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January 31, 2010

Have things (Math Education) really changed that much? A letter to a friend.

Martha McClaren:

You ask whether things have changed -- since math wasn't being taught well 40+ years ago either. You're absolutely right on that, but I believe it's only gotten worse over the years, as more and more math phobic people have gone into the field of education. These people never understood math well, so their teaching had to be based on rote following of procedures, etc. Then came "new math", which was an effort to reinvent math and make it more accessible. That bombed, and the efforts to reinvent continued.

What happened is that eventually those bright, math-phobic folks took over the education establishment. They reinvented math to be gentler, kinder, and more fun. Some of the hallmarks are: Small group problem solving, with students figuring our their own solutions to challenging problems. Visiting many topics for only a few weeks each year and moving on, regardless of whether any real mastery was attained. The thinking was/is that students will revisit the topics again in successive years, and will painlessly absorb the concepts. This turns out to be an extremely inefficient way to teach math, so, in order to have enough time to do all these hands-on projects in groups, the explanation of the underlying structure of math and and practice with standard algorithms have all been chucked.

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What's your experience with the new (Discovery) math textbooks?

Last year Seattle Public Schools selected new, "inquiry-based" math textbooks. Now there's a lawsuit against the district over the Discovering Mathematics series of textbooks.

Do you have a child in school who is using the new textbooks? What is your experience with inquiry-based math education? KUOW's Ross Reynolds is planning a show on Wednesday, February 3 in the 12 o'clock hour. We'd like to hear from you by Wednesday morning. Share your experience with KUOW by filling out the form below, or call 206.221.3663.

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A Determined Quest to Bring Adoptive Ties to Foster Teenagers

Erik Eckholm:

After a day of knocking on doors chasing fleeting leads, Carlos Lopez and his partner finally heard welcome words: Yes, a resident confirmed, the man they were seeking lived in this house and would be home that evening.

Mr. Lopez, a former police detective, now does gumshoe work for what he calls a more fulfilling cause: tracking down long-lost relatives of teenagers languishing in foster care, in desperate need of family ties and in danger of becoming rootless adults. That recent day, he was hoping to find the father of a boy who had lived in 16 different foster homes since 1995. The boy did not remember his mother, who had long since disappeared.

Finding an adoptive parent for older children with years in foster care is known in child welfare circles as the toughest challenge. Typically, their biological parents abused or neglected them and had parental rights terminated. Relatives may not know where the children are, or even that they exist. And the supply of saints in the general public, willing to adopt teenagers shaken by years of trauma and loss, is limited.

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Back to School, as an Adjunct

Phyllis Korkki:

IN this time of job insecurity, the question may have occurred to you: Should you consider part-time teaching as a way to improve your finances and expand your career opportunities?

Becoming a teacher can be rigorous and time-consuming, but at the college level, part-time teaching is a realistic option for some professionals. Postsecondary schools are often willing to be flexible about academic credentials in return for real-world expertise.

The need for part-time professors, known as adjuncts, is high right now. Education is one of the few areas of the economy that has been expanding, partly because so many of the unemployed are returning to school.

You may not want to pursue teaching part time, however, if your motivation is mainly financial. The pay for adjunct professors is usually low, and the work can be challenging. Still, the nonmonetary rewards that come with teaching can be substantial.

Often, people need a minimum of a master's degree to work as adjunct professors, whether at two- or four-year colleges. But with the equivalent skills and expertise, even someone with only a bachelor's degree might be hired, said Claire Van Ummersen, vice president for the Center for Effective Leadership at the American Council on Education.

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The Economic Benefits From Halving The Dropout Rate: A Boom To Businesses In The Nation's Largest Metropolitan Areas

Alliance for Excellent Education:

Few people realize the impact that high school dropouts have on a community's economic, social, and civic health.

Business owners and residents--in particular, those without school-aged children--may not be aware that they have much at stake in the success of their local high schools.

Indeed, everyone--from car dealers and realtors to bank managers and local business owners--benefits when more students graduate from high school.

Nationally, more than seven thousand students become dropouts every school day. That adds up to almost 1.3 million students annually who will not graduate from high school with their peers as scheduled. In addition to the moral imperative to provide every student with an equal opportunity to pursue the American dream, there is also an economic argument for helping more students graduate from high school.

To better understand the various economic benefits that a particular community could expect if it were to reduce its number of high school dropouts, the Alliance for Excellent Education (the Alliance), with the generous support of State Farm®, analyzed the local economies of the nation's fifty largest cities and their surrounding areas. Using a
sophisticated economic model developed by Economic Modeling Specialists Inc., an Idaho-based economics firm specializing in socioeconomic impact tools, the Alliance calculated economic projections tailored to each of these metro regions.

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Advocating a Wisconsin Sales Tax Increase for K-12 Public Schools

Gayle Worland:

Tom Beebe has an idea for raising $850 million a year for Wisconsin schools, easing property taxes for homeowners and buying some time to devise a long-term solution to the state's Byzantine school funding system -- raise the state's 5 percent sales tax by 1 percentage point.

It might not be politically viable. But supporters say at least it's an idea.
"The conversation has to start somewhere," said Dan Nerad, Madison School District superintendent. "There needs to be a public policy discussion about important questions around the school funding formula."

The executive director of the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, Beebe is the driving force -- literally -- behind the "A Penny for Kids" campaign. Since summer, he has logged nearly a thousand miles a month, he said, in a low-key, grass-roots campaign focused mainly in rural areas of the state. An online petition has garnered about 1,760 signatures.

Wisconsin k-12 redistributed tax dollars grew substantially over the past two decades as the chart below indicates: . More here.

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Book shares Chicago recipe for good schools

Alan Borsuk:

I think I have about as good a handle as anyone on the reasons to feel depressed about the Milwaukee school situation. I've been giving talks to groups around the city fairly often lately. I jokingly refer to it as my Spreading Gloom tour.

But at heart, I still am optimistic. Why?

Because I've had the privilege of visiting some schools lately that offer hope. There are too few of them, but they exist. You find them in the Milwaukee Public Schools system, among the private schools supported by public vouchers, and among the charter schools that operate outside MPS. I expect to feature some of them in upcoming columns.

Because there is ample reason to believe that other urban school systems are doing better than Milwaukee. Every school district that is dominated by children coming from impoverished settings has big struggles. But other cities are showing more success and exhibiting more energy than we are, and I don't know any convincing reason why Milwaukee needs to be behind the pack so often. Certainly, this could be changed if we did the right things.

Because things have to get better in terms of the educational success of kids for the city, the metropolitan area and even the state to thrive, and I somehow think awareness of that will eventually create enough pressure to bring improvement.

And - my specific subject for today - because of a new book.

Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons from Chicago.

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Study: Many sex offenders are kids themselves

Wendy Koch:

More than a third of sex crimes against juveniles are committed by juveniles, according to new research commissioned by the Justice Department.

Juveniles are 36% of all sex offenders who victimize children. Seven out of eight are at least 12 years old, and 93% are boys, says the study by the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.

The report comes as states toughen penalties for adult sex offenders and wrestle with how to handle juveniles.

"They are different from adult sex offenders," says study co-author David Finkelhor. They are more likely than adults to commit sex offenses in groups, and their victims are younger and more likely to be male.

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January 30, 2010

Should Extra-Curricular Fine Arts Teachers be Paid the Same as Sports Coaches?

Craig Smith:

If you haven't already, you should take the time to read Susan Troller's lively profile of Memorial High School drama coach and English teacher Tom Hardin. It's a great portrait of a man who's in top form, and he raises a thorny question about equity in extracurricular activities: should the faculty who direct the school plays and coach the forensics teams get as much support and pay as the coaches of the football and basketball teams?

If you read the story, you might be tempted to write Hardin off at first blush, as some commenters do. He's threatening to step down at the end of the school year leading drama as well as his position overseeing Memorial's first-rate forensics team. He says it's not fair that sports get far more attention and outside support, not to mention that their coaches get more money than those leading, say, drama.
It's not about the amount of money, he says, and in the great scheme of things, the difference in pay really isn't much -- not quite $1,300 a year. In certainly pales in comparison to the difference between what UW football coach Bret Bielema and university faculty members make.

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Education Secretary Arne Duncan: Hurricane Katrina helped New Orleans schools

Nick Anderson:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan called Hurricane Katrina "the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans" because it forced the community to take steps to improve low-performing public schools, according to excerpts from the transcript of a television interview made public Friday afternoon.

The excerpts, e-mailed to reporters, quoted Duncan as giving an evaluation of the effect of the 2005 hurricane on the city's schools.

Martin was quoted as saying to Duncan: "What's amazing is New Orleans was devastated because of Hurricane Katrina, but because everything was wiped out, in essence, you are building from ground zero to change the dynamics of education in that city."

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Green Bay Schools Advertise to Stem Losses

Matt Smith:

The Green Bay Area Public School District is losing students to open enrollment by a three-to-one ratio. Now, during a pivotal few weeks, it's launching a major multi-media campaign.

Statewide, applications for open enrollment begin Monday and run through the first part of February.

For school districts everywhere, it's a critical time to keep -- and gain -- students.

The Green Bay district is wasting no time in getting its message out. From the classroom to your TV screen, it's an all-out multi-media blitz to highlight the district during a very vulnerable few weeks.

Beginning Monday, a TV ad hits the airwaves advertising what the Green Bay school district says it can offer current and potential students.

Current Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad formerly served in the same position in Green Bay. Much more on open enrollment here.

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Discussing Rigor at Seattle's Rainier Beach High School

Michael Rice:

I was reading the comments in an earlier post about the new assignment plan and there were many comments about the rigor or lack there of at Rainier Beach High School. I would like to dispel the myth that Rainier Beach does not offer rigor to the high achieving student. If you have a high achieving 8th grader and are in the RBHS attendance area, here is just a sample of what you can expect:

In math as a Freshman, you will start in at least Honors Geometry with Ms. Lessig who is our best math teacher. Once you get through that, you will take Honors Advanced Algebra with me, then Pre Calculus with Mr. Bird (a math major in college) and then as a Senior, you take AP Calculus with Ms. Day, a highly experienced and skilled teacher. As a bonus, in either your Junior or Senior year, you get to take AP Statistics with me. All of these classes are demanding and well taught by teachers who know what they are doing and are passionate about teaching math.

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Education does not need giveaways and gimmicks

South China Morning Post:

Few know the consequences of Hong Kong's rapidly ageing population as well as public schoolteachers. They are in the front line, wondering how to keep the schools they work for open - and their jobs - as student numbers dwindle. Innovation comes to the fore in such situations and competition to maintain enrolments to stave off closure with gifts and gimmicks is keen. But as much as enterprise is to be lauded, efforts should not be about enticing children with giveaways, but better educating them. Education is not the natural first thought for teachers whose jobs are on the line. They know that when student numbers in a form drop below 61, the Education Bureau starts taking action. In the past five years, five public secondary schools and 72 primary ones have been forced to close. A total of 31 secondary classes have been cut this academic year.

Government-subsidised secondary schools have taken a lead in trying to reverse the trend. They cannot conjure more students from the shrinking pool but can lure them away from one another and look to new arrivals. Tactics vary from handing out free notebook computers to recruiting through booths at railway stations to hiring public relations consultants so that images can be overhauled.

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New federal budget ups spending on education

Tom Weber:

One area of the federal government that could see more money is education as the president is proposing to spend as much as $4 billion more nationally next year on schools.

With state funding at a standstill and facing possible cuts, the prospect of any new money for schools gives the federal government more power in setting the terms.

Even $4 billion more from the federal government will not change the fact that the nation's schools get a lion's share of their money from their states.

But state budgets are pinched -- Minnesota's deficit tops a billion dollars - and that's just for the remaining five months on this current fiscal year.

The Lakeville district's budget is 80 percent state money, and Superintendent Gary Amoroso predicts that portion will stay flat for at least four years. Even as costs for things like health care and teacher pay keep increasing.

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College Endowments In Jeopardy

David Randall & Asher Hawkins:

College and university endowments in the United States and Canada collectively lost $93 billion during the 2009 fiscal year, according to a study jointly released Thursday by the National Association of College and University Business Officers and the Commonfund, which manages investments for nonprofit institutions. In a sign of how deeply the pain was felt throughout higher education, the study found that the average institution lost 18.7% after fees.

The report's findings were the grimmest since 1974, when the average college lost 11.4% of its endowment.

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Fake News About Milwaukee Mayoral Takeover

Bruce Murphy, via a kind reader's email:

A story in last week's Shepherd Express claimed that Wall Street hedge managers are part of a secret conspiracy favoring mayoral takeover of Milwaukee Public Schools in order to privatize the schools. It's complete nonsense, the sort of fake news that any smart reader will see through.

The key people pushing for mayoral takeover of the schools has been no secret: It includes Gov. Jim Doyle, Mayor Tom Barrett, Common Council President Willie Hines and a

number of Milwaukee-area Democratic legislators, including state Sens. Lena Taylor and Jeff Plale and state Reps. Jason Fields and Rep. Jon Richards. None of them have offered any support for privatization in their statements. Nor does the proposed legislation have any language that would in any way privatize the schools.

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POLITICO Interview: Arne Duncan

Mike Allen:

MR. ALLEN: Welcome to POLITICO's video series: "Inside Obama's Washington." I'm Mike Allen, Chief White House Correspondent, and we're here at the Education Department with its leader, Arne Duncan. Mr. Secretary, thank you for having us in.

SECRETARY DUNCAN: Well, thanks for the opportunity. Good to see you.

MR. ALLEN: The President has announced a freeze for a big slice of spending. How's that going to affect education?

SECRETARY DUNCAN: Well, education's always been a priority for the President, so we feel very, very good about where we're going to net out. We're always going to make tough choices, and things that aren't working, we're going to stop investing in. But things that are working, we want to continue to push very hard.

MR. ALLEN: And what's an example of something where you believe you can pull back, something that's not working?

SECRETARY DUNCAN: Well, the budget will be forthcoming next week, but there will be a number of things where if we're not seeing the results we want for children, we think we have a moral obligation not to just perpetuate the status quo, but to invest scarce, scarce dollars in those priorities that are really making a difference in students' lives.

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L.A. groups bid to run 30 schools

Howard Blume:

So you think you can run a Los Angeles school? Make your case. You've got 10 minutes.

Would-be school operators are taking part in a kind of Los Angeles Unified School District reality contest, presenting proposals this month at forums on campuses across the district.

It's the next step in an unfolding process through which groups inside and outside the system are bidding to operate 12 low-performing schools and 18 new campuses, serving some 40,000 students.

The Board of Education approved the strategy in August, and the winners for each school will be chosen before March.

Amid intense competition, the bidders are determined to add popular support to their portfolios. Parents will vote for their favorite bidders, although their choices won't be binding on district officials.

At Jefferson High south of downtown, at least 400 people braved last week's storms to hear staff members offer their plans for revamping the campus. They are competing against L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's team.

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Our Flagship Universities Are Straying From Their Public Mission

The Education Trust:

Public flagship universities provide excellence to students who cannot afford high-quality private institutions. Yet many of these universities direct aid to wealthy students who will attend college without it. Meantime, many high-achieving minority and poor students wind up in lesser institutions or do not attend college at all. In fact, some low-income students who literally cannot afford to attend college without a grant must find a way to finance the equivalent of 70 percent of their family's annual income. Some flagships are stepping up to the challenge and focusing on access and success. An account of their performance and progress appears at the end of this report.

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January 29, 2010

Newcomers Test Schools In Plano, Texas, Population Shift Prompts Rezoning That Angers Many Parents

Ana Campoy:

This Dallas suburb, a wealthy enclave known for its top-notch schools, is struggling to integrate a flood of poor, minority students.

In a battle mirrored in other districts across the U.S., parents here have been fighting for months over which public high school their kids will attend: one under construction in an affluent corner of the Plano Independent School District, or an older school several miles away in the city's more diverse downtown.

Last month, the district's school board angered many parents when it created a Pac-Man-shaped zone that placed their children in the downtown school for grades nine and 10 instead of in the newer, closer campus.

The downtown school has the highest proportion of poor students of all high schools in the district; many are Hispanic and African-American.

"We want to go to our neighborhood school," said Kelly McBrayer, a white, 48-year-old stay-at-home mother of three who lives near the site of the new high school.

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Excellent education: a right or a privilege?

Erica Sandberg:

Being deeply entrenched in all things money, I see first-hand the link between quality education and real, lasting economic success. The better schools you attend, the greater the chance you'll find and prepare for work that will provide satisfaction and financial stability. This is not to say that other factors (such as parent involvement) don't count or that some people don't overcome the odds and attain wealth and happiness without attending or graduating from college, but I'm talking the basics here: kindergarten though high school.

The sad fact is that California public schools are in jeopardy. Many are wonderful now, but as the Chron's Jill Tucker reports, 113 million in funding cuts over two years will change all that. Teachers are facing lay-offs, class size will swell to unmanageable numbers, and programs that make schools appealing to students will be slashed. Want to make kids dislike and devalue formal learning? This will do it. And as a society, we can't afford to have children reject education. Those who do are more likely to make poor financial and lifestyle choices when they reach adulthood, draining the resources of the population at large.

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Response to Danny Westneat 1/27 Math column in Seattle Times

Martha McLaren:

I am one of the three plaintiffs in the math textbook appeal. I am also the white grandmother of an SPS fifth grader, and a retired SPS math teacher.

Mr. Westneat grants that the textbooks we are opposing may be "lousy," but he faults us for citing their disproportionate effect on ethnic, racial, and other minorities. He states that we can't prove this claim. I disagree, and West Seattle Dan has posted voluminous statistics in response to the column. They support our claim that inquiry-based texts, which have now accrued a sizable track record, are generally associated with declining achievement among most students and with a widening achievement gap between middle class whites and minorities.

We've brought race and ethnicity (as well as economic status) into this appeal because there is ample evidence that it is a factor. True, this is not the 80's, and true, in my 10 years of experience teaching in Seattle Schools, I found no evidence that people of color are less capable than whites of being outstanding learners. However, in my 30+ years as a parent and grandparent of SPS students and my years as a teacher, I've developed deep, broad, awareness of the ways that centuries of societally mandated racism play out in our classrooms, even in this era of Barack Obama's presidency.

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Next Bunch of Obama Education Reforms to Offer More Carrots

Patrice Wingert:

When the Obama administration first proposed having states duke it out for a share of a $4 billion education-reform fund, critics expected the whole enterprise to either be largely ignored or dissolve into political infighting. But instead, the Race to the Top competition has proved so successful in motivating states to accelerate their education-reform efforts that the administration has new plans to offer such competitions on an annual basis. President Obama will also announce tonight that the Department of Education will be offering a new competition to push states to create more and better preschool programs. During a briefing Tuesday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that the country doesn't "need any more studies" to prove that high-quality preschool education can significantly close the achievement gap between rich and poor. Instead, he said, the country just needs to offer such programs to more kids. The president "wants to dramatically increase access and give kids a level playing field," Duncan said. "If kids don't come to school ready to learn and ready to read, it's very tough for even the best kindergarten teachers to close that gap." During the presidential campaign, Obama repeatedly promised that he would expand early education programs but has focused little attention on the issue during his first year.

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Australia's National School Website a victory for education

Jane Fynes-Clinton:

WHEN the Federal Government's My School website goes live this morning, I will give a little internal cheer.

It will be a little victory for transparency, a little win for democracy and a little tick in the box that shows the Federal Government is deadly serious about improving education standards.

It will also be a little kick in the shins for those who would rather the mountain of compiled information the Government already has - and has had for some years - remains buried under layers of bureaucracy far from public view.

I will be happy because I want to know about the statistics around the performance of the schools in my area. I want to see the spots that need addressing and the areas where they are leading the way. Like most thinking parents out there, the information made available this morning will not be the sole premise on which I will judge those schools, those teachers or those students. Those who have been bleating about the way in which the students, teachers and schools will be judged must view parents as shallow and mushroom-like.

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The Real Issue Behind the Rhee Flap: Why Can't Schools Fire Bad Teachers?

Patrice Wingert:

Michelle Rhee, the tough-talking D.C. schools chancellor, is used to taking her lumps from the press, the teachers' unions, and city politicians as she tries to overhaul one of the nation's worst public-school systems. But this week she's been under siege after a controversial quote about teachers molesting students made it into print. Rhee is fighting back, but the whole episode highlights a bigger problem in districts all over the country: why can't a school system fire teachers who abuse kids or don't bother showing up for work? In D.C., as in many other cities with "progressive" employee discipline procedures, school officials can suspend such teachers but can't terminate them.

The latest uproar began with the publication of a short "update" item in the Feb. 1 issue of Fast Company, in which Rhee seemed to say that the 266 teachers laid off last fall during the system's budget crunch had histories of abusing students, corporal punishment, and chronic absenteeism: "I got rid of teachers who had hit children, who had had sex with children, who had missed 78 days of school. Why wouldn't we take those things into consideration?" Rhee is quoted as saying.

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Better system wanted over Teacher sex offenders

South China Morning Post:

Sex offenders who prey on children strike fear into the hearts of parents. That does not make it any easier to find a balance between protecting the community against these heinous crimes and upholding the rights of offenders who have paid their debt to society. One of these rights is privacy, which is key to a fair chance of rehabilitation. Reconciling this conflict is one reason Hong Kong has yet to follow other jurisdictions in maintaining a confidential sex offenders' register that can be accessed by employers of people who work with children.

Meanwhile, the Education Bureau's power to deregister teachers provides a degree of protection because no one can teach in our schools without a valid registration certificate or permit. Parents are entitled to assurance that this screens out applicants who pose a known risk. It is disappointing therefore that the bureau has declined an opportunity to give it, without infringing privacy. It has refused our request to simply say how many of at least 31 teachers and classroom assistants known to have committed sexual offences in the past 10 years are still registered and how many are working in schools. As a result, lawmakers, parent and child protection groups have rightly raised concerns about the vetting procedures.

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How Michigan education reforms will unfold is unclear

Julie Mack:

How sweeping education reforms signed into law Monday will be implemented in Michigan remains unclear to area school officials.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm on Monday signed reforms that make it easier to close failing schools, link teacher pay to performance and hold school administrators accountable. The bills also raise the dropout age from 16 to 18, starting with the Class of 2016; allow up to 32 more charter schools to open each year; give professionals from areas other than education an alternative way to become teachers, and allow for cyber-schools to educate students who have dropped out online.

State Superintendent Mike Flanagan said up to 200 low-performing schools could end up under state control as a result of the new laws.

The legislation is part of Michigan's effort to win money from the Obama administration's Race to the Top competition tied to education reform. Michigan could get up to $400 million if it's among the winners.

Local school boards and unions now face a Thursday deadline to sign a "Memorandum of Understanding" that indicates their support for the reforms. The memorandums are to be included with the state's Race to the Top application. School districts where the board and union do not sign an agreement risk losing their share of the money.

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January 28, 2010

On Seattle's "Discovery Math" Lawsuit: "Textbook argument divides us"

Danny Westneat:

Can an algebra textbook be racist?

That's what was argued Tuesday in a Seattle courtroom. Not overtly racist in that a book of equations and problem sets contains hatred or intolerance of others. But that its existence -- its adoption for use in Seattle classrooms -- is keeping some folks down.

"We're on untested ground here," admitted Keith Scully.

He's the attorney who advanced this theory in a lawsuit challenging Seattle Public Schools' choice of the Discovering series of math textbooks last year.

The appeal was brought by a handful of Seattle residents, including UW atmospheric-sciences professor Cliff Mass. It says Seattle's new math books -- and a "fuzzy" curriculum they represent -- are harmful enough to racial and other minorities that they violate the state constitution's guarantee of an equal education.

It also says the School Board's choice of the books was arbitrary.

Mostly, Mass just says the new textbooks stink. For everyone. But he believes they will widen the achievement gap between whites and some minority groups, specifically blacks and students with limited English skills.

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Study: Online Education Continues Its Meteoric Growth

Jeff Greer:

Online college education is expanding--rapidly. More than 4.6 million college students were taking at least one online course at the start of the 2008-2009 school year. That's more than 1 in 4 college students, and it's a 17 percent increase from 2007.

Turns out it's the economy, stupid.

Two major factors for the soaring numbers in the 2008-2009 school year are the sour economy and the possibility of an H1N1 flu virus outbreak, according to the seventh annual Sloan Survey of Online Learning report, titled "Learning on Demand: Online Education in the United States in 2009." But, the survey's authors say, there is a lot more work to be done, and there's huge potential for online education to expand, especially at larger schools.

"For the past several years, all of the growth--90-plus percent--is coming from existing traditional schools that are growing their current offerings," says Jeff Seaman, one of the study's authors and codirector of the Babson Survey Research Group at Babson College. Seaman's coauthor, Elaine Allen, who is also a codirector of the Babson Survey Research Group, added that community colleges, for-profit schools, and master's programs have seen significant growth in online offerings.

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Georgia Tech president: No guns on campus

Maureen Downey, via email:

G.P. "Bud" Peterson, president of Georgia Tech, sat down with writers at the AJC today and made clear that he did not support the pending legislation in the Georgia General Assembly to allow guns on college campuses. (We talked about other education issues that I will write about later.)

Under a bill in the House, Georgia gun owners with conceal carry permits could bring their guns everywhere except the courthouse and the jailhouse. The restrictions on churches and campuses would be lifted.

Georgia Tech President Bud Peterson says "absolutely not" to guns on his campus in an interview Wednesday with the AJC

"Absolutely not," said Peterson, who was appointed as the 11th president of Georgia Tech in April after serving as chancellor at the University of Colorado at Boulder and provost at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York. In addition, Peterson has held various positions at Texas A&M University and taught mathematics, physics and chemistry in Kansas.

In other words, this man has been around students and on campuses all his life and he doesn't believe that guns will better protect students.

But let him do the talking.

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Growing Special Education Enrollments in Charter Schools

Michael D. Van Beek:

Although public charter schools are required by law to admit all students who apply, a common criticism is that charters fail to enroll enough special education students. Statistics show that public charter schools have proportionately smaller special education enrollments than conventional public schools, but recent trends suggest the difference will continue to dwindle.

According to the Center for Educational Performance and Information, 13.6 percent of students in conventional schools in the 2008-2009 school year were enrolled in special education programs, compared to 9.6 percent in charter schools. While a difference still exists between charter and conventional schools, special education enrollment is rising quickly in charter schools.

Since the 2000-2001 school year, the proportion of charter school students enrolled in special education programs grew by 76 percent. Charter schools served nearly four times as many special education students at the end of the last decade as they did at the beginning.

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Fix schools with ideas, not money

Jay Matthews:

President Obama is apparently about to tell the nation he wants to freeze federal spending for three years in several areas, including education. I like the idea. I would also support cutting back entitlement payments for financially secure geezers like me, and find ways for everyone to make some sacrifices for our country.

I can hear the objections. We can't fix our economy by shortchanging our kids. They are our future. True, but we don't have much evidence that spending more money on their schooling has had much effect on what they have learned. The most exciting and productive schools I have studied are driven by ideas, not bucks. If they need money for special projects, they find it. But the power of their teaching comes from the freedom they are allowed to help with their students, as a team, in ways that make the most sense to them.

More money often prevents that from happening. It has strings that force teachers to do stuff, and spend time on paperwork, that doesn't work for them. The recent history of the stimulus funds used for education makes this clear.

I agree.

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What If Our Schools Are Working?

Alan Singer:

Thousands of protesters showed up at New York City's Brooklyn Technical High School on January 26 to protest against the closing and reorganization of 19 public schools. Three hundred parents, teachers, students, and local politicians testified that the closings were arbitrary and ignored the struggles and successes taking place in these buildings. The hearing went on until after 2:30 in the morning, when the Panel for Educational Policy, whose majority is appointed by Mayor Michael "Money Bags" Bloomberg, did exactly what it planned to do at the start; it voted to rubber stamp the closings.

The panel's decision will mean phasing out six comprehensive high schools, including Jamaica and Beach Channel in Queens, Paul Robeson and William Maxwell in Brooklyn, and Alfred Smith and Christopher Columbus in the Bronx. This is part of Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein's campaign to replace the comprehensive high schools with small mini-schools and charters. Since 2002, Bloomberg/Klein has closed, or is in the process of closing, over ninety schools. What the Mayor and Chancellor were unable to explain was why if smaller schools are the panacea for educational problems six of the schools being closed in this round were small high schools created in previous rounds of school reorganization.

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Cheat Sheet for New Jersey Governor Christie's Educational Agenda

New Jersey Left Behind:

Here's a Spark's Notes version of Gov. Christie's Education Subcommittee Report, which constitutes a list of recommendations to improve public education in N.J. Some are considered "early action," i.e., to be completed within 90 days. The rest have a whopping 6 months for completion. Okay: maybe it's more of a wish list, but it gives any reader a clear sense of Christie and Schundler's agenda.

We've divided these 17 pages of pre-K through 12th grade recommendations (there's another 8 on higher education) into 3 basic categories: School Finance, School Reform, and NJ DOE Oversight.

School Finance:

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National Australia Schools comparison website going live

Sydny Morning Herald:

The federal government's controversial website giving information on the performance of all schools will go live from this Thursday.

The site, called My School, will provide profiles for almost 10,000 schools and will allow parents to compare schools in their area as well as statistically-similar schools in other regions.

In navigating the web page, parents will be able to look at the profiles of their child's school which includes the numbers of students, teachers, attendance rates and the percentage of indigenous students.

Federal Education Minister Julia Gillard made no apology for the introduction of the website.

"I'm passionate about this and I believe this is the right direction for this country," she told Sky News on Monday.

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Criticism of Australia's National School Comparison Website

Lucy Carter:

Independent policy think-tank the Grattan Institute has added to growing criticism of the Federal Government's My School website, saying it will not give an adequate assessment of a school's performance.

My School, scheduled to be launched tomorrow, has already come under heavy criticism.

The Education Union says it will unfairly stigmatise disadvantaged schools, and the Secondary Principals Council says it fails to include crucial data about school funding.

However, several parent groups have supported the proposal to provide information on school performance.

Federal Education Minister Julia Gillard says it will provide parents and the community with accurate information, allowing them to be their own judge.

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In Oklahoma, One in Five Children Live in Poverty

Gavin Off:

A year ago, the life Demetria Overstreet and her family knew slowly began to fade.

Her husband, Lenzie, was diagnosed with kidney failure and had to leave his job to begin treatment.

With its main money-maker out of work, mounting medical bills and three children to care for, the family saw its financial problems beginning to build.

At one point, their home's gas and electricity were turned off. Car payments lagged. And at times, the family survived on eating hotdogs and chips.

"It was depressing, especially when my son would come home and said 'Momma, nothing comes on,' " Overstreet said, referring to the electricity.

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January 27, 2010

Lawsuit Challenging the Seattle School District's use of "Discovering Mathematics" Goes to Trial

Martha McLaren, DaZanne Porter, and Cliff Mass:

Today Cliff Mass and I, (DaZanne Porter had to be at a training in Yakima) accompanied by Dan Dempsey and Jim W, had our hearing in Judge Julie Spector's King County Superior Courtroom; the event was everything we hoped for, and more. Judge Spector asked excellent questions and said that she hopes to announce a decision by Friday, February 12th.

The hearing started on time at 8:30 AM with several members of the Press Corps present, including KIRO TV, KPLU radio, Danny Westneat of the Seattle Times, and at least 3 others. I know the number because, at the end, Cliff, our attorney, Keith Scully, and I were interviewed; there were five microphones and three cameras pointed towards us at one point.

The hearing was brief; we were done by 9:15. Keith began by presenting our case very clearly and eloquently. Our two main lines of reasoning are, 1) that the vote to adopt Discovering was arbitrary and capricious because of the board's failure to take notice of a plethora of testimony, data, and other information which raised red flags about the efficacy of the Discovering series, and 2) the vote violated the equal education rights of the minority groups who have been shown, through WASL scores, to be disadvantaged by inquiry based instruction.

Realistically, both of these arguments are difficult to prove: "arbitrary and capricious" is historically a very, very difficult proof, and while Keith's civil rights argument was quite compelling, there is no legal precedent for applying the law to this situation.

The School District's attorney, Shannon McMinimee, did her best, saying that the board followed correct procedure, the content of the books is not relevant to the appeal, the books do not represent inquiry-based learning but a "balanced" approach, textbooks are merely tools, etc., etc. She even denigrated the WASL - a new angle in this case. In rebuttal, Keith was terrific, we all agreed. He quoted the introduction of the three texts, which made it crystal clear that these books are about "exploration." I'm blanking on other details of his rebuttal, but it was crisp and effective. Keith was extremely effective, IMHO. Hopefully, Dan, James, and Cliff can recall more details of the rebuttal.

Associated Press:
A lawsuit challenging the Seattle School District's math curriculum went to trial Monday in King County Superior Court.

A group of parents and teachers say the "Discovering Math" series adopted last year does a poor job, especially with minority students who are seeing an achievement gap widen.

A spokeswoman for the Seattle School District, Teresa Wippel, says it has no comment on pending litigation.

KOMO-TV reports the district has already spent $1.2 million on Discovering Math books and teacher training.

Cliff Mass:
On Tuesday, January 26th, at 8:30 AM, King County Superior Court Judge Julie Spector will consider an appeal by a group of Seattle residents (including yours truly) regarding the selection by Seattle Public Schools of the Discovering Math series in their high schools. Although this issue is coming to a head in Seattle it influences all of you in profound ways.

In this appeal we provide clear evidence that the Discovery Math approach worsens the achievement gap between minority/disadvantaged students and their peers. We show that the Board and District failed to consider key evidence and voluminous testimony, and acted arbitrarily and capriciously by choosing a teaching method that was demonstrated to produce a stagnant or increasing achievement gap. We request that the Seattle Schools rescind their decision and re-open the textbook consideration for high school.

