's declaration were merely rhetorical, it would only demonstrate a lack of appreciation for the sad history of turnarounds. But it's entirely more worrisome than that. During a speech at the 2009 National Charter Schools Conference, Duncan encouraged the nation's best charter school operators to move away from their magnificent core competency--starting new schools for disadvantaged students--and get into the turnaround business. If they unwisely take him up on the offer, the opportunity costs could be staggering.

And of course, there is the matter of money. At $3.5 billion, this grant program is mammoth, meaning we are about to spend an enormous sum of money on a line of work with a remarkable track record of failure. Exacerbating the problem, the final guidelines allow for tepid interventions (the "transformation" model) to qualify as a turnaround attempt. While districts could choose to pursue more radical activities, history teaches us that few will.

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Milwaukee, Waukesha parents fight for bilingual schools

Georgia Pabst:

Parents at two largely Latino, bilingual schools - one on Milwaukee's south side and one in Waukesha - are waging battles to save their schools.

Although Kagel and White Rock elementary schools stand 18 miles apart in separate counties, the debates at both fit into the larger, national philosophical issues about bilingualism, small schools vs. large schools, economic pressures on school districts and changing demographics.

At Kagel, a neighborhood school in the heart of Milwaukee's Latino community, more than 200 parents filled the school's small gymnasium last month when word leaked out that Kagel was on the list of schools that Superintendent William Andrekopoulos identified for possible closure because of dropping enrollment or performance issues.

Parents reacted with signs that read: "Small school - Ideal scenario" and "Our children's education is important to us."

At the meeting, Andrekopoulos assured parents that Kagel, which is 76% Latino, won't be shut down. But because of low enrollment - 334 students - and increasing district costs, some changes might be in store, such as converting it into an early child education center, he said.

Zuleika Reza, a parent and member of the school's governance council, said parents don't want that.

"We want to make it clear that we want to keep it as a small school that's within walking distance for many families," she said.

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The school bell rings and students stay to study,0,3692913.story?track=rss:

After-school programs at De Anza Elementary in Baldwin Park keep students, faculty and even families focused on education.

The bell signaling the end of the school day at De Anza Elementary in Baldwin Park rang more than an hour ago. But hundreds of students are still at school, studying vocabulary, practicing math and completing homework under the supervision of teachers.

With the help of state grants, federal funds and teacher volunteers, nearly half of De Anza's students spend extra hours every week learning at school -- hours well beyond the traditional school day.

"Until six o'clock at night, you would think we're still in session," said Principal Christine Simmons. "Seeing the campus so alive like that, and seeing the parents and students so excited, just makes me and all the teachers want to work harder."

The result, according to the state Department of Education, is a dramatic improvement in student achievement.

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Bombing schoolchildren

Thomas Ricks:

I hope there is a special corner of Hell reserved for people who bomb schools, which happened today in Sadr City in eastern Baghdad, killing at least seven students and wounding another 41.

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Notes and Commentary on a Seattle STEM High School

Charlie Mas:

I attended the Cleveland STEM Community Meeting on December 4 with my wife and 8th grade daughter.

First, the important parts.

My daughter is excited about the program. To her it looks like a good mix of the academic challenge of Garfield with the more personalized instruction (and project-based learning) of NOVA. She got most excited when she saw a list of the possible classes in the Global Health Academy.

My wife and I are much more confident about the probability that the program will actually be there and that it will be something like what has been advertised.

There was a pretty good crowd of people there - I'd say about forty to fifty (not counting staff).

The folks from Cleveland who were there are excited about the program and have a very clear picture of the idea - the project-based learning, the integration of technology, the alignment between classes, the extended school day and accelerated schedule, etc.

The STEM program looks real and, to us, it looks good. They still have some things to work out. The schedule is inspired, but needs some tinkering. They haven't figured out how to get the student:computer ratio to the promised 1:1. They are still missing a lot of the curricular elements - they haven't found the puzzle pieces but they know what they have to look like.

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Merit pay' costs more and delivers less

Julia Steiny:

No evidence anywhere shows that merit-pay systems, aimed at individual teachers, improve education. Incentives to groups of teachers are effective, but not individuals.

In education "merit pay" means that a school or district decides what "merit" means -- usually certain gains in test scores -- and dangles financial bonuses to entice individual teachers to work harder.

Intuitively, it sounds like it could work.

But in a 1998 Harvard Business Review, Jeffrey Pfeffer wrote an excellent essay called "Six dangerous myths about pay." He blames economic theory for creating the myth "that individual incentive pay drives creativity and productivity, and that people are primarily motivated by money.... Despite the evident popularity of this practice, the problems with individual merit pay are numerous and well documented. It has been shown to undermine teamwork, encourage employees to focus on the short term, and lead people to link compensation to political skills and ingratiating personalities rather than to performance."

He's talking about the private sector, so imagine the boondoggle it becomes in the public sector.

Ron Isaac has more.

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Do Law Schools Average LSAT Scores?

Infinite Loathing:

I wanted to write about why that couple that crashed the President's first state dinner should be strung up and publicly flogged for days on end. But editorial rejected it because they wanted to me write something about the LSAT.

So then I offered to write an analysis of why our failure to punish a couple who crash a President's state dinner in hopes of landing a Bravo reality show indicates that the post WWII American empire is dead, dead, dead. That was rejected by editorial on grounds that it was the same as the first story (which it kind of was, but still), and because they wanted something about the LSAT.

Instead, I've been "asked" to write a piece far more complicated, which will inevitably be rife with speculation and controversy. Thus, I wade into the sordid issue of averaging LSAT scores.

Once upon a time, law schools used the average of your LSAT scores in the admissions process, and none of us even bothered to ask why.

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December 7, 2009

The So-Called Boy Mystery

Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab:

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights recently announced that it would investigate whether some colleges are discriminating against women in an effort to generate a more gender-diverse student population. Reaction was mixed, with some saying it's about time that the "crisis with boys" in higher education is acknowledged and addressed, and others expressing some disbelief and ridicule that the gender wars have come to this.

But part of the overall response really stuck in my craw--the oft-repeated claim that we "just don't know" what's going on with boys. According to many, sources for the gender differential in higher education are a complete "mystery," a puzzle, a whodunit that we may be intentionally ignoring.

Yes, there are numerous potential explanations for the under-representation of men in higher education--and in particular the growing female advantage in terms of bachelor's degree completion. For example, it could be that boys and girls have differing amounts of the resources important for college success (e.g. levels of financial resources or parental education) or that the usual incentives for college-going (e.g. labor market returns) have differential effects by gender (why, laments the Wall Street Journal, don't boys "get" the importance of attending college?). It's also possible that changes in the labor force or marriage markets, gender discrimination, or societal expectations play a role--or that the reasons have to do with the growth of community colleges, changes in college affordability, or shifts in the available alternatives to college (e.g. the military).

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Detroit Teachers Loaning the District 10K over Two years, 1% Raise in the Third Year

Chastity Pratt Dawsey:

Boos and jeers filled Cobo Hall this afternoon as Detroit Public Schools teachers reacted to details in a proposed contract agreement with the district.

The tentative agreement [Master Settlement PDF] includes:

  • Teachers loaning the district $10,000 each over two years with deductions taken from their paychecks.
  • A base salary increase of 1% in the third year of the three-year contract.
  • Increase in health insurance costs.
  • Plus a plethora of school reforms that include a peer evaluation process.
Teachers union president Keith Johnson told the crowd that the contract may not be exactly what they want but the alternative is to have the district declare bankruptcy, possibly leaving many of them unemployed.

"I cannot, I will not gamble, play Russian roulette, call the bluff of the district," Johnson said.

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For charter schools, the reality of finding space is complex

Eugene Piccolo:

Minnesotans deserve to have the funds they provide for education used in the most effective way possible.

The story in the Nov. 29 Star Tribune, "Charter program is 'out of control'," raised issues that should concern everyone who cares about high quality public education and careful use of tax dollars.

As a citizen, taxpayer, educator and executive director of the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools, I am saddened and disappointed that some people look for ways around both the letter and the spirit of the law, some companies charge exorbitant fees, and some individuals use their offices to personally profit from transactions involving public funds.

Thankfully, such conduct is not the norm -- but an examination is needed into the policies and practices that allow these aberrations to occur.

So what is the larger reality in charter schools?

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Capistrano Unified teachers protest proposed 10% pay cut

Ann Simmons:

Teachers angry at the Capistrano Unified School District's proposal to cut their pay by 10% held a rally Saturday to protest the move.

The demonstration, which took place near the Mission Viejo Mall, drew more than 300 people, according to organizers of the event. It marked the latest in a series of actions highlighting teachers' dissatisfaction with contract negotiations and the school board.

Capistrano Unified needs to slash about $25 million from its 2010-11 budget, board officials have said. They have suggested cutting teachers' pay by 10% and making the decrease retroactive to July by deducting it from upcoming paychecks.

"These are difficult times for all institutions, not just school districts," said trustee Anna Bryson. "We have to work with the money that we have, and that keeps getting smaller."

Vicki Soderberg, president of the Capistrano Unified Education Assn., which represents some 2,200 teachers, said the proposed salary decrease would be dire.

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Berkley schools shift funding tactics, Reduces Spending

Bill Laitner:

District aims to pay some operating costs from a bond

The Oakland County district wants to shift about $2 million of its annual operating costs into a capital rebuilding program financed by a $169.1-million bond. The money would be used to fund capital improvements that reduce energy bills and save maintenance expenses that are paid from the district's operating costs.

State education experts say Berkley is on the right path.

"A district's operating fund is almost 100% controlled by what the state allocates," while a rebuilding program is "100% supported by local taxpayers," said David Martell, executive director of the Michigan School Business Officials.

"It's obvious that future funding from the state is going to be constrained," Martell said.

By slicing operating costs, a district puts more spending under local control, "and that makes sense in today's economic climate," agreed Michigan Department of Education spokeswoman Jan Ellis.

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Troops to Teachers

Bernie Becker:

In her last job in the Air Force, Tammie Langley gave prospective pilots and navigators an introduction to aeronautics. Four years later, Ms. Langley is in a different sort of classroom, teaching sixth graders in North Carolina everything from reading to math.

The settings may be radically different, but Ms. Langley said the transition from teaching 22-year-olds to teaching 11- or 12-year-olds had been fairly seamless. "Either way, you still have to kind of wipe their noses a bit and kick them in the behind every now and then," said Ms. Langley, who is in her second year at Kannapolis Intermediate School, about 25 miles north of Charlotte.