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A study in intellectual uniformity: The Marketplace of Ideas By Louis Menand

Christopher Caldwell:

As his title hints, Louis Menand has written a business book. This is good, since the crisis in American higher education that the Harvard professor of English addresses is a business crisis. The crisis resembles the more celebrated one in the US medical system. At its best, US education, like US healthcare, is of a quality that no system in the world can match. However, the two industries have developed similar problems in limiting costs and keeping access open. Both industries have thus become a source of worry for public-spirited citizens and a punchbag for political opportunists.

Menand lowers the temperature of this discussion. He neither celebrates nor bemoans the excesses of political correctness - the replacement of Keats by Toni Morrison, or of Thucydides by queer theory. Instead, in four interlocking essays, he examines how university hiring and credentialing systems and an organisational structure based on scholarly disciplines have failed to respond to economic and social change. Menand draws his idea of what an American university education can be from the history of what it has been. This approach illuminates, as polemics cannot, two grave present-day problems: the loss of consensus on what to teach undergraduates and the lack of intellectual diversity among the US professoriate.

Much of today's system, Menand shows, can be traced to Charles William Eliot, president of Harvard for four decades after 1869. Faced with competition from pre-professional schools, Eliot had the "revolutionary idea" of strictly separating liberal arts education from professional education (law, medicine, etc), and making the former a prerequisite for the latter. Requiring a lawyer to spend four years reading, say, Molière before he can study for the bar has no logic. Such a system would have made it impossible for Abraham Lincoln to enter public life. Funny, too, that the idea of limiting the commanding heights of the professions to young men of relative leisure arose just as the US was filling up with penurious immigrants. Menand grants that the system was a "devil's bargain".

Clusty Search: Louis Menand - "The Marketplace of Ideas".

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Opinion: Obama's Quiet Education Revolution

Kevin Teasley:

A week ago, President Obama announced that he is planning to spend $4.4 billion on his Race to the Top education program. If you missed the news, don't kick yourself. Obama's entire education reform plan had been largely overshadowed by the yearlong health care debate, the economy, Afghanistan and other big-ticket news items.

It's unfortunate, since this may be the most impressive reform his administration has accomplished in the past year.

Obama announced Race to the Top in July. The program awards grant money to states on a competitive basis, based on their implementing education reforms that include assessment standards, turning around worst-performing schools, and recruiting and rewarding quality teachers.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has met with education leaders throughout the country, working tirelessly to get state education leaders and providers, legislators, reform groups, unions and others to support reforms that will bring true accountability and competition to our nation's public school systems.

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Minnesota withholds payments to schools to pay the bills

Tom Weber:

School districts across Minnesota got word Tuesday that the state will withhold some of their funding in coming months.

Withholding payments will free up some of the state's cash so it can pay its own bills. Today's action is in addition to more than $1 billion in delayed payments to schools that were announced last summer.

School districts get their funding from the state in the form of twice-monthly payments.

Today's move means both payments in March and one in April will be smaller than expected for many districts.

State finance officials predict they won't have enough money in the bank during those months to meet their cash flow needs. So, the state will hold back a total of $423 million from schools. All of it will be paid back in May.

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State of the Union on Education

Joe Williams:

Unfettered by inside-the-beltway partisan politics, President Obama indisputably has affected more change in the nation's education policies in his first year in office than any President in modern history.

The boost that the Administration's Race to the Top initiative - which was accompanied by a record $100 billion increase in general federal aid to education - has given state and local education reform efforts is the Administration's biggest domestic policy success of 2009 - all without yet expending a dime of the $5 billion Race to the Top fund.
What's more, while not a single Republican Congressman and only 3 Republican Senators voted for the economic and education reform stimulus package last February, the policy initiatives that Obama and Secretary Duncan put forth have since been embraced through both words and action by state and local elected officials in both parties across the ideological and geographical spectrum.

These accomplishments reflect campaign promises kept - in recognition of the relationship between education reform, jobs, and economic growth - to make education one of three key components of a long-term U.S. economic recovery strategy (the other two being energy and health care which obviously, and to say the least, have not fared as well), an augur well for the work on education reform that is yet to come.

Some effects are immediate - for example, more than a hundred thousand slots have already opened to parents across the country who want to choose a high quality public charter school for their children. Others, such as changes in state academic standards to ensure that students are college and career ready, the development of better tests, more rigorous qualification criteria and better pay for teachers, and fundamental overhauls of chronically failing schools, will pay dividends later this year, and over the next several.

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January 26, 2010

2010 Madison School Board Election: Madison Teachers, Inc. Candidate Questionnaire

Beth Moss (running for re-election unopposed) 311K PDF.

James Howard (running against Tom Farley) 432K PDF.

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Audio: The 2010 State of the Madison School District

39MB mp3 audio. I recorded this from Monday evening's video stream. Unfortunately, the sound level was quite low. Notes and links on the 2010 State of the Madison School District here.

566K State of the District PDF.

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Honor student world: Where all the students are above average

Maureen Downey:

Here is an interesting op-ed piece by a tenured professor of biology at Piedmont College, Robert H. Wainberg. He is alarmed because he has been told by former students who are now teachers that some schools no longer hold Honors Day to recognize the accomplishments of above average and exemplary students so they don't hurt the feelings of kids who don't earn awards.

This piece will appear in the paper on the education page Monday. Enjoy.

By Robert H.Wainberg:

I have been a professor of Biology and Biochemistry at a regional college for over two decades. Sadly, I have noticed a continual deterioration in the performance of my students during this time. In part I have attributed it to the poor study habits of the last few generations (X, XX and now XXX) who have relied too heavily on technology in lieu of thinking for themselves.

In fact, the basics are no longer taught in our schools because they are considered to be "too hard," not because they are archaic or antiquated. For example, students are no longer required to learn the multiplication or division tables since they direct access to calculators in their phones.

Handwriting script and calligraphy are now in danger of extinction since computers use printed letters. A report I recently read disturbingly admitted that many of our standardized tests used for college admission or various professional schools (MCAT, LSAT and GRE) have to manipulate their normal bell-shaped curves to obtain the higher averages of decadtudenes ago.

What we fail to realize is that the concept of "survival of the fittest" still applies even within the realm of technology. There will always be those who are more "adapted" to the full potential of its use while others will be stalled at the level of downloading music or playing games.

Ah, yes. One size fits all education uber alles.

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Facebook case: Deposition reveals Teacher Barrow didn't know e-mail source

Maureen Downey, via email:

Many of you have been asking me about the fate of Ashley Payne, the Barrow County high school teacher who lost her job over her Facebook page and whose experience sparked a national debate about Internet privacy, anonymous e-mails and teacher rights.

One of the Facebook photos that a "parent" complained about in an anonymous e-mail

The legal case is proceeding. Ashley Payne's lawyer just deposed the principal and assistant principal. She is fighting to get her job back.

I asked attorney Richard Storrs if Barrow ever traced the source of the incriminating e-mail that led to Payne being called in by her principal in August and told to consider resigning rather than face losing her teaching license. Under that pressure, the 23-year-old UGA honors graduate says she felt she had no recourse but to resign - a mistake according to veteran teachers.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Federal Budget Freeze in the Works Effort to Curb Deficits Would Affect 17% of Budget; Defense, Medicare Exempt

Laura Meckler & Jonathan Weisman:

President Barack Obama intends to propose a three-year freeze in spending that accounts for one-sixth of the federal budget--a move meant to quell rising voter concern over the deficit but whose practical impact will be muted.

To attack the $1.4 trillion deficit, the White House will propose a three-year freeze on discretionary spending unrelated to the military, veterans, homeland security and international affairs, according to senior administration officials. Also untouched are big entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

The freeze would affect $447 billion in spending, or 17% of the total federal budget, and would likely be overtaken by growth in the untouched areas of discretionary spending. It's designed to save $250 billion over the coming decade, compared to what would have been spent had this area been allowed to rise along with inflation.

The administration officials said the cap won't be imposed across the board. Some areas would see cuts while others, including education and investments related to job creation, would realize increases.

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More Than Academics at Chicago's Morton Alternative

Giovanna Breu:

A gritty industrial patch of a blue-collar Chicago suburb seems an unlikely setting for the pioneering curriculum at Morton Alternative High School. The program, which combines intensive psychotherapy with conventional studies to help gang members and emotionally troubled teenagers finish school, has reported promising results and has attracted the notice of educators nationwide.

Morton Alternative High School is the last chance for students who are expelled from Morton East High School and Morton West.

Dr. Mark Smaller, a Chicago psychoanalyst, started the program at Morton Alternative three-and-a-half years ago as a contrast to schools that take a strict disciplinary approach to youths with behavioral problems. Dr. Smaller and his team of social workers conduct weekly group and individual therapy sessions to help students deal with emotional problems and social pressures common to life in neighborhoods where families struggle with job losses, crime, violence and immigration issues.

Morton Alternative in Cicero is the last chance for students who are expelled from Morton East and Morton West High Schools. An average of about 100 students are at the school at any one time -- those judged to have some chance for improvement -- though they come and go throughout the academic year.

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'Inconvenient Truth' director turns to US education


After his Oscar-winning "An Inconvenient Truth" spotlighted climate change, Davis Guggenheim is hoping to do for the US public education system what he did for the environment.

Guggenheim's new film, "Waiting for Superman," is vying for honors in the Sundance Film Festival's US documentary competition, and offers a searing look at the problems facing schools and colleges in the United States.

Like the Oscar-winning "An Inconvenient Truth," Guggenheim's film utilizes graphs and animated charts intercut with interviews with students and educators to illustrate the sector's woes.

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New School Ecosystems

Tom Vander Ark:

There are interesting parallels between charter schools in the US and affordable private school in India. Both focus on the urban poor, promote choice, and often develop within an entrepreneurial ecosystem. Whether it's New Orleans or Hyderabad, there are a dozen accelerants that promote access and quality:

1. Incubation support for new/existing operators with multi-campus potential. including planning support and seed funding (e.g., New School Venture Fund, Charter School Growth Fund, NY Charter School Center). Mumbai-based Dasra incubates social entrepreneurs but with limited access to seed capital.

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New Jersey's 2010 Race to the Top Application; 11 Wisconsin School Districts Don't Participate

New Jersey Department of Education, 3MB PDF:

In New Jersey, we are proud to be ranked among the top 5 NAEP performers in reading, writing, and mathematics. We are proud to have invested so successfully in admired and effective early childhood programs, high-quality charter schools, and high school redesign. We are proud to see the success of our efforts.

However, while we are making inroads to close the achievement gap, we also recognize that more work is needed to prepare all of our students for the demands of the global economy. The existing minority achievement gaps and the gaps for economically-disadvantaged and non- disadvantaged students are unacceptable. There is an urgent need for these further reforms.

The landmark Abbot decisions over the last three decades in conjunction with the creation of the new school funding formula in 2008 solidified New Jersey's commitment to equitable school resources and ensuring that all student sin the State have access to needed resources. Although this has been a significant step, we have not yet achieved outcomes commensurate with the State's investments in education in all districts. Furthermore, we have not yet solved the problems of how to place great teachers and leaders in struggling schools and districts.

Scott Bauer:
Eleven Wisconsin school districts want nothing to do with a highly touted federal grant program that could direct thousands of dollars to their classrooms.

The districts were the only ones out of 425 that refused to take part in the state's application to receive money under the nearly $4.5 billion Race to the Top grant program.

That means if Wisconsin is awarded the $254 million it seeks, the 11 districts won't get a cut, and the money they would have gotten will go to the remaining schools.

That's just fine with Mary Dean, administrator of the Maple Dale-Indian Hills School District just north of Milwaukee. She said the requirements under the state's Race to the Top application were too onerous for her 500-student district to comply with, so instead of giving itself the option of declining to take part later, it decided not to participate at all.

"We really had too many questions, too many unknowns," she said. "We thought the costs would outweigh the benefits."

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Considering Wisconsin Teacher Licensing "Flexibility"

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction:

In classrooms across Wisconsin, students learn mathematics, reading, social studies, art, science, and other subjects through integrated projects that show great promise for increased academic achievement. The catch: the collaboration between students and teachers often involves multiple academic subjects, which can present licensing issues for school districts.

"There is no question that parents and students want innovative programs," said State Superintendent Tony Evers. "The reality of some of today's educational approaches requires that we look at our licensing regulations to increase flexibility and expand routes to certification to ensure that these programs are taught by highly qualified teachers."

Related, by Janet Mertz: "An Email to Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad on Math Teacher Hiring Criteria"

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January 25, 2010

Advanced Pressure

New York Times Video:

The filmmaker Vicki Abeles features the stories of students and teachers of Advanced Placement classes and the pressures they face in our achievement-obsessed culture.

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Play, Then Eat: Shift May Bring Gains at School

Tara Parker-Pope

Can something as simple as the timing of recess make a difference in a child's health and behavior?

Some experts think it can, and now some schools are rescheduling recess -- sending students out to play before they sit down for lunch. The switch appears to have led to some surprising changes in both cafeteria and classroom.

Schools that have tried it report that when children play before lunch, there is less food waste and higher consumption of milk, fruit and vegetables. And some teachers say there are fewer behavior problems.

"Kids are calmer after they've had recess first," said Janet Sinkewicz, principal of Sharon Elementary School in Robbinsville, N.J., which made the change last fall. "They feel like they have more time to eat and they don't have to rush."

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Berkeley High may cut lab classes to fund programs for struggling students

Marie L. La Ganga:

Trying to address a major ethnic and racial achievement gap, the school could divert funds from before- and after-school science labs filled mostly with white students. The plan has sparked debate.

Aaron Glimme's Advanced Placement chemistry students straggle in, sleepy. It is 7:30 a.m. at Berkeley High School. The day doesn't officially begin for another hour. They pull on safety goggles, measure out t-butyl alcohol and try to determine the molar mass of an unknown substance by measuring how much its freezing point decreases.

In the last school year, 82% of Berkeley's AP chemistry students passed the rigorous exam, which gives college credit for high school work. The national passing rate is 55.2%. The school's AP biology and physics students are even more successful.

Most districts would not argue with such a record, but Berkeley High's science labs are embroiled in a debate over scarce resources with overtones of race, class and politics.

Campus leadership has proposed cutting before- and after-school labs -- decreasing science instruction by 20% to 40% -- and using that money to fund "equity" programs for struggling students in an effort to close one of the widest racial and ethnic achievement gaps in the state.

Related: English 10.

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Freshmen applications to selective area colleges surge

Daniel de Vise:

High school seniors are applying to selective colleges around Washington in record numbers this year, particularly to schools with reputations for meeting the full financial needs of admitted freshmen. The trend suggests that the weak economy has driven applicants to schools that offer a bigger bang for the tuition buck.

A surge in applications is not what admission deans expected this year, after a fiscal downturn and a flattening population of college-age students.

But applications to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore are up 13 percent over last year, with a projected pool of 18,150 students competing for 1,235 seats in the freshman class. The University of Richmond received 8,500 applications for 805 slots, a 9 percent increase. Applications are up 6 percent at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., and 3 percent at George Washington University in the District. The University of Virginia fielded 22,396 applications, an all-time high. The College of William and Mary, too, expects a record number of applicants.

"It shouldn't be happening, should it?" said Bill Hartog, dean of admissions at Washington and Lee. "My take on it is, financial aid, financial aid, financial aid."

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Five areas where colleges could use some schooling

Jay Matthews:

My family has much experience in higher education, not all of it happy. I spent six years as an often struggling undergraduate and grad student. My journalist wife did ten years in higher ed, including three of what she considered hard labor as a visiting professor. Our kids add another 11 years, with the youngest child about to sign up for three more. Please don't ask me what that will cost.

American colleges and universities are the great strength of our education system. They are revered around the world. But those schools put heavy stress on our families, since getting into, paying for and graduating from the ones we most want often exceeds our capabilities. We need to know more about what they are doing to us, so I am happy to see launch two higher education blogs: College Inc. by Daniel de Vise and Campus Overload by Jenna Johnson. Let me celebrate that event by grumbling about what I consider higher education's five biggest blind spots:

1. College privacy rules are a mess. They are difficult to understand and infuriating when they exacerbate a family crisis. I have heard many stories about students getting into trouble, and their parents being among the last to know. University officials will sometimes take pity on a frantic dad and reveal important things in the kid's personal file. But why can't we have more reasonable procedures? Academics who fear intrusive helicopter parents should read the National Survey of Student Engagement report, which reveals that the children of such people do better in college than kids like mine, who didn't hear much from us.

2. Professors know too little about what high schools are doing to prepare students for their classes.

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Values Statement for Seattle Teacher Contract Negotiations

Melissa Westbrook:

As I mentioned previously, for the past couple of months I have been part of a coalition group to form a joint values statement for parents/community groups to give to the School Board, district and SEA. The groups include Campana Quetzel, Seattle Council PTSA, Successful Schools in Action, CPPS, Stand for Children, the Alliance for Education and others. Organized by the League of Education Voters (our leader is Kelly Munn of LEV), we sought to create a streamlined document that is simple and basic.

Here's a link to that document, "Give Every Child a Great Education: A Community Value Statement in Support of Public Schools". We will have, at this writing, shown the document to nearly all the Board members, SEA leaders and school district leaders.

Here is a link to the district's opening remarks about the negotiations.

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The Lottery

Erin O'Connor:

Since we're talking about school choice--and the role of the teachers' unions not only in preventing needed reform, but in keeping parents from choosing to place their kids in good schools that are good fits for them--check out the trailer above.

The story of teachers' union intransigence when it comes to the extremely time-sensitive matter of kids' futures urgently needs to be told. And finally, with films like this one and like The Cartel (which attracted a nasty, tellingly defensive hit piece from the New Jersey Education Association), that story is beginning to be told.

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Water Drop at 2000 frames per Second

via a kind reader's email:

From Discovery Channel's series 'Time Warp' where MIT scientist and teacher Jeff Lieberman and digital-imaging expert Matt Kearney use the latest in high-speed photography to turn never-before-seen wonders into an experience of beauty and learning.
Definition: coalesce - To come together so as to form one whole; unite (from Latin coalescere com- 'together' + alescere 'to grow up')

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Convicted sex pests may still be teaching in Hong Kong

Liz Heron, Elaine Yau and Fox Yi Hu:

More than 30 teachers and classroom assistants have been convicted of sex offences in the past 10 years - but the Education Bureau will not say if they are still working in the city's schools.

Since January 1, 2000, at least 31 staff have been convicted of offences ranging from indecent assault of their pupils to secretly filming girls getting undressed for a dance class.

The catalogue of convictions and the names of the offenders was compiled by the Sunday Morning Post (SEHK: 0583, announcements, news) and presented to the Education Bureau, which was asked what action had been taken against the offenders.

But the bureau, responsible for registering teachers and advising schools on vetting prospective staff, refused to say how many of the 31 were still registered as teachers and how many were working in schools.

A spokeswoman also refused to explain why it would not release the information to the public. She did say 13 teachers were deregistered from 2006 to 2008 and seven of these had been convicted of sex offences.

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January 24, 2010

State of the District Presentation Document

The Superintendent's State of the District presentation is posted on-line (and here), for those of you who aren't able to make it to the presentation.Or those who can't wait until tomorrow!

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A Few Comments on Monday's State of the Madison School District Presentation

Madison School District Superintendent Dan Nerad will present the "State of the Madison School District 2010" tomorrow night @ 5:30p.m. CST.

The timing and content are interesting, from my perspective because:

  • The nearby Verona School District just approved a Mandarin immersion charter school on a 4-3 vote. (Watch the discussion here). Madison lags in such expanded "adult to student" learning opportunities. Madison seems to be expanding "adult to adult" spending on "coaches" and "professional development". I'd rather see an emphasis on hiring great teachers and eliminating the administrative overhead associated with growing "adult to adult" expenditures.
  • I read with interest Alec Russell's recent lunch with FW de Klerk. de Klerk opened the door to South Africa's governance revolution by freeing Nelson Mandela in 1990:
    History is moving rather fast in South Africa. In June the country hosts football's World Cup, as if in ultimate endorsement of its post-apartheid progress. Yet on February 2 1990, when the recently inaugurated state President de Klerk stood up to deliver the annual opening address to the white-dominated parliament, such a prospect was unthinkable. The townships were in ferment; many apartheid laws were still on the books; and expectations of the balding, supposedly cautious Afrikaner were low.

    How wrong conventional wisdom was. De Klerk's address drew a line under 350 years of white rule in Africa, a narrative that began in the 17th century with the arrival of the first settlers in the Cape. Yet only a handful of senior party members knew of his intentions.

    I sense that the Madison School Board and the Community are ready for new, substantive adult to student initiatives, while eliminating those that simply consume cash in the District's $418,415,780 2009-2010 budget ($17,222 per student).
  • The "State of the District" document [566K PDF] includes only the "instructional" portion of the District's budget. There are no references to the $418,415,780 total budget number provided in the October 26, 2009 "Budget Amendment and Tax Levy Adoption document [1.1MB PDF]. Given the organization's mission and the fact that it is a taxpayer supported and governed entity, the document should include a simple "citizen's budget" financial summary. The budget numbers remind me of current Madison School Board member Ed Hughes' very useful 2005 quote:
    This points up one of the frustrating aspects of trying to follow school issues in Madison: the recurring feeling that a quoted speaker - and it can be someone from the administration, or MTI, or the occasional school board member - believes that the audience for an assertion is composed entirely of idiots.
    In my view, while some things within our local public schools have become a bit more transparent (open enrollment, fine arts, math, TAG), others, unfortunately, like the budget, have become much less. This is not good.
  • A new financial reality. I don't see significant new funds for K-12 given the exploding federal deficit, state spending and debt issues and Madison's property tax climate. Ideally, the District will operate like many organizations, families and individuals and try to most effectively use the resources it has. The recent Reading Recovery report is informative.
I think Dan Nerad sits on a wonderful opportunity. The community is incredibly supportive of our schools, spending far more per student than most school Districts (quite a bit more than his former Green Bay home) and providing a large base of volunteers. Madison enjoys access to an academic powerhouse: the University of Wisconsin and proximity to MATC and Edgewood College. Yet, District has long been quite insular (see Janet Mertz's never ending efforts to address this issue), taking a "we know best approach" to many topics via close ties to the UW-Madison School of Education and its own curriculum creation business, the Department of Teaching and Learning.

In summary, I'm hoping for a "de Klerk" moment Monday evening. What are the odds?

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A Diverse Milwaukee IB High School with Rigor.... Problem or Opportunity?

Alan Borsuk:

Picture a Milwaukee Public Schools high school that college-bound students are clamoring to attend. The school has grown from 100 to 1,000 in six years. Its program is rigorous, its test scores are strong. Hundreds are on a waiting list for admission for next year.

You might think MPS leaders would look at the meteoric rise of Ronald Wilson Reagan College Preparatory School on the far south side and say, "Terrific! This is an opportunity. What can we do to satisfy the obviously huge appetite for what this program has to offer?"

Or, if you were perhaps a bit more cynical, you might think MPS leaders would look at the Reagan situation and say: "OK, who screwed up? Who allowed this school to grow so fast? Can we get a lot of these parents to switch their kids to other high schools where - for some reason - there is no waiting list?"

Reagan arguably has provided the biggest shot in the arm that MPS has gotten in the last decade or so. It provides a rigorous International Baccalaureate program for all its students - "We have one vision, one mission, one focus - IB," says Julia D'Amato, the principal and chief driver behind Reagan's success. Reagan is working with other MPS schools to develop a kindergarten through high school IB continuum in MPS.

But in recent months, Reagan has had to fend off an attempt to cap its enrollment and it has been ordered to reduce sharply the number of students next fall who do not fall into the special education category. Reagan leaders clearly feel frustrated by how much work is going into protecting their success from MPS leaders.

"All the buzzwords that are supposed to make a successful school, that's what we have here," says Mary Ellen McCormick-Mervis, one of the school's administrators. "If we're doing everything right, why not help us?"

Parent meeting set

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In Galileo's Footsteps

Bethany Cobb:

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Teaching Without Gimmicks

Diana Senechal:

In discussions of "effective" teaching, we often hear about the "objectives" that teachers should spell out and repeat, the "learning styles" they should target, the "engagement" they should guarantee at every moment, and the constant encouragement and praise they should provide--all in the interest of raising test scores. The D.C. public schools IMPACT (the teacher assessment system for D.C. public schools) awards points to teachers who implement such practices; Teach For America addresses some of them in its forthcoming book.

Except for the misguided notion of targeting learning styles, none of these techniques is wrong in itself. But together they raise a barrier. Instead of bringing the subject closer to the students, this heap of tools proclaims: "No entrance! The subject is too hard without spelled-out skills, too boring without adornment, and too frustrating without pep talks and cheers!"

Worse still, such techniques take precedence over the lesson's content. A literature teacher is evaluated not for her presentation of specific poems, but for stating the objectives, keeping all students "on task," reminding them about the relation between hard work and success, using visuals and manipulatives, and, ultimately, raising the scores. It matters little, in such a system, whether the poem is excellent or trivial, what kind of insight the teacher brings, or what the students might take into their lives.

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Bill Gates Goes to Sundance, Offers an Education

Bob Tourtellotte:

When Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, the richest man in the United States, came to the Sundance Film Festival here this week, it wasn't movies on his mind, it was education -- your kids' education.

A new documentary, "Waiting For Superman," by director Davis Guggenheim ("An Inconvenient Truth") looks at what Gates and Guggenheim say is a U.S. public school system in shambles.

"The quality of our educational system is what made America great. Now it's not as good as it was, and it needs to be a lot better," Gates told Reuters after the film's premiere on Friday.

"Many of these high schools are terrible, and this film, 'Waiting for Superman' by Davis Guggenheim, which I have a very minor part in, tells this story in a brilliant way," he said.

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Milwaukee Custer High School: Our Daughters Fighting, Not Learning

The Milwaukee Drum:

The person who posted this video on YouTube said this fight happened 1/5/10... that's some way to say Happy New Year.

I know some of you readers cannot stand when I post video of US acting the fool... well that's life. Here's some reality for US to look at for the next 30 seconds and do something about OUR kids.

It's one thing to see these young girls fighting so viciously. It's a damn shame to see ALL the other kids are cheering on this ish. Where's the teachers and what took the security so long? I know this isn't going on everyday, but this ish is getting tired.

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Goal for federal stimulus money was to help at-risk students and disabled; is goal realistic?

Gayle Worland:

When Gov. Jim Doyle announced last April that $366 million in federal stimulus money was headed for Wisconsin schools, the stated goal from Washington was to help children with disabilities and at-risk students in poor schools -- "while stimulating the economy."

But it's unclear if the almost $12 million distributed to the Madison School District, with a third of that going to teacher training and coaching, will accomplish those goals.

"I think at the end of this period we will have spent a lot of money and I don't know what we'll have to show for it," said Lucy Mathiak, vice president of the Madison School Board. "Professional development is a really nice thing, but how do you even measure the in-class result?"

About $1 million of the Madison district's $11.7 million in stimulus money will buy technology for schools, welcomed by school officials. Programs for students with behavioral and mental health needs will be beefed up as well, and the district estimates about 40 new short-term jobs will be created.

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Cheating at a Springfield, MA Charter School to Improve Test Scores

James Vaznis:

One staff member at a Springfield charter school told state education investigators he felt so pressured by his principal last spring to improve MCAS scores that, in order to keep his job, he helped one student write an essay for the test.

Another staff member said he was fired after he accused the principal of encouraging cheating, while another staff member observed a colleague pull some students away from watching a movie so they could fix answers on their tests.

The findings, released yesterday by state education officials, offer the first public glimpse into the specific cheating allegations that have been leveled against Robert M. Hughes Academy, which was ordered last winter to improve its scores on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests to avoid being closed.

Previously, Mitchell Chester, commissioner of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, had said only that the cheating, described as pervasive and systemic, was orchestrated by the principal and carried out by several adults at the school, which teaches 180 students in kindergarten through grade 8.

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January 23, 2010

More teens are choosing to wait to get driver's licenses

Donna St. George:

The quest to get a driver's license at 16 -- long an American rite of passage-- is on the wane among the digital generation, which no longer sees the family car as the end-all of social life.

The holdouts include Kat Velkoff, who turned 17 in Chantilly without a license. Focused on tough classes, the debate team, dance and color guard, she turned 18 without taking the wheel. Then 19.

"It just wasn't a priority," said Velkoff, who got her license last fall at 20. "It was just never the next thing that needed to get done in my life."

Federal data released Friday underscore a striking national shift: 30.7 percent of 16-year-olds got their licenses in 2008, compared with 44.7 percent in 1988. The downtrend is even sharper in Virginia and Maryland, state figures show. Numbers from the District, which go back to 2003, show a decline in the past two years.

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"People over Programs": Better School District Administration....

Peter Sobol:

The most interesting session I attended concered Kewaskum schools program they call "People over programs". I have long noted that compared to the private sector, school district management structures are very weak - the Kewaskum program deals with this problem by focusing on high professional standards for their staff. I was encouraged to see an alternative model that acknowledges this issue and attempts to address the problem directly.

Along similar lines I hear a presentation from the Janesville schools - they are working with a management consulting firm (that is donating their services) to develop standards of professionalism and accountability in management. The Superintendents evaluation is published on the district website with progress toward specific measurable goals.

I also attended a session with ideas about using incentives with HRA's to reduce health insurance costs, and a session about district consolidation - I think that looking at collaborative or consolidated support services with neighboring district might be a way to save money.

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Wisconsin School Open Enrollment Period Begins 2/1, Ends 2/19


Parents wishing to send their children to a different school district next year will be able to participate in the open enrollment program the first three weeks of February.

From Feb. 1 through Feb. 19 parents can apply for their children to attend a public school other than the one in which they live. Last school year, more than 28,000 students participated.

Participation in the program has grown each year since it began in 1998 when just 2,500 were enrolled.

Learn more about full and part time Wisconsin open enrollment here.

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A "Fight Club" at Madison West High School

Joe Tarr:

Cassie Frankel seems an unlikely martial arts warrior.

The sophomore at West High heard about the Mixed Martial Arts Club from her chemistry teacher and decided to give it a try. The group meets Thursdays at noon, learning and practicing a variety of fighting styles, including boxing, wrestling, judo and jujutsu.

"I like that it's an individual sport because I'm not that athletic," Frankel says during a break in practice. "It's more about how your body works." She likes boxing best: "I feel really tough with the boxing gloves, even though they're pink."

Frankel acknowledges the controversy over teaching kids to fight. But, she says, "I think it's a good idea because if you know how to fight you're less likely to get hurt."

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What Makes a Great Teacher--Not Just for the Gifted, but for All Students

Carol Fertig:

The January/February 2010 issue of The Atlantic features a noteworthy article titled, What Makes a Great Teacher? Although the article does not focus on gifted education per se, it is still worth a close read. The article discusses specific attributes that excellent teachers with exceptional track records tend to display in the classroom. (It is important to note that these attributes are based on research that was conducted by the nonprofit organization, Teach for America, which advocates for teacher reform. It is also important to note that the group's research focuses solely on teachers who work in underperforming school districts where the primary goal in the general education classroom is to get students to perform at or above grade level.) The article outlines several specific recommendations that the organization makes for recruiting and hiring successful teachers, particularly in underserved communities.

For those of us in the gifted education community, the traits identified in the article may be ones that we should perhaps consider first before we consider any additional teacher characteristics that might be specific to gifted education. (See my previous blog entry titled, Training and Competencies of Teachers of the Gifted.)

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Elementary gifted ed made easy

Jay Matthews:

Two weeks ago I explored the possibility that high schools could challenge all students, gifted or otherwise, without having gifted programs. Quaker Valley High School outside of Pittsburgh, for instance, seemed able to create new opportunities for a variety of kids by ignoring standard procedures that had outlived their usefulness, such as homework requirements or rules against taking more than one course in the same period.

One wise reader said, in effect: Yeah, but that will never work in elementary schools.

As if by fate, I received an email shortly after from Susan Ohanian, a delightful teacher, speaker, author and blogger whose work I love, even when she is portraying me as a test-addled idiot. We may disagree on policy issues, but we have shared tastes about what good teaching looks and sounds like. In her email, she described how she brought a free-form gifted non-program to an elementary school in Troy, N.Y.

Here is what she said. Don't forget to take a look at her blog at

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Three Quick Steps to Clear Writing

Brian Clark:

"Few appreciate brilliance, but everyone appreciates clarity."

I came up with that line on Twitter, and thought . . .

Why waste it there?

Here's the quick and clear guide to clarity in writing:


Short words are the rule that makes your exceptional words sing.

Short sentences make powerful points faster.

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The Elements of Style

William Strunk, Jr.

Asserting that one must first know the rules to break them, this classic reference book is a must-have for any student and conscientious writer. Intended for use in which the practice of composition is combined with the study of literature, it gives in brief space the principal requirements of plain English style and concentrates attention on the rules of usage and principles of composition most commonly violated.

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South Africa's education system No one gets prizes Blacks suffer most, as schools remain ill-equipped and children are ill-taught

The Economist:

SOUTH AFRICA spends a bigger share of its GDP on education than any other country on the continent. Yet its results are among the worst. Fifteen years after apartheid was buried, black children continue to receive an education that is vastly inferior to most of their white peers. Instead of ending inequality, as the ruling African National Congress (ANC) promised, the country's schools are perpetuating it.

For Graeme Bloch, an education expert at the Development Bank of Southern Africa, his country's education system is a "national disaster". He says around 80% of schools are "dysfunctional". Half of all pupils drop out before taking their final "matric" exams. Only 15% get good enough marks to get into university. Of those who do get in, barely half end up with a degree. South Africa regularly comes bottom or near the bottom in international literacy, numeracy and science tests.