Ms. Langley, 36, became a schoolteacher in large part because of Troops to Teachers, a federal program that, over 15 years, has helped about 12,000 former service members transition into second careers in the classroom. Now, a bipartisan group in Congress is hoping to expand the program to allow more veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to sign up, while also increasing the number of places in which they could find employment.

Not all of the veterans who enter the classroom with the help of Troops to Teachers, some of whom are up to a generation older than teachers starting right out of college, share Ms. Langley's background in formal instruction. But the program's supporters and participants say that military service in general provides the sort of discipline and life experiences that translate well to teaching.

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A New Look for Graduate Entrance Test

Tamar Lewin:

After two false starts, the Graduate Record Exam, the graduate school entrance test, will be revamped and slightly lengthened in 2011 and graded on a new scale of 130 to 170.

The Educational Testing Service, which administers the G.R.E., described its plans Friday at the annual meeting of the Council of Graduate Schools in San Francisco, calling the changes "the largest revisions" in the history of the test.

Although the exam will still include sections on verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning and analytical writing, each section is being revised. The new verbal section, for example, will eliminate questions on antonyms and analogies. On the quantitative section, the biggest change will be the addition of an online calculator. The writing section will still have two parts, one asking for a logical analysis and the other seeking an expression of the student's own views.

"The biggest difference is that the prompts the students will receive will be more focused, meaning that our human raters will know unambiguously that the answer was written in response to the question, not memorized," said David G. Payne, who heads the G.R.E. program for the testing service.

For security reasons, he said, new content would be introduced and the sequence of questions scrambled every two hours. The new test will be three and a half hours.

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Testing success creates own challenge

Bill Turque:

Terry Dade, the 33-year-old principal of Tyler Elementary in Southeast Washington, freely describes himself as a "data geek" who shares Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's educational creed: Digging relentlessly into student test scores, diagnosing weaknesses and tailoring teaching to address them can ultimately lift a school's academic performance.

Hired by Rhee as a first-time principal last year, Dade dug out a success story at Tyler, with double-digit boosts in reading and math proficiency. It's also left Dade with a challenge that has thwarted many other principals: what to do for a second act.

Studies across the country show that many low-performing schools falter after big one-year gains in test scores. Of the seven D.C. public schools that increased proficiency rates by 20 percentage points or more in both reading and math in 2008 -- Aiton, Hearst, Raymond and Thomas elementary, Winston Educational Campus, Mamie D. Lee and Sharpe Health Center -- only Thomas showed growth in 2009. Most of the schools that surged 20 points or more in a single category last year also had difficulty building on the increase this year.

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Taking the Magic out of College

Lauren Edelson:

I DRINK in the tour guide's every word as he shows my group around Middlebury College's campus. He tells us about the school's new science building and gives us the scoop on nearby ski mountains. Dreamily, I imagine my future self: a year older, strolling to class past this very same scene. I'm about to ask about science research opportunities when he points to a nearby field and mentions the sport students play there: a flightless version of J. K. Rowling's Quidditch game -- broomsticks and all.

Back when I was a junior, before I'd printed off an application or visited a campus, I had high expectations for the college application process. I'd soak up detailed descriptions of academic opportunity and campus life -- and by the end of it, I'd know which college was right for me. Back then, I knew only of these institutions and their intimidating reputations, not what set each one apart from the rest. And I couldn't wait to find out.

So I was surprised when many top colleges delivered the same pitch. It turns out, they're all a little bit like Hogwarts -- the school for witches and wizards in the "Harry Potter" books and movies. Or at least, that's what the tour guides kept telling me.

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December 6, 2009

Longer day might be worth a try

Jay Matthews:

I got an advance look at the first count of U.S. public schools that have significantly expanded learning time. The report, released Monday by the National Center on Time & Learning, reveals that a surprisingly large number -- 655 -- give students an average of 25 percent more time than the standard 6 1/2 hours a day, 180 days a year. But I was disappointed that only about 160 in that group are regular public schools.

The District has 18 schools on the list, more than in all but 10 states. But they are charter public schools. The majority of D.C. children are in regular schools. They have not had a chance to see what a big jump in learning time might do for them.

The Washington area suburbs are also disappointing. Maryland has only two schools on the list, both charters in Baltimore. One -- the KIPP Ujima Village Academy -- has cut back its hours under union pressure to pay teachers the standard hourly rate for the extra time. The only Virginia schools on the list are the two An Achievable Dream schools set up by the Newport News school district to help impoverished students.

I like longer school days because I have seen them help bring significant increases in achievement in several charter school networks, including Achievement First, Uncommon Schools, YES and KIPP. Most important are their great teachers, the flame of learning. But increased time is the fuel.

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Madison School District News

via a Ken Syke email:

MMSD Fine Arts Coordinator Julie Palkowski is the author of the featured article in the latest edition of the Wisconsin School Musician magazine. Partnerships across our community enhance the opportunities for MMSD students. Making the Most of the Concert Festival Experience is a case study of the collaborative project among the MMSD, the Overture Center for the Arts and the Wisconsin Music Educators Association that occurred this past April.

According to Google, the MMSD is the fifth most popular searched item in the Madison area. Google broke down the top search terms by city in its Zeitgeist 2009 survey. Google counted searches in 31 US cities to compile the list of the most popular searches unique to specific cities. Looking for something to do on a cold winter's evening? Why not consider a concert at one of our high schools, or a middle school choral performance. The MMSD calendar of events lists a wide range of no-cost potential family activities to beat the recession blues!

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An Update on the Madison School District's Proposed 4K Program

Superintendent Dan Nerad [600K PDF]:

Attached to this memorandum is detailed costing information relative to the implementation of four-year-old kindergarten. We have attempted to be as inclusive as possible in identifying the various costs involved in implementing this program.

Each of the identified options includes cost estimates involving all three program models that have previously been discussed. The first option includes the specific cost requests provided to us by representatives from the community providers. The remaining options include the same costing information for Model I programs (programs in district schools) but vary for Model II and III programs (programs in community-based early learning centers). These options vary in the following ways:

  1. For District Option 1, we have used a 1:10 staffing ratio instead of a 1:8.5 staffing ratio that was submitted by representatives from the community providers.
  2. For District Option 2, we have used a three-year phase-in for the reimbursement to local providers.
  3. For District Option 3, we have used both a 1:10 ratio and a three-year phase-in for reimbursement to local providers.
  4. For District Option 4, we have used both a 1:10 ratio and a two-year phase-in for the reimbursement to local providers.
The District options with a 1:10 ratio were created because this was the staffing ratio that was recommended by the 4K planning committee and is the ratio needed for local accreditation. All Modell costing(in District schools) is based on a 1:15 ratio with the understanding that additional special education and bilingual support to the classroom is provided. The District options employing a two- or three-year phase-in of the

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Quality of education future teachers receive being questioned

Georgette Eva:

We've all had that boring class that we just need to get over with, to get the grade and go. Then, we've had those classes that surprise us, the ones that interest us despite our prior indifference. For me, the biggest factor of the class, other than if it's at 8 a.m., is the professor.

A professor's own knowledge and interest is pretty evident in the way they handle the class. They're the ones who can make learning about a new subject fascinating or dull.
Recently, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan decried the quality of today's educators in a speech to Columbia University's Teachers College, and he questions their preparedness in teaching future generations. "By almost any standard," he said, "many if not most of the nation's 1,450 schools, colleges and departments of education are doing a mediocre job of preparing teachers for the realities of the 21st century classroom."

If our future teachers aren't getting the knowledge they need to prepare for their careers, then what does that mean for their future classrooms? Would this "mediocre job" be passed down to those unwitting students of the 21st century? Obviously, times have changed. We're living in a world of fast and easy communication, which is exemplified in the classroom. Classrooms don't run the same way as they did a decade ago.
Teachers are using PowerPoints, podcasts, and the internet to transfer information. Classrooms are more internationally aware (or should be).

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Is the Denver school board's Andrea Merida an embarrassment or a hero?

Melanie Asmar:

Plenty of folks, including members of the Denver Post editorial board, have been pretty disapproving of new Denver Public Schools board member Andrea Merida in the days since she had herself secretly sworn in hours before a Monday-night board meeting so she could vote on controversial school reforms at the session, highlighted in the video above. Critics have called the move "shameful," "embarrassing" and "unprofessional."

This reaction mirrored the responses in the DPS administration building's fourth-floor cafeteria, where meeting-goers were sent to watch the proceedings on TV once the boardroom was full. There were lots of raised eyebrows and whispers of "Oh-no-she-didn't!" when Merida took her seat.

The move allowed Merida to vote against the most high-profile reform, the turnaround plan for low-performing Lake Middle School. However, it took that privilege away from eight-year board member Michelle Moss, who Merida was scheduled to replace and who left the meeting in tears.

The Denver School Board has hired a marriage counselor to help members work through their issues.

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States Seek Stimulus Funds Tied to Education Reform

John Merrow:

Finally tonight: overhauling the nation's schools.

A report today says, most states will apply for their share of federal stimulus money tied to education reform.

The NewsHour's special correspondent for education, John Merrow, offers some historical context on the latest reform efforts.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: There we go. It's done.

JOHN MERROW: The stimulus bill the president signed in February included a new $4.3 billion fund for public schools.

BARACK OBAMA: This is one of the largest investments in education reform in American history. And rather than divvying it up and handing it out, we are letting states and school districts compete for it.

JOHN MERROW: This is where the money will be handed out, at the U.S. Department of Education. It sets the rules for what it's calling the Race to the Top.

Arne Duncan is the new secretary of education.

ARNE DUNCAN: Really, what I'm trying to do, can we make the Department of Education not the driver of compliance, not the driver of bureaucracy, but the engine of innovation?

Elizabeth Brown has more.

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Scholarly Investments

Nancy Hass:

THEIR company names were conspicuously absent from their nametags, but that is how these hedge fund managers and analysts -- members of a field known for secrecy -- preferred it. They filled the party space at the W Hotel on Lexington Avenue in late October, mostly men in their 30s. Balancing drinks on easels adorned with students' colorful drawings, they juggled PDA's and business cards, before sitting down to poker tables to raise money for New York City charter schools.

Working the room, the evening's hosts, John Petry and Joel Greenblatt, who are partners in the hedge fund Gotham Capital, had an agenda: to identify new candidates to join their Success Charter Network, a cause they embrace with all the fervor of social reformers.

"He's already in," Mr. Petry said as he passed John Sabat, who manages a hedge fund for one of the industry's big stars. (Like Voldemort in the Harry Potter novels, no one in the group would name him aloud.)

"I wasn't hard to turn," said Mr. Sabat, 36, whom Mr. Petry drafted last year to be a member of the board of Harlem Success Academy 4, on East 120th Street, the latest in its network of school in some of the city's poorest neighborhoods. Boards agree to donate or raise $1.3 million to subsidize their school for the first three years. "You can't talk to Petry without taking about charters," Mr. Sabat added. "You get the reli

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Jeff Raikes, The Gates Foundation and Education

Jay Greene:

It's lunchtime at the Ashongman School in Accra, the capital city of Ghana, and dozens of children in orange-and-brown uniforms file out to a serving table to pick up plates of jollof rice, a hearty dish with stewed chicken and tomatoes.

As the kids sit down, Jeffrey S. Raikes approaches them with the air of a waiter checking to see if his customers are enjoying their meal. "Do you like the rice?" he asks, as the kids stick their fingers into bowls to scoop up their meals in the dimly lit room. The kids nod, not entirely sure what to make of the stranger.

Raikes isn't there to gauge if the menu is a hit, nor can the chief executive of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation claim credit for the three-year-old Ghana School Feeding Program. Of the $2.8 billion the foundation doled out last year, not a penny was spent on putting food in the mouths of these children. Instead, Raikes wants to learn why much of the rice eaten by the program's participants comes from Thailand instead of from farms a few miles away. If Ghana's farmers can find buyers for their crops, Raikes argues, they will have an incentive to make their land more productive and give this West African nation a more secure food supply. "The real opportunity here is to create a stabilized market," says Raikes. "You can use the school feeding program to bootstrap those efforts."

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Analysis: Many fed education reforms don't fit MI

Kathy Barks Hoffman:

Michigan lawmakers are in such a frenzy to qualify for up to $400 million in one-time money for schools from President Barack Obama's Race to the Top program that they're rushing through complex changes to the state's education structure in a matter of weeks.

Yet they can't agree on how to keep school districts from getting hit by cuts of roughly $300 to $600 per student that have administrators contemplating laying off teachers, closing schools and eliminating busing, among other cost-saving moves.

They could be debating the positives and negatives of a proposal suggested recently by state Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith, a Democratic gubernatorial hopeful, to trim some business tax exemptions and use the money to roll back a business tax surcharge and plug the $500 million hole in the state's education fund.

They could be looking for ways to restore after-school and preschool programs, both of which have been proven to help students learn and improve test scores, or the college scholarships that encouraged high school students to do better in school.

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Hong Kong School Debentures Rise Again

Liz Heron:

When prices for international school debentures reached HK$3 million they were called crazy. Two years on, the cost of securing a scarce place in one of the city's elite centres of learning has soared to as much as HK$3.7 million.

And rising second-hand prices for debentures are driving increases in the face value of new ones schools are issuing. At one school, the issue price has risen eightfold since June 2007.

Schools sell debentures - a form of long-term debt instrument - to parents and companies to raise funds for building works. Parents and employers buy them to jump the queue for school places.

"Many of our clients say: 'Our child has met the standard but they don't have a place'," said Wing Chan, manager of one agency trading debentures, Elite Membership Services. "But once they buy the debenture, someone will contact them and say there is a vacancy for them. That's amazing.

"If you ask the school, they will say that it's not guaranteed. But our experience is that it's almost 100 per cent. That's why there [are] not [many debentures] on offer at the moment. Otherwise the school can't arrange a vacancy."

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December 5, 2009

Strongest voucher Milwaukeeschools thrive

Alan Borsuk:

Michelle Lukacs grew up in Mequon and worked as a teacher in Milwaukee. Then she was a teacher and guidance counselor in Jefferson. She got a school principal's license through a program at Edgewood College in Madison.

She moved back to Milwaukee and decided to open a school as part of the publicly funded private school voucher program. She called it Atlas Preparatory Academy because she liked the image of Atlas holding the whole world up and because it was the name of a refrigeration company her husband owns.

On the first day of classes in September 2001, Atlas had 23 students in leased space in an old school building at 2911 S. 32nd St.

This September, Atlas had 814 students, a growth of 3,439% over eight years. It now uses three buildings on the south side and has grown, grade by grade, to be a full kindergarten through 12th-grade program.

Atlas' growth is explosive, even within the continually growing, nationally significant voucher program. Voucher enrollment over the same period has roughly doubled from 10,882 in September 2001 to 21,062 this fall.

The Atlas story underscores an interesting trend: The number of voucher schools in recent years has leveled off, and this year, fell significantly. But the total number of students using vouchers to attend private schools in the city has gone up, and a few schools have become particular powerhouses, at least when it comes to enrollment.

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Notes & Commentary on a Madison School Board & Wisconsin State Representative Mark Pocan Meeting

TJ Mertz:

State Representative Mark Pocan met with the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education on Monday, November 30 to discuss "K-12 Funding in Wisconsin and the Impact of the State Budget on School District Finances." (State Senator Mark Miller, who was also expected, was ill, Liz Stevens from his office attended in his stead). The short version of what transpired is that although Pocan brought Bob Lang and Dave Loppnow from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau as support, they were unable to "shut the lions' mouths" and the Board got a few nips in. Beyond that, Pocan explained the intent and context of the budget "fix," emphasized the importance of addressing revenue issues, gave some thoughts on school finance reform, defended parts of his record and more-or-less split the blame for everything bad between Governor Jim Doyle and the economy.

I have to give Pocan some credit and respect for facing the lions and for being very forthright and forthcoming. I'll even go beyond that and say that when he was talking about what can and should be done and why, he showed understanding and that he cared. It was words, not actions, and I want action from my State Rep.. But at least he didn't shut the door on action. Let's help him open that door (more on that below, but think Penny for Kids).

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In Search of Education Leaders

Bob Herbert:

For me, the greatest national security crisis in the United States is the crisis in education. We are turning out new generations of Americans who are whizzes at video games and may be capable of tweeting 24 hours a day but are nowhere near ready to cope with the great challenges of the 21st century.

An American kid drops out of high school at an average rate of one every 26 seconds. In some large urban districts, only half of the students ever graduate. Of the kids who manage to get through high school, only about a third are ready to move on to a four-year college.

It's no secret that American youngsters are doing poorly in school at a time when intellectual achievement in an increasingly globalized world is more important than ever. International tests have shown American kids to be falling well behind their peers in many other industrialized countries, and that will only get worse if radical education reforms on a large scale are not put in place soon.

Consider the demographics. The ethnic groups with the worst outcomes in school are African-Americans and Hispanics. The achievement gaps between these groups and their white and Asian-American peers are already large in kindergarten and only grow as the school years pass. These are the youngsters least ready right now to travel the 21st-century road to a successful life.

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Report reveals wide gap in college achievement

Daniel de Vise:

A new report, billed as one of the most comprehensive studies to date of how low-income and minority students fare in college, shows a wide gap in graduation rates at public four-year colleges nationwide and "alarming" disparities in success at community colleges.

The analysis, released Thursday, found that about 45 percent of low-income and underrepresented minority students entering as freshmen in 1999 had received bachelor's degrees six years later at the colleges studied, compared with 57 percent of other students.

Fewer than one-third of all freshmen entering two-year institutions nationwide attained completion -- either through a certificate, an associate's degree or transfer to a four-year college -- within four years, according to the research. The success rate was lower, 24 percent, for underrepresented minorities, identified as blacks, Latinos and Native Americans; it was higher, 38 percent, for other students.

Only 7 percent of minority students who entered community colleges received bachelor's degrees within 10 years.

View the complete Education Trust report here.

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Standards in UK Schools: An unacceptable term's work

The Economist:

EVER since the cap on the number of children who could be awarded top grades in their GCSE exams was abolished in 1988, the proportion of pupils attaining these heights has relentlessly increased. This week that inexorable progress was revealed to be illusory. Three separate studies showed how Britain is failing its schoolchildren--and shortchanging the country in the process.

All rich countries rightly expect their young people to be literate and numerate by the time they leave school. Some aspire to loftier goals such as scientific prowess, fluency in a foreign language and a rough grasp of history. In a report released on December 1st, Reform, a think-tank, pointed out the poverty of Britain's ambitions for its children.

Students at 16 are required to take just three academic subjects--English, maths and science--and many study no others. Even if they leave school with vocational qualifications too, they are ill placed to better themselves. Employers consistently value the ability to think above skills that can be learned on the job, and universities that accept students with vocational qualifications do so only after admissions tutors have reassured themselves that the young person in front of them is no dullard. Allowing pupils to choose vocational courses over academic ones--indeed, encouraging it, as vocational qualifications are treated in published school-league tables as if they were worth twice as much as academic ones--does no favours to children from deprived backgrounds. Instead it segregates the workforce and impairs social mobility. Bad at any time, this is appalling now that globalisation has increased competition in the workplace.

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Schools are not off-limits for UK spending cuts

Steve Bundred:

When the Conservatives left office, spending on state-maintained primary and secondary schools totalled £13.9bn. By 2007-08, it had increased by 56 per cent in real terms, to £28.9bn. Including government-funded academies and city technology colleges, the increase is even greater. Pupil numbers fell over the same period, with the result that funding per pupil has grown by 65 per cent in real terms.

The government has been similarly generous with capital. It allowed the Building Schools for the Future programme, launched in February 2004, £9.3bn over three years from 2008-09 to 2010-11 with the aim of rebuilding or remodelling all of England's 3,500 state secondary schools.

But has all this money been well spent? Undoubtedly some has. Educational attainment has risen. Subject to reservations about standards we have to recognise that 67 per cent of 16-year-olds achieved the equivalent of five or more A* to C grades in GCSE examinations in 2009; that comfortably exceeded the government's 60 per cent target.

So the issue is not whether schools have improved during the Blair and Brown years. It is whether the improvement has been commensurate with the extra funding. If improvement could have been achieved with less, it must be possible to cut funding without damaging prospects. Attainment levels might even improve.

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Prince William schools unveil merit pay plan for teachers

Michael Alison Chandler:

Prince William County school officials unveiled a plan Wednesday night to offer bonuses to teachers and administrators in high-performing schools that serve poor or challenging students.

The plan, if approved by the school board later this month, will be submitted to the federal government for possible funding and could begin as early as next school year.

Prince William, the state's second-largest school system, is one of scores across the country that are developing pay proposals tied to student performance thanks to new federal dollars and fresh interest from the nation's top education officials.