University heads increasingly complain about students totally unprepared for higher education. Employers bemoan a dearth of skilled manpower, yet--by some measures--one in three South Africans has no job. A study of first-year students by Higher Education South Africa, the universities' representative body, found only half the 2009 intake to be proficient in "academic literacy" and barely a quarter in "quantitative literacy", while no more than 7% were deemed to have the necessary mathematics skills.

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Interest up in Students Learning Personal Finance

Christine Armario:

Each day after school, 17-year-old Phyllis Quach goes to a warehouse filled with silk flowers, stuffed animals and other gift items her parents sell through their South Florida wholesale business.

The recession hit the family hard and they can no longer afford the building. Quach helps pack the goods for a move to a cheaper location. On weekends, her mother often goes door to door, hoping to find new retail customers.

"I never want to go through what they go through," Quach said, tears gathering in her eyes.

So Quach is taking a a personal finance course at her Miami high school -- getting early lessons on managing credit, balancing a budget and buying a first home. Experts say the recession's length and severity means it could affect the students' lifelong financial behavior, as the Great Depression affected their grandparents' frugal generation.

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January 22, 2010

The State of the Madison School District, 2010

588K PDF, Dan Nerad, Superintendent:

Dear Members of Our Community, The mission of the Madison Metropolitan School District is as follows:
Our mission is to cultivate the potential in every student to thrive as a global citizen by inspiring a love of learning and civic engagement, by challenging and supporting every student to achieve academic excellence, and by embracing the full richness and diversity of our community.
A year ago, a group of community and school staff members committed time to develop a revised Strategic Plan for the school district. As part of this, our mission statement was revised. This plan was approved by the Board of Education in September 2009 and will be reviewed and updated annually. For the foreseeable future, the plan will serve as our road map to know if we are making a difference relative to important student learning outcomes and to the future of our community. To make the most difference, we must continue to partner with you, our community. We are indeed very fortunate to be able to educate our children in a very supportive, caring community.

As a school district, our highest priority must be on our work related to teaching and learning. For our students and the community's children to become proficient learners and caring and contributing members of society, we must remain steadfast in this commitment.

Related to our mission, we have also identified the following belief statements as a district:

  1. We believe that excellent public education is necessary for ensuring a democratic society.
  2. Webelieveintheabilitiesofeveryindividualinourcommunityandthevalueof their life experiences.
  3. We believe in an inclusive community in which all have the right to contribute.
  4. Webelievewehaveacollectiveresponsibilitytocreateandsustainasafe environment that is respectful, engaging, vibrant and culturally responsive.
  5. Webelievethateveryindividualcanlearnandwillgrowasalearner.
  6. We believe in continuous improvement in formed by critical evaluation and reflection.
  7. We believe that resources are critical to education and we are responsible for their equitable and effective use.
  8. Webelieveinculturallyrelevanteducationthatprovidestheknowledgeandskills to meet the global challenges and opportunities of the 21st Century.
Purpose of this report

The purpose of this State of the District Report is to provide important information about our District to our community and to share future priorities.

This report will be presented at Monday evening's Madison School Board meeting.

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School Finance 2009-10: Budget Cataclysm and its Aftermath


Trying to make sense of the 2009-10 education budget and a year when everything went topsy turvey?

This 20-page report looks at how California got to this point and leads you through the cuts, funding delays, and policy changes that lawmakers implemented in 2009 to address a state budget crisis that just kept getting worse. It also explains the impact on local education agencies, including the changed rules around many K-12 programs such as Class Size Reduction.

Some key messages from the report:

  • California has struggled with creating sound state budgets since the early 2000s, so the national economic downturn hit the state particularly hard.
  • K-12 spending cuts have been a major part of the budget solutions and were accompanied by substantive changes in how education funds are allocated, including some new flexibility.
  • Local school agencies must absorb funding cuts, address cash flow challenges, and plan carefully in order to avoid insolvency.
  • Going forward, Californians may either have to accept the "new normal" of continued education reductions or push for schools to be exempted from further cuts as another bad year begins.

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Chicago Mayor Daley on The Schools

Prescott Carlson:

2010_01_10_daley_photo.jpg CBS 2's Mike Flannery recently received a little one-on-one time with Mayor Daley when he interviewed the mayor while riding along in his town car. The crux of the interview was about the future of Northerly Island and if a casino would be built there, to which Daley replied, "It's strictly a park, always will be; because it belongs to the people." He also reiterated comments from his verbal spat with Han Solo last week, saying that he's "very proud" of his decision to bulldoze Meigs Field to create Northerly Island and that it was all part of the Burnham Plan. When asked if he felt it was one of his major accomplishments, Daley responded, "No. No, I think the schools are."

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Your school's AP secrets

Jay Matthews:

Ever seen the Advanced Placement Grade Report for your high school? I thought not. Most people don't know it exists. That is why I have so much pleasure going over the reports. It is like reading the principal's e-mails, full of intriguing innuendo and secrets that parents and students aren't supposed to know.

Although these subject-by-subject reports rarely appear on public Web sites, some schools will show them to me if I ask, for the following reasons: 1. I am very polite; 2. no reporter has ever asked for them before, so there are no rules against it; and 3. they don't think anyone will care.

They are wrong on that last count. The AP Grade Report allows the public to see which AP courses at a school produce the most high grades, and the most low grades, on AP exams. You can gauge the skill of the teachers and the nature of the students who take various AP subjects.

This region's schools have made AP (and the similar International Baccalaureate, which provides comparable reports) the most challenging and influential courses they have. On Feb. 1, The Post will publish my annual rankings of Washington area schools based on participation in these tests, written and scored by outside experts. Students who do well on them can earn college credit. Many people would be interested in the actual results (different from the participation figures I use in the rankings) if they were readily available. To my surprise, that is beginning to happen.

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Foreign Languages Fade in Class -- Except Chinese

Sam Dillon:

Thousands of public schools stopped teaching foreign languages in the last decade, according to a government-financed survey -- dismal news for a nation that needs more linguists to conduct its global business and diplomacy.

But another contrary trend has educators and policy makers abuzz: a rush by schools in all parts of America to offer instruction in Chinese.

Some schools are paying for Chinese classes on their own, but hundreds are getting some help. The Chinese government is sending teachers from China to schools all over the world -- and paying part of their salaries.

At a time of tight budgets, many American schools are finding that offer too good to refuse.

In Massillon, Ohio, south of Cleveland, Jackson High School started its Chinese program in the fall of 2007 with 20 students and now has 80, said Parthena Draggett, who directs Jackson's world languages department.

National K-12 Foreign Language Survey. Verona recently approved a Mandarin charter school.

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New turnaround target: 76 schools by 2012

Dale Mezzacappa:

Pennsylvania's application for a piece of the $4 billion federal Race to the Top money calls for Philadelphia to "turn around" 76 low-performing schools by 2012-13 -- eight schools in 2010-11, 40 the following year, and 28 in 2012-13.

That is close to a third of all schools in the District. Such schools will be required to adopt one of four drastic reform strategies approved by the US Department of Education.

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High cholesterol puts 1 of 5 teens at risk of heart disease

Rob Stein:

One out of every five U.S. teenagers has a cholesterol level that increases the risk of heart disease, federal health officials reported Thursday, providing striking new evidence that obesity is making more children prone to illnesses once primarily limited to adults.

A nationally representative survey of blood test results in American teenagers found that more than 20 percent of those ages 12 to 19 had at least one abnormal level of fat. The rate jumped to 43 percent among those adolescents who were obese.

Previous studies had indicated that unhealthy cholesterol levels, once a condition thought isolated to the middle-aged and elderly, were increasingly becoming a problem among the young, but the new data document the scope of the threat on a national level.

"This is the future of America," said Linda Van Horn, a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University who heads the American Heart Association's Nutrition Committee. "These data really confirm the seriousness of our obesity epidemic. This really is an urgent call for health-care providers and families to take this issue seriously."

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Credibility of UW-Madison Voucher polling project questioned

Todd Finkelmeyer:

One Wisconsin Now argues:

** UW-Madison is receiving nearly $18,000 from the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute -- which One Wisconsin Now calls a "conservative think tank" -- for the polling project to cover a part of Goldstein's salary.

** Poll results showed a 46.6 percent to 42.4 percent statewide opposition to private school vouchers. However, due to political concerns, it appears WPRI President George Lightbourn was able to keep these numbers from being played up. In the end, references to statewide opposition to private school vouchers were not used in a press release touting the poll. Instead, a press release talking about the poll results put out on the UW-Madison website included only figures from Milwaukee County, where the majority supported vouchers.

"This is a lesson about the credibility and the trustworthiness of materials produced by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute," Scot Ross, executive director of One Wisconsin Now, says in the press release. "If polling results don't fit its pro-voucher agenda, then those polling results are erased from the final analysis. Most unfortunately, the UW is now tied directly to this manipulation to serve the political agenda of WPRI."

One Wisconsin Now does extensive voter data collection and mining for certain candidates.

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January 21, 2010

Madison School Board Spring, 2010 Election Climate: Tommy Boy (oh boy) Farley, what a candidate!

Bill Lueders:

Tom Farley Jr., the brother of the late comedian Chris Farley, is emerging as perhaps the oddest candidate for local public office since Will Sandstrom.

First there was the confusion he caused in announcing on Twitter last September that he was running for lieutenant governor as a Republican. He later backtracked, saying he was merely considering the idea, a claim undercut by the words he'd used: "I'm in." (His announcement of candidacy has apparently been unTwittered.)

Farley later announced his candidacy for Madison school board; he's running for an open seat against James Howard, an economist with the Forest Products Laboratory. Commenting on the Advocating on Madison Public Schools (AMPS) blog, Farley sought to distance himself from the notion that he is a Republican merely because he announced his plans to run for office as one.

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Tackling the Term Paper

Kristy (Christiane) Henrich, Marblehead High School Class of 2010

"Civil War Medicine" paper published in the Winter 2009 Issue of The Concord Review

Before crafting my research paper on U.S. Civil War Medicine, I had never composed a piece of non-fiction literature beyond six or seven pages. Twenty pages seemed to be an unconquerable length. I remember the dread that filled me as my A.P. United States History teacher, Mrs. Melissa Humphrey, handed out the assignment for the twenty-page research paper. She also passed around copies of The Concord Review as examples of research papers done well. For us, the first deadline was only a few weeks away. We had to have a thesis. It was then that I truly realized the depth of this academic adventure. My job was not to simply report on some topic in U.S. history; I had to prove something. I had to create an arguable thesis and defend it. I was overwhelmed.

I put the assignment in the back of my mind for about a week. Then, I began to think seriously about what I could possibly want to write about. I brainstormed a list of all times in U.S. history that fascinate me, ranging from World War II to the Civil Rights Movement. Finally, I settled on Civil War medicine because of my plans to pursue a career in medicine. I figured this would be a great opportunity to gather more knowledge on my potential future profession.

Simply choosing a topic was not enough, though. I needed a thesis. So I began to search through books and online databases for any information about Civil War medicine. I gathered so much information that my head was spinning. I realized I had to narrow down my topic, and that this would be done by creating a specific, arguable thesis. Sifting through all the data and historical articles, I noticed that Civil War medicine was not as atrocious as I had always believed it to be. I had my thesis. I wanted to defend Civil War medicine by placing it in its own historical context, something many fail to do when evaluating it with a modern eye.

A few weeks later, approved thesis in hand, I stepped into the Tufts University library, the alma mater of my mother. The battle plan: gather enough materials, particularly primary sources, to prove my thesis. The enemy: the massive amounts of possibly valuable literature. I had never previously encountered the problem of finding books so specialized that they didn't end up being helpful for my thesis nor had I ever been presented with so many options that I had to narrow down from thirty to a mere fifteen books. Actually, I had never left a library before with so many books.

For the next few months, the books populated the floor of my room. Every weekend, I methodically tackled the volumes, plastering them with Post-it notes. The deadline for the detailed outline and annotated bibliography loomed. I continued reading and researching, fascinated by all I was learning. In fact, I was so fascinated that I felt justified using it as my excuse to delay synthesizing all of my information into an outline. With thousands of pages of reading under my belt, I finally tackled the seven-page map for my twenty-page journey. That was easily the hardest part of the entire process. Once the course was charted, all I had to do was follow it. Of course, it was under construction the entire way, and detours were taken, but the course of the trip turned out much like the map.

I thought printing out the twenty-page academic undertaking, binding it, and handing it in was the greatest feeling I had ever experienced from a scholastic endeavor. I remember being overjoyed that day. I remember sleeping so soundly. I remember the day as sunny. I'm not sure if it actually was...

Clearly, I was thinking small. I had no idea what my grade would be. At that point, I did not even care. I had finished the paper. I considered that a tremendous accomplishment. Eventually, the graded research papers were handed back. What had previously been my greatest academic feeling was surpassed. The grade on my paper was a 99%. I was overjoyed and thrilled that I had not only completed such a tremendous task but had completed it pretty darn well. I thought that was the greatest feeling.

I still needed to think bigger. I submitted my paper to The Concord Review on a whim this summer. I remember Mrs. Humphrey showing us the journals and praising their quality. She is a tough teacher, and I thought since she had liked my paper so much I should give The Concord Review a go. I was not counting on being published. I knew my chances were slim, and I knew I was competing with students from around the world.

This November, I received a letter in the mail from Will Fitzhugh, the founder of The Concord Review. My paper was selected to be published in the Winter 2009 issue. That was the greatest feeling. I am a seventeen-year-old public high school student. I am also a seventeen-year-old published author. People work their whole lives to make it to this point. I feel so honored to have this recognition at my age. My hard work paid off far beyond where I thought it would. Thank you, Mr. Fitzhugh, for recognizing the true value of academic achievement and for reminding me why I love to learn.

Evaluating the Legacy of Civil War Medicine; Amputations, Anesthesia, and Administration

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Milwaukee's Michael Bond's Letter to Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle on Race to the Top & Governance

Michael Bonds, President, Milwaukee Board of School Directors [1.3MB PDF]:

January 18, 2010
Governor Jim Doyle
Office of the Governor
115 East State Capitol
Madison, WI 53702

Dear Governor Doyle:

As President of the Milwaukee Board of School Directors, I am writing to express my disappointment with your cynical statement regarding Wisconsin's Race to the Top (RTT) application. In your release, you predict that the application will fail because it does not include mayoral control of the Milwaukee Public Schools District (MPS). You also argue that the Legislature's refusal to adopt your mayoral control proposal in Milwaukee will cost other school districts millions of dollars.

Since mayoral control is not a requirement for Race To the Top dollars, your statement can only be interpreted as a political attempt to tum the rest of the state against MPS and to intimidate legislators who oppose mayoral control into supporting your proposal.

The facts are as follows:

via The Milwaukee Drum.

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Who's Pulling the Milwaukee Public School Takeover Strings?

Lisa Kaiser:

National pro-privatization organizations led by former Milwaukee Journal Sentinel education reporter Joe Williams and backed by Wall Street hedge fund managers are emerging as a driving force behind the mayoral takeover of the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS).

Williams is the executive director of the affiliated groups named Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) and Education Reform Now (ERN), based in New York City. ERN has a nine-month-old chapter in Wisconsin, and DFER has branches in Wisconsin, Colorado, Michigan, Missouri and New Jersey.

The Wisconsin state director of both groups, Katy Venskus, has been lobbying in support of the pro-mayoral takeover Senate Bill 405, authored by state Sen. Lena Taylor and state Rep. Pedro Colon.

Venskus also has organized a group of Milwaukee business leaders--including Julia Taylor of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, Tim Sheehy of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and Tim Sullivan of Bucyrus International--to push for a mayor-appointed superintendent of MPS with enhanced executive powers.

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More screen time for youth than adults on the job

Cecilia Kang:

Youth are spending more time with nearly every form of media than ever, according to a report released Wednesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation. They spend more hours on the computer, in front of television, playing video games, texting and listening to music than an adult spends full-time at work.

The only media young people aren't soaking up, the study says, are newspapers, magazines and other print publications.

Youth spend more than 7 1/2 hours a day using electronic media, or more than 53 hours a week, the 10-year study says. "And because they spend so much of that time 'media multitasking' (using more than one medium at a time), they actually manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes worth of media content into those 7½ hours."

Affirming parents' fears, the study showed those habits ripple throughout a youth's life. Those who were big media consumers were more likely than kids and teens who are only seldom in front of a screen to earn average or poor grades in school. Those who use more electronic media get in more trouble, and say they are often sad.

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Education Grant Effort Faces Late Opposition

Sam Dillon:

The Obama administration's main school improvement initiative has spurred education policy changes in states across the nation, but it is meeting with some last-minute resistance as the first deadline for applications arrives Tuesday.

Thousands of school districts in California, Ohio and other states have declined to participate, and teachers' unions in Michigan, Minnesota and Florida have recommended that their local units not sign on to their states' applications. Several rural states, including Montana, have said they will not apply, at least for now, partly because of the emphasis on charter schools, which would draw resources from small country schools.

And Gov. Rick Perry of Texas said last week that his state would not compete for the $700 million that the biggest states are eligible to win in the $4 billion program, known as Race to the Top, calling it an intrusion on states' rights.

Still, about 40 states were rushing to complete applications for the Tuesday deadline, the first in the two-stage competition. The last-minute opposition is unlikely to derail efforts by most of those states to win some of the federal money.

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Vermont Education Board Supports District Consolidation

Vermont Public Radio:

The State Board of Education voted on Tuesday to support Education Commissioner Armando Vilaseca's campaign to sharply reduce the number of school districts in Vermont.

The board avoided setting a specific number of school districts. But it made it clear that it backs the idea of reducing the present 290 local school districts to a much smaller number of larger, regional districts.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate

United Van Lines 2009 Migration Pattern Map

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January 20, 2010

National Writing Board Score Distribution: January, 2000 to January, 2010

The National Writing Board.

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The Next Liberal Cause: Could It Be Education?

Derek Thompson:

President Obama announced plans yesterday to expand the Race to the Top education program, which invites states to apply for slices of a $4 billion pie of additional school funding. Last year Obama launched the program with two major messages: (1) We need to locate effective teachers by studying student data, and (2) we need better standards to keep some states (ahem, Mississippi) from setting their education bar so low that they gut the word "standard" of all meaning.

In future iterations, Race to the Top will allow not only states, but also individual districts, to apply for additional federal funding. This change makes sense for two reasons. The first is wholly practical. Most school funding comes from local property taxes, and accordingly education policies, and their success, can vary dramatically on a district-by-district basis within a state. The second reason this makes sense for the administration is more political. Appealing to individual districts provides a way to circumvent governors like Texas's Rick Perry who don't want to accept additional education funds.

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How Charter Schools Can Be Successful

*** Keep School on Dedicated Path in Meeting Goals

*** Get Teachers and Students to Know Each Other

*** Move All Students Toward Success

*** Have Strong School Leaders and Governing Boards

*** Support and Train Good Teachers

*** Create Small School for Connectedness and Community

*** Continually Measure Student Progress

*** Work to Create Parental Involvement

*** Get Around the Obstacles

A lot of the success in a school depends on intangibles, says Marcia Spector who heads Seeds of Health in Milwaukee. Energy, drive, a genuine commitment to high goals, working hard, and a street-smart sense of how to work with kids, how to work the bureaucracy, and how to run the school are all important. Yes, it is hard work, but it's worth it. In fact, it's actually fun, says Spector.

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Verona School Board Approves Mandarin Chinese Charter School: 4 to 3

channel3000, via a kind reader:

A new Mandarin Chinese immersion charter school will open this fall in Verona.

The Verona school board voted 4-3 on Monday night to approve the school, making it the first of its kind in the state.

The school will be called the Verona Area International School. It will have two halftime teachers, one who teaches only in English and the other who teaches only in Mandarin. Math, science and some social-science classes would be taught in the Chinese language. Students will spend half the day learning in English and half in Mandarin Chinese.

Smart and timely. Much more, here.

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Former Dem lawmaker, DPI superintendent Grover advocates smaller districts within the Milwaukee Public Schools

Neil Shively:

Grover is not real sanguine with current education policy ideas, such as Mayor Tom Barrett's bid for a takeover of Milwaukee public schools. Fundamentally, smaller school districts (500 kids) should be the goal, and structural changes will never trump upbringing and parental involvement in their children's education, he said.

"The difference between the kid headed to a Milwaukee school and one in Whitefish Bay is what they bring to the school house door," he said. "The aspiration level of the parents is key. They want the best for their kids."

As for the contest to succeed Jim Doyle as governor in 2010, Grover isn't sure Barrett can be tough enough but suggests he'd be an improvement.

"Jim Doyle started out life at third base and thought he hit a triple," Grover said, using an aphorism to denote "an elitist west side (Madison) upbringing."

"Barrett is absolutely a decent human being. I have the feeling he won't be as aggressive as he will need to be. He's almost like Barack (Obama) ...'Let us reason together.'"

Smaller districts certainly make sense, including places like Madison.

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Two New Governors Pick Reform Oriented Education Chiefs

Wall Street Journal:

Kudos to the country's two newest governors, Republicans Bob McDonnell of Virginia and Chris Christie of New Jersey, who have tapped strong school choice advocates to head their state education departments.

Last week, Mr. McDonnell chose Gerald Robinson to become Virginia's next Secretary of Education. Mr. Robinson currently heads the Black Alliance for Educational Options, a national nonprofit that backs charter schools and performance pay for teachers. Meanwhile, Mr. Christie has picked former Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler to serve as his state's next education commissioner. Mr. Schundler is an unabashed supporter of using education vouchers and charter schools to improve the plight of urban school districts.

This is good news for all school children in both states, but it's especially auspicious for low-income kids stuck in failing schools who have the most to gain from a state education official who is unafraid to shake up the establishment. Virginia has a grand total of three charter schools, one of the lowest numbers in the nation. New Jersey spends more money per pupil than all but two states, yet test scores in Newark and Jersey City are among the worst in the country.

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Mississippi School Panel Hires Consultant for K-12 Consolidation

Molly Parker:

The advisory committee Gov. Haley Barbour appointed to study K-12 school consolidation voted Monday to hire an outside consulting firm, using $72,000 in private funds from unnamed sources.

Bringing on board a Denver-based firm that specializes in public education systems and policies will allow the committee to have data-driven discussions as opposed to ones mired in emotion and politics, said Johnny Franklin, Barbour's education policy adviser.

Committee Chairman Aubrey Patterson, the CEO of BancorpSouth Inc., said he did not have permission to release the names of the one individual and two organizations that have agreed to pay the contract with Augenblick, Palaich and Associates Inc.

He described the donors as "interested supporters of public education" and would not say where the donors were from.

Monday's meeting at the Capitol marked the initial gathering for the Commission on Mississippi Education Structure appointed in late December to study the best way to go about consolidating the state's 152 districts.

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Yale: The musical

Jenna Johnson:

A new Yale admissions video released Friday starts as most campus tours do: an uncomfortable question-and-answer session with an over-caffeinated admissions officer. Some kid asks what year the school was founded. A dowdy mom elbows a nerdy dad.

And then a sultry young woman in a red sundress in the back row asks: "Why did you choose Yale?"

There's a reflective pause. A reflection piano overture. Reflective looks around the room. And then -- bam! -- the boring admissions video turns into a musical. The admissions officer serenades the no-longer-bored students: When I was a senior in high school, colleges called out my name. Every day I debate where to matriculate, but every place seemed the same. Yet after I went through the options, only one choice remained. I wanted to hail from a college called Yale . . . .

It feels like an episode of Glee, the popular TV show that overnight made it socially acceptable and even sexy to sing in the high school show chorus. Those involved admit they watched the movie "High School Musical" for inspiration. And since the video was posted on YouTube on Friday evening, it has been viewed nearly 50,000 times.

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Will China Achieve Science Supremacy?

Room for Debate:

A recent Times article described how China is stepping up efforts to lure home the top Chinese scholars who live and work abroad. The nation is already second only to the United States in the volume of scientific papers published, and it has, as Thomas Friedman pointed out, more students in technical colleges and universities than any other country.

But China’s drive to succeed in the sciences is also subjecting its research establishment to intense pressure and sharper scrutiny. And as the standoff last week between Google and China demonstrated, the government controls the give and take of information.

How likely is it that China will become the world’s leader in science and technology, and what are the impediments to creating a research climate that would allow scientists to thrive?

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Every School a Quality School

Charlie Mas:

There is increasing talk these days about making every school in the district a "quality" school. The New Student Assignment Plan has increased the frequency, volume, and urgency for this bumper sticker talk. But despite those increases, there has not been much increase in action or even understanding of the goal.

Everytime I hear someone spout this talk about "every school a quality school" I stop them immediately and ask them what they mean by that. What is a "quality school"? How will we know one? I pretty much tell them that if they cannot accurately define a quality school then they should just shut the hell up about it. I hate it when people use words without knowing what they mean.

So, for the record, I have my own idea about what is a quality school. It is a school where the students are taught - at a minimum - the core set of knowledge and skills that they should be taught at their grade level and they learn it. It's a school in which students working beyond grade level are appropriately challenged with more rigor, meaning accelerated lessons, more ambiguous ideas, more complex ideas, a wider range of contexts, or a deeper understanding of the ideas. It's a school were the students who are working below grade level are given the early and effective interventions they need to get to grade level. In short, students are taught at the frontier of the knowledge and skills and are brought at least to grade level. There are plenty of examples of such schools here in Seattle.


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Colorado scrambles for dollars with new school reform plan Read more:

Jessica Fender & Jeremy Meyer:

Colorado education officials will unveil a reform proposal today that asks for $380 million in federal Race to the Top funding, but they are missing a key plank regarding teacher evaluations that will likely give other states a leg up in the contest.
Months of work have led to a nearly 150-page plan that touches on nearly everything, including incentives for top teachers, resources focused on failing schools and sharing data across the state.

But while Colorado's application vows to address such issues as teacher performance, tenure and dismissal through a commission born today of an executive order from Gov. Bill Ritter, other states with more advanced teacher-tracking systems have put their evaluation plans into law.

Colorado began the competition as a front-runner, but analysts say the lack of guidelines for tenure and dismissal will likely hurt the state's chances at being among the first chosen for a share of the $4.35 billion program. As many as 45 states nationwide are revamping their K-12 systems to compete for hundreds of millions in stimulus dollars that will be granted in two rounds of competition.

Lt. Gov. Barbara O'Brien has spearheaded Colorado's Race to the Top effort and said she would rather have the support of teachers and their union than forge ahead with a plan that schools are unhappy with.

Colorado's P-12 academic standards.

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The Opening of the Academic MindHow to rescue the professoriate from professionalization.

Gideon Lewis-Kraus:

The state of higher education in America is one of those things, like the airline industry or publishing, that's always in crisis. The academy is too distant from the concerns of everyday life, or else it's too politically engaged. The academy has become completely irrelevant, except for the fact that it's too relevant. We ought to be grateful to our universities for this. Academic wrongheadedness is one of the few things people across the political and cultural spectrum can agree upon.

One popular way of describing the failure of the contemporary academy is to complain that it no longer produces special things called "public intellectuals," so it is either a great relief or a rule-proving exception to read a blazingly sane take on the academy's troubles by one of the few professors who pretty safely deserves the term. Louis Menand's The Marketplace of Ideas manages to do many things in four short essays--describe the changing self-conception of the university, identify the difficulties behind curricular reform, and analyze the anxieties of humanities professors. But the book's chief accomplishment is its insistence that what we take for academic crises are probably just academic problems, and they are ours to solve.

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January 19, 2010

New York Fights Over Charter Schools

Jacob Gershman & Barbara Martinez:

New York, home of the nation's largest school district, is on the verge of rejecting key components of the White House's education effort amid a state fight over charter schools.

The Democratic-led legislature, with heavy backing from teachers' unions, is behind a law that critics, including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, say will curb the growth of charter schools.

Tuesday is the deadline for states to submit initial bids for a slice of the $4.35 billion that is up for grabs under the Obama administration's "Race to the Top" competition, which is intended to coax policy concessions such as opening charter schools and getting approval of merit-pay systems through stubborn legislatures.

Late Monday, New York Governor David A. Paterson and lawmakers were negotiating a compromise to salvage the state's application for the first phase of the contest. Although it is seen as unlikely that Albany leaders will strike a compromise by the deadline, it is expected that New York will submit a bid either way.

The maximum amount that New York could win is $700 million and it is unclear if program's financial lure will be enough to forge a breakthrough.

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Rigor vs. Relevance

Tom Vander Ark:

We argue about testing in the US, but the focus on and stakes related to testing is much higher in China and India where the tip of the human funnel is the 12th grade exam; to a large life options hang in the balance. In the US, there are lots of options and second chances; not so in India and China. As a result, the singular secondary focus is marks leading to success on the exit exam.

Yesterday, I visited an expensive private school in Hyderabad. The International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program looked familiar and rich. I dropped in on a primary teacher staff meeting that was informed by student work.

However, it was a different picture in the middle grades where the school abandoned IB for the Cambridge curriculum. Students sat in rows quietly plowing through workbooks while teachers sat at their desk. It was among the most stifling middle grade programs I've ever seen.

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On Firing Bad Teachers

Los Angeles Times:

Anote of gratitude is due Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge David P. Yaffe for ordering the immediate firing of Matthew Kim after a tortuous seven-year saga. This wasn't the first time that Yaffe tried to inject common sense into the absurdly difficult and expensive task of ridding classrooms of teachers who don't belong there. His previous decision to allow the Los Angeles Unified School District to fire Kim, issued in July, was ignored by the panel that has authority over contested teacher dismissals.

The Kim fiasco is a reminder of just how many thousands of dollars and costly lawyers and innumerable court appearances are currently required to fire incompetent or otherwise troublesome teachers. And, adding insult to injury, Kim has been paid his full salary and benefits since 2003 while doing no work for the district.

So we find it a heartening coincidence that on the same day Yaffe ordered Kim's firing, the president of the American Federation of Teachers called for new procedures making it easier to remove bad teachers. Randi Weingarten, who has been one of the more progressive teachers union leaders, said the AFT would develop a proposal, with the project overseen by Kenneth R. Feinberg, the federal government's "pay czar" on executive compensation.

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Just who made the young so doltish?

The Economist:

WHY are the young so disappointing, when it comes to their manners, dress codes, or knowledge of the canon of Western civilisation? Ask a British or American conservative, and he will blame the left: the 1960s vintage teachers who disdain dead white guys like Shakespeare, the college campuses where Derrida and deconstruction have displaced reading actual literature or the egalitarian ethos of "all shall have prizes".

Ask someone from the left, for example in Britain, and they will trace the rot back to Thatcherism: the hostility to pure research, the focus on commercially-driven vocational education (all those degree courses in golf course management or marketing, elbowing aside history or Ancient Greek), or the dumbing down of examinations by ministers who knew the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Luc Ferry, a prolific French philosopher and former education minister in the conservative government of Jean-Pierre Raffarin, has a new book out, "Face à la crise: Matériaux pour une politique de civilisation", offering a distinctly Gallic view of the problem: the fault lies with globalisation.

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Pay Rises for Leaders of Colleges, Survey Says

Jacques Steinberg:

Many of the nation's public universities eliminated courses and raised tuition last year, but the salaries and benefits of their presidents continued to rise, though at a slower rate than in years past, a new study has found.

In its ninth annual examination of the pay of 185 public university leaders, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported Monday that the median rose to $436,111 in 2008-9, an increase of 2.3 percent when compared with the year before. (When adjusted for inflation, The Chronicle said, the median increase was 1.1 percent.)

By contrast, in the previous four years, The Chronicle said, public university leaders' salaries and benefits rose, on average, by at least 7.5 percent each year, and, in 2005, by 19 percent.

Jeffrey J. Selingo, editor of The Chronicle, said in a statement that while the increases of past years had "riled parents, students and politicians," it was most likely "the bad economy and the fiscal crisis facing many states" that "finally put a halt to these large pay increases."

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Charter schools are separate & uneqeal; serve fewer disadvantaged students

Michael Mulgrew:

As New York finalizes its application for the federal Race to the Top program, a proposal to end the cap on the number of charter schools has been promoted as key to our success in getting these new federal funds. But promoters of this proposal are ignoring two other critical issues: The small role that charter schools play in the Race to the Top application, and the fact that city charters are not serving a representative sample of our neediest students.

Despite the heated rhetoric from charter proponents, the fact is that the charter cap accounts for only eight of the 500 points New York can earn on its Race to the Top application.

What's more, Race to the Top guidelines state that charter schools should "serve student populations that are similar to local district student populations, especially relative to high-need students." But the evidence is clear that New York's charter schools are actually becoming a separate and unequal branch of public education.

Mulgrew is the president of the United Federation of Teachers.

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The Four "R's" - A Charter School That Works

Bruce Fuller:

"Good audience skills are imperative," Danielle Johnson reminds her restless 10th-graders as one, Raquel, nervously fiddles with her laptop before holding forth on her project portfolio at City Arts and Technology High School (known as CAT), a charter school of 365 students on a green knoll above the blue-collar southern reaches of Mission Street in San Francisco.

"I decided to use the story of my mom getting to this country as an immigrant," Raquel says, moving into her personal-memoir segment, sniffing back tears as a blurry photo of her mother at age 18 appears on the screen. "I had never asked my mother about how she got here."

CAT exemplifies President Obama's push to seed innovative schools that demand much from all students, echoed by Sacramento's $700 million reform plan that goes to Washington this week. How to bottle the magic of CAT teachers like Johnson - listening carefully to each teen, strengthening each voice with basic skills and motivating ideals - is the challenge facing would-be reformers.