"We had talked about merit pay or performance pay informally over time. But when the Obama administration again came out and recommended those kinds of approaches . . . I just felt like it was time to stop talking about it and start moving forward," said School Board member Grant E. Lattin (Occoquan), who asked officials to put together a plan last spring.

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December 4, 2009

60% to 42%: Madison School District's Reading Recovery Effectiveness Lags "National Average": Administration seeks to continue its use

via a kind reader's email: Sue Abplanalp, Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education, Lisa Wachtel, Executive Director, Teaching & Learning, Mary Jo Ziegler, Language Arts/Reading Coordinator, Teaching & Learning, Jennie Allen, Title I, Ellie Schneider, Reading Recovery Teacher Leader [2.6MB PDF]:

Background The Board of Education requested a thorough and neutral review of the Madison Metropolitan School District's (MMSD) Reading Recovery program, In response to the Board request, this packet contains a review of Reading Recovery and related research, Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) Reading Recovery student data analysis, and a matrix summarizing three options for improving early literacy intervention. Below please find a summary of the comprehensive research contained in the Board of Education packet. It is our intent to provide the Board of Education with the research and data analysis in order to facilitate discussion and action toward improved effectiveness of early literacy instruction in MMSD.

Reading Recovery Program Description The Reading Recovery Program is an intensive literacy intervention program based on the work of Dr. Marie Clay in New Zealand in the 1970's, Reading Recovery is a short-term, intensive literacy intervention for the lowest performing first grade students. Reading Recovery serves two purposes, First, it accelerates the literacy learning of our most at-risk first graders, thus narrowing the achievement gap. Second, it identifies children who may need a long-term intervention, offering systematic observation and analysis to support recommendations for further action.

The Reading Recovery program consists of an approximately 20-week intervention period of one-to-one support from a highly trained Reading Recovery teacher. This Reading Recovery instruction is in addition to classroom literacy instruction delivered by the classroom teacher during the 90-minute literacy block. The program goal is to provide the lowest performing first grade students with effective reading and writing strategies allowing the child to perform within the average range of a typical first grade classroom after a successful intervention period. A successful intervention period allows the child to be "discontinued" from the Reading Recovery program and to function proficiently in regular classroom literacy instruction.

Reading Recovery Program Improvement Efforts The national Reading Recovery data reports the discontinued rate for first grade students at 60%. In 2008-09, the discontinued rate for MMSD students was 42% of the students who received Reading Recovery. The Madison Metropolitan School District has conducted extensive reviews of Reading Recovery every three to four years. In an effort to increase the discontinued rate of Reading Recovery students, MMSD worked to improve the program's success through three phases.

Reading recovery will be discussed at Monday evening's Madison School Board meeting.


  • University of Wisconsin-Madison Psychology Professor Mark Seidenberg: Madison schools distort reading data:
    In her column, Belmore also emphasized the 80 percent of the children who are doing well, but she provided additional statistics indicating that test scores are improving at the five target schools. Thus she argued that the best thing is to stick with the current program rather than use the Reading First money.

    Belmore has provided a lesson in the selective use of statistics. It's true that third grade reading scores improved at the schools between 1998 and 2004. However, at Hawthorne, scores have been flat (not improving) since 2000; at Glendale, flat since 2001; at Midvale/ Lincoln, flat since 2002; and at Orchard Ridge they have improved since 2002 - bringing them back to slightly higher than where they were in 2001.

    In short, these schools are not making steady upward progress, at least as measured by this test.

    Belmore's attitude is that the current program is working at these schools and that the percentage of advanced/proficient readers will eventually reach the districtwide success level. But what happens to the children who have reading problems now? The school district seems to be writing them off.

    So why did the school district give the money back? Belmore provided a clue when she said that continuing to take part in the program would mean incrementally ceding control over how reading is taught in Madison's schools (Capital Times, Oct 16). In other words, Reading First is a push down the slippery slope toward federal control over public education.

    also, Seidenberg on the Reading First controversy.
  • Jeff Henriques references a Seidenberg paper on the importance of phonics, published in Psychology Review.
  • Ruth Robarts letter to Isthmus on the Madison School District's reading progress:
    Thanks to Jason Shepard for highlighting comments of UW Psychology Professor Mark Seidenberg at the Dec. 13 Madison School Board meeting in his article, Not all good news on reading. Dr. Seidenberg asked important questions following the administrations presentation on the reading program. One question was whether the district should measure the effectiveness of its reading program by the percentages of third-graders scoring at proficient or advanced on the Wisconsin Reading Comprehension Test (WRCT). He suggested that the scores may be improving because the tests arent that rigorous.

    I have reflected on his comment and decided that he is correct.

    Using success on the WRCT as our measurement of student achievement likely overstates the reading skills of our students. The WRCT---like the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE) given in major subject areas in fourth, eighth and tenth grades--- measures student performance against standards developed in Wisconsin. The more teaching in Wisconsin schools aims at success on the WRCT or WKCE, the more likely it is that student scores will improve. If the tests provide an accurate, objective assessment of reading skills, then rising percentages of students who score at the proficient and advanced levels would mean that more children are reaching desirable reading competence.

  • Madison teacher Barb Williams letter to Isthmus on Madison School District reading scores:
    I'm glad Jason Shepard questions MMSD's public display of self-congratulation over third grade reading test scores. It isn't that MMSD ought not be proud of progress made as measured by fewer African American students testing at the basic and minimal levels. But there is still a sigificant gap between white students and students of color--a fact easily lost in the headlines. Balanced Literacy, the district's preferred approach to reading instruction, works well for most kids. Yet there are kids who would do a lot better in a program that emphasizes explicit phonics instruction, like the one offered at Lapham and in some special education classrooms. Kids (arguably too many) are referred to special education because they have not learned to read with balanced literacy and are not lucky enough to land in the extraordinarily expensive Reading Recovery program that serves a very small number of students in one-on-on instruction. (I have witnessed Reading Recovery teachers reject children from their program because they would not receive the necessary support from home.)

    Though the scripted lessons typical of most direct instruction programs are offensive to many teachers (and is one reason given that the district rejected the Reading First grant) the irony is that an elementary science program (Foss) that the district is now pushing is also scripted as is Reading Recovery and Everyday Math, all elementary curricula blessed by the district.

    I wonder if we might close the achievement gap further if teachers in the district were encouraged to use an approach to reading that emphasizes explicit and systematic phonics instruction for those kids who need it. Maybe we'd have fewer kids in special education and more children of color scoring in the proficient and advanced levels of the third grade reading test.

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KIPP has optimized the Standards v1.0 school

Tom Vander Ark:

Standards and common assessments were introduced 15 years ago. KIPP took the expectations expressed by state tests seriously and made numerous process improvements to the old model of school. At the middle school I visited Monday, 100% of the Kipsters had passed the state math test.

This KIPP school gives uniform weekly quizzes in every state tested subject and relentlessly evaluates the data from every classroom and student. The school only hires new teachers, trains them on data-driven instruction, and expects hard work (e.g., to go along with their bonus plan, a sign in the principal's office read, "New Incentive Plan: Work or Get Fired")

This is the best of the batch-print model. Kids sit obediently in rows in classrooms of 25 students. One teacher per subject per grade yields direct accountability for results. Their homegrown curriculum is mostly worksheets. Quizzes are paper based. Scores are tabulated on a spreadsheet. No fancy learning management system at work here--they just figure out what the state wants, teach it and test it. They are fantastic executors--a critical innovation in a sector that is commonly sloppy and uneven in delivery.

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The Coming Crescendo of China

Nick Frisch:

Piano notes drift up the stairs in a Beijing branch of the Liu Shih Kun Piano School. Perched near the East Glorious Gate of the Forbidden City, the school does a brisk business educating the children of the affluent. In a practice room downstairs, a little girl is flanked by two adults--her teacher and her mother, who watches the proceedings intently. Lessons cost about 150 yuan ($22) per hour, and upright pianos sell for more than 13,000 yuan, substantial sums even for upper or middle-class families.

Still, they come en masse with their children. "Almost every student is accompanied here by the parents," explains Ba Shan, the young woman manning the reception desk at the school founded by one of China's first famous pianists. "Almost all of them have pianos at home, too."

Between several established chains like Liu Shih Kun, thousands of individual schools and uncountable private teachers, there are still no firm figures on the actual number of music students in China. In an interview with the New York Times this year, Jindong Cai, a conductor and professor at Stanford University, estimated that there are 38 million students studying piano alone. A 2007 estimate put violin students at 10 million. And the trend is clearly upward.

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Australia's child-migration horror

The Economist:

CEREMONIES in the Great Hall of Parliament House in Canberra are typically attended by visiting royals, heads of state and other dignitaries. On November 16th several hundred ordinary, middle-aged Australians, with pain in their faces and tears in their eyes, packed the hall to witness a ceremony devoted to them. It seemed a miracle that many were there at all. Shipped from Britain as youngsters, or plucked from broken homes and single mothers in Australia, some suffered childhoods spent in orphanages where violence, sexual abuse and humiliation were rife. Some of their peers killed themselves.

After years of campaigning, survivors gathered to hear Kevin Rudd, the prime minister, offer a formal apology for this "great evil". It was the second such apology Mr Rudd has offered in under two years. Early last year, he began his government's first term by apologising to the "stolen generations": children, many of mixed race, taken by the authorities from aboriginal families. In all, by 1970 over 500,000 "stolen", migrant and non-indigenous children had been placed in church, charity and government institutions.

Mr Rudd's latest apology has focused attention on Britain's grim "child migration" scheme, under which children as young as three were sent to the former colonies of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, often without their parents' knowledge or consent. One motive was racial: the young countries wanted "British stock". Australia took about 10,000 children, most of them after Canada reduced its intake in the 1940s.

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Teacher incentive watch: why Prince George's County matters

Jay Matthews:

I'm not used to seeing good ideas coming out of Prince George's County, Md., the most troublesome of the Washington area's suburban school districts. When superintendent John Deasy, a very creative educator, left Prince George's last year for the big bucks and power of the Gates Foundation, the district's reputation took another blow. But my colleague Nelson Hernandez reveals that Deasy left behind him a remarkably clever plan for teacher and principal bonuses, something those of us uncertain about this latest hot fad should be watching carefully for the next few years.

Deasy's chosen successor, Bill Hite, has preserved the FIRST (Financial Incentive Rewards for Supervisors and Teachers) plan and announced the initial round of $1.1 million in bonuses. The money went to 279 employees in 12 schools, the teacher bonuses averaging around $5,000 each.

What I find most appealing about FIRST is that it is voluntary---only teachers who want to participate have to. (For principals, the choice part is trickier, since they have to do the special evaluations for their participating teachers even if they don't want to try for the money themselves.) Also, for those of us who don't like the idea of bonuses based on an individual teacher's success in raising test scores, FIRST puts more emphasis on other factors.

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Delaware to change education policy as state competes for federal grant

Jennifer Price:

Gov. Jack Markell's administration today announced planned changes in education policy designed to help Delaware compete for a $75 million federal education grant.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan plans to award a portion of the $4 billion federal Race to the Top Fund early next year - and again in 2011 - to states willing to undertake changes in the way schools are run.

Markell wants to help Delaware's chances of receiving the grant by improving student readiness, ensuring teacher quality, effectively using student data and turning around the state's lowest-performing schools.

"This is as important as anything we could possibly do to advance our state," Markell said.

Duncan hasn't said how many states he expects to win a chunk of the money, but has indicated that only states that lead the way in education reform will have a chance. Based on its student population size, Delaware could receive up to $75 million.

Governor Jack Markell:
To improve the quality of Delaware schools and better prepare Delaware students for college, work and life, the Governor and the Department of Education have created an education reform action plan that represents the input of more than 100 participants, including teachers, administrators, the business community, parents, the disabilities community, higher education leaders, and legislators over the course of several months.

"This action plan [78K PDF] focuses on four specific goals to help ensure that Delaware schools are world-class - improving student readiness, ensuring teacher quality, effectively using student data, and turning around persistently low-performing schools," said Delaware's Secretary of Education Lillian Lowery. "It is a plan that takes bold steps and was built from months of discussion from everyone who has a stake in the strength and success of our public schools."

The Secretary and the Governor will be attending community forums in local districts to discuss the plan in depth and how the plan aligns with efforts to compete with the federal Race to the Top competition for additional federal dollars to invest in public schools.

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Bush Foundation commits $4.5 million to University of Minnesota for teacher education

University of Minnesota:

The">Bush Foundation has committed up to $4.5 million to support the University of Minnesota as it restructures teacher preparation programs in the College of Education and Human Development.

Through ongoing collaboration with K-12 schools, the university's Teacher Education Redesign Initiative (TERI) will have a long-lasting, positive impact on the children of Minnesota, new teachers and programs within the college. Improved partnerships with K-12 districts are designed to benefit the university, district and prospective teachers.

Teachers prepared through TERI will strongly focus on student learning and have the ability to adapt to the needs of all learners. The university will diversify its teaching candidate pool and provide pathways into its teacher preparation programs for both exceptionally qualified undergraduate students and for career changers.

The first group of prospective teachers will enter the redesigned program during summer 2011.

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Focus on raising well-rounded children

South China Morning Post Editorial:

The voucher subsidy scheme for non-profit kindergartens triggered an uproar when it was announced three years ago, amid fears that an exodus of students would force profit-making schools to close and claims of discrimination against middle-class families. But critics failed to reckon with parents who believe it is never too soon to imbue the work ethic. As we reported yesterday, the voucher scheme is subsidising a new class of preschoolers, aged from three to six, who spend the entire day in two separate kindergartens - one for profit and one not.

Their parents claim the vouchers for half the cost of a half day at a local non-profit kindergarten, and can also afford to enrol them in international classes at profit-making private kindergartens for the other half day. One father concerned argues that twice the time spent interacting with other children and teachers is better than half a day watching television. Moreover, these children are exposed at an early age to two languages - English and either Cantonese or Putonghua - in a school environment. Thus the obsession with grades now extends almost from the nursery door to young adulthood.

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Pricey preschools: Nobody's, everybody's fault

William Shireman:

It costs $12,000 to $20,000 to send one child to a preschool in San Francisco, a little less if you join a co-op. That's insane.

I'm sure it's not the schools' fault. Schools have to pay San Francisco prices, rent San Francisco space and follow San Francisco regulations. And why shouldn't they reap the benefits of the intense competition that keeps prices high?

I'm sure it's not the regulators' fault. They need to set and enforce the rules that keep our kids safe.

I'm sure it's not the parents' fault. They - we - just want the best for our kids, and we're willing to pay for it if possible.

It's nobody's fault. Which makes it everybody's fault.

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December 3, 2009

School closes bathrooms because of security shortage

Valerie Strauss:

In the category of "it makes you wonder," the student newspaper at Montgomery Blair High School reports that bathrooms on the second and third floors are now being locked during lunch.

Why? The school has a security shortage and couldn't figure out a better way to deal with it.

The story, in says that the Alex Bae, president of the Student Government Association met with Principal Darryl Williams on Monday, and that the principal said he hopes the situation can be fixed soon.

Apparently, the story says, the bathrooms were closed during lunch because students abuse their bathroom privileges. Acts of vandalism occur during lunch and kids hide out in the bathroom to avoid going to class.

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Milwaukee Schools Debate Providing Condoms to Students

Erin Richards:

Milwaukee Public Schools' health officials want to make condoms freely available to students in many of the district's high schools, as part of an effort to combat the health risks that sexually transmitted infections and other communicable diseases pose to young people.

If the proposal wins the support of the School Board, the new policy could take effect as early as next school year, making MPS one of a few districts in the nation that provide contraception to students.

Kathleen Murphy, the district's health coordinator, said that data continues to show that middle and high school students are engaging in sex frequently and at younger ages, and that youth - especially those of color - are disproportionately affected when it comes to sexually transmitted infections.

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California student debt among lowest in U.S.

Kathleen Pender:

Here's one survey colleges in California should feel proud to rank consistently low on: the average debt of their graduates.

In 2008, an estimated 48 percent of students graduating from four-year public and private schools in California had debt, and their loans averaged $17,795 per person. Only six states had lower average debt.

Nationwide, about two-thirds of students graduating in 2008 came out with debt, averaging $23,200, up from $18,650 four years ago, according to a study released Tuesday by Berkeley-based Project on Student Debt.

The national numbers came from a survey of students conducted every four years by the federal government. The government does not break out debt for all states or individual schools. To get those numbers, the Project on Student Debt used unaudited data filed voluntarily by 922 public and private nonprofit schools, about half of all such schools.

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Step-by-Step Math


Have you ever given up working on a math problem because you couldn't figure out the next step? Wolfram|Alpha can guide you step by step through the process of solving many mathematical problems, from solving a simple quadratic equation to taking the integral of a complex function.

When trying to find the roots of 3x2+x-7=4x, Wolfram|Alpha can break down the steps for you if you click the "Show steps" button in the Result pod.

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The Day: Future Writers of America

Tina Kelley:

late start today, but well worth the wait: we have tantalizing tidbits of student writing from the high schools, for your reading pleasure.

Thanks, Judy Levy, communications coordinator for the South Orange Maplewood school district, for sending out three choice pieces from Columbia High School's student newspaper, The Columbian (click on the "more" button at the end of each excerpt for the full piece). And congratulations again to Millburn High School's literary magazine, Word, for its Gold Medal in the Columbia Scholastic Press Association. We're including an excerpt from the magazine as well.


Push for Perfection: Has the pressure to be the ideal applicant gone too far?
by Olivia Karten, Columbia High School Senior, The Columbian Co-Editor in Chief

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As number of autistic kids rises, schools and programs are being created to aid those with mild form

Emma Brown:

The middle school years, when nothing seems more important or more impossible than fitting in, are rough for nearly everyone. But they are particularly brutal for preteens such as Will Gilbertsen, whose mild autism makes him stand out.

Less than two months into sixth grade at Arlington County's Kenmore Middle School this fall, the freckle-faced 11-year-old with a passion for skateboarding had gained a reputation for racewalking through the halls between classes. "That's so I can't hear the teasing," he told his mother.

As the number of children with autism has ballooned nationwide, so has the population of children who, like Will, are capable of grade-level academics but bewildered by the social code that governs every interaction from the classroom to the cafeteria. Not so profoundly disabled that they belong in a self-contained classroom but lacking the social and emotional skills they need to negotiate school on their own, they often spend the bulk of their day in mainstream classes supported with a suite of special education services including life-skills groups and one-on-one aides.

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The Puzzle of Boys Scholars and others debate what it means to grow up male in America

Thomas Bartlett:

My son just turned 3. He loves trains, fire trucks, tools of all kinds, throwing balls, catching balls, spinning until he falls down, chasing cats, tackling dogs, emptying the kitchen drawers of their contents, riding a tricycle, riding a carousel, pretending to be a farmer, pretending to be a cow, dancing, drumming, digging, hiding, seeking, jumping, shouting, and collapsing exhausted into a Thomas the Tank Engine bed wearing Thomas the Tank Engine pajamas after reading a Thomas the Tank Engine book.

That doesn't make him unusual; in fact, in many ways, he couldn't be more typical. Which may be why a relative recently said, "Well, he's definitely all boy." It's a statement that sounds reasonable enough until you think about it. What does "all boy" mean? Masculine? Straight? Something else? Are there partial boys? And is this relative aware of my son's fondness for Hello Kitty and tea sets?

These are the kinds of questions asked by anxious parents and, increasingly, academic researchers. Boyhood studies--virtually unheard of a few years ago--has taken off, with a shelf full of books already published, more on the way, and a new journal devoted to the subject. Much of the focus so far has been on boys falling behind academically, paired with the notion that school is not conducive to the way boys learn. What motivates boys, the argument goes, is different from what motivates girls, and society should adjust accordingly.

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Granholm urges measures for education reform

Chris Christoff:

Granholm urges measures for education reform.

She called on lawmakers to approve by the end of December legislation to give the state more power to intervene in academically failing school districts, increase the number of "high quality" charter schools, merit pay for teachers and alternative certification for teachers without education degrees.

Those changes are among the criteria the federal government will use to award $4.3 billion in grants to states to improve schools academically.

Earlier today, the Senate Education Committee approved legislation that would create more charter schools, enable state takeover of failing schools and allow alternative certification of teachers.

The House is expected to consider similar legislation.

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Too much of a good education? District officials shouldn't be putting the brakes on effective charter schools.

Bill Green:

During a recent City Council committee hearing, charter-school operators from across the city described their efforts to provide high-quality, safe, accessible educational options for Philadelphia families. Many had been waiting for years to get approval to expand, even as they accommodated students without reimbursement by the school district and kept waiting lists in the hundreds. Others talked about being held to higher standards than district-run schools.