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One size does not fit all kids

Capital Times Editorial:

President Obama and his aides, like their predecessors in the administration of George Bush and Dick Cheney, are attempting to force states to comply with rigid federal standards in order to qualify for so-called "Race to the Top" stimulus funds.

During a visit to Madison last November, President Obama outlined the $4.35 billion program in great detail and Gov. Jim Doyle quickly embraced its agenda. The Doyle administration is going after $254 million in Race to the Top money, and Wisconsin schools, which have suffered sharp cuts in promised state funding, could use it.

But the money comes with strings attached. To qualify for the money, states are pressuring school districts to agree to abide by the new standards. Last Monday, the Madison School Board voted 5-1 to do so.

In fairness, many of the requirements are good ones. But tailoring education policy to fit agendas set in Washington is a bad approach. And it is especially bad when school districts with traditions of excellence start trimming their sails and altering their approaches in order to satisfy the whims of distant bureaucrats.

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January 18, 2010

The Problem with Grants Driving Strategy: In Race for U.S. School Grants Is a Fear of Winning

Crystal Yednak & Katie Fretland:

As Illinois jockeys for position as a leader in education reform with a $500 million application for Race to the Top money, the state's inability to pay current bills makes educators skeptical of Illinois's capacity to take on such new initiatives.

One major concern is that should Illinois succeed in the national competition for Race to the Top money, it might not have the ability to finance the long-term costs of any new programs once the federal money has been spent.

A $4.35 billion federal grant competition, Race to the Top, intends to reward states that promote innovations in education. While new money would seem to be a boon for Illinois schools, educators who have seen other programs ramp up only to be shut down are concerned about it happening again.

State Representative. Suzanne Bassi, a Republican from suburban Chicago who sits on the House appropriations committee for education, said she feared what would happen to any new Race to the Top programs in a few years.

"The federal funds run out, and we all of sudden can't do anything about it," Ms. Bassi said. "Then it falls on individual districts, and the taxpayers foot the bill.

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Our Opinion: If only wishing could pay the education bills

Tallahassee Democrat:

Perhaps with business organizations behind it, a significant increase in the state's investment in education from kindergarten through college could gain some traction in the Florida Legislature.

Certainly without it, there is virtually no likelihood that lawmakers in an election year will find the courage to search for ways -- not all of them monetary -- to improve public education, and therefore our state's chances for the future.

An educated population and an accomplished work force are the underpinnings of a state where, as the Florida Council of 100 and Florida Chamber of Commerce expressed in a report last week, the American dream can be successfully carried out. Where better, asked Council of 100 Chair Susan Story "than in the state of Florida?"

Both Gov. Charlie Crist and former Gov. Jeb Bush put their stamp of approval on what was described at its unveiling Thursday as the "education wish list" of these two significant Florida business groups. Last year, the two joined with education leaders to get more money for higher education, even though the Legislature went in the opposite direction, cutting $150 million from our universities. Again this year budget committees are asking universities to be prepared for across-the-board cuts as high as 10 percent, in keeping with a budget shortfall of as much as $3 billion.

The recommendations from these groups, which are coincidentally against most tax or fee increases and lifting sales-tax exemptions, include tougher graduation standards at the pre-K-12 level, virtual elimination of teacher tenure and a constitutional amendment legalizing vouchers.

Closing the Talent Gap: A Business Perspective (January 2010) 3MB PDF.

Updates, via a Steven M. Birnholz email:

Press Release.

"Political, Business Leaders: Overhaul Education in Fla." Lakeland Ledger

"Business groups propose major changes to education," Daytona Beach News Journal.

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Special Education Stimulus Spending

Chan Stroman:

Last year's stimulus legislation (American Recovery and Recovery Act of 2009, a/k/a "ARRA") provides a one-time boost (to be spent for the 2009-10 and 2010-2011 school years) in federal funding for students with disabilities in elementary and secondary schools under IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act), Part B.

According to the State of Wisconsin's stimulus tracker web site, IDEA Special Education Grants to the states under ARRA totaled $11.3 billion (for context, "regular" IDEA Part B appropriations were $11.51 billion in 2009 and in 2010, according to the New America Foundation's 2010 Education Appropriations Guide). Wisconsin has received ARRA IDEA Part B funding of $208.2 million, with $6.199 million to the Madison Metropolitan School District.

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Walking the Walk on School Reform

New York Times Editorial:

The American Federation of Teachers, the second-largest teachers' union, has been working hard to distance itself from its competitor, the National Education Association, which tends to resist sensible reforms.

The federation's president, Randi Weingarten, set the contrast quite effectively with a speech last week in Washington, in which she offered a proposal to reform teacher evaluation. She not only echoed Education Secretary Arne Duncan's call for evaluation systems that take student achievement into account but also expressed support for "a fair, transparent and expedient process to identify and deal with ineffective teachers."

The shortcomings of evaluations were laid out last year in an eye-opening study by a New York research group, the New Teacher Project. Where they can be said to exist at all, evaluations are typically short, pro forma and almost universally positive. Poorly trained evaluators visit the classroom once or twice for observations that last for a total of an hour or less. Nearly every teacher passes and the overwhelming majority of teachers receive top ratings. Yet more than half the teachers surveyed said they knew a tenured teacher who deserved to be dismissed for poor performance.

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Education initiative is not needed

Fred Lebrun:

Just what we need, more charter schools.

oth Gov. David Paterson and the state Legislature need to be shown the woodshed. The so-called Race to the Top federal education initiative that we're being rushed into accepting by the governor would lift the cap on the number of charter schools in this state and in the process throw teachers under the bus for the failures of inner-city public education. It's another chuckleheaded set of directives from Washington. The big Bush push, No Child Left Behind, left a lot of kids behind, and school districts and even states that became disenchanted with education policy that never matched funding for the mandates involved. Race to the Top is headed for the same dust heap, but not before we pay through the nose for it.

And once again New York is panting to go along with the feds because of extra stimulus money available, up $700 million possibly, maybe, if we're one of the winners of the race. On the other hand and by way of perspective, we spend more than $20 billion a year in this state on public education. So essentially we're giving up our right to set our own policy, as flawed as it is, for a short-term handout. How New York of us.

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Market fixes for California's schools

Bruce Fuller:

Ronald Reagan must be grinning in his grave.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sends to the White House this week a colorful pastiche of education fixes, hoping to score $700 million in federal dollars. Sacramento's plan echoes Washington's own reform strategy - built on President Obama's surprising faith in market remedies for the ills facing schools.

Oddly mimicking Reagan's game plan of a generation ago, Sacramento's agenda relies on market competition by seeding more charter schools, allowing parents to shutter lousy schools and rewarding teachers who boost student performance.

"This is about parental choice in public education," said state Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, a chief architect of the bipartisan plan.

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Five Strikes And You're Out! Plus, Houston We Have A Problem...

Andy Rotherham:

A lot of back and forth in Rhode Island over Race To The Top. The teachers’ union there is not down with the Obama Administration’s requirements around teacher effectiveness. But they apparently also can’t live with the idea that after three years of an unacceptable evaluation a teacher would lose their license. The standard they want is, seriously, five years of poor evaluations. Given what we know about the effects of under-performing teachers – especially on low-income youngsters — this stance is literally pick jaw up off floor time…

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Race to the Top' - the view from Oakland

Betty Olson-Jones:

We applaud Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums for refusing to join the Race to the Top parade by not signing the letter by Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson ("Dellums ducks out of mayors coalition," Chip Johnson, Jan. 5).

Dellums should not be whipsawed into the frenzy just to run after more federal and state dollars that will do little to address the major issues of educational equity that we need in Oakland.

I was asked for the Oakland Education Association's opinion on the proposed letter and concurred with others that it would be a mistake to sign it. The lure of a minuscule amount of money is not justification for further decimating a compromised program in Oakland schools, especially when that money comes with serious strings attached.

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January 17, 2010

Why US high school reform efforts aren't working

Amanda Paulson:

Since it began in 2004, the Baltimore Talent Development High School has posted some impressive graduation rates and achievement scores, among other things.

Even more notable, efforts by educators at nearby Johns Hopkins University to replicate the school's gains in dozens of other locations have also met with some success. Slowly, the network of Talent Development High Schools is helping student groups that often seem most at risk.

But good news at the high school level is unusual. Despite vigorous calls for change and a host of major reform efforts, encouraging results have been scarce. National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores - considered the "Nation's Report Card" - tend to be stagnant for high-schoolers, even when they rise for elementary school students.

Only about half of low-income and minority students in US high schools graduate, and many of those who do are unprepared for college. The isolated examples of success often fail when administrators or education reformers try to reproduce them on a large scale.

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Consider community college, three-year plan to cut costs

Janet Bodnar:

For years, Kiplinger's has been advising parents that one way to keep higher-education costs under control is to have their kids attend community college for a year or two and then switch to a four-year school. This year, they finally listened to us -- with a vengeance.

Community colleges are packed to the gills, and students are flocking to state institutions across the board. The average annual sticker price for a four-year public school remains a tad over $15,000 -- less than half the tab at a private institution. In our exclusive rankings of the 100 best values in public colleges, nearly 40 percent charge in-state students less than the average price, reports Senior Associate Editor Jane Bennett Clark.

There's nothing like a financial crisis to get families to focus on how much they're paying for big-ticket items such as college expenses. Surprisingly, they haven't always done that. In 2008, a survey of parents and students by Sallie Mae found that when deciding whether to borrow for college, a whopping 70 percent said a student's potential postgraduate income did not factor into the discussion.

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What Randi Really Said and Meant

Diane Ravitch:

Last week, the nation's press reported something that most teachers found unbelievable: Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, said that teachers should be evaluated by their students' test scores.

Teachers hate this idea because they know that teachers are not solely responsible for their students' scores. The students bear some responsibility, as do their families, for whether students do well or poorly on tests. District leaders bear some responsibility, depending on the resources they provide to schools. Teachers also are aware that the tests are not the only measure of what happens in their classrooms and that even the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said that we need better tests. There is a fairly sizable body of research demonstrating that test scores are affected by many factors beyond the teachers' control.

I was surprised too when I read the headlines and the press accounts.

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Davenport pulls support for Race to the Top funds

Sheena Dooley:

A requirement to negotiate plans to overhaul Iowa's lowest-performing schools with teacher unions prompted the Davenport School District to abandon its support of state efforts to nab a portion of $4.3 billion in federal funds, its top leader said today.

Julio Almanza, Davenport superintendent, said the Iowa Department of Education went beyond federal rules in its application for up to $175 million of federal Race to the Top dollars by requiring districts with state-identified low-performing schools to agree with teacher unions on plans to overhaul them.

Currently, school boards and administrators have the sole authority to make those decisions.

"What you are going to have is unions determining intervention models for schools," Almanza said. "If you can't reach an agreement (with the union), the district loses money for the school. There are no penalties for anyone else, and the kids lose."

The Iowa Department of Education also excluded parents, students and the community from the decision-making process, which goes against the intent of U.S. Department of Education, Almanza said.

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Vice-principal calls the bomb squad over an 11-year-old's science project, recommends counselling for the student

Cory Doctorow:

A San Diego school vice-principal saw an 11-year-old's home science project (a motion detector made out of an empty Gatorade bottle and some electronics), decided it was a bomb, wet himself, put the school on lockdown, had the bomb-squad come out to destroy X-ray the student's invention and search his parents' home, and then magnanimously decided not to discipline the kid (though he did recommend that the child and his parents get counselling to help them overcome their anti-social science behavior).

When police and the Metro Arson Strike Team responded, they also found electrical components in the student's backpack, Luque said. After talking to the student, it was decided about 1 p.m. to evacuate the school as a precaution while the item was examined. Students were escorted to a nearby playing field, and parents were called and told they could come pick up their children.

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A Gangland Bus Tour, With Lunch and a Waiver

Randal Archibold:

The tour organizer received assurances, he says, from four gangs that they would not harass the bus when it passed through their turf. Paying customers must sign releases warning of potential danger. And after careful consideration, it was decided not to have residents shoot water guns at the bus and sell "I Got Shot in South Central" T-shirts.

Borrowing a bit from the Hollywood star tours, the grit of the streets and a dash of hype, LA Gang Tours is making its debut on Saturday, a 12-stop, two-hour journey through what its organizer calls "the history and origin of high-profile gang areas and the top crime-scene locations" of South Los Angeles. By Friday afternoon, the 56-seat coach was nearly sold out.

On the right, Los Angeles's biggest jail, "the unofficial home to 20,000 gang members in L.A.," as the tour Web site puts it. Over there, the police station that in 1965 served as the National Guard's command post in the Watts riots. Visit the large swath of concrete riverbed taken over by graffiti taggers, and later, drop in at a graffiti workshop where, for the right price, a souvenir T-shirt or painting can be yours.

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January 16, 2010

Finalists for Milwaukee Superintendent outline priorities, qualifications

Erin Richards:

Members of the public got their first chance Thursday to listen to and ask questions of the man likely to become the next superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools, during back-to-back interviews Thursday at the district office.

The contenders - Robert Alfaro, Stacy Scott and Gregory Thornton - all hail from outside Milwaukee, all have served in a variety of administrative posts in large and smaller districts, and all say that MPS can significantly improve its quality of instruction.

No candidate revealed specific knowledge about Milwaukee's issues, or specific thoughts on how to solve its challenges, and most of the discussion steered toward generalities: supporting good teachers, making room for the arts, encouraging communication with parents.

A community stakeholder group that included Mayor Tom Barrett interviewed the candidates in closed session Thursday afternoon, and the full School Board was scheduled to interview the candidates again in closed session Thursday night.

Before the end of the month, the School Board will take a final vote so that the new superintendent can be named by Feb. 1, Board President Michael Bonds said.

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2010 Madison School Board Election Notes and Links

A number of folks have asked why, like 2009, there are two uncontested seats in this spring's Madison School Board election. Incumbents Maya Cole and Beth Moss are running unopposed while the open seat, vacated by the retiring Johnny Winston, Jr. is now contested: Tom Farley (TJ Mertz and Robert Godfrey have posted on Farley's travails, along with Isthmus) after some nomination signature issues and an internal fracas over the School District lawyer's role in the race, faces James Howard [website].

I think we've seen a drop on the ongoing, very small amount of school board activism because:

Finally, with respect to the Howard / Farley contest, I look forward to the race. I had the opportunity to get to know James Howard during the District's 2009 strategic planning meetings. I support his candidacy.

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Writing English as a Second Language

William Zinsser:

Five years ago one of your deans at the journalism school, Elizabeth Fishman, asked me if I would be interested in tutoring international students who might need some extra help with their writing. She knew I had done a lot of traveling in Asia and Africa and other parts of the world where many of you come from.

I knew I would enjoy that, and I have--I've been doing it ever since. I'm the doctor that students get sent to see if they have a writing problem that their professor thinks I can fix. As a bonus, I've made many friends--from Uganda, Uzbekhistan, India, Ethiopia, Thailand, Iraq, Nigeria, Poland, China, Colombia and many other countries. Several young Asian women, when they went back home, sent me invitations to their weddings. I never made it to Bhutan or Korea, but I did see the wedding pictures. Such beautiful brides!

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Best Value Colleges 2010

USA Today:

The Princeton Review's 100 "Best Value Colleges" list for 2010 is based on data compiled and analyzed by The Princeton Review, the education services and test-prep company known for its annual college listings.

The analysis uses the most recently reported data from each institution for its 2009-10 academic year. The top 10 public and private "Best Values" are ranked; the rest are listed alphabetically.

FULL STORY: Can getting a degree be affordable?

The Princeton Review selected the schools based on surveys of administrators and students at more than 650 public and private college and university campuses.

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US Education Chief Criticizes NBA and the NCAA

Katie Thomas:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan entered some of the most contentious debates in college sports on Thursday when, in a speech at the N.C.A.A. convention, he called for stricter consequences for college teams that do not graduate their athletes and said the N.B.A.'s age-minimum policy sets up young athletes for failure.

"Why do we allow the N.C.A.A, why do we allow universities, why do we allow sports to be tainted when the vast majority of coaches and athletic directors are striving to instill the right values?" said Duncan, who was a co-captain of his Harvard basketball team and played in an Australian professional league from 1987 until 1991.

He said his time as a college athlete was one of the most valuable periods of his life, but feared the N.B.A.'s age rule, which requires that a player be at least 19 years old and at least one year removed from high school before entering the league, does a disservice to athletes.

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College- and Career-Ready Using Outcomes Data to Hold High Schools Accountable for Student Success

Chad Aldeman:

According to the Florida Department of Education, Manatee High School was not a place parents should have wanted to send their children in 2006. The Bradenton-based school received a "D" rating on the state's A-F scale of academic performance that year while failing to meet federal No Child Left Behind proficiency standards for the fourth year in a row. At the same time, Boca Raton Community High School was flying high, having just earned its second straight "A" rating and being named among the best high schools in the country by Newsweek magazine.

But while Manatee got dismal marks from state and federal accountability schemes, it was actually quite successful in a number of important ways. It graduated a higher percentage of its students than Boca Raton and sent almost the same percentage of its graduates off to college. Once they arrived on college campuses, Manatee graduates earned higher grades and fewer of them failed remedial, not-for-credit math and English courses than their Boca Raton peers.

In other words, D-rated Manatee was arguably doing a better job at achieving the ultimate goal of high school: preparing students to succeed in college and careers. But because Florida's accountability systems didn't measure college and career success in 2006, nobody knew.

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Top public universities faulted on financial aid

Jenna Johnson:

Many of the nation's top public universities are giving millions of dollars in financial aid to students from relatively wealthy families instead of to those who urgently need it, resulting in campuses that are often less diverse than those at elite private schools, a new report says.

From 2003 to 2007, public research universities increased the amount of aid to students whose parents make at least $115,000 a year by 28 percent, to $361.4 million, said the Education Trust, a nonprofit advocacy group.

Those schools routinely award as much in financial aid to students whose parents make more than $80,000 a year as to those whose parents make less than $54,000 a year, according to the report, "Opportunity Adrift."

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January 15, 2010

Verona, WI School Board Considers Chinese Immersion Charter School

Smart and timely. The Verona School Board will vote on the proposed Chinese immersion charter school Monday evening, 1/18/2010 - via a kind reader.


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Wisconsin Assessment Recommendations (To Replace the WKCE)

Wisconsin School Administrators Alliance, via a kind reader's email [View the 146K PDF]

On August 27, 2009, State Superintendent Tony Evers stated that the State of Wisconsin would eliminate the current WKCE to move to a Balanced System of Assessment. In his statement, the State Superintendent said the following:
New assessments at the elementary and middle school level will likely be computer- based with multiple opportunities to benchmark student progress during the school year. This type of assessment tool allows for immediate and detailed information about student understanding and facilitates the teachers' ability to re-teach or accelerate classroom instruction. At the high school level, the WKCE will be replaced by assessments that provide more information on college and workforce readiness.
By March 2010, the US Department of Education intends to announce a $350 million grant competition that would support one or more applications from a consortia of states working to develop high quality state assessments. The WI DPI is currently in conversation with other states regarding forming consortia to apply for this federal funding.

In September, 2009, the School Administrators Alliance formed a Project Team to make recommendations regarding the future of state assessment in Wisconsin. The Project Team has met and outlined recommendations what school and district administrators believe can transform Wisconsin's state assessment system into a powerful tool to support student learning.

Criteria Underlying the Recommendations:

  • Wisconsin's new assessment system must be one that has the following characteristics:
  • Benchmarked to skills and knowledge for college and career readiness • Measures student achievement and growth of all students
  • Relevant to students, parents, teachers and external stakeholders
  • Provides timely feedback that adds value to the learning process • Efficient to administer
  • Aligned with and supportive of each school district's teaching and learning
  • Advances the State's vision of a balanced assessment system
Wisconsin's Assessment test: The WKCE has been oft criticized for its lack of rigor.

The WKCE serves as the foundation for the Madison School District's "Value Added Assessment" initiative, via the UW-Madison School of Education.

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Exit Interviews

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
14 January 2010

In the early 1960s, I was fortunate enough to work for a while at the Space and Information Systems Division of North American Aviation in Downey, California, which was building the command modules for the Apollo Program. I was quite impressed by the fact that, although I was basically a glorified clerk, when I left the company to work for Pan American World Airways, they invited me in for an exit interview.

The interviewer asked me about the details of my job--what I liked and didn't like about it. He asked me if the pay and benefits were satisfactory, and whether my immediate boss had done a good job in supervising me or not (he was an Annapolis graduate and had done a first-rate job). The general goal of the interview seemed to be to find out why I was leaving and if there was anything they could do to keep an employee like me in the future. This took place in the middle of a very high-pressure and a multi-billion dollar effort to get to the moon before the end of the decade. North American Aviation also had the contract for the Saturn 5 rocket at their Rocketdyne division. But they made the time to talk to me when I left.

Tony Wagner of Harvard, in his book, The Global Achievement Gap (2008), reports on a focus group he held for recent graduates "of one of the most highly-regarded public high schools," to ask them about their recollections of their experience of the school. This was a kind of exit interview two or three years later. When he asked them what they wished they had received, but didn't, in school, they said:

"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."
This was of particular interest to me, because of my conviction that the majority of U.S. public high school students now graduate without ever having read a complete nonfiction book or written a serious research paper. When I asked Mr. Wagner if he knew of other high schools which conducted focus groups or interviews with recent graduates, he said he only knew of three.

I would suggest that this is a practice which could be of great benefit to all our public high schools. Without too much extra time and effort, they could both interview each Senior, after she/he had finished all their exams, and ask what they thought of their academic experience, their teachers, and so forth. In addition, schools could hold at least one focus group each year with perhaps a dozen recent graduates who could compare their college demands with the preparation they had received in their high schools.

Lack of curiosity inevitably leads to lack of knowledge, and it is to be lamented that our high schools seem, in practice, not to wonder what their graduates actually think of the education they have provided, and to what extent and in what ways their high school academic work prepared or did not prepare them for their work in college. Mr. Wagner points out that:

Forty percent of all students who enter college must take remedial courses...and perhaps one of every two students who start college never complete any kind of postsecondary degree.
The Great Schools Project, in its report Diploma to Nowhere in the Summer of 2008, said that more than one million of our high school graduates are in remedial classes each year when they get to college, and the California State Colleges reported in November of 2009 that 47% of their freshmen are now in remedial English classes.

As national concern slowly grows beyond high school dropouts to include college "flameouts" as well, it might be time to consider the benefits of the ample knowledge available from students if they are allowed to participate in exit interviews and focus groups at the high school which was responsible for getting them ready to succeed academically in college and at work.


"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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Head Start Study Finds Brief Learning Gains: No Lasting Benefit for Children....

Mary Ann Zehr, via a kind reader's email:

Participation in Head Start has positive effects on children's learning while they are in the program, but most of the advantage they gain disappears by the end of 1st grade, a federal impact study of Head Start programs says.

A large-scale randomized control study of nearly 5,000 children released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services this week shows that a group of children who entered Head Start at age 4 benefited from a year in the program, particularly in learning language and literacy. Benefits included learning vocabulary, letter-word recognition, spelling, color identification, and letter naming, compared with children of the same age in a control group who didn't attend Head Start.

Benefits for children who entered Head Start at age 3 were even stronger. By the end of Head Start, the group that had entered at age 3 showed gains in most of the language and learning areas that the 4-year-old group had, but also showed benefits in learning math, pre-writing skills, and perceptual motor skills.

Lindsey Burke:

After some prodding, yesterday the Obama administration released the long-overdue first grade evaluation of the federal Head Start program. As expected, the results show that the $7 billion per year program provides little benefit to children - and great expense to taxpayers.

The evaluation, which was mandated by Congress during the 1998 reauthorization of the program, found little impact on student well-being. After collecting data on more than 5,000 three and four-year-old children randomly assigned to either a Head Start or a non Head Start control group, the Department of Health and Human Services found "few sustained benefits". From the report:

Andrew Coulson:

A day after it was released, here’s a roundup of how the mainstream media are covering the HHS study showing that America’s $100 billion plus investment in Head Start is a failure:


Nada. Zilch. Rien du tout, mes amis.

That’s based on a Google News search for ["Head Start" study]. The only media organs to touch on this topic so far have been blogs: Jay Greene’s, The Heritage Foundation’s, the Independent Women’s Forum, and the one you’re reading right now.

Okay. There was one exception. According to Google News, one non-blog — with a print version no less — covered this story so far. The NY Times? The Washington Post? Nope: The World, a Christian news magazine. And they actually did their homework, linking to this recent and highly relevant review of the research on pre-K program impacts.

Related: 4K and the Madison School District.

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Wisconsin schools get above-average grade for Quality, Ranks near the Bottom for Standards & Accountability

Amy Hetzner:

Wisconsin received an above-average grade for overall educational quality, although it ranked toward the bottom of the nation in efforts to improve schools by establishing grade-level academic standards and holding schools accountable, according to a report released Thursday.

The annual "Quality Counts" report, by national trade publication Education Week, gave the Badger state a C-plus for the overall status of its schools and improvement efforts. That was slightly higher than the grade given to the nation - a C - and ranked the state 16th among all the states and the District of Columbia.

Wisconsin fared best in the annual report for its school finance system and in a category the publication calls "chance for success," which measures factors from employment rates to kindergarten enrollment in states. The state was ranked ninth and 11th, respectively, in those areas, drawing B grades in each.

The state's lowest ranking came in the area of standards, assessments and accountability, with a C grade placing it 42nd in a category where 20 other states received grades of A or A-minus.

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Hundreds of students can't return to Beverly Hills schools

Carla Rivera:

Hundreds of students attending Beverly Hills schools will have to find new campuses in the fall after a unanimous school board vote late Tuesday ended special permits for many children who live outside the city.

Following more than four hours of debate that lasted until almost midnight, the board agreed to allow all current high school students to continue applying for permits each year, an action that won applause from a packed, emotional but civil crowd at Beverly Hills High.

Seventh graders will be allowed to graduate from middle school next year. But students in elementary school and eighth grade will not be allowed to return to district schools for the 2010-2011 academic year unless their families move into the city.

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Texas debates the way history will be taught

April Castro:

Students, parents and lawmakers lobbied Wednesday for more diversity in Texas' social studies curriculum, before the state board of education adopts new classroom standards that will determine how history is taught for the next decade.

In more than six hours of public testimony, dozens of people took their chance to help shape the way millions of Texas school children learn topics from the Roman Empire to the entrepreneurial success of billionaire Bill Gates.

The public hearing sets up a tentative vote Thursday on the new standards. But, as usual in votes before the conservative-led board, the wide-reaching guidelines are full of potential ideological flashpoints.

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L.A. schools paid $200 million more in salaries than budgeted

Howard Blume:

The Los Angeles school district paid $200 million more in salaries than it budgeted last year even as it laid off 2,000 teachers and hundreds of other employees, according to an internal audit.

Auditors so far have unearthed no wrongdoing, but officials are puzzled, concerned and perhaps even a little embarrassed.

"We've been in the process of cleaning it up," said L.A. schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines, who said his staff is verifying the size of the discrepancy and will, over time, determine how much relates to incomplete accounting and how much to something more serious.

The issue emerged in an audit, completed in December, on the arcane subject of "position control."

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Chicago's Real Crime Story: Why decades of community organizing haven't stemmed the city's youth violence

Heather MacDonald:

Barack Obama has exploited his youthful stint as a Chicago community organizer at every stage of his political career. As someone who had worked for grassroots "change," he said, he was a different kind of politician, one who could translate people's hopes into reality. The media lapped up this conceit, presenting Obama's organizing experience as a meaningful qualification for the Oval Office.

This past September, a cell-phone video of Chicago students beating a fellow teen to death coursed over the airwaves and across the Internet. None of the news outlets that had admiringly reported on Obama's community-organizing efforts mentioned that the beating involved students from the very South Side neighborhoods where the president had once worked. Obama's connection to the area was suddenly lost in the mists of time.

Yet a critical blindness links Obama's activities on the South Side during the 1980s and the murder of Derrion Albert in 2009. Throughout his four years working for "change" in Chicago's Roseland and Altgeld Gardens neighborhoods, Obama ignored the primary cause of their escalating dysfunction: the disappearance of the black two-parent family. Obama wasn't the only activist to turn away from the problem of absent fathers, of course; decades of failed social policy, both before and after his time in Chicago, were just as blind. And that myopia continues today, guaranteeing that the current response to Chicago's youth violence will prove as useless as Obama's activities were 25 years ago.

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January 14, 2010

Madison Charter "School pitch looks promising"

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial, via a kind reader's email:

Bold plans for a new kind of middle school in Madison deserve encouragement and strong consideration.

The proposed Badger Rock Middle School on the South Side would run year-round with green-themed lessons in hands-on gardens and orchards.

The unusual school would still teach core subjects such as English and math. But about 120 students would learn amid a working farm, local business and neighborhood sustainability center.

Money is tight in this difficult economy. And the Madison School Board just committed to launching an expensive 4-year-old kindergarten program in 2011.
But organizers say Badger Rock wouldn't cost the district additional dollars because private donors will pay for the school facility.

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Roma children segregated in Czech schools

Jan Cienski:

The Czech Republic is continuing to segregate Roma children into sub-standard schools for the mentally disabled, charged a report released on Wednesday by Amnesty International.

The 80-page report prepared by the London-based human rights group found that discrimination in the school system persists despite a 2007 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, which found that the Czech Republic was sending gypsy children to special remedial schools.

"What is needed is a very strong approach to discrimination," said Fotis Filippou, the report's author, adding that Amnesty was calling for a freeze in placements to schools for mental disabilities for the current school year while the system is reviewed.

According to the report, which studied four schools in the area around Ostrava, in the east of the country, Roma children are often sent to special schools, or sent to mainstream schools where they form the overwhelming bulk of the population, and the standards of education tend to be much lower than for Czech children. Many parents, often with little education themselves, are not equipped to keep their children in the mainstream system.

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The zeitgeist of reading instruction

Daniel Willingham:

By Daniel Willingham

I have written (on this blog and elsewhere) about the importance of background knowledge and about the limited value of instructing students in reading comprehension strategies.

To be clear, I don't think that such instruction is worthless. It has a significant impact, but it seems to be a one-time effect and the strategies are quickly learned. More practice of these strategies pays little or no return. You can read more about that here.

Knowledge of the topic you're reading about, in contrast, has an enormous impact and more important, there is no ceiling--the more knowledge you gain, the more your reading improves.

In a recent email conversation an experienced educator asked me why, if that's true, there has been such emphasis on reading strategies and skills in teacher's professional development.

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The Royal Society Turns 350

The Economist:

THE streets surrounding St James's Palace in London are dotted with gentlemen's clubs, many of which now also admit women. This year, one such establishment is marking its 350th anniversary. The club in question is not merely a meeting place for like-minded members, however: it is the society that founded modern science.

The first fellows of the Royal Society, as it is now known, were followers of Sir Francis Bacon, a 17th-century statesman and philosopher who argued that knowledge could be gained by testing ideas through experiments. On a damp and murky night in November 1660, a dozen of them met to hear a lecture by a 28-year-old astronomer called Christopher Wren, who would later become the architect who designed St Paul's Cathedral. Inspired, they determined to meet every week to discuss scientific matters and to witness experiments conducted by different members of the group. In so doing, they invented the processes on which modern science rests, including scientific publishing and peer review, and made English the primary language of scientific discourse.

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Race to the Top -- Buyers Beware

Chris Prevatt:

Every American leader, from Barack Obama to Arnold Schwarzenegger, would agree that if there's one lifelong lesson to be learned from the implosion of the housing market, it is that before you sign on the dotted line, you'd better know what you're getting yourself into. You'd better ask clarifying questions. You'd better read the fine print. And you'd better make absolutely sure that there are no hidden clauses or trap doors that take you and those dependent on you to the dog house.

While our local districts are comprised of well intentioned, highly educated and reflective leaders who are doing their best to find resources to fill the budget shortfall, we are perplexed that some districts agreed to submit a "Memorandum Of Understanding" with the Governor's Office to participate in California's application for the federal Race to the Top (RTTT) competitive grant program. Many of our local teachers' associations hope that since more than half (60%) of school systems in California did not sign on to the State's MOU, that there is change in the RTTT program language so that district leaders, teachers, parents and stakeholders can work together with their local districts to come up with solutions that are based in research-supported strategies for all.

Earlier this month the governor signed California's RTTT legislation that includes: promoting national education standards, using test scores to evaluate and compensate teachers and principals, lifting a cap on charter schools, and allowing parents to transfer their children out of the state's lowest performing schools -- while providing no provision for transportation costs -- leaving this last piece a true hollow victory for parents.

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Texas Governor Perry refuses federal education money: What's this mean for Frisco?

Jessica Meyers:

Gov. Rick Perry has refused to compete for up to $700 million in federal education money.
He announced today that the state will not try to snag any of the competitive "Race to the Top" funds that many other states have been going after for months.

"Texas is on the right path toward improved education, and we would be foolish and irresponsible to place our children's future in the hands of unelected bureaucrats and special interest groups thousands of miles away in Washington, virtually eliminating parents' participation in their children's education," Gov. Perry said in a prepared statement.

The Perry camp argues that the grant isn't enough to implement the kind of reform needed for almost 5 million schoolchildren in the state.

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School consolidation, taxes, teacher salaries and district savings are on the minds of readers looking to solve financial issues

Dave Murray:

The state Board of Education today heard from a bipartisan panel of experts as they prepare a series of recommendations to rectify the state's school funding issues.
I asked Head of the Class readers for suggestions to help solve Michigan's school funding issues, and folks earned straight A's.

I'll round up these suggestions and send them off to my friends at the state Education Department. Meanwhile, I'll share some of the best here. Not saying I agree with everything readers submitted, but some thoughtful -- and thought-provoking -- responses.