During the same hearing, Philadelphia schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman spoke of the district's support for charter schools. It's time for the School Reform Commission to back up this assertion with clear action.

As the SRC considers amending its charter- school policy to significantly limit charter schools' ability to expand their enrollment or change their grade configurations, it should demonstrate genuine support for charter schools in several ways. First, it should do away with the district's proposal to restrict charter school expansion to once or twice every five years, and even then only if they "demonstrate [a] unique or innovative idea that the district is not currently providing."

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U.S. education policy moves the wrong way

Barry Wilson:

The Nov. 22 Sunday Register editorial advocates tying teacher evaluation to test scores. Such action would intensify the role of high-stakes tests in education reform. The editorial seems very much in tune with the Race to the Top policy of the Obama administration, and cites U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan in support.

In contrast, the Board on Testing and Assessment of the National Academy of Science sent a very strongly worded 13-page letter last month to Duncan citing concerns about current Race to the Top policies, with particular reference to the use of test scores. The letter specifically cites student-growth models used to evaluate teachers and principals as a practice not ready for implementation.

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Why English Is One of the Most Difficult Languages to Learn...


We polish Polish furniture.

He could lead if he got the lead out.

A farm can produce produce.

The dump was so full, it had to refuse refuse.

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Balance Saturday School with positive options

Olivia Martin:

Anyone who has ever had to go to Saturday School knows the grind: Arrive at 9 in the morning, spend three hours sitting at a table looking as if you're doing something productive, take the usual 15-minute break and, of course, scoff at the random troublemaker who tries to set the clock ahead an hour so everyone can leave early.

I'm all too familiar with this routine. During my 17th hour of my sixth session in Room 201 at Las Lomas High School on a Saturday morning, a thought struck me: How is this type of punishment possibly going to help me not disrupt class and not get more tardies in the future? Obviously, this method is not completely working for me because I've had a total of six Saturday Schools in my two years at Las Lomas.

Maybe Saturday School is a wake-up call to some impolite students, but it's not enough. Fear doesn't seem to solve the problem. Acknowledges Associate Principal Mark Uhrenholt, "As the year goes on, there will be more repeat offenders."

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Teacher absences: Are they excessive and do they hurt students?

Maureen Downey:

Most discussions about school attendance focus on students. Now, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan wants to talk about teachers.

Duncan has made teacher attendance one of the measures to determine which low-achieving schools receive federal improvement funds. So, for the first time, the federal government will collect data on how many days teachers miss classes each year.

The reason is simple: Research shows that students suffer a small, but significant decline in academic performance as a result of teacher absences.

In addition, the nation's public schools pay a big price -- as much as $4 billion a year according to the National Center for Education Statistics -- to hire substitutes to fill in for absent staff.

When he was CEO of Chicago public schools, Duncan was dismayed to discover that the system was spending more than $10 million a year on substitute teachers. He tangled with the teacher unions when he added teacher attendance data to school scorecards.

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December 2, 2009

Madison West High School Principal Update, November, 2009

112K PDF from West Principal Ed Holmes:

This update will address some of the concerns that have been raised since the beginning of the year as well as review many of the major initiatives, events and programs at West during the 2009-10 school year.

District Concerns

High school pupil/teacher ratios for allocation purposes have remained static or been reduced. All four high schools struggle with allocation issues and every school but Lafollette has classes above 30.

In a system where we are working with a finite allocation and have to respond to a set number of required courses first, electives may have to be capped so that required courses can be staffed. As a result we guarantee that all students will have access to the required courses needed to graduate within their four-year high school career.
West High School Concerns
The first issue I would like to address is the misinformation reported to the West High School Community regarding our enrollment numbers here at West. I would like to clarify what our enrollment numbers are, and then explain how that mistake was made. The second issue involves our scheduling practices. Concerns related to scheduling were raised by numerous students and parents this Fall, and there were questions and concerns at grade level meetings as well.

I take full responsibility for the manner and content of the information that was shared with the West community regarding enrollment numbers this Fall. This was a human error, not a computer error. Infinite Campus has the ability to generate enrollment numbers in two ways. One screen calculates and displays all students linked to West, including those in alternative programs. For example, a student attending Shabazz is still listed on that screen as a West Student. A second screen does not include all students linked to West; instead, only students physically attending West, and serviced through our site based allocation. Simply put, I relied on information from the incorrect screen generated on Infinite Campus. I apologize for the frustration this mistake regarding enrollment numbers caused.

Each year we closely plan our scheduling procedures and attempt to implement a process that is equally efficient and effective. This Fall particularly, we have heard concerns from a number of students and parents; primarily dissatisfaction with the availability of certain course offerings. Here are some of the challenges and issues related to scheduling,

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1 Moment

1 MomΣnt from Jackson Eagan on Vimeo.

This is a music video parody of Eminem's award-winning song "Lose Yourself." Instead of a depressed rapper, we have a troubled math student who tries to find his way into the math scene by engaging in tough algebra tests, breakdance battles, and nail-biting underground math competitions.

This project was started by East High's math department; it was written by Daniel Torres. After a long recording session, four shoots, and countless hours editing, this is the end result.

I understand that the genesis of it is that last year Alan Harris told the different departments at East that they should have a theme song or something. This started out as the math department's theme song (written by a teacher, based on an Eminem song) and then Jackson Eagan, an East senior, decided to produce a video for it, starring another East math teacher.

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Madison African American Test Scores Lower than Kenosha's and for some, lower than Beloits

Susan Troller, via a kind reader's email:

Madison's achievement gap -- driven in large part by how well white students perform on the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam -- is significant compared to other urban districts in the state with high minority populations. White students here perform significantly better on the annual tests than students in Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha and Beloit and scores for Madison's black students are somewhat better than in Milwaukee or Racine. But black students' scores in Madison are lower than Kenosha's and, among younger students, lower than Beloit's, too.

The point spread between the scores of Madison's white and black sophomore students on the WKCE's 2008 math test was a whopping 50 points: 80 percent of the white students taking the test scored in the advanced and proficient categories while just 30 percent of the black students scored in those categories. It's a better performance than in Milwaukee, where just 19 percent of black students scored in the advanced and proficient categories, or Racine, where 23 percent did, but it lags behind Kenosha's 38 percent. None of the scores are worth celebrating.

Adam Gamoran, director of the Wisconsin Education Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is a nationally known expert whose work has often explored issues related to the achievement gap. He says racism, overt or inadvertent, may make school feel like a hostile environment for black students, and that it needs to be recognized as a potential factor in the achievement gap.

"It would be naive to say it doesn't exist, and that it's not a problem for a certain number of students," Gamoran says. He cites disproportionate disciplinary actions and high numbers of black students referred to special education, as indicators of potential unequal treatment by race.

Green, who attended Madison's public schools, says when black students are treated unfairly it's a powerful disincentive to become engaged, and that contributes to the achievement gap.

"There's plenty of unequal treatment that happens at school," says Green who, while in high school at La Follette, wrote a weekly, award-winning column about the achievement gap for the Simpson Street Free Press that helped her land a trip to the White House and a meeting with Laura Bush.

"From the earliest grades, I saw African-American males especially get sent out of the classroom for the very same thing that gets a white student a little slap on the wrist from some teachers," she says. "It's definitely a problem."

It manifests itself in students who check out, she says. "It's easy to live only in the present, think that you've got better things to do than worry about school. I mean, it's awfully easy to decide there's nothing more important than hanging out with your friends."
But Green advocates a doctrine of personal responsibility. She encourages fellow minority students to focus on academic ambitions, starting with good attendance in class and following through with homework. She also counsels students to take challenging courses and find a strong peer group.

"The bottom line, though, is that no one's going to get you where you're going except you," she says

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

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Growing Momentum on Public School Governance Changes: Mayoral Control & National Standards

Steve Schultze:

"Is this level of recklessness something a citizen should even have to contemplate?" asked Lubar, the founder and chairman of Milwaukee investment firm Lubar & Co. In an April 2008 speech, Lubar said Milwaukee County government was such a mess it wouldn't work even "if Jesus was the county executive and Moses chaired the board of supervisors."

The current system favors elected officials, public employees and unions, he said Tuesday.

"There are a lot of reasons why the unions and others who want power and want control are going to fight this," Lubar said. He said change would be difficult, but insisted that a radical overhaul of county government was possible. He called for the election of a governor and legislators who support the overhaul as the best way to bring about the change.

Lubar also endorsed mayoral control of Milwaukee Public Schools, saying he supported the plan advocated by Barrett and Gov. Jim Doyle to give the Milwaukee mayor the power to appoint the MPS superintendent.

Leah Bishop:
Marshall is among a team of educators, scholars and school administrators collaborating to develop a national K-12 standard for English-language arts and mathematics.

"The reason for the initiative is that we have 50 states and 50 sets of standards, which means that a student in Mississippi isn't necessarily learning the same kind of things as students in Georgia," Marshall said.

Marshall said students in each state are learning on different levels largely because of notions of equality, access and mobility.

The set of standards provides a better understanding of what is expected of both teachers and students. Though curriculums will not be regulated, there will be a criteria for what needs to be taught.

"The standards are more statements of what students should know and be able to do, not how they are going to learn," Marshall said.

Anthony Jackson:
To succeed in this new global age, our students need a high level of proficiency in the English Language Arts. The ability of schools to develop such proficiency in students requires the kind of fewer, clearer and higher common core ELA standards that the Common Core State Standards Initiative is constructing. Moreover, benchmarking these standards to exemplary ELA standards from other countries appropriately sets expectations for student performance at a world-class level.

As the comment period ends, we would like to urge that the final common core ELA standards ensure that our students learn not just from the world but about the world. Internationally benchmarked standards will ensure that U.S. students are globally comparable, but not globally competent or globally competitive. For the latter, common core ELA standards must explicitly call out the knowledge and skills that enable students to effectively read, write, listen and speak within the global context for which they will be prepared, or be passed by, in the 21st century. English language arts offers students the chance to deepen their insight into other cultures, effectively gather and weigh information from across the world, and learn how to create and communicate knowledge for multiple purposes and audiences. To support students' development of the English language skills required in a global economic and civic environment, we urge the English Language Arts Work Group to consider integrating within the common core ELA standards the following essential skills.

My sense is, at the end of the day, these initiatives will simply increase power at the school administrative level while substantially reducing local school board governance. I understand why these things are happening, but have great doubts that our exploding federalism will address curricular issues in a substantive manner. I continue to believe that local, diffused governance via charters and other models presents a far better model than a monolith.

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AP success stories grow dramatically in Montgomery County Schools

Nelson Hernandez:

The number of Montgomery County students who took and passed Advanced Placement exams last spring grew by the largest margin since 2002, an increase fueled by the number of black and Hispanic students who took the test, school system officials said Tuesday morning.

In 2009, Montgomery students took 28,575 of the college-level exams, which are often used as a measure of a curriculum's difficulty and students' readiness for college. Students took 2,654 more tests than they did in 2008, the largest increase in seven years. Montgomery, the largest school system in Maryland, emphasizes the tests as a pathway to college, and Superintendent Jerry D. Weast hailed Tuesday's news.

"Montgomery County is already a state and national leader when it comes to AP, so a 10 percent increase in one year is a very significant jump," Weast said in a statement. "We have worked hard over the past several years to make AP available to more students and those efforts are paying strong dividends."

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He's redefining acceptance at Harvard

Tracy Jan:

He set his sights on Harvard University while in middle school, after stumbling across it in the encyclopedia. Though he lived in a nearby town, the son of a gas station owner had never visited the campus. The nuns at his Catholic high school refused to write him recommendations, proclaiming the college full of atheists, communists, and rich snobs.

Not only did William Fitzsimmons get in, one of just a handful of students on a nearly full scholarship the 1960s, he has spent his nearly four-decade career in Harvard admissions helping transform a bastion of privilege into one more accessible to students from backgrounds like his.

Now, as the admissions season kicks into high gear, the 65-year-old dean traverses the country on recruiting trips, sharing his tale of how a working-class youth managed to make the trip from the modest streets of Weymouth to Harvard Yard, just 15 miles away but seemingly a world apart. It's a story line he imparts frequently to put Harvard on the radar of students who might have dismissed an Ivy League education as a pipe dream.

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Educational Innovation: It Takes a Child to Raise a Village

Patty Seybold:

All over the world, in poor and rich countries alike, families take their children out of school in order to contribute to the livelihood of the family. They're not opposed to education, but the family needs the extra hands that the child can provide in order to make ends meet. There are many educational innovations that are aimed at improving the ability of the child, once educated, to earn a decent income. But nobody has focused on the issue of replacing or improving the family's income while they send their kids to school.

By contrast, the innovations that have been developed by the Uganda Rural Development and Training program and employed at the URDT Girls' School are special in that they increase the family income, not years later, but while the child is still in school. On average, the incomes of families whose children are enrolled at the URDT Girls School increase by 20% while their daughters are still in school.

Think about that for a minute. What that does is eliminate the need to have the girls drop out of school in order to contribute to the family's income. Imagine the implications for the rest of the world if all families benefited by keeping their children in school rather than by having them drop out to go to work.

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Teacher Education in New York State: A skoolboy's-Eye View

Aaron Pallas:

Monday afternoon, I had the opportunity to respond to Merryl Tisch, Chancellor of the Board of Regents, and David Steiner, the New York State Commissioner of Education, as they talked about the future of P-16 education in New York State at the Phyllis L. Kossoff Policy Lecture at Teachers College, Columbia University. I wasn't sure what they'd say, so prepared some remarks responding to the proposals regarding teacher education in New York State that the Commissioner presented to the Board of Regents a few weeks ago. For the handful of readers who might be interested, here's what I wrote. (Due to time constraints, I didn't say all of this at the event.) Chancellor Tisch and Commissioner Steiner were quite willing to hear and engage with the critiques that my colleague Lin Goodwin and I offered, and I look forward to continuing this conversation with them.

It's no surprise that the State Education Department and the Board of Regents have taken up the cause of ensuring an equitable distribution of highly-qualified teachers across New York State. The key justification for such a goal is the fact that the K-12 education system is shortchanging our children. Although some students are highly successful, many more are not, and the problems are concentrated in urban school systems serving large numbers of poor children of color.

If that's the problem, is improving the education of teachers the solution? It's certainly part of the solution, given what we know about the centrality of teaching to student learning. But it's by no means the entire solution, as a great many other forces shape student outcomes. For example, a great teacher can't compensate for a child coming to school hungry, and great teaching of an out-of-date curriculum only results in great mastery of out-of-date knowledge. I trust that Chancellor Tisch and Commissioner Steiner are not seduced by claims that the single most important determinant of a child's achievement is the quality of his or her teachers, because that's simply not true. Family background continues to be the dominant factor. But the quality of teachers is, at least in theory, something that is manipulable via education policy initiatives, and it's a lot more tractable than addressing the fact that one in five children under the age of 18 in New York State live below the poverty line.

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Improving education What to teach?

The Economist:

IN THE long list of problems that plague American education, one is primary: what should students learn? For decades, however, this question has baffled people. In an education system run by the 50 states, success is in the eye of the beholder. Mississippi has different expectations for pupils than Massachusetts does. America as a whole has fallen behind. In a ranking of 15-year-olds in 30 industrialised countries in 2006, American teenagers came a dismal 21st in science and 25th in maths.

Now there is a new drive to set national standards. Arne Duncan, the education secretary, is offering more than $4 billion in total to states that pursue certain reforms--in particular, adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to compete in a global economy. This gives urgency to an effort already under way: the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) are in the midst of drafting common standards.

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Poking fun at students and their excuses to not take exams

Doug Moe:

Final exams are looming on the UW-Madison campus. A time of stress, cramming and little sleep.

It's tough on students. But it's even tougher on their grandmothers.

Last spring, students at the School of Human Ecology could walk into their school's building on Linden Drive and see in the entry an exhibit detailing just how perilous exam time is for the grandmothers of college students.

"I don't remember what inspired me," Dave Riley, the man responsible for the exhibit, was saying this week.

Riley is a professor in the school. Years earlier he had read an article originally published in the Connecticut Review titled, "The Dead Grandmother/Exam Syndrome and the Potential Downfall of American Society."

The crux of the article can be summed up in one sentence near the top: "A student's grandmother is far more likely to die suddenly just before the student takes an exam, than at any other time of year."

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10 biggest K-12 developments of 2010

Tom Vander Ark:

Despite lagging state budgets, 2010 will be a year of great progress in American education. Here's the 10 biggest developments of the year ahead:

  1. Race to the Top awards will be made in two phases to about 18 states and will set the standard for excellence in state policy. About 30 states will make significant policy changes in preparation for application or after being rejected.
  2. Common Core will be adopted by almost everyone except the Republic of Texas and will lay the groundwork for a new generation of content and assessment
  3. While not likely to pass in 2010, a framework for ESEA (that looks a lot like RttT) will emerge with an improved accountability and student support system

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Mr. President: Be the bad guy, start closing schools.

Jay Matthews:

Many fine people, including President Obama, are trying to make public schools better, but I don't see much progress. Cities like New York, reporting impressive achievement gains, seem to have trouble with their data. The results from great charter schools are neutralized by the results from bad ones. New ideas are everywhere, but most are bloodless, hard to understand, difficult to visualize.

Here is one idea that is starkly different: Mr. President, you have to be the Grim Reaper, the Terminator. Get out there and start closing schools that don't work. I know a way you can do it that will win applause from everybody.

The trick here is that I do NOT want you to close regular public schools. There are plenty of them that are doing a terrible job -- too many, actually, for even a president to tackle. As a constitutional scholar, you know you don't have the power to shut them down anyway. That's the job of the states and cities.

But there is now this peculiar kind of public school called a charter school. It uses tax dollars, but is independent of school district rules. There are only 5,000 of them in the country, compared to more than 90,000 regular public schools.

The beautiful part of my plan is that you have been a huge charter school supporter. In your signature speech on school reform, delivered March 10 in Washington, you celebrated charters that gave creative educators "broad leeway to innovate." But you also said "any expansion of charter schools must not result in the spread of mediocrity, but in the advancement of excellence." To do that, you said, we should "close charter schools that aren't working."

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Local education goes global Ranks of foreign students add diversity but tax capacity of public schools

Peter Simon:

Students from around the world are coming in dramatically increasing numbers to the Buffalo area to study at local schools.

Many are refugees from war-torn countries who arrive with few possessions, but with the hope that the United States is the land of opportunity.

Others spend tens of thousands of dollars a year to attend local high schools and colleges in order to advance their studies and careers.

In the Buffalo Public Schools, students whose first language is something other than English now represent nearly 10 percent of the district's total enrollment. Those 3,277 students speak 65 different languages.

The University at Buffalo has 4,539 international students, or 16.7 percent of campus enrollment. They come from more than 100 countries, and outnumber U.S. students from outside New York State.

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December 1, 2009

Laid Off DC Teachers Criticize Union's Efforts to Help Them Keep Their Jobs

Kavitha Cardoza:

After losing a court challenge, several teachers laid off from D.C. public schools are now criticizing the union for not being proactive enough in helping them keep their jobs.

Crystal Proctor is one of several teachers who say union lawyers were not well prepared in court when they argued in favor of reinstating the more than 250 teachers. "We don't think that the legal representation was competent," says Proctor. "Watching our attorney perform, it was laughable. It was ridiculous."

Another teacher Natasha Mason says she didn't get replies when she sent emails to her union representative. She says she's gotten "nothing" out of her membership. "I'm totally disappointed," says Mason. "It's a pity we've been paying all this money into people to protect us and represent us and to stand up for what our rights are none of it has been done."

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The e-book tractor application

Frederic Filloux:

Let's rejoice: French teachers embrace the internet. Well, calm down. I'm not saying they embrace it the way I would like them to. This week saw two technological breakthroughs at my son's Parisian high-school. The first one is a decision-support tool on the school's website: it helps parents decide whether or not to send their kids to school when a protest blocks the gates, something that happens several times a year. Usually, my son whips up his cell phone at 7:30 in the morning : "Hey, dad, this just in: a text-message... gates are jammed by a barricade of trash bins (the kids' touching expression of solidarity to last week's teacher union action), I can go back to sleep". Now, I'll be able to fact-check the SMS alert on the web. (No webcam, though, I'll have to rely on teachers' good faith).

The second breakthrough happens as I immerse myself in the Life Science course for the same text-message freak, Abercrombie-clad kid who happens to be my offspring. Then, an epiphany. His science professor is an internet fan. Don't get me wrong, here. As 90% of the 1.3m members of L'éducation Nationale (the world's biggest employer after the erstwhile Red Army or, worse, today's Wal-Mart), I'm sure the lady loathes the internet. You see: the net flaunts apalling attributes of foreign technology, it is the vector of free market ideology. Sorry, Larry and Sergei. Your Google is definitely evil, down here.