This came from Lord Nelson:
"The state and schools must get on the same fiscal year calendar. This has been a major problem for years.

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Have charter schools become tool for privatizing education?

Maureen Downey:

Morning folks, I am running this op-ed on the Monday education page that I assemble each week for the AJC. Written by UGA professor William G. Wraga, it raises some interesting questions about whether the charter school movement has been co-opted by privatization proponents.

By William G. Wraga

The original intent of charter schools, to increase the professional autonomy of teachers so they could explore innovative ways to educate children and youth, has given way to other agendas that have grafted onto the movement.

Increasingly, charter school policies have been influenced by market ideology that treats the movement as a vehicle for privatizing public schools.

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All-Day or Half-Day Kindergarten?

Debra Viadero:

In my Fairfax County neighborhood, there are two elementary schools within half a mile of each other. The school that my children attended has an all-day kindergarten; the other one offers kindergarten half a day. The school with the half-day program, however, has other benefits, though, such as smaller class sizes in the early grade.

So, I've often wondered, which students were better off in the long run: the full-day program graduates or the half-day students who got more individual attention from their teachers?

Research, as it turns out, doesn't offer much guidance on that question. Some studies show that full-day kindergarten programs, used in most school districts to give disadvantaged students a leg up on their better-off peers, do just what they're intended to do.

Even though the poorer full-day students started out school trailing behind the more advantaged peers in half-day programs, academically speaking, they finished out the year a month ahead. Other studies, however, suggest, disappointingly, that the disadvantaged students lose their edge later on in elementary school.

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January 13, 2010

4K Update: New Questions and Some Answers

At our January 11 monthly board meeting, we made two decisions about how we would proceed on implementing 4-year-old kindergarten. The media of that meeting are available on the School Information System blog, so I won't repeat them here.

Implement 4K in Fall 2011

The board voted to defer implementation of 4K until fall 2011 due to concerns about whether the district or many of the community providers could be ready to go in less than 7 months (assuming time for registration and orientation in August.

I voted to defer until 2011 for several reasons. I support 4K. I would have liked to be able to implement in Fall 2010. However, I also had to listen when people who had pushed hard to start in 2010 -- especially those from the early childhood education community -- asked us to wait a year so that there is adequate time to do all of the steps that are necessary to "get it right."

More on the decision to defer until 2011 and on new questions on 4K financing at

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State of the Madison School District Presentation by Superintendent Dan Nerad 1/25/2010

via a kind reader's email:

A State of the District presentation will be made by Superintendent
Daniel Nerad to the community at a Board of Education meeting on Monday, January 25 at 5:30 p.m. in the library of Wright Middle School, 1717 Fish Hatchery Rd. The presentation will be the meeting's sole agenda item.

All community members are welcome to attend.

The presentation will provide an overview of important information and data regarding the Madison School District - including student achievement - and future areas of focus.

The visually-supported talk will be followed by a short period for questions from those in attendance.

The speech and Q&A period will be televised live on MMSD-TV Cable Channels 96/993 and streaming live on the web at It will
also be available for replay the following day at the same web site.

For more information, contact:
Ken Syke, 663-1903 or , or
Joe Quick, 663-1902 or

Ken Syke
Public Information
Madison School District
voice 608 663 1903; cell 608 575 6682; fax 608 204 0342

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The Weingarten Speech

Andrew Rotherham:

Today at the National Press Club AFT President Randi Weingarten is calling for reforms to due process for teachers. You can’t do much better than Sawchuk’s take on it here, but Washington Post and Jay Mathews, USAT, and Bob Herbert also write on it this morning. And although the text isn’t online yet here’s Weingarten herself over at the Huffpo. Update: Text on the AFT site now (pdf).

First the good: This is an important acknowledgement from Weingarten and one with some big implications. She deserves credit for that. For a long time the union line on all this has been that it’s not hard to rid the field of low-performers, the problem is lousy administrators and a blame the teachers mindset. This isn’t all wrong by the way, administrators are not just chompin’ at the bit to rid schools of under-performing teachers. The problems are systemic ones. But by laying this on the table Weingarten is opening the door on that conversation more than a crack and pulling the rug out from under a lot of folks. That’s important. By calling the process “glacial” the genie is out of the bottle, perhaps more than Weingarten herself may realize.

In addition, bringing in Kenneth Feinberg is important. He demonstrated an ability for reasonableness in thorny situations. And because he has no aspirations within education he has no reason to pull any punches. Perhaps most importantly, with Feinberg you get the sense that if this is all a big ruse, that will become clear. He doesn’t seem like someone with a lot of patience for misdirection plays and so forth. In other words, involving him increases the accountability.

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November School Board Elections in New Jersey?

New Jersey Left Behind:

Ray Pinney over at New Jersey School Boards Association predicts that “moving the school board member elections to November, along with eliminating the vote on the school budget (if the budget is at or below cap), will occur in the next legislative session.” The benefits: moving school budgets to the Fall buys times for the Legislature to “find a solution to the budget crisis”; voter turnout will increase; it's cheaper than holding a separate April election. The deficits: “board members are concerned about the encroachment of party politics in a nonpartisan arena of education.”

The Record also chimes in, listing many of the same benefits as Pinney but painting NJEA as the loser if the bill passes through the Legislature:
Critics, including the New Jersey Education Association and state School Boards Association, worry that it will turn school board elections into partisan affairs. Officially, elected school boards are not affiliated with any political party. School board elections are supposed to focus on educational issues, not party dominance, these critics argue.

Maybe so. But currently, the teachers union appears to have more financial involvement than political parties do in school board elections, according to a report by the state Election Law Enforcement Commission. Statewide, about 9 percent of school board campaign contributions were from political parties, compared to 40 percent from donors with ties to the NJEA, the commission found in 2002.
You know where we stand.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Bankruptcy could be good for America

Gideon Rachman:

In Winnie-the-Pooh, there is a significant moment when the bear is asked whether he wants honey or condensed milk with his bread. He replies "both". You can get away with this sort of thing if you are a much loved character in children's literature. But it is more problematic when great nations start behaving in a childish fashion. When Americans are asked what they want - lower taxes, more lavish social spending or the world's best-funded military machine - their collective answer tends to be "all of the above".

The result is that the US is piling up debt. A budget deficit of about 12 per cent of gross domestic product is understandable as a short-term reaction to a huge financial crisis. What should worry Americans is that, with entitlement spending set to surge, there is no credible plan to bring the budget deficit under control over the medium term.

The US has formidable strengths that will allow its government to be profligate for far longer than other nations could get away with. But if the US keeps running huge deficits, sooner or later the country will start flirting with bankruptcy. Oddly, it might be best if the crisis came sooner rather than later. For a surprising number of countries, running out of money has been the prelude to national renewal.

The two biggest and most beneficial geopolitical stories of the past 30 years - the spread of democracy and of globalisation - were driven by a succession of states finding their coffers empty.

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For An Out-of-the-Box View on RTTT

NJ Left Behind:

Read Educflack's Patrick Riccards, who has a new post up on why New Jersey should either 1) hold off on applying to Race To the Top til June, or 2)simply not apply at all. Riccards, a native New Jerseyan, explains the benefits of either proposition:

1) While Davy's proposal is "a good plan," Christie's transition team was uninvolved in the details and, in fact, Christie won't even be able to sign it since the application is due the day he gets sworn in as Governor. The state would be better off waiting until Christie's new team can reshape it to conform with his vision of education reform.
2) Fuggedaboudit. N.J.'s too screwed up to take on another big initiative. Deciding not to compete in RTTT would be a bolder move: "he [Christie] could decree that his education improvement agenda is focused exclusively on the expansion and support of charter schools, and since charters are but a minor part of Race's intentions, he's going to go all-in on charters in his own way, and he'll find the state and private-sector support to make it happen without the federal oversight."

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Advantages and Drawbacks of Attending a (Mostly) Women's College (Part the Last)

Susan O'Doherty:

Over the past several weeks, I have discussed the impact of attending a traditionally female college in the early 1970s. I wasn't there that long -- like most students of the time, I got on the train at 18 and disembarked at 22 with a diploma. But those four years were formative, shaping the rest of my personal and professional life in some important ways:

--Valuing female friendships: Most women I know value their friendships with other women, of course. But I was raised in a time and culture that put men first. We were encouraged to break a date with a girl friend, for example, if a boy asked us out. My exposure to the brilliance, fierce loyalty, seriousness and silliness of my classmates put an end to that nonsense. My best friend from college remains one of my two best friends today. She is the person I call when I need to talk through a problem, cry without explaining myself, or share good (or bad) news. There is nothing I wouldn't do for her.

--Valuing women in the workplace: I have friends, both male and female, who complain about "women bosses": that they are petty, self-contradictory micromanagers, mostly. For a while I thought I had just been extraordinarily lucky to have a string of extremely competent, visionary, and decisive (not to mention empathetic and fun) female employers. Then I realized that we were sometimes talking about the same people. Women of my generation were trained not to raise our voices; to deliver definite pronouncements as though they were tentative questions; and to mask and deny irritation until it builds up into an explosion. This behavior is so ingrained in many of us that we don't realize we're sending out seemingly mixed signals. Working on tech crews, student committees, etc., at college, I got used to decoding "Maybe we should go with the yellow scrim; what do you think?" as "Please get started on the yellow scrim now," and this assumption that my female bosses a) knew what they wanted and b) were communicating this, if I listened hard enough, saved me many misunderstandings as a young flunky. I also, unlike many of my peers, took women's competence as a given, and thus avoided the irritating questioning and second-guessing that tends to lead to the aforementioned explosions.

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NEA Gave Almost $26 Million to Advocacy Groups

Mike Antonucci:

An Education Intelligence Agency analysis of NEA's financial disclosure report for the 2008-09 fiscal year reveals the national union contributed almost $26 million to a wide variety of advocacy groups and charities. The total more than doubles the amount disbursed in the previous year.

The expenditures fall into broad categories of community outreach grants, charitable contributions, and payments for services rendered. In this list, EIA has deliberately omitted spending such as media buys, or payments to pollsters or consultants that have no obvious ideological component. The grants range from $3.6 million to Protect Colorado's Future, a coalition created to defeat three ballot initiatives in 2008, down to smaller grants to organizations such as the Children's Defense Fund, FairTest, MediaMatters, and People for the American Way.

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L.A. school board will weigh new policy to both help and rein in charters

Howard Blume:

The Los Angeles Board of Education Tuesday will consider new policies aimed at both assisting charters and holding them more accountable for their performance. The regulations, about a year in the making, include key provisions on conflicts of interest and services for disabled students that are opposed by the association that represents charter schools.

There are now more charter schools -- enrolling more students -- in Los Angeles than in any other city in the country. Their effect and performance were the subject of a Los Angeles Times special report on Sunday.

The number of charter schools is expected to increase sharply, partly as a result of a school board strategy that lets charter operators bid to take control of struggling traditional campuses as well as 50 new ones scheduled to open. Charter operators as well as groups of teachers are to submit final bids today for the first group of 30 campuses.

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The war at home: the spread of violent gangs

Thomas Ricks:

Here is a report from my CNAS colleague Jennifer Bernal-Garcia, who is working with Bob Killebrew on the merger of drug gangs and terrorism, about a meeting they held recently with law enforcement experts on gang violence:
By Jennifer Bernal

Best Defense Drugs & Crime Correspondent

Cops are the first line of defense against gangs, and they have a pretty good understanding of the issue. Talking with them yields a pretty grim assessment: There is a huge gang problem in the United States. Our cops in attendance estimated that the U.S. might have up to 1 million gang members, although the problem is often underreported both because it is difficult to detect and because of local politicians' incentives to downplay crime figures in their areas. The gang problem is inherently tied in to broader regional criminal trends. The extensiveness of drug trafficking south of the border and the degree to which cartels violently contest state authority is well acknowledged. There is nonetheless a common misperception that drug networks disintegrate when you cross the border into the U.S. They don't. Gangs -- mostly youth gangs -- step in to domestically distribute the drugs that cartels traffic in.

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U. Tube: Student Teachers Learn From Video Training

Brenda Iasevoli:

The teacher sits in a large wooden rocking chair. One by one, she invites her third-graders to get up from their desks and take a place in front of her on the rug. "Thank you, Kiara," she says, complimenting a scrawny child with long black hair for sitting criss-cross-style. As the other students take their places on the rug, the teacher sits on the edge of her chair. Her eyes move from left to right, watchful for misbehavior.

"Look at that teacher scan," says Jim Lengel with an excited laugh. "It's like radar."

The students freeze as Lengel, a visiting professor at Hunter College School of Education, pauses the video he's been watching them on. Ten of the third-graders are looking directly at the teacher, while two look off toward the camera.

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Paradigm Shift in Indian Education

Sify News:

Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal Monday announced that there would be a vast change in education policy making of the government in 2010.

'You will see a paradigm shift in education policies. It will be an epochal year,' he said.

Describing the year 2010 as very important for his ministry, Sibal said that researchers and faculty would be given a stake in the system to boost higher education and research which are vital for a nation's development.

Releasing the book 'Engineering Education in India' authored by Prof. Rangan Banerjee and Vinayak P. Muley of IIT-Bombay at Observer Research Foundation, a public policy think tank headquartered in Delhi, the minister noted that while India and China were almost at the same level nearly 15 years back, China has now surged much ahead of India.

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As School Exit Tests Prove Tough, States Ease Standards

Ian Urbina:

A law adopting statewide high school exams for graduation took effect in Pennsylvania on Saturday, with the goal of ensuring that students leaving high school are prepared for college and the workplace. But critics say the requirement has been so watered down that it is unlikely to have major impact.

The situation in Pennsylvania mirrors what has happened in many of the 26 states that have adopted high school exit exams. As deadlines approached for schools to start making passage of the exams a requirement for graduation, and practice tests indicated that large numbers of students would fail, many states softened standards, delayed the requirement or added alternative paths to a diploma.

People who have studied the exams, which affect two-thirds of the nation's public school students, say they often fall short of officials' ambitious goals.

"The real pattern in states has been that the standards are lowered so much that the exams end up not benefiting students who pass them while still hurting the students who fail them," said John Robert Warren, an expert on exit exams and a professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

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County gives Los Angeles International Charter High School a second chance

Mitchell Landsberg:

The first thing a visitor notices about Los Angeles International Charter High School is its campus, a leafy, hilltop aerie that looks like the private school it once was.

Then there are the students, preppy in white shirts and ties, their black sweater vests emblazoned with the school seal.

Appearances aren't necessarily deceiving: L.A. International does have an exceptional campus, perched on a bluff in the tiny community of Hermon, overlooking Highland Park. It formerly was the campus of the now-defunct Pacific Christian High School. And the students, most of them, aspire to succeed in school and go to college.

But that doesn't tell the whole story.

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January 12, 2010

Vicki McKenna and Don Severson Discuss Madison's 4K Plans

Click to listen or download this 27MB mp3 audio file. Much more on the Madison School District's 4K plans here.

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Pre-K Can Work: Needy kids could benefit, but only if we use proven pedagogy and hold programs accountable.

Shephard Barbash:

The one approach that Follow Through found had worked, Direct Instruction, was created by Siegfried Engelmann, who has written more than 100 curricula for reading, spelling, math, science, and other subjects. Engelmann dates DI's inception to an experiment he performed at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana in the summer of 1964. He took two groups of three- to five-year-olds--one white and affluent, one black and poor--and tried to teach them "sophisticated patterns of reasoning. . . . things that Piaget said couldn't be taught before the age of formal operations--around 11 or 12." These things included concepts like relative direction (A is north of B but south of C) and the behavior of light entering and leaving a mirror. Both groups learned what Piaget said they couldn't at their age. But to Engelmann's consternation, the affluent kids learned faster. He traced the difference to a severe language deficit in the African-American group (the deficit that Hart and Risley later quantified) and resolved to figure out how to overcome it.

Engelmann and two colleagues, Carl Bereiter and Jean Osborn, went on to open a half-day preschool for poor children in Champaign-Urbana that dramatically accelerated learning even in the most verbally deprived four-year-olds. Children who entered the preschool not knowing the meaning of "under," "over," or "Stand up!" went into kindergarten reading and doing math at a second-grade level. Engelmann found (and others later confirmed) that the mean IQ for the group jumped from 96 to 121. In effect, the Bereiter-Engelmann preschool proved that efforts to close the achievement gap could begin years earlier than most educators had thought possible. The effects lasted, at a minimum, until second grade--and likely longer, though studies on the longer-term effects weren't performed.

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Public Comments on a Sales Tax Increase For Schools and TAG Problems at the 1/11/2010 Madison School Board Meeting

19MB mp3 audio file. TJ Mertz spoke in favor of a .01 increase in the state sales tax, dedicated to schools. There were also a number of pointed parent comments on the District's Talented and Gifted program.

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4K Inches Forward in Madison, Seeks Funding

Listen to the Madison School Board Discussion via this 32MB mp3 audio file (and via a kind reader's email).

Financing this initiative remains unsettled.

I recommend getting out of the curriculum creation business via the elimination of Teaching & Learning and using those proceeds to begin 4K - assuming the community and Board are convinced that it will be effective and can be managed successfully by the Administration.

I would also like to see the Administration's much discussed "program/curricular review" implemented prior to adding 4K.

Finally, I think it is likely that redistributed state tax programs to K-12 will decrease, given the State's spending growth and deficit problems. The financial crunch is an opportunity to rethink spending and determine where the dollars are best used for our children. I recommend a reduction in money spent for "adults to talk with other adults".

Board member Beth Moss proposed that 4K begin in 2010. This motion was supported by Marj Passman and Ed Hughes (Ed's spouse, Ann Brickson is on the Board of the Goodman Center, a possible 4K partner). Maya Cole, Lucy Mathiak and Arlene Silveira voted no on a 2010 start. The Board then voted 5-1 (with Ed Hughes voting no) for a 2011 launch pending further discussions on paying for it. Retiring Board member Johnny Winston, Jr. was absent.

I appreciate the thoughtful discussion on this topic, particularly the concern over how it will be financed. Our Federal Government, and perhaps, the State, would simply plow ahead and let our grandchildren continue to pay the growing bill.


  • Gayle Worland:
    "I'm going to say it's the hardest decision I've made on the board," said board member Marj Passman, who along with board members Beth Moss and Ed Hughes voted to implement four-year-old kindergarten in 2010. "To me this is extremely difficult. We have to have 4K. I want it. The question is when."

    But board president Arlene Silveira argued the district's finances were too unclear to implement four-year-old kindergarten -- estimated to serve 1,573 students with a free, half-day educational program -- this fall.

    "I'm very supportive of four-year-old kindergarten," she said. "It's the financing that gives me the most unrest."

    Silveira voted against implementation in the fall, as did Lucy Mathiak and Maya Cole. Board member Johnny Winston, Jr. was absent.

    On a second vote the board voted 5-1 to approve 4K for 2011-12. Hughes voted against starting the program in 2011-12, saying it should begin as soon as possible.

  • Channel3000:
    The plan will begin in September 2011. Initially, the board considered a measure to start in 2010, but a vote on that plan was deadlocked 3-3. A second motion to postpone the beginning until the 2011-2012 school year passed by a 5-1 vote.

    The board didn't outline any of the financing as yet. District spokesman Ken Syke said that they're working on 2010 budget first before planning for the 2011 one.

    The board's decision could have a large impact on the district and taxpayers as the new program would bring in federal funds.

  • WKOW-TV:
    This is the first real commitment from MMSD to establish comprehensive early childhood education.

    What they don't have yet is a plan to pay for it.

    It would've cost about $12.2 million to start 4k this fall, according to Eric Kass, assistant superintendent for business services.

    About $4.5 million would come from existing educational service funds, $4.2 million from a loan, and about $3.5 million would be generated thru a property tax increase.

    Some board members said they were uncomfortable approving a funding plan for 4k, because there are still a lot of unanswered questions about the district's budget as a whole.

  • NBC15:
    Members first deadlocked in a three-to-three tie on whether to start 4-K this fall, then voted five-to-one to implement it the following year.

    The cost this year would have been more than $12 million. The decision to delay implementation is due to serious budget problems facing the Madison District.

    Nearly 1600 4-year-old students are expected to participate in the half-day kindergarten program.

  • Don Severson:
    The Board of Education is urged to vote NO on the proposal to implement 4-year old Kindergarten in the foreseeable future. In behalf of the public, we cite the following support for taking this action of reject the proposal:

    The Board and Administration Has failed to conduct complete due diligence with respect to recognizing the community delivery of programs and services. There are existing bona fide entities, and potential future entities, with capacities to conduct these programs

    Is not recognizing that the Constitution and Statutes of the State of Wisconsin authorizes the provision of public education for grades K-12, not including pre-K or 4-year old kindergarten

    Has not demonstrated the district capacity, or the responsibility, to manage effectively the funding support that it has been getting for existing K-12 programs and services. The district does not meet existing K-12 needs and it cannot get different results by continuing to do business as usual, with the 'same service' budget year-after-year-after-year

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Behind the Classroom Door: A rare glimpse indicates the extent--and persistence--of variation in teacher practice

Robert Rothman:

In recent years, a raft of research has called attention to the importance of effective teaching in influencing student achievement. Yet federal and state accountability policies continue to focus primarily at the school level: using schools as the unit of performance, identifying "failing schools," and more recently targeting "turnaround schools" for special intervention. One of the best-kept secrets in educational research, it seems, is the fact that differences in the quality of instruction from classroom to classroom within schools are greater than differences in instructional quality between schools. This finding has been documented in a variety of studies, most of which used indirect measures to evaluate instruction (such as relying on teachers' perceptions or looking at curriculum materials to determine how much time they spent on particular topics). Despite the limitations of these measures, these studies have suggested that there is considerable variation in practice even among teachers in the same building.

Over the past five years, however, researchers led by Brian Rowan, the Burke A. Hinsdale Collegiate Professor in Education at the University of Michigan, have asked teachers in 112 schools to keep detailed logs of their actual practice. The newly released results of the Study of Instructional Improvement (SII) document dramatic differences in the kinds of skills and content taught from classroom to classroom. For instance, the study showed that a fifth-grade teacher might teach reading comprehension anywhere from 52 days a year to as many as 140 days a year. Similarly, first-grade teachers spent as little as 15 percent to as much as 80 percent of their time on word analysis. Thus, the study found, students in some classrooms may spend the majority of their classroom time on relatively low-level content and skills, while their peers in the class next door are spending much more time on higher-level content.

Jay Matthews has more.

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Building on Massachusetts Charter Schools' Success

Andrew Rotherham:

Massachusetts enjoys a history as an educational leader dating to the early days of our country. The 1993 Education Reform Act positioned Massachusetts at the forefront of school reform and produced gains in student learning that are the envy of every other state. Now, the Obama administration's Race to the Top program gives Massachusetts another chance to lead, this time by fully integrating public charter schools into the fabric of the commonwealth's education system.

Charter schools are public schools open to all students. They're accountable for their performance and overseen by the state, which has closed down lower performing charters even when these schools outperformed nearby traditional public schools. But unlike traditional public schools, charters have autonomy and flexibility. For example, they can reward their best teachers and fire low performers. This autonomy--not the red herring of funding--is why charter schools are so contentious.

Across the country the experience with charter schools is mixed. Charter schooling is producing amazing schools, many among the best in America. At the same time, the openness of the charter sector is also creating some quality problems. Charter quality varies state by state and owes a great deal to different state polices.

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The Diary: Barbara Ehrenreich

Barbara Ehrenreich:

In the course of their work my brilliant children - a human rights lawyer and a freelance journalist - travel to places such as Phnom Penh and Dubai. In the course of mine Macomb, Illinois, is a more typical destination, involving five hours of flying, including a layover in Detroit and then two hours of driving through snow-covered fields barely interrupted by a couple of semi-boarded-up "towns", including the intriguingly named Preemption (population 71).

After all this industrial-agricultural wasteland, Macomb is a veritable hive of human, cultural and commercial activity. There is a branch of the state university system, where I have been invited to speak, and until a few months ago, my hosts inform me, there were a total of two Italian restaurants in town, one famed for its Spam-and-Doritos-topped pizza. I'm staying at the Hampton Inn, a minimalist motel chain located opposite a Farm King, an agricultural supply store. I can't help asking whether this is where the university puts up a genuine celebrity speaker, such as Bill Cosby. "Oh no," I am told, "he flew in in his private plane and out the same night."

Ann, a congenial administrator at Western Illinois University, fills me in on the student body. They are mostly white, first-generation college students and, while about a third of them are studying law enforcement with a view to a career in police work, this does not stop them from illegal under-age drinking or, for that matter, smoking pot. We muse on the problem of binge drinking, endemic to American campuses: why go straight from sobriety to vomiting? Haven't they ever sampled the pleasures of tipsiness? Then Ann tells me one of the saddest things I've heard on the perennial subject of Young People Today: they don't know how to be "silly", she says, in the sense of whimsy and absurdity. They are strait-laced and even a little timid, unless, of course, they are utterly wasted.

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'Parent trigger' shifts balance of power in debate over education reform

San Jose Mercury News:

Much has been written about how two education reform bills signed into law last week might affect California's chances of qualifying for federal Race to the Top funds.

As important as that funding is, the new laws' significance goes much deeper. It signals that the balance of power in education is shifting away from teachers unions and toward parents, where it belongs.

The "parent trigger," a controversial element of the legislation, is the best evidence of this turning point.

The concept was developed by the grass-roots group Parent Revolution in the Los Angeles Unified School District. If a majority of parents in a failing school petitions for an overhaul, the district must do something -- replace administrators, convert to a charter school or make other major reforms.

By law, tenured California teachers can convert their school to a charter if a majority of them vote for it, and that has happened dozens of times. But teachers unions and other groups opposed giving parents the same right. One group called it the "lynch mob" provision -- an odd choice of words, given that it would empower parents primarily in minority communities where failing schools abound.

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The Americanization of "mental illness"

Andrea James:

During my guestblogging stint, I have mentioned a couple of American expats who exported their problematic conceptions of "mental illness" all over the world from their base in Toronto. Ken Zucker and Ray Blanchard are egregious examples of this problem, but they are just the tip of the iceberg. It's one of the most important political issues of the 21st century, but it is one of the most difficult for both practitioners and the general public to step back and see in its historical and geopolitical context. It involves challenging some of the most deeply held beliefs about how the world works.

Today, the New York Times has an excellent introduction to the concept, by Ethan Watters, author of Therapy's Delusions. It's a good overview of his upcoming book. Quoth Ethan:

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Revolution in U.S. education is in California

Alain Bonsteel:

The greatest revolution in education in the United States today is taking place in Los Angeles. It is the mandate of the Los Angeles Unified School District School Board to convert almost a third of its schools either to charter schools, the public schools of choice that are the one shining light in an otherwise dysfunctional system, or other alternatives such as magnet schools. The change is not only a mighty one for the state's largest school district, but in time it could double the number of public schools of choice in California.

What is remarkable is not just the magnitude of this earth-shaking change, but the complete shift of the paradigm about how we think about public education. The driving force behind this revolution is Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is not only a Democrat but also a former organizer for the United Teachers of Los Angeles, Los Angeles teachers' union. Villaraigosa took his nontraditional stand because, as he noted, LAUSD was racked with violence and plagued with a dropout rate of 50 percent, and showed no signs of improving.

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School contracts and Race to the Top

Jo Egelhoff:

A couple of things – first, the Neenah Schools contract settlement – I read the Post-Crescent account Friday and interpreted the recent deal as a total 4.4% over two years. No.

I talked with Neenah School District HR folks and the increase is an average 4.4% per year. Wow. Where are they going to get that kind of money? (December 29: Teacher cuts, not pay freezes recommended) And as much to the point, how will other districts in the area afford that?

As many of you know, if a school district (or municipality) can’t come to terms with their union(s), they can choose to go to arbitration – where neutral arbitrators decide which party’s last offer is best. That “best” includes which offer may be closest to other settlements in the area. And thanks to your legislators and mine, the state budget passed last June (yup, policy in the budget – imagine) says arbitrators are no longer required (point 3) to take local economic conditions or a district’s ability to pay into consideration.

Do you see a referendum and higher property taxes coming?

Race to the Top Dollars
Several Wisconsin school districts are considering not applying for Race to the Top (RTTT) dollars.

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Meet Old School New Teacher's Union Boss Michael Mulgrew

Thomas Carroll:

With the governor urging action, the New York Legislature is considering lifting the cap on the number of charter schools in the state.

This has presented Michael Mulgrew, the new president of New York City's teachers union, with a choice: stand with the reformers, straddle the line or go to the mattresses against change.

He has chosen what's behind door No. 3.

In fact, despite the emergence of a powerful new national reform consensus led by President Obama, Mulgrew is consistently proving himself to be a bare-knuckled trench-fighter - a throwback to the muscle-flexing union leaders of the distant past.

Witness the evolution. In 1998, the UFT was one of the chief opponents of the original charter-school law. But in subsequent years, Mulgrew's predecessor, Randi Weingarten, repositioned it as a progressive union that did not fear charters and, in fact, embraced them. Weingarten's boldest move in this regard was her decision to open two UFT charter schools.

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Charter tackles middle school challenges with young faculties and a no-nonsense attitude

Howard Blume:

At Lakeview Charter Academy, inexperienced teachers have strong support and high expectations.

Eleazar and Nora Gonzalez decided to send their son Daniel to Lakeview Charter Academy because, they said, large public middle schools have a reputation for gangs and drugs. They also worried about academics.

So they warmed to the no-nonsense welcomings issued at the first monthly parents night.

"It will be a miracle the day I don't give homework because home is to review," Alexandra Aceves, 25, announced, in English and Spanish, to the Gonzalez family and others crowded into a second-floor classroom.

The scene exemplified the characteristics of the 10 schools operated by Partnerships to Uplift Communities, a locally based charter management organization that, like others in Los Angeles, has focused on serving low-income minority communities. It has taken on, in particular, the thorny challenge of middle schools, especially in the Latino neighborhoods of the San Fernando Valley and downtown.

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January 11, 2010

Johnny Winston Jr. to stay involved after school board tenure ends

Gayle Worland:

After two terms on the Madison School Board, Johnny Winston Jr. is moving on -- but you'll still see him involved in groups such as 100 Black Men of Madison and his annual Streetball and Block Party at Penn Park. Another goal for the father of three (No. 4 is due in May): Helping out in the classroom of daughter Jasmine, 6.

Why did you decide not to run?

I've been there six years. As a School Board member, I feel I've done what I can. I feel I still have a lot to contribute to this community, but at this time what I'd like to do is take a step back, focus on my professional career as an employee of the city of Madison Fire Department, and then look at any other political opportunities that might come up in the future.

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Benefit Book for Bibi Jann School in Dar Es Salaam

via a Susan Hobart email:


Susan J Hobart
Teacher, Grades 4/5
Lake View Elementary School
1802 Tennyson Lane
Madison, Wisconsin 53704 USA

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ACE Urges MMSD Board NO Vote on 4k and RttT

DATE: January 11, 2010
TO: MMSD Board of Education
FROM: Active Citizens for Education
RE: 4-year old Kindergarten
Race to the Top

I am Don Severson representing Active Citizens for Education.

The Board of Education is urged to vote NO on the proposal to implement 4-year old Kindergarten in the foreseeable future. In behalf of the public, we cite the following support for taking this action of reject the proposal:

  • The Board and Administration Has failed to conduct complete due diligence with respect to recognizing the community delivery of programs and services. There are existing bona fide entities, and potential future entities, with capacities to conduct these programs
  • Is not recognizing that the Constitution and Statutes of the State of Wisconsin authorizes the provision of public education for grades K-12, not including pre-K or 4-year old kindergarten
  • Has not demonstrated the district capacity, or the responsibility, to manage effectively the funding support that it has been getting for existing K-12 programs and services. The district does not meet existing K-12 needs and it cannot get different results by continuing to do business as usual, with the 'same service' budget year-after-year-after-year
  • Will abrogate your fiduciary responsibility by violating the public trust and promises made to refrain from starting new programs in exchange for support of the "community partnership" urged for passing the recent referendum to raise the revenue caps
To reiterate, vote NO for District implementation of 4-K.

The Board of Education is urged to vote NO to signing the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the State of Wisconsin as part of an application for funding through the U.S. Department of Education ACT "Race to the Top" (RttT).

In behalf of the public we cite the following support for taking this action to reject the signing the RttT MOU: The Board and Administration

  • Does not have complete information as to the requirements, criteria, expectations and definitions of terms of the MOU or its material Exhibits; therefore, there has been serious inhibitors in time, effort and due diligence to examine, understand and discuss the significant implications and consequences of pursuing such funding
  • Does not have an understanding through the conduct of interactive discussions regarding the roles and relationships of the Board of Education, the Administration and the union regarding the requirements of the MOU as well as any subsequent implications for planning, implementation, evaluation and results for receiving the funding
  • Must understand that the Board of Education, and the Board alone by a majority vote, is the only authority which can bind the District in any action regarding the MOU and subsequent work plan. District participation cannot be authorized by the Board if such participation is contingent on actual or implied approval, now or in the future, of any other parties (i.e., District Administration and/or union)
  • Does not have an understanding of its personnel capacity or collective will to establish needs, priorities and accountabilities for undertaking such an enormous and complicated "sea change" in the ways in which the district conducts its business in the delivery of programs and services as appears to be expected for the use any RttT funding authorized for the District
  • Must also understand and be prepared for the penalties and reimbursements due to the state and federal governments for failure to comply with the provisions attached to any authorized funding, including expected results
To reiterate, vote NO for District approval for the MOU and application for funding through the RttT.

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Articles and Books on Mathematics Education

The winter 2009-2010 issue of "American Educator", has a number of interesting articles. Here are two of interest for people interested in mathematics education.

Daniel Willingham "Is It True That Some People Just Can't Do Math"

Patsy Wang-Iverson, Perla Myers, and Edmund Lim W.K. "Beyond Singapore's Mathematics Textbooks - Focused and Flexible Supports for Teaching and

The first has a number of useful references as well as comments. Here is one. There have been many papers written in Madison on student's lack of understanding of the equal sign. I once asked Liping Ma if this was a problem in China. She said that as far as she knew it was not. There is confirmation of this in one of the references.

Four questions asked of sixth grade students in the U.S. and China.

The paper which includes this is "Sources of Differences in Children's Understanding of Mathematical Equality: Comparative Analysis of Teacher Guides and Student Texts in China and the United States", by Xiaobao Li, Meixia Ding, Mary Margaret Capraro, Robert M. Capraro. It appeared in Cognition and Instruction, vol. 26, no. 2, pages 195-217, in 2008.

The second article in American Educator has comments on curriculum, teacher induction and education and support while teaching. There is also a one page supplemental article on teacher professional development and evaluation by Susan Sclafani and Edmund Lim W.K.

In addition there have been two very interesting books on school mathematics education written by mathematicians. The first is "Arithmetic for Parents: A Book for Grownups about Children's Mathematics" by Ron Aharoni, Sumizdat, 2007. An article by Aharoni about his experience teaching mathematics in an elementary school in Israel can be read here. This is a good introduction to his book, and more useful details are in the

The second is "And All the Children Are Above Average: A Review of The End of Ignorance: Multiplying Our Human Potential" by John Mighton, a Canadian mathematician and playwright. The paperback version of this book was published by Vintage Canada. You can read about Mighton here. and there is also information about his math program JUMP here. This program was developed after Mighton learned a number of things while tutoring students who had significant problems in learning elementary mathematics. A review of this book by David Kirshner appeared in the Journal for Research in Mathematics Education in the January, 2010 issue.

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Charters generally perform better than traditional schools, not as well as magnets

Howard Blume Mitchell Landsberg and Sandra Poindexter:

Standardized tests show that the highest-performing charters push low-income black and Latino youth to higher levels of achievement.

At their best, charter schools in Los Angeles shatter the conventional wisdom that skin color and family income are the greatest predictors of academic success.

Setting standards high and wringing long hours out of students and teachers, the highest-performing charters push low-income black and Latino youth to levels of achievement, as measured by standardized tests, more typical of affluent, suburban students.

If such schools were the norm, any debate over the value of charters would be moot. But there is no typical charter. They adhere to no single vision and vary widely in quality.

That said, a Times analysis showed that, overall, L.A. charter schools deliver higher test scores than traditional public schools. But charters lag well behind L.A. Unified's network of magnet schools.

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Ohio Charter schools buck enrollment trend

Catherine Candisky & Cindy Kranz:

Although charter schools come under withering criticism from some quarters, Ohio parents apparently aren't listening.

A new state Department of Education report shows that charter-school enrollment is up 8 percent this year, while the number attending traditional Ohio schools has fallen.

Currently, 89,000 students attend 332 charter schools statewide. At the same time, enrollment in traditional public schools has dropped slightly to 1.75 million students.

In Greater Cincinnati, 32 charter schools enroll more than 9,000 students. Enrollment increases mirror the state trend.

T.C.P. World Academy's enrollment increased from 389 last year to 410 students this year.

"We always have a waiting list," said Superintendent/Principal Karen French, who attributed the enrollment increase to performance results and word of mouth.

The Cincinnati College Preparatory Academy
enrollment numbers are at about 700 students now, compared with nearly 650 last year.

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What Makes a Great Teacher?

Amanda Ripley:

ON AUGUST 25, 2008, two little boys walked into public elementary schools in Southeast Washington, D.C. Both boys were African American fifth-graders. The previous spring, both had tested below grade level in math.

One walked into Kimball Elementary School and climbed the stairs to Mr. William Taylor's math classroom, a tidy, powder-blue space in which neither the clocks nor most of the electrical outlets worked.

The other walked into a very similar classroom a mile away at Plummer Elementary School. In both schools, more than 80 percent of the children received free or reduced-price lunches. At night, all the children went home to the same urban ecosystem, a ZIP code in which almost a quarter of the families lived below the poverty line and a police district in which somebody was murdered every week or so.

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Big goals drive a little district in heart of Milwaukee

Alan Borsuk:

Semaj Arrington hadn't missed a day of school in almost four years at Tenor High School, a small charter school downtown. It was a pretty remarkable record, given his background, which was, um, not out of a textbook for school success.

Then one morning last spring, he didn't show up at school. The principal, Jodi Weber, called his house. Arrington said he'd hurt his ankle and couldn't walk. He couldn't catch the bus to school.

Excused absence, right? Wrong. Mark Schneider, the dean of students, drove across town to Arrington's house, helped him to the car, and brought him to school.

"They have ways of making you be more professional, just have your head on right," says Arrington, 19, now working on becoming an electrician at Milwaukee Area Technical College.

In 2005, I wrote a story about what I called the Marcia Spector school district, a set of small elementary schools and high schools under the umbrella of Seeds of Health, a nonprofit organization headed by the smart, entrepreneurial and forceful Spector.

There were about 900 students in the schools, all of them funded with public dollars but operating outside the traditional public school system. Each of the schools had high energy, a distinctive and well-executed program, and a record that made them valuable parts of the local school scene.

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Multicultural Critical Theory. At B-School?

Lane Wallace:

A DECADE ago, Roger Martin, the new dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, had an epiphany. The leadership at his son's elementary school had asked him to meet with its retiring principal to figure out how it could replicate her success.

He discovered that the principal thrived by thinking through clashing priorities and potential options, rather than hewing to any pre-planned strategy -- the same approach taken by the managing partner of a successful international law firm in town.

"The 'Eureka' moment was when I could draw a data point between a hotshot, investment bank-oriented star lawyer and an elementary school principal," Mr. Martin recalls. "I thought: 'Holy smokes. In completely different situations, these people are thinking in very similar ways, and there may be something special about this pattern of thinking.' "

That insight led Mr. Martin to begin advocating what was then a radical idea in business education: that students needed to learn how to think critically and creatively every bit as much as they needed to learn finance or accounting. More specifically, they needed to learn how to approach problems from many perspectives and to combine various approaches to find innovative solutions.

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Getting a Job in College: Second Thoughts

Stephen Krieder Yoder, Isaac Yoder and Levi Yoder:

Isaac: My first semester at college was as fun and stimulating as I had hoped. Several classes already have changed my way of thinking, and I have a group of new friends.

But not everything went according to plan: I went back on one decision I made before going into college -- the decision to not work a job during the college year.

Dad and I had agreed before college that if taking my studies seriously was my most important goal, spending time and energy working a job could detract from that goal. My part-time job at a tea shop in high school created many sleep-deprived days at school and made it more difficult to complete all my assignments well. Though I ended up succeeding despite the extra work, I thought that this added stress would be more problematic in college, when I would have more, and harder, schoolwork.

But after only my first semester, I've already begun to work a job in student government, in addition to my other extracurriculars.

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Make Milwaukee Public Schools discussion about children, not politics

Eugene Kane:

My plan to attend the first public hearing on the controversial mayoral takeover plan for Milwaukee Public Schools was both simple and practical.

Get there late after all the speech-making and political posturing was over.

The hearing at MPS' central office at 5225 W. Vliet was scheduled to start at 10 a.m. Tuesday. As a veteran of countless public hearings during my career, I knew even if the room was packed with citizens, there would likely be a series of preliminary statements by various politicians and bureaucrats before members of the public got the chance at the microphone.

I figured arriving about an hour after the scheduled start would work just fine.

As it turned out, this was the kind of public hearing where most of the public had to wait for all of the elected officials in the room to have their say first.

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The Changing Nature of Employment in the Great Recession

Jay Fenello:

I recently saw the Great Depression film "The Grapes of Wrath," and while I had seen it before, this time I was reminded of what's going on in employment today. The movie starts off with Henry Fonda returning to his family farm after having been away for a few years, only to find his home abandoned. He soon learns that his family, as well as all of his Oklahoma neighbors, have been evicted and are leaving for the promise of jobs in California.

We then learn that the families in Oklahoma have been hit with a perfect storm. Drought, low farm prices, and the displacement caused by farm automation had resulted in bankruptcy and foreclosure for millions of farmers. It was reported that one man with a tractor could replace 10-15 family farms, and over 100 farm workers.

Similarities to the Great Recession
Consider the tractor for a moment. The gasoline powered tractor first appeared way back in 1892. However, it didn't really catch on until the tractor was mass produced in the 1910's. Then, as tractor prices came down, its use on the farm started to take off. The result was an increase in farm productivity, falling prices for farm products, and a loss of jobs for millions of farmers. This displacement peaked 20 years later, during the Great Depression.

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Charters 'better' at readin' & 'rithmetic

Yoav Gonen:

he city's charter schools are providing a bigger boost to students' reading and math performance than are traditional public schools, according to a new study.

The study -- by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University -- is the second in four months showing positive results for the city's charter schools. It comes as proponents of the publicly funded, privately run schools are urgently pushing officials to lift the state's charter school cap above 200.

New York's application for as much as $700 million in federal aid under a competition known as Race to the Top -- which looks favorably on states that support charter school growth -- is due by Jan. 19.

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January 10, 2010

Madison Country Day students aim to open eyes to global hunger issues

Pamela Cotant:

When diners arrive at the Food for Thought hunger awareness banquet Friday at Madison Country Day School, they will be assigned a certain income level that will determine their meal.

Those in the lowest income group will be served rice on a banana leaf and at the other end of the spectrum, diners will be able to choose food from a table loaded with choices.

The idea of the hunger awareness event, which starts at 5 p.m. at the school at 5606 River Road on the edge of Waunakee, is to encourage the local community to help address global hunger.

"It's not supposed to be a depressing event," junior Fabian Fernandez said. "It's supposed to be eye opening."

After a discussion about global hunger issues, which will include talk about how those with enough food could be giving some to those who don't, the diners will be allowed to share their food. "The goal is to have people (assigned different income levels) eating near each other (to) help people see the difference," said freshman Imani Lewis-Norelle.

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Grant great, but Hillsborough district must find $100 million

Sherri Ackerman:

The Hillsborough County school district is getting $100 million in a private grant over the next seven years to overhaul education.

But the money comes with a catch: The district must come up with $100 million from other sources to finish the job.

Where to get the money in a sparse economy remains a question, leaving some district leaders defensive while others shrug.

"We don't have $100 million," acknowledges school board member Dorthea Edgecomb.

One thing is for certain: There is give in a district budget that runs about $3 billion a year, so administrators are confident they can shift money from other programs to initiatives prescribed in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant.

Among the possible sources:

•$16 million over three years to create a computer lab to prepare for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test to move online.

A useful article. Grants should not drive strategy, as we've often seen. Rather, they should be considered in light of an organization's plans. It would also be quite useful to see how effective past initiatives have been.

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Los Angeles charter schools flex their educational muscles

Mitchell Landsberg, Doug Smith & Howard Blume:

Enrollment is up, and overall, standardized test scores outshine those at traditional campuses. Even the L.A. Unified board has eased its resistance.

Over the last decade, a quiet revolution took root in the nation's second-largest school district.

Fueled by money and emboldened by clout from some of the city's most powerful figures, charter schools began a period of explosive growth that has challenged the status quo in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Today, Los Angeles is home to more than 160 charter schools, far more than any other U.S. city. Charter enrollment is up nearly 19% this year from last, while enrollment in traditional L.A. public schools is down. And a once-hostile school board has become increasingly charter-friendly, despite resistance from the teachers union. In September, the board agreed to let charters bid on potentially hundreds of existing campuses and on all 50 of its planned new schools.

Charter schools now are challenging L.A. Unified from without and within. Not only are charter school operators such as Green Dot Public Schools and ICEF Public Schools opening new schools that compete head-to-head with L.A. Unified, but the district's own schools are showing increasing interest in jumping ship by converting to charter status.

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My Lazy American Students & The Blowback

Kara Miller:

IT WAS the kind of student conference I hate.

"I'll do better,'' my student told me, leaning forward in his chair. "I know I've gotten behind this semester, but I'm going to turn things around. Would it be OK if I finished all my uncompleted work by Monday?''

I sat silent for a moment. "Yes. But it's important that you catch up completely this weekend, so that you're not just perpetually behind.''

A few weeks later, I would conduct a nearly identical conversation with two other students. And, again, there would be no tangible result: No make-up papers. No change in effort. No improvement in time management.

By the time students are in college, habits can be tough to change. If you're used to playing video games like "Modern Warfare'' or "Halo'' all night, how do you fit in four hours of homework? Or rest up for class?

Teaching in college, especially one with a large international student population, has given me a stark - and unwelcome - illustration of how Americans' work ethic often pales in comparison with their peers from overseas.

My "C,'' "D,'' and "F'' students this semester are almost exclusively American, while my students from India, China, and Latin America have - despite language barriers - generally written solid papers, excelled on exams, and become valuable class participants.

  • Lauren Garey: Lazy American students? Uninformed professor!
  • Matt Rocheleau:
    Mixed reaction to 'My lazy American students' column
  • Jason Woods & Matt Rocheleau: Babson dean provides rebuttal on 'lazy American students'
  • Kara Miller: Lazy American Students: After the Deluge:
    On Monday, The Boston Globe ran an opinion piece entitled "My Lazy American Students."

    In it, I wrote about how teaching in college has shown me that international students often work harder than their American counterparts. Though this is emphatically not true across the board, the work ethic and success of Asian, European, and South American students - who have to compete with a classroom of native English speakers - can be astounding.

    I also noted in the column that there's too much texting in class, too much dozing off, too much e-mail-checking, too much flirting (I didn't mention flirting in the first piece, but I'll mention it here). Obviously, international students do all these things, but I have noticed them more amongst American students.

    I worked hard on the column and lay in bed Sunday night hoping that - amidst the flurry of Christmas shopping - someone would read it.

    And that's when the avalanche started.

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Education Quote of the Decade

Mike Antonucci:

It takes a special statement to become the EIA Communiqué Quote of the Week, and a singular one to be included as one of the Quotes of the Year. So you can imagine how difficult it was to choose the Quotes of the Decade. I found it impossible to chop it down to 10, so here are the 17 most memorable quotes of the 2000s, in countdown order. I have cited the source but have not embedded the original links, since many of them no longer exist.

17) "The nice thing about reducing class size is that it makes teachers happy in their own right and it's the one thing that we know how to do." - Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, education policy professor at the University of Chicago. (February 22, 2009 New York Times)

16) "With increasing cost of college loans and health care and the fact that the buying power of the teacher dollar is no more than what it was 20 years ago, we're pretty much back to where we were when I started teaching in the 1960s. I had to work in the summer to eat." - Cheryl Umberger of the Tennessee Education Association. (May 23, 2008 Tennessean)

15) "What would we really do differently if we really did listen to our members? First, we would very rarely, if ever again, give a cent to a politician or a political party." - former Ohio Education Association Executive Director Robert Barkley, giving his farewell speech at OEA's Representative Assembly in December 2000.

14) "You deserve a President who understands what I'm about to say." - U.S. Senator John Kerry, during a July 16, 2004 speech at the American Federation of Teachers convention in Washington, DC.

13) "While building efficiencies of scale might fit a sound business model, it is the antithesis of sound educational practice." - Hawaii State Teachers Association Vice President Joan Lewis. (November 1, 2005 Honolulu Advertiser)

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Reproductive contracts and the best interests of children

Ronald Bailey:

The question of what it means to be a parent has never been simple. But three recent cases highlight just how complicated things can get--and how inconsistent the courts have been in weighing genetic parenthood against the deals struck by would-be parents (gay and straight) with their partners.

Case 1: Sean Hollingsworth and Donald Robinson Hollingsworth are legally married in California and are registered as civil union partners in New Jersey. The two husbands arranged for Donald's sister, Angelia Robinson, to serve as a gestational surrogate carrying embryos produced using sperm from Sean Hollingsworth and donor eggs. In October 2006, Ms. Robinson bore twin girls whom she turned over to their two fathers. In March 2007, Ms. Robinson sued for custody alleging that she had been coerced into being a surrogate. A New Jersey court ruled last week that Ms. Robinson, who has no genetic tie to the twins, is their legal mother and can sue for primary custody later this year.

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Debunking the Myths About Charter Public Schools

Cara Stillings Candal:

Charter public schools have existed in Massachusetts since 1995, after enabling legislation was included in the landmark Massachusetts Education Reform Act (MERA) of 1993. Originally conceived as laboratories for educational innovation1 that could offer choice for families and competition for traditional district schools, charters are public schools that may not discriminate as to whom they accept. In fact, aside from their often superior levels of academic achievement2, charter public schools differ from their district counterparts in only one major way: they enjoy some freedoms and autonomies that district schools do not in exchange for being subject to additional accountability requirements.

In Massachusetts, any group or individual can apply to establish and run a charter public school.3 Charters are authorized by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), and if the BESE approves an application for a charter school, the school is established based upon a contract, or charter, which outlines its performance goals and the standards to which it will be held.4 Once established, all charter public schools in Massachusetts are subject to a review by the authorizer, which takes place at least once every five years. If, during that review, it is found that a charter public school is not meeting the terms of its charter or failing to live up to requirements for academic progress set by the state and federal governments, the authorizer may close the school.5 These are the additional accountability requirements to which charter public schools are held.

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Gauging the Dedication of Teacher Corps Grads

Amanda Fairbanks:

Teach for America, a corps of recent college graduates who sign up to teach in some of the nation's most troubled schools, has become a campus phenomenon, drawing huge numbers of applicants willing to commit two years of their lives.

Do Teachers Need Education Degrees?

But a new study has found that their dedication to improving society at large does not necessarily extend beyond their Teach for America service.

In areas like voting, charitable giving and civic engagement, graduates of the program lag behind those who were accepted but declined and those who dropped out before completing their two years, according to Doug McAdam, a sociologist at Stanford University, who conducted the study with a colleague, Cynthia Brandt.

The reasons for the lower rates of civic involvement, Professor McAdam said, include not only exhaustion and burnout, but also disillusionment with Teach for America's approach to the issue of educational inequity, among other factors.

The study, "Assessing the Long-Term Effects of Youth Service: The Puzzling Case of Teach for America," is the first of its kind to explore what happens to participants after they leave the program. It was done at the suggestion of Wendy Kopp, Teach for America's founder and president, who disagrees with the findings. Ms. Kopp had read an earlier study by Professor McAdam that found that participants in Freedom Summer -- the 10 weeks in 1964 when civil rights advocates, many of them college students, went to Mississippi to register black voters -- had become more politically active.

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Quality Counts 2010: The New Surge Toward Common Standards

Christopher B. Swanson, vice president of research and development, Editorial Projects in Education, Amy M. Hightower, Quality Counts project director, EPE Research Center director, Mark W. Bomster, assistant managing editor, Education Week, via a kind reader's email:

Quality Counts 2010 explores the widening national debate over common academic standards. Join the report's authors for an in-depth discussion of what they discovered through their research and reporting, as well as the EPE Research Center's annual updates in four key areas of education policy and performance.

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Trading portfolios for lesson plans

Staphanie Marcus:

On the third floor of Harlem's Frederick Douglass Academy, 21 senior students are discussing the moral implications of organ transplant markets. A student raises her hand and wonders if doctors would be motivated to harvest a criminal's organs before he was actually dead. The unfolding ethical debate isn't typical for a microeconomics course, but in Jane Viau's classroom engaged, inquisitive students are the norm.

Viau, 45, is a former investment banker turned math teacher, who has a knack for explaining bone-dry concepts like price ceilings by turning them into something worthy of the Facebook generation's attention.

For the last eight years Viau has been making math easy for her students to understand, and the proof is in the percentages. Last year her advanced placement statistics class had a 91 percent passing rate, compared with the national rate of 59 percent. But the disparity in numbers is consistent with the school's reputation.

Jane Viau explains advanced microeconomics to senior students at Frederick Douglass Academy. Photo: Stephanie Marcus

The school, located at 148th Street and Seventh Avenue, is a bright spot for the New York City public school system; a predominantly African-American student population, that boasts a 90 percent 4-year graduation rate. Compared with the 60.8 percent citywide graduation rate, Frederick Douglass seems to be doing something different with its emphasis on structure and discipline, mandated uniforms, and intense focus on college preparation.

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First big crisis over for Rhee--when's the next one?

Jay Matthews:

I share my colleague Bill Turque's well-earned skepticism about reports of an agreement on a D.C. teacher's contract, but Washington Teachers' Union chief George Parker's encouraging public statement about the negotiations is one more sign that D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's job is safe-- for now.

There are smart people around town, and in the country (Rhee remains the most interesting story in U.S. education circles), who thought the D.C. Council criticism and teachers union legal action against her would end her tenure when she laid off 266 teachers and staff in October. But I ran into a council member at a holiday gathering last week who agreed with me that she has successfully ridden the crisis out.

So what's next? I can confidently predict she will be in trouble again. She is essentially attempting to charterize a public school system---give individual principals the same powers that charter school leaders have to hire and fire their teachers and create education teams that focus intensely on raising student achievement. No other major urban school system has had a leader with such an agenda before. She threatens many strongly held views about how schools should be run, and she isn't that diplomatic in going about it.

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January 9, 2010

Free for All: Fixing School Food in America

Michael O'Donnell:

In his brilliant and distressing essay on the cruelties of English boarding school life in the 1910s, "Such, Such Were the Joys," George Orwell devoted a few lines to the prevailing attitudes toward feeding children. A boy's appetite was seen as "a sort of morbid growth which should be kept in check as much as possible." At Orwell's school, St. Cyprian's, the food was therefore not only unappetizing but calorically insufficient; students were often told "that it is healthy to get up from a meal feeling as hungry as when you sat down." Only a generation earlier, school meals began with "a slab of unsweetened suet pudding, which, it was frankly said, broke the boys' appetites." Orwell described sneaking, terrified, down to the kitchen in the middle of the night for a slice or two of stale bread to dull the hunger pains. His contemporaries at public school had it better, and worse: so long as their parents gave them pocket money to buy eggs, sausages, and sardines from street vendors, they scrounged enough food to get through the day.

This spirit of tut-tut character building through patronizing if affectionate deprivation comes off as thoroughly British, but for a time the attitude spanned the Atlantic. In 1906, one American principal opposed the growing enthusiasm for a school lunch program by warning: "If you attempt to take hardship and suffering out of their lives by smoothing the pathway of life for these children, you weaken their character, and by so doing, you sin against the children themselves and, through them, against society." Let them starve a little, went the thinking--it won't kill them, and it's better than getting fat on sweets.

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Student arrested over "Nobama" sticker Wins, Gets Settlement

Howard Pankratz:

A Dakota Ridge High School student who wore a "Nobama" sticker taped across the front of his shirt prior to an appearance by Michelle Obama will receive $4,000 from Jefferson County authorities, the ACLU of Colorado announced today.

The $4,000 settlement agreement with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department and the Jefferson County School District avoided a potential lawsuit, according to a news release from Taylor Pendergrass, ACLU staff attorney.

On Nov. 3, 2008, Blake Benson showed up outside the high school gym as others were lined up to enter the gym to hear Michelle Obama speak.

Benson was one of three students who chose to "stay and campaign" for Sen. John McCain at the school prior to the speech.

According to the ACLU, Dakota Ridge school officials told Benson to leave. When he refused, officials had Benson handcuffed, searched and arrested for interference -- a charge that carries up to six months in jail and a $750 fine.

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Taking a Leap of Faith

Lorna Siggins:

OU ARE A specialist in your field, you can see the opportunities before you, but there's little or nothing that you can do. If this place sounds vaguely familiar, it is where Dr Deirdre MacIntyre found herself almost a decade ago.

She wasn't a solo traveller, either. A colleague and close friend, Dr Moya O'Brien, had also reached that bus stop. The trick was to recognise when it was time to jump off.

"We had trained in psychology together, she was my bridesmaid, I was her birth partner and we had worked together in what was the Eastern Health Board before it became the Eastern Regional Health Authority ," MacIntyre recalls. "We both had families with small kids, and very heavy clinical caseloads at work.

"I loved my career in child guidance, I loved my clinical work, but both of us felt that our impact was limited within the health board structure," MacIntyre recalls.

At this point, she had nearly 20 years' experience as a clinical psychologist and was principal in charge of the ERHA's child and adolescent psychology services. She had been involved in establishing community-based psychology services for children and their families.

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Race to the Top Vagueness & Commentary

Sarah De Crescenzo:

Some of the most contentious areas of the new legislation include the option to close failing schools, convert them to charter schools or replace the principal and half the staff. Parents could exercise greater power within the public school system, with the possibility of moving children in the lowest-performing schools elsewhere or petition to turn around a chronically failing school.

The transfer option would be available to parents of children at the worst 1,000 schools. Parental petitions would be limited to 75 schools.

However, the implementation of any reforms is hazy, as the federal guidelines for the program cite broad goals, such as "making improvements in teacher effectiveness."

Mekeel assured the board members that supporting the state's application would not bind the district to accept the funds, if California is selected as a recipient.

"You'll have another decision to make before we're actually involved in this," he said.

The legislation package also provides a method for linking teacher evaluations to student performance -- an aspect arousing the fury of educators statewide.

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As NCLB reaches 8-year mark, many wonder what's next?

Nick Anderson:

Eight years after President George W. Bush signed the bill that branded an era of school reform, the education world is wondering when President Obama will seek to rewrite the No Child Left Behind law.

Obama officials, who for months have been on a "listening and learning" tour, are expected at some point to propose a framework for the successor to a law that is two years overdue for reauthorization. Time is growing short if the president aims for action before midterm elections that could weaken Democratic majorities in Congress.

As the eighth anniversary of the law's enactment passed quietly Friday -- an occasion that Bush marked throughout his presidency as a domestic policy milestone -- the regimen of standardized testing and school accountability remains intact.

Every year from grades three through eight, and at least once in high school, students must take reading and math exams. Every year, public schools are rated on the progress they make toward the law's goal of universal proficiency by 2014. And every year, states label more schools as falling short and impose sanctions on them, including shakeups and shutdowns.

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Top 10 education policy issues for 2010

Valeria Strauss:

Since Friday is the day for lists on The Sheet, here is one showing the 10 most important education policy issues for 2010, as determined by the non-profit American Association of State Colleges and Universities. I have shortened the analysis; for a fuller one, click here.

1) Fiscal Crises Facing States
The biggest force behind much of the policy action that will occur in 2010 is the quarter-trillion-dollar collective deficit that has devastated states' budgets in the past 24 months. Public colleges and universities throughout most of the country are slicing and dicing budgets because state governments have lowered--dramatically in some cases--public funding. This has been most obvious in California, where tuition increases are the highest ever and where enrollment caps have kept ten of thousands of students out of classrooms.

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Question 2010

Katinka Matson:

Read any newspaper or magazine and you will notice the many flavors of the one big question that everyone is asking today. Or you can just stay on the page and read recent editions of Edge ...

Playwright Richard Foreman asks about the replacement of complex inner density with a new kind of self-evolving under the pressure of information overload and the technology of the "instantly available". Is it a new self? Are we becoming Pancake People -- spread wide and thin as we connect with that vast network of information accessed by the mere touch of a button.

Technology analyst Nicholas Carr wrote the most notable of many magazine and newspaper pieces asking "Is Google Making Us Stupid". Has the use of the Web made it impossible for us to read long pieces of writing?

Social software guru Clay Shirky notes that people are reading more than ever but the return of reading has not brought about the return of the cultural icons we'd been emptily praising all these years. "What's so great about War and Peace?, he wonders. Having lost its actual centrality some time ago, the literary world is now losing its normative hold on culture as well. Is the enormity of the historical shift away from literary culture now finally becoming clear?

Science historian George Dyson asks "what if the cost of machines that think is people who don't?" He wonders "will books end up back where they started, locked away in monasteries and read by a select few?".

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Deadline looming for Minnesota teacher contracts

Tom Weber:

Fewer than half of the state's school districts have reached deals on new contracts with their teachers and the remaining have until the end of next week to do so.

The deadline comes as districts grapple with the possibility that the state might cut funding in coming months. Gov. Pawlenty is also pressuring districts to hold down raises.

Sandy Skaar, president of the union that represents the 2,800 teachers in Anoka-Hennepin, the state's largest school district, is clearly relieved to have reached a deal.

"I've been doing bargaining now for 12 years, and this was clearly the most difficult round of bargaining I've ever experienced," Skaar said.

Union members and the school board are expected to ratify the deal next week. In a district that's already cut millions of dollars and closed schools to trim costs, union leadership agreed to a contract that includes no salary increases.

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January 8, 2010

4K in Madison : Some Answers but More Questions

On Monday night, the Madison Board of Education will vote on whether to implement 4-year-old kindergarten. It has taken the Madison school district years to get to this point, and for some time it looked like 4K would not happen. Several obstacles were removed in the past year, however, and the district was able to work with community early childhood educators and with Madison Teachers, Inc., to arrive at a model that is acceptable to the district, the community, and the teachers' union.

That's the good news. On Monday night, there are two outstanding issues that will need to be resolved: financing for the first two years and, the start date for the first 4K cohort. I speak for myself, but believe that my board colleagues would agree that the need and value for such a program was resolved some time ago, so the issues are not whether to implement 4K, but rather the best way to proceed.

Full post at School Daze blog.

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A push for Latinos to pursue education

Emily Hanford:

A report out from the Southern Education Foundation out today says the South is the first part of the country where more than half the children in public schools are minorities. That is happening in part because more Latinos and their larger families are moving in. Latinos are the fastest-growing part of the U.S. population.

And as the United States tries to keep up with other countries in getting students into, and graduated from college, Latinos are getting special attention. Because they're the least likely to get college degrees. From American RadioWorks, Emily Hanford reports.

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The Challenge of School Reform

Brian Kelly:

The headline on the January print issue cover is meant to be provocative ["Will School Reform Fail?"]. I hope it's not predictive. The notion of failure might come as a surprise to those who follow the crucially important challenge of improving America's public education system. News over the past few years has been encouraging: more rigorous standards, a burgeoning charter school movement, private money and public talent focusing on a growing consensus about what works. And there are great suc cess stories--some of which we tell in this issue. But they are mostly on an indi vidual basis. Yes, the 100 best high schools we highlight are extra ordinary institutions. But America has 22,000 public high schools, and too many of them are dreadful. The good news is that there seems to be general agree ment among policymakers on how to make things bet ter. The logjam of inertia has been broken, with broad acceptance of the need for ambitious national standards and ways to measure account ability of schools and teachers; the need to train, deploy, and reward bet ter teachers--while moving bad ones out--and the value of competition. At last, some big-city mayors have as sumed the burden of fixing their schools and have struggled to cut through union and board-of-ed bu reaucracies. On the national level, Arne Duncan, the education secre tary, has an unprecedented pot of money to implement change and showcase best practices. This should be a moment of great promise.

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Universities Pledge to Train Thousands More Math and Science Teachers by 2015

Libby Nelson:

President Obama announced on Wednesday a partnership between federal agencies and public universities to train thousands more mathematics and science teachers each year, part of the administration's effort to make American students more competitive globally in science, technology, engineering, and math.

Leaders of 121 public universities have pledged to increase the total number of science and math teachers they prepare every year to 10,000 by 2015, up from the 7,500 teachers who graduate annually now.

Forty-one institutions, including California's two university systems and the University of Maryland system, said they would double the number of science and math teachers they trained each year by 2015.

The partnership is part of the Obama administration's "Educate to Innovate" campaign, a program announced in November that seeks to join government agencies, businesses, and universities in efforts to improve math and science education.

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Teacher Unions and Obamas "Education Reforms"

Andrew Smarick:

Based on local news reports, it appears that a growing number of states are putting together bold plans in order to better position themselves for Race to the Top grants. But in a number of places, unions are erecting serious obstacles. For instance, in Florida, Minnesota, and Michigan, state union officials are discouraging their local affiliates from supporting the plans because of elements the union finds objectionable, such as merit pay programs and efforts to use student performance gains in teacher evaluations. In New Jersey, the union is slamming the state's application.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan and his department place a premium on collaboration, so states gain points in the Race to the Top scoring when they show that stakeholders from across the state support the proposal. That's certainly a reasonable inclination--wider buy-in suggests a greater chance at successful implementation.

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The ascendancy of the non-private person

Andrea James:

OK, I lied about no more wonky posts. Xeni's Facebook post reminded me of something. I want to float an idea about privacy as a commodity, vs. privacy as a right.

Tiger Woods, described frequently as a "very private" person, was unable to keep his private life private. Why? Because he interacted with non-private people. The reason Kim Kardashian and the Jersey Shore denizens have risen to positions of prominence in popular culture is because they each epitomize the non-private person. They have nothing to hide, so nothing that becomes public knowledge can hurt them. Ms. Kardashian can be urinated on in a sex tape and actually be helped in terms of being a public figure. My own ability to be effective as a transgender rights activist is because there's nothing anyone could expose about me that would deter me from my activism. That gives me enormous power over anonymous haters who vent their impotent fury at me to no avail. Their own fear of exposure (loss of privacy) is their greatest weakness. What does this mean for you, dear reader? Read on.

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January 7, 2010

Gifted Education Outrages

Jay Matthews:

My Dec. 10 column about that troublesome Washington area gifted child, future billionaire Warren Buffett, said our schools are never going to help such kids much. I said the gifted designation was often arbitrary and should be disposed of. Instead, we ought to find ways to let all kids explore their talents.