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In defense of the good school promise

Tom Vander Ark:

While channel surfing on Thanksgiving morning, I found a school board association meeting where a famous prof was railing on standards and testing with lots of applause from the audience (in a state contemplating delaying college-ready math and science standards until 2015). I agreed with many of his assertions like "America is still best at encouraging differences and entrepreneurship" and "we want to teach everything." He went to deride standards, testing and a system where everything was "reduced to a single number." Since lots of my friends are in his camp and want to pitch No Child Left Behind and add more services, it reminded me of why we have NCLB and what the new version should look like.

The primary reason we have a federal law like NCLB is that school boards (and state boards) allowed generations of chronic failure. They cut bad employment deals and asked for more money when things didn't go well. Teachers that could went to the suburbs. Most low income and minority kids were getting left behind. Anyone committed to equity could see things had to change.

NCLB reflected a consensus that 1) measurement and transparency would help us understand the problem, 2) that a basic template for school accountability would ensure that things would get better for underserved students, and 3) the federal government should play a bigger role in ensuring equity and excellence.

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Advocating for Girls' Sports With a Sharp Tongue

Katie Thomas:

Few girls who play sports in suburban Philadelphia would recognize Robert H. Landau, but many coaches and athletic directors know that spotting him in the bleachers could spell trouble.

With a sharp tongue, a refusal to compromise and a well-honed sense of injustice, Landau is that familiar breed of community activist with a knack for pushing public officials over the edge. His specialty is girls' sports, and his targets are usually wealthy public schools from the Main Line suburbs that pride themselves on being progressive and fair in offering a rich array of opportunities.

No slight to girls is too small for Landau to take on. His victories range from the momentous to the less obvious, like forcing his daughters' school district to provide more athletic choices, pressuring leagues to showcase their title games and getting a school mascot to perform at their games.

Landau's complaint against Haverford High School -- over issues like publicity for and scheduling of boys' and girls' basketball games -- has upset even those who would otherwise support him.

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NEA is the Largest Political Spender in America

Mike Antonucci:

Since the rise of the Internet, we have been able to more easily track political spending. The Center for Responsive Politics has led the way in documenting and accounting for all the different ways money is spent on federal campaigns. Alas, tracking similar spending at the state level has been more of a hit-or-miss proposition. Disclosure laws vary from state to state, and electronic reporting of results has been sporadic.

Until now. CRP joined forces with the National Institute on Money in State Politics to produce the first comprehensive report of political spending at both the state and national levels. The organizations combined spending on candidates, parties and ballot initiatives to come up with a total for each of the nation's special interest groups. The results should give pause to those who think the biggest political spenders must be Big Oil, Wal-Mart and the pharmaceutical, banking and tobacco industries.

By far the largest political spender for the 2007-08 election cycle was the National Education Association, with more than $56.3 million in contributions. The teachers' union outdistanced the second-place group by more than $12 million.

Believe it or not, the report understates NEA's spending, since it places political expenditures made in concert with the American Federation of Teachers in a separate category. "NEA AFT' ranked 123rd in the nation, contributing more than $3.3 million to campaigns in Colorado, Florida and Oregon. (AFT ranked 25th with almost $13.8 million in contributions.)

Just to put this in perspective, America's two teachers' unions outspent AT&T, Goldman Sachs, Wal-Mart, Microsoft, General Electric, Chevron, Pfizer, Morgan Stanley, Lockheed Martin, FedEx, Boeing, Merrill Lynch, Exxon Mobil, Lehman Brothers, and the Walt Disney Corporation, combined.

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Retired Los Angeles teacher keeps at it, for free

Steve Lopez:

Five mornings a week, Bruce Kravets, 66, puts on a coat and tie, straps on his helmet and bikes to work at Palms Middle School on L.A.'s Westside, where he teaches math. For free.

Last June, after 42 years of teaching, Kravets retired. He'd put so much money into his retirement fund over the decades, his monthly compensation if he stepped down would be greater than his regular pay. But that didn't mean he was ready to abandon teaching. His plan was to stay on and teach for no salary, because he couldn't think of anything more fun or rewarding than teaching algebra, geometry, logic and stage craft.

A no-brainer, right? Kravets is, by all accounts, a truly gifted teacher, and in a district with a budget crisis, here was a guy who said, "Keep your money, I'll do it gratis."

Ahhh, but this is LAUSD, and for months after he announced his plan, it was looking as if Kravets would be told thanks, but no thanks. At one point over the summer, I was told by a Los Angeles Unified administrator that Palms would lose funding if Kravets taught class, because the daily attendance of his students wouldn't be counted if he was an unpaid teacher.

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Change looms for schools

Eric Florip:

First, it was the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. Later it became No Child Left Behind in 2002.

But with the Obama administration now in the White House, talk of a new rewrite of the law has already begun. Education Secretary Arne Duncan addressed the issue publicly in September, calling for changes to the landmark law during a speech to education leaders.

Just don't expect to call the next version No Child Left Behind.

"We're going to change the name of the bill," said Justin Hamilton, a spokesman of the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C. "That was the previous administration's name for it. That was their bill, not ours."

Though nothing definitive has been announced, the department is already in discussions about re-authorizing the law in a different form, Hamilton said. Duncan has spent much of his tenure so far traveling the country to gather input, he added.

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Minnesota Charter School Program "is out of control"

Tony Kennedy:

Minnesota's charter school movement, which sparked a national rethinking of public schooling nearly two decades ago, has been infected by an out-of-control financing system fueled by junk bonds, insider fees and lax oversight.

State law prohibits charter schools from owning property, but consultants have found a legal loophole, allowing proponents to use millions of dollars in public money to build schools even though the properties remain in the hands of private nonprofit corporations.

The key to making it all work is the state's lease aid program, which was created 11 years ago to help spur competition in public education by offering rental assistance to groups promoting alternatives to district schools. In the beginning, many charters were located in dumpy strip malls and received no real-estate grants.

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The "Achilles Heel" of Education Reform is Slashed by Michael Bloomberg

Dan Brown:

igh-stakes testing is a bullet train barreling through education reform; you're either on the train, on the sidelines, or waving your hands in frantic protest, only to be run over.

Last week's education speech by emboldened New York City Mayor-for-Life Bloomberg (who just dropped nine-figures of his own cash on his re-election bid) is depressing news to people on the ground in schools. Conducting the Testing Express, Bloomberg announced:

"As [Secretary of Education] Arne [Duncan] had said a number of times, 'A state can't enter Race to the Top if it prohibits schools from using student achievement data to evaluate teachers and that's why California just repealed its prohibition on doing so.'

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The march of English yields surprising losers

Michael Skapinker:

Anthony Bolton, veteran star stock-picker at Fidelity International, is moving to Hong Kong to set up a China fund. He is following Michael Geoghegan, HSBC's chief executive, who has already announced he is moving from London to Hong Kong. "The centre of gravity is clearly shifting," Mr Bolton says.

It certainly looks that way, although it is worth recalling that it was not that long ago that Japan was tipped to be the new number one. Economies have their ups and downs - look at Dubai.

What we can forecast with some confidence is that English will remain the world's leading language for as long as anyone reading these words is alive. Economies can tip into crisis, fund managers can switch their investments at the click of a button and executives can relocate to the other side of the world, but it takes a lot more to topple the global language.

If Mandarin - or Spanish, or Arabic - is to replace English as the world's lingua franca, children in São Paulo, St Petersburg and Auckland had better start learning it now. Forget all those advertisements promising you can learn a language in three months. You can't. You may be able to summon up a few phrases. Perhaps you could engage a taxi driver in a minute of conversation before you seize up.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:17 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

California's future demands bigger investment in schools

Beatrice Motamedi:

A story on National Public Radio's Web site about MySpace and Facebook recently quoted students from the Urban School of San Francisco.

I teach at Urban, and what stung me was its description as "an elite private school." As a journalist and teacher, this kind of thing gets under my skin.

With tuition at $30,800 a year, it's inevitable that Urban will be stereotyped as a prep school for smarties who exist in a parallel universe of privilege. But as someone who has spent several years teaching in public schools, I also know that California's per-pupil spending rate of $7,571 a year - watch out, Mississippi, we're racing you to the bottom - doesn't provide even the basics, let alone enough for a truly decent education. My hometown of Milwaukee spends twice as much, and still only 46 percent of high school students graduate. The fact is that we could and probably should be spending four times as much on public education as we do now.

At Urban, I'm rarely impressed by excess, just by thoughtful teaching, the resources to support it and kids who work so hard that I sometimes have to tell them to slow down. But stereotypes persist. When I got my job at Urban, a friend who works at a community college promptly checked my delight. "Isn't that the fancy private school in the Haight?" she asked. "How nice for you."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:15 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Hats off to schools for raising the bar

Eau Claire Leader-Telegram:

Reading and math are two of the three "basics" of education, writing being the third. Those not proficient in these areas will be left behind in a society where there is a rapidly dwindling demand for "unskilled labor."

That's why a recent study by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance is so encouraging. The group tracked test results of Wisconsin students who took a statewide exam as third-graders in the 2005-06 school year, and then charted that class as they were tested again as sixth-graders last school year.

The good news is that students at 52 percent of Wisconsin schools improved their proficiency ratings in both reading and math. Eau Claire, Altoona, Chippewa Falls and Menomonie were among the schools whose students improved in both areas as they progressed from third to sixth grade. Other area schools' improvements were almost off the charts: Augusta students' scores improved by 24.4 points in reading and 17.5 in math. Colfax, Cornell, Bruce and Somerset in our area also improved by double digits in both subjects.

Critics of standardized tests sometimes warn against taking too much from the results because they say education is about more than memorizing information. But reading and math are pretty straightforward. Either you can read and comprehend information, or you can't. And either you have mastered the building blocks of math and can solve problems successfully, or you can't. Any "teaching to the test" in reading and math can only be a good thing.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:08 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

For-profit colleges haul in Government aid

Justin Pope:

Students aren't the only ones benefiting from the billions of new dollars Washington is spending on college aid for the poor.

An Associated Press analysis shows surging proportions of both low-income students and the recently boosted government money that follows them are ending up at for-profit schools, from local career colleges to giant publicly traded chains such as the University of Phoenix, Kaplan and Devry.

Last year, the five institutions that received the most federal Pell Grant dollars were all for-profit colleges, collecting over $1 billion among them. That was two and a half times what those schools hauled in just two years prior, the AP found, analyzing Department of Education data on disbursements from the Pell program, Washington's main form of college aid to the poor.

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