This produced a flood of comments on my blog. Many readers thought I was callous and daft. "Unfortunately, eliminating the label generally means that the schools give up doing anything for advanced learners," wrote a reader signing in as EduCrazy. Another commenter, CrimsonWife, said "if educators are fine with giving special attention and services to kids who are far out of the mainstream on the low end of the spectrum, why is it so controversial to provide specialized services to kids who are far out of the mainstream on the high end?"

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What's up With Implementation of the Arts Task Force Recommendations - Who Knows

I have similar concerns about "meaningful" implementation of the fine arts task force recommendations. The task force presented its recommendations to the School Board in October 2008, which were based in large part on input from more than 1,000 respondents to a survey. It was another 7 months before administration recommendations were ready for the School Board, and its been another 6 months since then without any communication to the community or staff about: a) brief summary of what the School Board approved (which could have been as simple as posting the cover letter), b) what's underway, etc. Anything at a Board meeting can be tracked down on the website, but that's not what I'm talking about. There are plenty of electronic media that allow for efficient, appropriate communication to many people in the district and in the community, allowing for on-going communication and engagement. Some of the current issues might be mitigated, so further delays do not occur. Also, there already is a blog in the arts area that is rarely used.

Afterall, one of our School Board members, Lucy Mathiak, has a full-time job (in addition to being a school board member) as well as having a lot of other life stuff on her plate and she's developed a blog. It wouldn't be appropriate for administrators to comment as she does if they are wearing their administrator hats, but concise, factual information would be helpful. I mentioned this to the Superintendent when I met with him in November. He said he thought this was a good idea and ought to take place - haven't seen it yet; hope to soon, though.

In the meantime, I'm concerned about the implementation of one of the most important aspects of the task force's recommendations - multi-year educational and financial strategic plan for the arts, which members felt needed to be undertaken after the School Board's approval and in parallel with implementation of other efforts. Why was this so important to the task force? Members felt to sustain arts education in this economic environment, such an effort was critical.

From the task force's perspective, a successful effort in this area would involve the community and would not be a solo district effort. As a former member and co-chair of the task force, I've heard nothing about this. I am well aware of the tight staffing and resources, but there are multiple ways to approach this. Also, in my meetings with administrative staff over the summer that included my co-chair, Anne Katz, we all agreed this was not appropriate for Teaching and Learning whose work and professional experience is in the area of curriculum. Certainly, curriculum is an important piece, but is not the entire, long-term big picture for arts education. Also, there is no need to wait on specific curriculum plans before moving forward with the longer-term effort. They are very, very different and all the curriculum work won't mean much if the bigger picture effort is not undertaken in a timely manner. When the task force began it's work, this was a critical issue. It's even more critical now.

Does anyone have information about what's underway, meaningful opportunities for community and teacher engagement (vs. the typical opportunities for drive by input - if you don't comment as we drive by, you must not care or tacitly approve of what's being done is how I've heard the Teaching and Learning approach described to me and I partially experienced personally). I so hope not, because there are many knowledgable teaching professionals.

I know the topic of this thread was talented and gifted, but there are many similar "non-content" issues between the two topics. I'm hoping to address my experiences and my perspectives on arts education issues in the district in separate posts in the near future.

Posted by Barb Schrank at 8:45 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Charters and Unions What's the future for this unorthodox relationship?

Alexander Russo:

Nearly two years ago, Spanish teacher Emily Mueller was dismayed to learn that her charter high school, Northtown Academy in Chicago, was asking teachers to teach six classes instead of five.

There was no real discussion between teachers and administrators about alternative solutions, according to Mueller. There was no pay increase attached to the increased workload, either. The unilateral, unpaid workload increase "just didn't seem sustainable," she says.

But Mueller didn't want to leave the school, one of three chartered by an organization called Chicago International Charter School and operated by an organization called Civitas Schools. So she and a handful of colleagues did something that only a few charter school teachers have done: they began the long, difficult, but ultimately successful push to join the Illinois Federation of Teachers and negotiate a contract that now represents roughly 140 teachers at the three schools.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:58 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

1st Toyota Education Project Announced in Mississippi

Shelia Byrd:

Economic development officials on Wednesday announced the first project to use funds from a $50 million education endowment pledged by Toyota Motor Corp.

The project is a curriculum management audit of eight school districts in the area surrounding a Blue Springs site where Toyota plans to build a car plant. Toyota will make its first $5 million payment in May to the education fund being run by the Tupelo-based CREATE Foundation.

Work on the plant, meanwhile, is stalled because of the recession.

"Certainly, we hope this will be another reassurance to the people who have been very patient and understanding that we are coming and we are committed," said Barbara McDaniel, external affairs manager for Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America.

McDaniel said the Mississippi education endowment is the largest ever given by the company.

"I think we wanted to make a strong statement that education is very important to Toyota, and we wanted the money to not just benefit the future for Toyota-related employment, but we wanted it to benefit the entire Mississippi region," she said.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:52 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Teachers contract raises pay only for continued service, education

Elliot Mann:

Rochester's teachers won't receive cost-of-living raises for two years but can still receive pay bumps for experience and continuing their education, under a two-year contract approved Tuesday.

The Rochester School Board ratified the 2009-2011 teachers contract Tuesday night. Nearly 60 percent of Rochester's 1,160 teachers approved the deal on Monday. The deal freezes the teacher's salary schedule for two years.

Rochester Education Association President Kit Hawkins said the teacher's union didn't want to approve raises, only to watch budget cuts take away more of their peers and more programming. The school district will need to cut $4.5 million next year, and the soft freeze will save the district some money compared to projections.

Rochester public schools cut more than $9 million last year.

"We need to feed our families and pay our bills like everyone else, but we also understand we're in a recession and the district is in grave financial (condition)," Hawkins said.

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".

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:23 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

At a Silicon Valley community centre, Asian ping-pong parents are grooming children for Olympic glory

Patricia Leigh Brown:

Young people who were serious about table tennis used to have to make the trip to Beijing, Stockholm or Moscow to train with world-class coaches. Now they go no farther than the Silicon Valley suburb of Milpitas.
"I'm trying to become one of the greatest players in the nation," Srivatsav Tangirala, 14, says matter-of-factly between drills at the huge new table tennis facility in the suburb. He and three dozen players, some as young as five, sprint sideways along the edge of the tables, 45 times in a row, perfecting their footwork.

"Lean forward, lean, lean, lean, lean," their coach implores.

This is the largest training programme for youths in the country, run by the India Community Centre in a region that is 60 per cent Asian. Here, ping-pong parents who grew up with the sport in Sichuan province or Hyderabad are the new soccer mums and Little League dads.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:14 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Southern Schools Mark Two Majorities

Shaila Dewan:

The South has become the first region in the country where more than half of public school students are poor and more than half are members of minorities, according to a new report.

The shift was fueled not by white flight from public schools, which spiked during desegregation but has not had much effect on school demographics since the early 1980s. Rather, an influx of Latinos and other ethnic groups, the return of blacks to the South and higher birth rates among black and Latino families have contributed to the change.

The new numbers, from the 2008-9 school year, are a milestone for the South, "the only section of the United States where racial slavery, white supremacy and racial segregation of schools were enforced through law and social custom," said the report, to be released on Thursday by the Southern Education Foundation, a nonprofit group based here that supports education improvement in the region. But the numbers also herald the future of the country as a whole, as minority students are expected to exceed 50 percent of public school enrollment by 2020 and the share of students poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunches is on the rise in every state.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:04 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Berkeley High's Extra Science Labs May Be Cut

Jill Tucker:

Berkeley High School sophomore Razan Qatami glanced at the wall clock in her advanced biology lab class and frowned. At 4:15 p.m., she still had about 10 more minutes before she was done for the day.

While most high school science classes incorporate labs into regular class time, Berkeley High requires most of its students to attend labs before or after school in the so-called zero or seventh periods.

That means showing up at 7:30 a.m. to, say, dissect frogs, or staying until 4:30 p.m. - additional class time that not surprisingly costs additional money.

School administrators would like to see that money spread around, specifically to help struggling students, and have proposed cutting out the supplementary lab classes.

Qatami would love to see those early and late labs discontinued.

More here.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:01 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Schools grant must go forward

Boston Globe:

TEACHERS UNIONS and state education officials may disagree over how to turn around failing schools, especially if it involves overhauling labor contracts. But both sides should be able to agree on one thing: Massachusetts students would benefit greatly from the infusion of $250 million in federal grant money.

A fierce competition is underway among more than 30 states for dollars from the Race to the Top program, an education initiative included in last year's stimulus bill. Applications are due Jan. 19, and those with the best chance of success will include statements of support signed by superintendents, school committee members, and heads of teachers unions. The unions will be the hardest to enlist. Scores of local union leaders across the state are waiting for signals from the Massachusetts Teachers Association and the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. And these union heads are waiting to hear more today from state education officials about how the grant application might affect their members.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:02 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

January 6, 2010

Inflicting Good on the Poor: As Research-Based as We Wanna Be

For years, MMSD staff have advocated for their proposals and programming choices by arguing that they are research-based data driven best practices. At times, I have wondered whether the research selected has undergone critical review. That is, do the people selecting the research stop to ask whether the research is methodologically sound with verifiable results, much less whether it was conducted on populations or under conditions that are comparable to the Madison public school district.

I've also wondered at an understanding of research that ignores entire bodies of data or work that falls outside of the narrow educational research paradigm. (Prime examples of the latter case include the district's unwillingness to consider the considerable body of research on how children learn to read that is carried out by cognitive psychologists, linguists, and communicative disorder researchers. But that's another post.)

My questions about the level of critical review of the work selected to inform programmatic choices reached new levels this week, after TJ Mertz raised serious questions in his AMPS blog about the only resource identified by name in the update's section on including underrepresented populations.

At the top of page 4, the update states:

Support for underrepresented populations: Research and review of support models for students from underrepresented populations is on-going. District staff (high school teachers and resource teachers) are conducting a book study of Removing the Mask by Ruby Payne.

So what's the big deal? For starters, Ruby Payne is an interesting choice for a district that embraces research-based best practices. Simply put, she does not conduct research herself, cites little work that is more recent than the late 1960s - 1980s range (thereby missing a lot of the advances of the past 3 decades), and mis-appropriates the research that she does cite.

Much of her work is self-published through the Aha!Process business that she heads, and which has become quite a cottage industry peddling its (unreviewed) books to districts who contract with her or one of her employees for in-service training. I note that one of the key areas of specialization for Ms. Payne and her associates is in-service training for school districts that are under the gun to improve student achievement while confronting growing issues of poverty and inequality within the classroom. (Sound familiar?)

The remainder of this post is on-line at School Daze

Posted by Lucy Mathiak at 9:25 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Autism cluster found in Santa Clara County linked to parent education, not neighborhood toxins

Lisa Krieger:

Researchers have identified a cluster of autism cases in the South Bay -- but the elevated regional incidence seems linked to parents' ability to gain a diagnosis for their child, rather than any geographic risk.

A rigorous study of all 2.5 million births in California between 1996 and 2000 revealed 10 places where the disability is more common than elsewhere in the state -- including the Sunnyvale-Santa Clara area, the San Carlos-Belmont area and several parts of southern California and Sacramento.

The scientists found a correlation, not cause, concluding that parents of autistic children in these clusters were more likely to be white, live near a major treatment center, be highly educated and

There was a lower incidence of the diagnosis where families were Latino and less educated.

A diagnosis of autism requires considerable advocacy by parents, who must navigate the complex world of pediatrics, psychiatry and autism experts. Once diagnosed, children gain access to all types of specialized services.

UC Davis MIND Institute press release.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:23 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Special-Ed Funds Redirected School Districts Shift Millions of Dollars to General Needs After Getting Stimulus Cash

Anne Marie Chaker:

Florida's Broward County Public Schools saved as many as 900 jobs this school year. Nevada's Clark County School District just added more math and tutoring programs. And in Connecticut's Bloomfield Public Schools, eight elementary- and middle-school teachers were spared from layoffs.

These cash-strapped districts covered the costs using a boost in funding intended for special education, drawing an outcry from parents and advocates of special-needs children.

A provision in federal law allows some school districts to spend millions of dollars of special-education money elsewhere, and a government report indicates many more districts plan to take advantage of the provision.

School administrators say shifting the money allows them to save jobs and valuable programs that benefit a wide range of students.

"We absolutely need this," said James Notter, superintendent of the Broward County Public Schools, the sixth-largest district in the country. He said the provision is "an absolute salvation for us," because the $32 million reduced from the local budget for special education allows him to save between 600 and 900 jobs that would likely have disappeared this school year.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:34 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate

Francesco Guerrara & Nicole Bullock:

The US public pension system faces a higher-than-expected shortfall of more than $2,000bn that will increase pressure on many states' strained finances and crimp economic growth, according to the chairman of New Jersey's pension fund.

The estimate by Orin Kramer will fuel investors' concerns over the deteriorating financial health of US states after the recession. "State and local governments are correctly perceived to be in serious difficulty," Mr Kramer told the Financial Times.

"If you factor in the reality of these unfunded promises, their deficits will rise exponentially."

Estimates of aggregate funding requirement of the US pension system have ranged between $400bn and $500bn, but Mr Kramer's analysis concluded that public funds would need to find more than $2,000bn to meet future pension obligations.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:03 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Poll of Detroit residents finds grim conditions but optimistic outlooks

Dana Hedgpeth & Jennifer Agiesta:

The decline of the auto industry and the nation's economic slide have left many residents here trapped, without work, in houses they can't sell, in neighborhoods where they fear for their safety, in schools that offer their children a hard road out.

People across the metro area are feeling the stress of an uncertain financial landscape, with majorities worried about the economy, the cost of health care and having enough money to pay their bills. The region's bleak jobs situation is residents' No. 1 concern, by a big margin. That anxiety is compounded by a widely held feeling that the community is divided by race and income.

And yet they haven't given up.

In a new Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation-Harvard University poll about Detroit, almost all residents of the main three-county metropolitan area see their economy as in ruins. About half say this is a bad place to raise a family; as many describe a declining standard of living, swelling debt, deteriorating neighborhoods and a brutal job market.

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

Texas QB Colt McCoy keeps close ties to tiny high school home despite family moving on

Schuyler Dixon:

They call this McCoy Country - or TuscolTa, with a Texas Longhorn "T" dropped in for good measure.

This tiny West Texas outpost is home to quarterback Colt McCoy. It doesn't matter that he's getting ready to lead his second-ranked Longhorns against No. 1 Alabama for the national title, or that his dad (a coach) moved the family for another job about the same time he left for Austin nearly five years ago.

"I don't go back probably as much as I should, but when I do I really enjoy it," McCoy said Sunday in Newport Beach, Calif., where the Longhorns are based this week. "There's a lot of down-to-earth people. They really keep in touch with me. They support me. That really is pretty neat.

"I wouldn't change where I came from at all."

It's evident his hometown loves McCoy right back.

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

Hillsborough school board sees opportunity and peril in $100 million Gates reforms

Tom Marshall:

It could be the hardest $100 million the Hillsborough County School Board ever spent.

Members were in a festive mood Tuesday, nearly two months after the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation picked the district to carry out a seven-year reform to boost teacher effectiveness. But by the end of their first workshop to discuss the plan, their feet were firmly on the ground.

"This is the largest single education grant in the history of the foundation," said senior Gates program officer Don Shalvey, describing Hillsborough's plan as a national model. "(But) we also think every organization has within it a flaw that could be fatal."

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January 5, 2010

Wisconsin Mayoral control bill prompts conflicting testimony

Amy Hetzner:

Dozens of speakers passionately disagreed about how to fix Milwaukee Public Schools during a daylong state Senate hearing Tuesday, with the only consensus being that a solution is unlikely to come soon in Madison.

Several hundred people packed the auditorium at MPS' central office to testify before the Senate Education Committee on a bill that would give the city's mayor more power over Milwaukee Public Schools and a separate measure that would allow the state's school superintendent to more easily intervene in failing schools in Wisconsin.

Like the Milwaukee legislators who have split over the mayoral-control legislation, members of the public at the hearing were fairly evenly divided about whether allowing the mayor, rather than the School Board, to appoint MPS' superintendent was necessary to improve academic performance in the school system or a step backward for democratic representation.

"How in the world does excluding parents from selecting their school leadership encourage them to participate in the education of their children?" Milwaukee resident Mike Rosen said.

Former Milwaukee School Board member Jeanette Mitchell said, however, that she supported mayoral control because it would give education a bigger platform in the city. She exhorted legislators to work together to reach a compromise to help students succeed in city schools.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:27 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Remarkable: Three Uncontested Madison School Board Seats for the April, 2010 Election

Gayle Worland:

Three uncontested candidates will run for three-year terms on the Madison school board in April.

Incumbents Beth Moss and Maya Cole are running for school board Seats 3 and 5, respectively. James Howard is running for Seat 4, currently held by Johnny Winston, Jr., who announced in November that he would not seek a third term.

Thomas Farley, director of the nonprofit Chris Farley Foundation and an expected candidate for Seat 4, filed two of the three necessary documents to get his name on the ballot, said Adam Gallagher, deputy clerk for the City Clerk's office. However, candidates also must file a minimum of 100 signatures of electors who reside in the Madison school district, and only 94 of signatures gathered by Farley by Tuesday's 5 p.m. deadline met that criteria, Gallagher said.

Wisconsin School Board power may change, due to legislation under consideration at the Capitol.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:13 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

How Good Are University of Washington Students in Math?

Cliff Mass:

As many of you know, I have a strong interest in K-12 math education, motivated by the declining math skills of entering UW freshmen and the poor math educations given to my own children. Last quarter I taught Atmospheric Sciences 101, a large lecture class with a mix of students, and gave them a math diagnostic test as I have done in the past.

The results were stunning, in a very depressing way. This was an easy test, including elementary and middle school math problems. And these are students attending a science class at the State's flagship university--these should be the creme of the crop of our high school graduates with high GPAs. And yet most of them can't do essential basic math--operations needed for even the most essential problem solving.

A copy of the graded exam is below (click to enlarge) and a link to a pdf version is at:

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:24 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Best Values in Public Colleges 2009-10

Jane Bennett Clark:

The economy may be recovering, but the effects of the recession continue to buffet the nation's public colleges and universities. State governments, coping with shrunken tax revenues and an overwhelming demand for services, have cut funding for higher education. Universities that once relied on the income from fat endowments have yet to recoup multimillion-dollar losses to their portfolios. Families continue to apply for financial aid in record numbers. Meanwhile, enrollment at state institutions has spiked as more students go public and more people overall seek college degrees.

The schools in our top 100 best values in public colleges and universities -- led by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for overall value and by Binghamton University (SUNY) for out-of-state value -- continue to deliver strong academics at reasonable prices, in many cases by offering the same or more financial aid as in previous years. But no one can say that it has been easy.

To cope with less money and more students, public institutions, including many in our rankings, have slashed operating costs and raised tuition beyond the average increase of about five percentage points over inflation in recent years. The University of California system, caught in the downdraft of a state budget meltdown, imposed a midyear tuition hike of 15%, to be followed by another 15% increase in the summer, precipitating statewide protests. (Our rankings reflect tuition and fees, including midyear increases, as of December 1, 2009.)

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:42 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Famous British school looks to create leaders at Hong Kong offshoot

Liz Heron:

Leadership will be on the curriculum when Hong Kong's first international boarding school opens its doors in three years' time under a franchise arrangement with a leading English public school.

With an illustrious history dating back to 1243, Harrow School has produced eight prime ministers and countless statesmen, and its Hong Kong offshoot is aiming to carve out an equally prominent future role.

Executive headmaster Dr Mark Hensman said: "Our hope is that students from Harrow Hong Kong go on to become famous leaders in their fields in Hong Kong, Asia - and the world - be they musicians, scientists, humanitarians or politicians."

Harrow International Management Services, which runs international schools in Beijing and Bangkok, won a government tender in August for a boarding school on the site of a former military barracks in Tuen Mun. Unlike its parent school in Britain, which is only for boys, the Hong Kong school will be co-educational.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:52 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

2010 Likely to See Major Debate On Education

Paul Krawzak & Melissa Bristow:

When it comes to education, Americans may disagree on most of the details, but they do agree on one point: Today's system is in need of an overhaul. Despite huge hikes in federal, state and local spending on schools in recent decades, policymakers, education advocates and experts, parents, employers and educators concur: The nation's children need better preparation for 21st century life and careers.

Whatever the system's good points and whatever its faults, there is strong agreement on the need to revamp for a new decade and radically changing job markets. With unemployment at 10%, many jobs go unfilled because of a shortage of skilled workers. Higher education costs more than too many people can afford and keeps rising much faster than inflation. And too many youngsters are left behind by a system that can't keep up with changing needs.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:42 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Pell Grants: "The Old College Lie"

Kevin Carey:

laiborne Pell died at age 90 on January 1, 2009. In the weeks that followed, the former Democratic senator from Rhode Island was lauded for his many achievements, but one stood out: The first sentence of Pell's obituary in The New York Times cited "the college grant program that bears his name." Pell Grants are the quintessential progressive policy, dedicated to helping low-income students cross into the promised land of opportunity and higher education. "That is a legacy," said Joe Biden, "that will live on for generations to come."

What the encomiums to Pell failed to mention is that his grants have been, in all the ways that matter most, a failure. As any parent can tell you, colleges are increasingly unaffordable. Students are borrowing at record levels and loan default rates are rising. More and more low-income students are getting priced out of higher education altogether. The numbers are stark: When Pell grants were named for the senator in 1980, a typical public four-year university cost $2,551 annually. Pell Grants provided $1,750, almost 70 percent of the total. Even private colleges cost only about $5,600 back then. Low-income students could matriculate with little fear of financial hardship, as Pell intended. Over the next three decades, Congress poured vast sums into the program, increasing annual funding from $2 billion to nearly $20 billion. Yet today, Pell Grants cover only 33 percent of the cost of attending a public university. Why? Because prices have increased nearly 500 percent since 1980. Average private college costs, meanwhile, rose to over $34,000 per year.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:34 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Hikes for most public costs in Madison exceed rate of inflation

Bill Lueders:

It's the end of the decade, a perfect time to take stock of how the cost of living, vis-à-vis public institutions, has changed. So Watchdog has tabulated the costs of more than 20 basic services, most provided or regulated by government.

In each case, we sought cost amounts effective Jan. 1 for four years: 1990, 2000, 2005 and 2010. We then tabulated the percentage increases over 10- and 20-year spans.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' online inflation calculator, $1 in 1990 was worth $1.32 in 2000 and $1.65 in 2009; $1 in 2000 was worth $1.26 in 2009. So the rate of inflation was 65% from 1990 to 2009, and 26% from 2000 to 2009.

Few of the fees and charges we tracked stayed within those ranges. And besides the mill rates used to calculate property taxes (which are offset by increases in assessed value), only one measure showed a decline: the rate and per-customer cost of natural gas. MGE spokesman Steve Kraus attributes this to falling demand.

Bill Lueders notes that Madison School District property taxes are up 83.9% since 1989 and 21.6% since 1999.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:13 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The keys to a successful education system

Kevin Huffman:

Ten years ago, deep in the Rio Grande Valley, two 23-year-old Teach for America teachers opened an after-school tutoring program. Through sheer force of will, the program became a public charter school, housed on the second floor of a local church. Eventually, that school became a cluster of 12 schools, serving kids from Colonias -- communities so impoverished that some lack potable water.

IDEA College Prep graduated its first high school class in 2007 with 100 percent of the seniors headed to college. Last month, U.S. News and World Report ranked it No. 13 among America's public high schools.

"It's not magical resources," IDEA Principal Jeremy Beard told me. "It's the thinking around the problem. I have no control over what goes in on in the kids' Colonia. But we can create a culture. Kids here feel part of a family, part of a team, part of something special."

I have worked in education for most of the past 17 years, as a first-grade teacher, as an education lawyer and, currently, for Teach for America. I used to be married to the D.C. schools chancellor. And the views expressed here are mine alone. I tell the IDEA story because too often when we look at the sorry state of public education (on the most recent international benchmark exam conducted by the Program for International Student Assessment, U.S. high schoolers ranked 25th out of 30 industrialized nations in math and 24th in science) we believe the results are driven by factors beyond our control, such as funding and families. This leads to lethargy, which leads to inaction, which perpetuates a broken system that contributes to our economic decline.

Clusty Search on Teach for America's Kevin Huffman.

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2009 Education Quiz

Valerie Strauss:

Happy and healthy new year to all.... and now let's start off the new decade with, appropriately for an education blog, a quiz.

I thought about doing one of those top 10 education story of the year or decade lists, but realized it would be repetitive: Budget cuts hurt K-12; budget cuts squeeze community colleges big-time; budget cuts and endowment losses bring pain to colleges and universities ... etc.

A quiz sounded more fun. Here are some unusual education stories you may not have read in 2009. Take a look and guess from where they came.

The quiz follows, and the answer sheet will be in a separate posting, complete with links, below this one. You can find it here.

Let me know how you do, and send in other stories that you think would be interesting to share.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:22 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

At Landover middle school, philosophy is part of lunch menu

Nelson Hernandez:

Schools these days focus mostly on preparing students for tests of reading and math, but during lunchtime at Kenmoor Middle School in Landover, the youngsters sitting in a small circle were tackling the really deep questions: Ethics. Fairness. How to split dessert.

All three issues turned up as the seventh- and eighth-graders in the Philosophy Club tackled the question of the day: "Imagine that you are babysitting a 6-year-old and an 8-year-old. The parents have left some treats for dessert: two bananas, a lollipop and an ice cream bar. The parents' instructions are to allow each child to choose one treat. Unfortunately, both kids want the ice cream bar. How can you distribute the goods fairly?"

Someone suggested that they split the ice cream bar in half, but other students had other ideas.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:16 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

More required P.E.--a bad idea from good people

Jay Matthews:

Sometimes it is the smartest, most concerned policymakers who do the most harm to schools. My favorite recent example is the Healthy Schools Act, a bill introduced by D.C. council member Mary M. Cheh and Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray two weeks ago.

Cheh and Gray are good people trying to address a national epidemic of childhood obesity and insufficient physical activity. In Cheh's press release she notes that 18 percent of D.C. high school students are obese, 70 percent fail to meet the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommended levels of physical activity and 84 percent do not attend physical education classes daily. It is their solution that troubles me.

I am unqualified to comment on the food parts of the bill. I have never written about nutrition. I would be embarrassed to reveal the amount of crackers, cookies and ice cream I eat each day. I can only wonder how D.C. will pay for the required fresh produce from local growers in all schools, and how they will get students to eat it.

The bill's physical education requirements are its worst part-- a nifty-sounding reform that many of the District's best principals and teachers will declare one of the dumbest ideas they ever heard.

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Nobel physicist Smoot smarter than a 5th-grader

Tanya Schevitz:

For much of his life, astrophysicist George Smoot III has been what he calls a "scientific outlaw."

It was his passion for searching and investigating outside the mainstream that won the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory scientist the Nobel Prize for physics in 2006 for evidence supporting the Big Bang Theory. Even among his nerdy peers, the effusive Smoot was on the fringes, playing football in high school, trekking in Nepal, attending the Academy Awards, listening to music like Jay Z and Avril Lavigne on his iPod and volunteering as a sound tech for Jerry Garcia back in the day..

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How Michigan education reforms will unfold is unclear

Julie Mack:

How sweeping education reforms signed into law Monday will be implemented in Michigan remains unclear to area school officials.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm on Monday signed reforms that make it easier to close failing schools, link teacher pay to performance and hold school administrators accountable. The bills also raise the dropout age from 16 to 18, starting with the Class of 2016; allow up to 32 more charter schools to open each year; give professionals from areas other than education an alternative way to become teachers, and allow for cyber-schools to educate students who have dropped out online.

State Superintendent Mike Flanagan said up to 200 low-performing schools could end up under state control as a result of the new laws.

The legislation is part of Michigan's effort to win money from the Obama administration's Race to the Top competition tied to education reform. Michigan could get up to $400 million if it's among the winners.

Local school boards and unions now face a Thursday deadline to sign a "Memorandum of Understanding" that indicates their support for the reforms. The memorandums are to be included with the state's Race to the Top application. School districts where the board and union do not sign an agreement risk losing their share of the money.

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UFT And Elected Officials: Charter Schools Must Be Public Schools, Serving All Students

Leo Casey:

With growing appeals for changes in New York's charter school law, prominent elected officials joined the United Federation of Teachers today in a call for major reforms which would ensure that charter schools become public schools in the fullest meaning of the term -- not private schools supported with public funds.

State Senator John Sampson, leader of the Senate's majority Democratic Conference, and New York City Comptroller John Liu joined UFT President Michael Mulgrew in this call. State Senators Eric Schneiderman and Toby Stavisky and State Assembly members Michael Benedetto, Alan Maisel, Jose Peralta, Adam Clayton Powell, IV and Linda Rosenthal were present and participating in the call.

Among the proposed changes are:

a mandate for charter schools to serve the same proportion of the neediest students as the local community district in which they are located;

Clusty Search: Leo Casey.

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Michigan Teaching School Tries Something New

Larry Abramson:

America's teachers' colleges are facing some pressure to reinvent themselves.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has been leading the assault, with a series of speeches calling for better teacher training. Duncan says it's crucial that education schools revamp their curricula so they can help replace a wave of baby boomers who will soon retire from teaching.

One university is trying to rebuild its teacher-training program from the ground up.

At the University of Michigan School of Education, Dean Deborah Ball and her faculty have taken apart their training program and reassembled it, trying to figure out what skills teachers really need.

Katie Westin, a senior at the University of Michigan and a student teacher, says that when she compares notes with teachers-in-training at other schools, it's clear that her program is more hands-on.

"We expect people to be reliably able to carry out that work. We don't seem to have that same level of expectation or requirement around teaching," Ball says.

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January 4, 2010

School Daze

FWIW, I've started a blog to provide timely updates and more depth on Madison Metropolitan School District issues and initiatives.

Posted by Lucy Mathiak at 3:26 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Monthly Update From Madison BOE President Arlene Silveira

Reading Programs: The Board received a presentation on Reading Recovery in the district. A number of questions were raised about our reading programs and how programs worked together to ensure we were meeting the needs of all of our students. Therefore, the Board requested a full evaluation of all reading programs at the elementary level so we have a better understanding of the big reading picture.

Superintendent Goals:
As part of the Superintendent evaluation process the Board, in conjunction with the Superintendent, developed goals for the Superintendent. There are a lot of details associated with each goal. The Goal area and targeted Results of each goal are below:

1. Goal Area: Increase the percentage of students who are proficient and advanced in reading. Results: Increased proficiency and advanced proficiency on WKCE or its replacement, other district assessment or standards-based tests. By 2012-14, 100% of students will meet this target.

2. Goal Area: Increase the percentage of students at all grade levels who attend school at 96% or more. Results: Increase attendance for students in every grade, with a specific focus on the students in key transition grades. By 2014-15, 96% or more of students will meet this target.

3. Goal Area: Increase the percentage of students on track for credit attainment for graduation in four years. Results: Increased percentage of students on track for credit attainment for graduation. By 2014-15, 90% or more will meet this target.

4. Goal Area: Completion of a review of the District's organizational structure and organizational systems/processes and develop a plan to align the work of the Administration to the District's mission and Strategic Plan. Results: This goal will be assessed by Board approval and successful Administrative implementation of a Plan that aligns the work of the Administration with the District's mission and Strategic Plan and to principles of quality organizations, and is fiscally sustainable over time.

5. Goal Area: Board relations. Results: Development and implementation of a sustainable system for improving and demonstrating effective communication with the Board of Education.

6. Goal Area: Implement the Strategic Plan action steps targeted for year one as approved by the Board of Education. Results: A report in June 2010 outlining progress toward implementation of the action steps including any evaluation of new programs that has occurred using the approved performance measures.

7. Goal Area: Leadership development goal. To focus on encouraging the heart in others and challenging the process.

What's Up in January?: 2010 will be a busy year. Items of interest on our January agenda: Decision on the implementation of 4-year-old kindergarten; Race to the Top funds; initial presentation of an environmental charter middle school; core performance measures associated with the strategic plan; and kick-off of the 2010-11 budget process.

Thanks for all you do for our children. Please let us know if you have any questions or comments at .

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Elmbrook gets UW-Waukesha classes: "Professors Save Students the Trip"

Amy Hetzner, via a kind reader's email:

By the time the first bell rings at Brookfield Central High School, most of the students in Room 22 are immersed in college-level vector equations, reviewing for their final exam on the Friday before Christmas.

Senior Lea Gulotta, however, looks on the bright side of waking early every morning for the past semester so she can take a Calculus 3 class taught at the school by a college professor.

"We get to sleep in for a month," she said, noting that the regular high school semester won't end until mid-January.

There's another positive to Brookfield Central's agreement with the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha continuing education department, which brought the advanced mathematics class to the high school this year as part of the state's youth options program. Under youth options, school districts pick up the costs of courses at Wisconsin colleges if they don't have similar offerings available to students.

Instead of seeing students spend extra time commuting and attending class on a college campus, the arrangement placed the professor in the high school to teach 11 students who had completed advanced-placement calculus as juniors. Two of the students in the class come from the Elmbrook School District's other high school, Brookfield East.

Elmbrook pays UW-Waukesha the same tuition that it would pay if its students chose to attend the college campus on their own, she said.

Related: Janet Mertz's tireless crusade on credit for non-Madison School District classes.

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Preliminary Draft of the Milwaukee Mayoral Control Legislation:
LRB 3737/P2 Milwaukee Transforms Education for All Our Children (TEACH) Act

via a kind reader's email 180K PDF:

Milwaukee Public Schools Reading & Math Proficiency 15K PDF.

Related: Madison School District Reading and the Poverty Achievement Gap.

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The Replacements: On Substitute Teaching and Days Out of the Classroom

Carolyn Bucior:

TWO years ago, during lunch with a second-grade teacher in the Chicago area, I mentioned that I was going to substitute teach. The teacher -- I'll call him Dan -- started into a story about his own experience with a substitute, which is easily summarized: Dan left a lesson plan; the sub didn't follow it. So, he ended by asking, how hard can substitute teaching be?

I smiled, said nothing and bit into my Reuben.

Over the next two years, I would learn -- as I subbed once a week for a variety of classes, including kindergarten, sixth grade, middle-school social studies, high-school chemistry, phys ed, art, Spanish, and English as a second language -- that Dan's story is standard teacher fare. Last time I heard it, though, I didn't bite my sandwich or my tongue.

As much as I became frustrated by the lack of training and support, I was most angered by how many days teachers were out of their classrooms. Nationwide, 5.2 percent of teachers are absent on any given day, a rate three times as high as that of professionals outside teaching and more than one and a half times as high as that of teachers in Britain. Teachers in America are most likely to be absent on Fridays, followed by Mondays.

This means that children have substitute teachers for nearly a year of their kindergarten-through-12th-grade education. Taxpayers shell out $4 billion a year for subs.

I subbed for many legitimately ill teachers and for many attending educational conferences. But my first assignment was to fill in for a sixth-grade teacher who went to a home-and-garden show. My last was for a first-grade teacher who said she needed a mental health day because her class was so difficult.

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Making College 'Relevant'

Kate Zernike:

THOMAS COLLEGE, a liberal arts school in Maine, advertises itself as Home of the Guaranteed Job! Students who can't find work in their fields within six months of graduation can come back to take classes free, or have the college pay their student loans for a year.

The University of Louisiana, Lafayette, is eliminating its philosophy major, while Michigan State University is doing away with American studies and classics, after years of declining enrollments in those majors.

And in a class called "The English Major in the Workplace," at the University of Texas, Austin, students read "Death of a Salesman" but also learn to network, write a résumé and come off well in an interview.

Even before they arrive on campus, students -- and their parents -- are increasingly focused on what comes after college. What's the return on investment, especially as the cost of that investment keeps rising? How will that major translate into a job?

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Creativity in Schools in Europe: A survey of Teachers

The Institute for Prospective Technological Studies: CACHIA Romina, FERRARI Anusca, KEARNEY Caroline, PUNIE Yves, VAN DEN BERGHE Wouter, WASTIAU Patricia - 1MB PDF:

An overwhelming majority of teachers are convinced that creativity can be applied to every domain of knowledge and that everyone can be creative. They also subscribe to the idea that creativity is a fundamental skill to be developed in schools, even if they are more ambiguous about how it can be taught, and less sure still about how it can be assessed.

Survey respondents were asked to express their opinion about how they view creativity, as a general concept as well as in the school context, on a scale of 5 ranging from 'strongly agree' to 'strongly disagree'. The results are displayed in Figure 1.

Literature reports that very often people, including teachers, refer to creativity as being related exclusively to artistic or musical performances, as springing from natural talent, and as being the characteristic of a genius. These myths about creativity stifle the creative potential of students and create barriers to fostering creativity in schools.

To a large extent, the teachers that took part in our survey have an understanding of creativity which goes against such myths. Almost all teachers who took part in the survey are convinced that creativity can be applied to every domain of knowledge (95,5%) , and to every school subject. More than 60% are even strongly convinced of this. They confirm this view very clearly by disagreeing to a large extent with a statement restricting creativity to the realm of artistic and cultural expression (85%).

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Top-tier schools widen the net Elite institutions seek non-Chinese speakers

Liz Heron:

Two elite English-medium schools offering the local curriculum have drawn up bold expansion plans that will enable them to admit children from non-Chinese-speaking families.

St Paul's Co-educational College and Diocesan Boys School are setting up boarding houses and International Baccalaureate programmes and have devised adapted Chinese-language programmes for pupils who are not native speakers of Chinese.

The moves will permit the Direct Subsidy Scheme schools, which require all pupils to study Chinese language, to widen their nets to include children from English-speaking families, as well as foreign pupils and ethnic minority children.

Currently, almost all pupils at the schools, which are obliged to offer the local curriculum and will run the IB Diploma alongside it, have Chinese as their mother tongue and most are permanent residents.

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The science of science education

Irving Epstein:

More minority students need to be lured into the sciences. One program has been a resounding success.

At most universities, freshman chemistry, a class I've taught for nearly 40 years, is the first course students take on the road to a career in the health professions or the biological or physical sciences. It's a tough course, and for many students it's the obstacle that keeps them from majoring in science. This is particularly true for minority students.

In 2005, more than two-thirds of the American scientific workforce was composed of white males. But by 2050, white males will make up less than one-fourth of the population. If the pipeline fails to produce qualified nonwhite scientists, we will, in effect, be competing against the rest of the world with one hand tied behind our backs.

We've been able to survive for the last several decades in large measure because of the "brain drain" -- the fact that the most able students from other countries, particularly China and India, have come here to study science at our best universities and, in many cases, have stayed to become key players in our scientific endeavors.

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Can Inner-City Prep School Succeed? Answer Is YES

Monica Rhor:

It was Deadline Day at YES Prep North Central, the day college applications were supposed to be finished, the day essays, personal statements and a seemingly endless series of forms needed to be slipped into white envelopes, ready for submission.

The day the school's first graduating class would take one leap closer to college.

The seniors inside Room A121 were sprinting, scurrying and stumbling to the finish line. They hunched over plastic banquet tables, brows furrowed and eyed fixed on the screens of Dell laptop computers. Keyboards clattered, papers rustled and sighs swept across the room like waves of nervous energy.

So much was riding on this.

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True education reform starts with good teachers

Warren Smith:

There is a lot of talk about education reform, but let's face it: True education reform takes place once the classroom door closes. A recent report by the National Council on Teacher Quality ("Human Capital in Seattle Public Schools") reinforces this point. The most effective education reform begins and ends in the classroom. Nothing we do at the state level can replace the value of a superior teacher.

So what is the measurement of a premier educator? It's more than just a student's test scores.

The best teachers value their students as individuals. Danyell Laughlin, an English teacher in Silverdale, works tirelessly to show students that each one "of them is valuable and has valuable things to share." Every child is a priority, and because that child is valued, that child values learning.

Our best teachers foster a respect for self and others, a love for learning, and a child's capacity to dream and achieve those dreams.

The best teachers also believe that each and every child can learn. Their belief in their students is contagious.

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The search for a good teacher

Victoria Phetmisy:

Is a good teacher hard to find?

Statistically, no. A good teacher is easy to find if you check their SAT scores, their resumes and then see if their students' standardized test scores beat the average and close the gap. But a really good teacher--one that isn't just perfect on paper, but is also effective in the classroom--is harder to seek out. No one can pinpoint what exactly makes a good teacher, if not their results from the students.

So the search begins. The Gates Foundation, a large proponent for education reform, has dedicated $2.6 million towards finding what exactly makes a good, effective teacher. The study, called the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET), will last two years, beginning with the 2009 school year, with the goal to figure out how to measure the effectiveness of a teacher without having to rely on the performance results from the students' standardized test scores.

This study is going beyond just measuring test scores. They realize that it is going to be hard to take into consideration what all a teacher does in the classroom. They've upped the ante by asking for volunteer teachers to sign up their classrooms to be observed by way of videotape, their students' test scores and also by taking test themselves.

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As complex investments plunge, 5 Wisconsin school districts pressured over loans

Amy Hetzner:

As five Wisconsin school districts face increased pressure to return millions of dollars in loans, the $200 million in investments they undertook with money from that debt are almost entirely without value and unlikely to pay back when they mature in 2013, according to representatives for the districts.

The districts said in a statement to the Journal Sentinel that one of the investments had stopped paying interest two months ago after a dramatic decline in value. The statement did not indicate which investment had ceased paying interest, but one of the schools' attorneys, Stephen Kravit, had earlier identified it as an investment devised by the Royal Bank of Canada known as Sentinel Limited Series 2.

The five districts involved - Kenosha, Kimberly, Waukesha, West Allis-West Milwaukee and Whitefish Bay - invested $115 million in Sentinel 2 through trusts, using a combination of existing assets or borrowed money.

The $10 million invested by Whitefish Bay and $5 million by Kimberly were the entire amounts they invested in complicated transactions undertaken in 2006 on the advice of bankers from Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. Inc. The West Allis-West Milwaukee and Waukesha districts invested $40 million each in Sentinel 2 and Kenosha invested $20 million.

Madison's Assistant Superintendent for Business Services, Erik Kass, formerly worked for the Waukesha School District.

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DeKalb County schools: Cars and credibility now in question

Maureen Downey:

Clearly, the great car deals that DeKalb school officials arranged for themselves were wrong. As the AJC reports in an exclusive investigation:
Patricia "Pat" Pope, whose involvement in multimillion-dollar school construction projects is under investigation by county authorities, purchased a black 2005 Ford Explorer from the school district for $5,442 -- about one-third the car's market value at the time, according to county documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Pope also asked the county's maintenance department to overhaul the car with new tires and a paint job before she bought it, according to a state agency that investigated the purchase. The department did about $2,500 worth of work on the car.

The arrangement appears similar to a 2007 car purchase by DeKalb schools Superintendent Crawford Lewis. Pope also played a major role in that transaction, documents show.

The Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts investigated both purchases and determined that the difference between the price Pope and Lewis paid for the vehicles and the cars' fair market values amounted to a "gratuity," or extra compensation, which Georgia law forbids.

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January 3, 2010

In D.C. teacher assessments, details make a difference

Jay Matthews:

I am still receiving e-mails about my Nov. 23 column on Dan Goldfarb, the first teacher to share with me the results of an evaluation under the new D.C. teacher assessment plan, IMPACT.

Goldfarb was not happy with his score, 2.3 out of a possible 4 points. He said the rules forced his evaluator to focus on trivia, such as whether he had been -- to quote the IMPACT guidelines -- "affirming (verbally or in writing) student effort or the connection between hard work and achievement." He said the evaluator told his principal of his complaints about the program and about D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, violating confidentiality.

Goldfarb had legitimate gripes. But his evaluation was a tiny sample of this innovative attempt to rate teachers. When I sought evaluations from teachers not as opposed to IMPACT, several said they would send theirs, but so far only one has.

That evaluation differed from Goldfarb's in intriguing ways. The score was almost perfect, 3.92 out of 4. The analysis, however, seemed somewhat out of sync with the thinking behind the program.

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Just the facts, please, as we ponder Milwaukee Public Schools' change

Alan Borsuk:

The state Senate's Education Committee will hold a public hearing at the Milwaukee Public Schools central office, 5225 W. Vliet St., at 10 a.m. Tuesday to hear people's thoughts about proposals to change the way MPS is governed.

Some people - Gov. Jim Doyle and some legislators - seem to think this hearing is a significant step toward legislative action. I'm dubious, for two reasons:

1. Count me as one who thinks the prospects are not good for action in the Legislature on any major changes, especially the idea of giving control of MPS to Milwaukee's mayor. The Democratic legislative leaders made that clear by not even taking up proposals in December. Republicans aren't in the mood to help Mayor Tom Barrett, a Democratic candidate for governor. (Today's political trivia question: How many members of the Senate Education Committee are from Milwaukee? Zero.)

2. I'm tired of the political posturing, on all sides, about change in MPS. With a few exceptions, so little of it is attached to real commitment to doing better. And so much of it pays little attention to the facts, with ideology, belief or just plain incorrect statements trumping careful, focused use of real, live facts.

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Landing a Job of the Future Takes a Two-Track Mind

Diana Middleton:

If you're gearing up for a job search now as an undergraduate or returning student, there are several bright spots where new jobs and promising career paths are expected to emerge in the next few years.

Technology, health care and education will continue to be hot job sectors, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' outlook for job growth between 2008 and 2018. But those and other fields will yield new opportunities, and even some tried-and-true fields will bring some new jobs that will combine a variety of skill sets.

The degrees employers say they'll most look for include finance, engineering and computer science, says Andrea Koncz, employment-information manager at the National Association of Colleges and Employers. But to land the jobs that will see some of the most growth, job seekers will need to branch out and pick up secondary skills or combine hard science study with softer skills, career experts say, which many students already are doing. "Students are positioned well for future employment, particularly in specialized fields," Ms. Koncz says.

Career experts say the key to securing jobs in growing fields will be coupling an in-demand degree with expertise in emerging trends. For example, communications pros will have to master social media and the analytics that come with it; nursing students will have to learn about risk management and electronic records; and techies will need to keep up with the latest in Web marketing, user-experience design and other Web-related skills.

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Madison School District's Infinite Campus Teacher Tool and Parent/Student Portal Report: Approximately 2/3 of Middle and High School Parents don't use it

Kurt Kiefer, Lisa Wachtel:

This report summarizes data on the use of Infinite Campus teacher tools and the Parent and Student Portal. Data come from a survey conducted among all teachers responsible for students within the Infinite Campus system and an analysis of the Infinite Campus data base. Below are highlights from the report.

About half of all middle and high school teachers responsible for providing grades to students are using the grade book tool.

Grade book use has declined over the past year at the middle school level due to the introduction of standards- based grading. In addition to the change in grading approach, the grade book tool in Infinite Campus does not handle standards-based grading as efficiently as traditional grading.

Lesson Planner and Grade book use is most common among World Languages, Physical Education, and Science teachers and less common among fine arts and language arts/reading teachers.

Grade book and other tool use is most common among teachers with less than three years of teaching experience. Seventy percent ofteachers responding to the survey within these years of experience category report using the tools compared with about half of all other experience categories.

Most of the other teacher tools within Infinite Campus, e.g., Messenger, Newsletters, reports, etc., are not being used due to a lack of familiarity with them.

Many teachers expressed interest in learning about how they can use other digital tools such as the Moodie learning management system, blogs, wikis, and Drupal web pages.

About one third of parents with high school students use the Infinite Campus Parent Portal. Slightly less than 30 percent of parents of middle school students use the Portal.

Having just been introduced to elementary schools this fall, slightly more that ten percent of parents of students at this level use the Portal.

Parents of white students are more likely to use the Portal than are parents of students within other racial/ethnic subgroups.

About half of all high school students have used the Portal at one time this school year.

About one in five middle school students have used the Portal this year.

Variation in student portal use is wide across the middle and high schools.

Follow up is planned during January 2010 with staff on how we can address some ofthe issues related to enhancing the use of these tools among staff, parents, and students.

This report is scheduled to be provided to the Board of Education in February 2010.

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$4,431,115 Two Year Cost for 4K in Madison

Madison School District Superintendent Dan Nerad 650K PDF:

The Board ofEducation over the past two months has received information relative to the programdesignofa4-kprogramandsomebudgetscenariosrelativetothe4-kprogram. The budget scenarios showed the Community Model Option where the community providers provided to the district the amount necessary to support their programs and two concepts for allowing this fee to decrease.

Over the past month, administration and the community providers have met to discuss the amount to be brought forward as a fee per child for the community early childhood centers. The amount within your packet reflects that amount the early childhood community has asked ofthe district.

Information Contained in your packet: Budget Impact:

The budget impact sheet is reflective of all costs associated with the operation ofa community based model for four-year-old kindergarten. This model reflects the latest numbers proposed by the community for the per child reimbursement, along with an escalator of 3% each year. The model also reflects the latest information from the DPI, that shows we are currently not likely to be eligible to receive the 4-k startup grants with the State of Wisconsin budget. These numbers show a negative budget balance of $4,188,069 in year 1 and a negative budget balance of $243,046in year two, for a total two year negative balanceof $4,431,115. This becomes the target for further information within your packet relative to "Financing Options" for 4-k.

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Rhee vows to shield D.C. teachers, supplies amid budget cuts

Bill Turque:

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee has vowed to protect funding for teachers and classroom supplies as she prepares to cut the system's overall budget by $22 million because of shrinking tax revenue and the end of one-time federal stimulus spending.

The fiscal 2011 budget, which begins in October, is projected to shrink from $779 million to $757 million. Spending would fall most sharply in the "school support category," including security, food service and after-school programs. Rhee's central office would also face cuts.

But Rhee said this week that financial constraints won't limit her efforts to transform historically poor academic performance in the 45,000-student system.

"Obviously financial times like this make things tough, but no, they won't stop us from being successful," Rhee said in an e-mail Thursday.

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Race to the Top Insights: Part 1

Mchele McNeil:, via a kind reader's email

I spent the morning in a U.S. Department of Education technical-assistance planning seminar on Race to the Top, and have picked up a lot of interesting tidbits. Many states are in attendance--including Hawaii, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Tennessee (including education commissioner Tim Webb), just to name a few. Interestingly, Texas is also in attendance, I'm told.

The seminar will continue well into the afternoon, but so far, here are the insights I've picked up about this $4 billion competition:

Race to the Top Director Joanne Weiss emphasized that there will be a lot of losers in Phase 1 of the application, so states shouldn't worry if they want to wait until the second round of competition. "We promise there will be plenty of money left in Phase 2," she said.

Part 2

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Madison School District's Strategic Objectives Performance Measures

Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad 600K PDF:

Attached are the revised performance measures we will use to help monitor progress in meeting the Strategic Objectives Action Steps. Goals for the WKCE scores remained at 100% success rate as that is the requirement in No Child Left Behind legislation. Other goal areas were reduced to 95% as the target.
Related: Madison School District's Strategic Plan.

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Madison School District Talented and Gifted Education Plan Update

Daniel Nerad, Superintendent of Schools Lisa Wachtel, Executive Director, Teaching and Learning Barbie Klawikowski, Interim Talented and Gifted Coordinator 260K PDF:

Identification Criteria - Several action steps within Goal 1 are based on the need for a clearly defined criteria and process to identify students as talented and gifted. The Talented and Gifted (TAG) Division staff has established and confirmed identification criteria including: 1) consideration of students' levels of academic performance; 2) grade level performance data employing the historical two-year above grade level as a marker; and 3) consideration of several student data sources, including input and information from teachers and family. Work will continue into the spring semester to incorporate these data sources to create a student profile and, pending individual student performance level indicators, a Differentiated Education Plan (DEP) for students.

Monitoring Model - TAG staff continues work with the Research and Evaluation Department to create a model for student data analysis to aid in identification. These models will be research- based and provide the information needed to make identification, programming, and additional diagnostic decisions pertaining to individual students. It has been determined that the Student Intervention Monitoring System (SIMS) can be used as the tracking and reporting system. It currently containing much of the student information needed, including assessment and other data from Infinite Campus, that will make up the student profile component of a TAG student report. T AG staff will use SIMS in the current form to develop student profiles and Differentiated Education Plans (DEPs). Next steps include customizing reports in SIMS to meet future documentation/Plan development needs=

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Milwaukee school takeover is baffling political battle

Joel McNally:

Why would Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, running for governor, continue an apparently losing fight on a controversial local issue that doesn't gain him any votes statewide while tearing apart his political base at home?

Barrett's attempt to seize control of Milwaukee Public Schools from the elected School Board failed to muster enough support in the Legislature recently to even bring up the issue after Gov. Jim Doyle called a special session. The Legislature adjourned without discussing mayoral control.

Meanwhile, the Milwaukee School Board, under the leadership of President Michael Bonds, has narrowed its national search for a new superintendent down to three finalists -- two African-Americans and a Latino -- all with experience in urban school districts.

Extending an olive branch, Bonds invited Barrett to personally interview the three finalists and make a recommendation to the board.

He also named Barrett to a community panel advising the board on the selection. The diverse committee includes Alphonso Thurman, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee dean of education, state Rep. Annette Polly Williams, former Mayor Marvin Pratt, private philanthropist Julia Uihlein and prominent Latino, Hmong, American Indian and union leaders.

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Women in the workforce Female power

The Economist:

Across the rich world more women are working than ever before. Coping with this change will be one of the great challenges of the coming decades

THE economic empowerment of women across the rich world is one of the most remarkable revolutions of the past 50 years. It is remarkable because of the extent of the change: millions of people who were once dependent on men have taken control of their own economic fates. It is remarkable also because it has produced so little friction: a change that affects the most intimate aspects of people's identities has been widely welcomed by men as well as women. Dramatic social change seldom takes such a benign form.

Yet even benign change can come with a sting in its tail. Social arrangements have not caught up with economic changes. Many children have paid a price for the rise of the two-income household. Many women--and indeed many men--feel that they are caught in an ever-tightening tangle of commitments. If the empowerment of women was one of the great changes of the past 50 years, dealing with its social consequences will be one of the great challenges of the next 50.

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January 2, 2010

Commentary on Charter Schools in the Madison School District

Madison School Board Vice President Lucy Mathiak:

On Monday, the Board of Education will have a presentation by the planning group that is proposing an environmentally-focused project-based charter middle school. The Badger Rock Middle School is the first charter proposal to come before the board since the Studio School debacle a few years back. From what we are hearing in the community, it is not likely to be the last (more on that later).

Proposed Charter: Badger Rock Middle School

What we will be deciding now: The board will be asked to approve the group's initial proposal, which will form the basis of a planning grant application to the Department of Public Instruction. If the planning grant is awarded, the group will carry out additional work necessary to develop and design the charter school in greater detail, and develop a proposal that would come before the board requesting approval of the creation of the school and its charter.

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When Straight is a bit Narrow

Harry Eyrez:

This at least was the view of Martin Heidegger when he gave the title Holzwege - literally Woodpaths - to his first postwar collection of essays. As he wrote in the foreword: "In the wood are paths that wind along until they end quite suddenly in an impenetrable thicket." To be on a woodpath is a conversational German expression that means to be on the wrong track, a way that goes nowhere. But Heidegger's point is that nowhere might turn out to be somewhere. "Woodcutters and foresters," after all, "are familiar with these paths" and none is quite identical to another. Woodpaths don't lead you definitively out of the woods but, then, by learning woodways and woodcraft, you might come to see the wood as somewhere full of possibility.

In my years as a university teacher I found that students increasingly wanted Roman roads or motorways rather than woodpaths. They wanted what were called "clear goals and objectives", narrower than my old-fashioned idea of nurturing a more humane person; or rather, they wished to be presented with the shortest, quickest way of acquiring the grades they needed ... to get other grades. They seemed to want to be given the answers, rather than the means to explore and generate questions.

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"I've been in Detention for years and I'm a Teacher"

David Pakter:

When I began teaching in New York City 37 years ago, if you were reported for serious misconduct, you were sent to a Board of Education office until the matter was resolved. But as the system grew, removing teachers from the classroom became standard for even the most trivial offence. The board's offices got so crowded they began leasing buildings around the city to use as "reassignment centres", nicknamed "rubber rooms".

As many as 800 to 1,000 teachers are in rubber rooms on any given day; it's an academic Guantánamo Bay. Many go stir-crazy. Brooklyn's Chapel Street rubber room is huge but so crowded that people are almost falling out of the windows.

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Easy Money For College Can Mess You Up, Man

Katherine Mangu-Ward

When the government subsidizes something, we wind up with more of it. When it subsidizes something heavily--and combines that subsidy with an aggressive campaign encouraging consumption of that thing from the presidential bully pulpit--we wind up with a lot more of it.

Oceans of federal money gush into higher education every day, and every administration promises more to come. That gush obscures the real demand for educated workers. The result is lots of cashiers and waitresses with B.A.s, and lots of people with student loan debt that's tough for them to repay. For most students, the federal subsides geared toward nudging them to consume more education actually result in the acquisition of more education debt.

On the corporate side (and the non-profit side, for that matter) the subsidy encourages institutions to shape their practices around grabbing as much of that "free" money as possible. As critics of for-profit education never fail to note:

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What inspired the founder of Room To Read

David Pilling:

John Wood's epiphany, almost to his own embarrassment, took place in a Nepalese monastery. As he describes it in his book, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World, the then high-flying computer executive plucked up the courage to leave corporate life and start an educational charity over a brass bowl of piping hot yak-butter tea surrounded by 30 chanting monks. "Oh, no, this is going to sound like a terrible cliché," he wrote. "Western guy walks into monastery and changes the course of his life."

In truth, Wood's life had begun to change several months before. Aged 35, on a trekking holiday to Nepal, he had been appalled at the near-absence of books in the mountain schools. That, plus a growing disenchantment with his life as a corporate warrior-cum-slave, persuaded him to return to Nepal the following year with thousands of books. Books for Nepal, as Room to Read was called before its rapid international expansion forced a change of name, started out small. But as soon as Wood had broken from Microsoft, he began to apply the lessons he had learnt in business to his fledgling charity.

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Tracking An Emerging Movement: A Report on Expanded-Time Schools in America

David A. Farbman:

Fifteen years ago, the National Education Commission on Time and Learning explained that the American school calendar of 180 six-hour days stands as the "design flaw" of our education system, for schools could not be expected to enable children to achieve high standards within the confines of the antiquated schedule. Today, a small but growing number of schools have begun to overcome this "flaw" by operating with school days substantially longer than the six-hour norm and, in many cases, a calendar that exceeds the standard 180 days.

The National Center on Time & Learning (NCTL), with the support of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, has produced this groundbreaking report on the state of what can be called "expanded- time schools." Through this effort, NCTL has helped to define and bring together this previously unidentified category of schools, while still recog- nizing the considerable diversity among this group. Extracting and analyzing information from NCTL's newly created database of over 650 schools that feature an expanded day and/or year, this report describes the various trends emerging among these schools, including issues related to costs, time use and student outcomes. The searchable database is available on our website,

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Seattle Times Editorial "Wrong on Everything"

Charlie Mas:

The Seattle Times has a sort of Year-In-Review editorial about education in today's paper. Nearly every statement in the editorial is either incorrect, unsubstantiated, or misguided.

"Academic standards were raised" They were? Where? How? By whom? I didn't see anyone raising any standards this year.

"The Legislature amended the Basic Education Act, a giant leap forward in an 18-year education-reform effort." Yes, they voted for it, but they didn't fund it and they are now in Court saying that they are already fulfilling their obligation to funding education, so they are denying it. The amended act is lip service - hardly a step forward, let alone a giant leap.

They said that the delay in making high stakes math and science tests a graduation requirement was a gaffe. No, the gaffe has been miseducating students in math and science for the past ten years. These tests were supposed to be used to hold adults accountable, not students. Where are the adults who have suffered negative consequences for these failures? Why punish the students, the people with the least power to influence the system?

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High School Career Academies: A 40-Year Proven Model for Improving College and Career Readiness

Betsy Brand:

Career academies are a time-tested model for improving academic achievement readying students for both college and careers, and engaging the world outside of school in the work of reforming them. As lawmakers work to craft policies that will dramatically improve American public education, career academies should be recognized for their effectiveness and included in reform efforts.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Wisconsin's Budget Deficit Climbs to $2.71Billion

Jason Stein:

The state of Wisconsin ended its fiscal year last June with a $2.71 billion budget deficit, a new state report shows.

That's an 8 percent increase over last year's deficit of $2.5 billion. The report shows the financial challenges ahead for the next state leader who will take over in January 2011 after Gov. Jim Doyle leaves office.

The figures on the shortfall in the state's main account differ from those in most state reports, which simply figure how much cash the state has. This report, which is prepared according to generally accepted accounting rules, also takes into account spending that the state has promised to make in the future.

Todd Berry:
A week before Christmas, an important report appeared on a Wisconsin government website. There were no press releases from Madison politicians. No headline news stories.

Yet no public official, taxpayer, or citizen can afford to ignore the report's bottom line: According to its just-released financial statements, state government closed its 2008-09 books with a $2.71 billion deficit in its general fund.

To many readers, this might come as a surprise. By law, state government is supposed to balance its budget. On paper, it does. However, for more than a decade, governors and legislators of both parties have "balanced" budgets through use of accounting maneuvers, timing delays, borrowing, and billions in one-time money.

When the state controller, a CPA, prepares the state's official financial statements, he must follow generally accepted accounting principles, or GAAP. That means he must reverse the budget gimmicks and accurately represent the state's true financial condition. When he does this, the budget's black ink turns red.

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January 1, 2010

Berkeley High May Cut Out Science Labs
The proposal would trade labs seen as benefiting white students for resources to help struggling students.

Eric Klein:

Berkeley High School is considering a controversial proposal to eliminate science labs and the five science teachers who teach them to free up more resources to help struggling students.

The proposal to put the science-lab cuts on the table was approved recently by Berkeley High's School Governance Council, a body of teachers, parents, and students who oversee a plan to change the structure of the high school to address Berkeley's dismal racial achievement gap, where white students are doing far better than the state average while black and Latino students are doing worse.

Paul Gibson, an alternate parent representative on the School Governance Council, said that information presented at council meetings suggests that the science labs were largely classes for white students. He said the decision to consider cutting the labs in order to redirect resources to underperforming students was virtually unanimous.

Science teachers were understandably horrified by the proposal. "The majority of the science department believes that this major policy decision affecting the entire student body, the faculty, and the community has been made without any notification, without a hearing," said Mardi Sicular-Mertens, the senior member of Berkeley High School's science department, at last week's school board meeting.

La Shawn Barber has more.

Related: English 10.

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A remarkable journey to the Rose Parade for blind marching band

Dan Abendschein, via a kind reader's email:

Their journey to the 121st Rose Parade is a marvel even to the Ohio State School for the Blind's marching band leader Dan Kelly.

"It's very exciting," said Kelly, who also teaches technology at the school. "It started small, but it's grown and snowballed - and here we are."

Back in 1998, the Ohio State School for the Blind's music program involved only vocal music. Now, just over a decade later, the school's marching band will perform in one of the world's top showcases for marching bands - the first blind band ever to march in the Rose Parade.

The band was one of 19 that performed at the two-day Bandfest, which ended Wednesday at Pasadena City College's football field. It featured all of the marching bands that will appear in the Rose Parade.

But the event also gives the bands a chance to showcase their performance abilities in a larger arena, performing formations they will not be able to do at the parade.

Happy New Year!

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Father Invents 'VerbalVictor' App To Help Disabled Son 'Speak' Thru iPad

Associated Press

Victor Pauca will have plenty of presents to unwrap on Christmas, but the 5-year-old Winston-Salem boy has already received the best gift he'll get this year: the ability to communicate.

Victor has a rare genetic disorder that delays development of a number of skills, including speech. To help him and others with disabilities, his father, Paul, and some of his students at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem have created an application for the iPhone and iPad that turns their touch screens into communications tools.

The VerbalVictor app allows parents and caregivers to take pictures and record phrases to go with them. These become "buttons" on the screen that Victor touches when he wants to communicate. A picture of the backyard, for example, can be accompanied by a recording of a sentence like "I want to go outside and play." When Victor touches it, his parents or teachers know what he wants to do.

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New York Department of Education creed to marginalize PTA fund raising overturned

Amy Padnani:

They're not quite gambling halls or casinos, but public schools might have to get a Games of Chance License from the state if they want to continue some of their fundraisers.

According to a new proposal, which will be voted on later this month, schools cannot hold raffles, such as 50-50s or Chinese auctions, unless they have the license from the state Racing and Wagering Board, which also involves getting an ID number and filling out numerous forms.

The changes, updated yesterday, followed an earlier proposal that banned raffles all together. The policy, along with parents' concerns, was outlined in an Advance story on Monday.

City officials said the policy was originally written by the Department of Education's legal department, but once they realized the impact it would have on PTAs, raffles were approved once again.

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Blueprint For Connecticut Public Schools

Hartford Courant:

This state does well in schooling better-off suburban children. But it fails low-income children, who are mostly concentrated in city schools. Poor students in the fourth and eighth grades in Connecticut score three grade levels below their more comfortable peers -- the worst achievement gap in the nation -- even though this state is among the highest per-pupil spenders in the nation.

Connecticut's goals for the next decade, starting in 2011, should be to end that terrible distinction and reach the No. 1 spot on "the nation's report card," the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Gov.-elect Dan Malloy's choice of education commissioner will be critical.

The legislature and Board of Education made commendable strides in 2010 by increasing pre-K funding and adding more rigorous high school graduation requirements in math, science and languages, among other things.

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Why Washington area schools are the best

Jay Matthews:

The end of the year is a time to count blessings. Let's start with the underappreciated fact that the Washington area is the best place in the country for children to both learn the mysteries of science, math, English and history, and to become comfortable with stark differences in race and culture.

I've looked all over the country for schools--particularly high schools--that have a critical mass of committed parents and educators of various backgrounds who are determined to create a lively learning environment for every child. It was hard to find that when I lived in Pasadena, Calif., which was still reeling from massive white flight after a desegregation fight. It wasn't much better when we moved to Westchester County, N.Y., where schools were very short of minorities and low-income people.

Coming to Washington, it took time to see the difference. As usual, everyone complained about public education. That's an American pastime. But the more high schools I visited here, the more I realized this was---at least relatively speaking-- the Shangri-la of American education. There were more schools in one place than I had ever seen that fit my profile---well-mixed, well-run, with families committed to strong instruction. They shrugged off neighbors who, betraying unexamined biases, wondered how they could send their kids to THOSE schools.

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As college costs rise, loans become harder to get

David Cho:

When Daniel Ottalini entered the University of Maryland in 2004, his family had an array of choices to cover the cost -- cheap student loans, a second mortgage at low rates, credit cards with high limits and their own soaring investments.

By the time his younger brother, Russell, started at the University of Pittsburgh this fall, the financial crisis had left the family with fewer options. Russell has had to juggle several jobs in school, and the money he could borrow came with a much higher interest rate that could climb even further over time.

The upheaval in financial markets did not just eliminate generous lending for home buyers; it also ended an era of easy credit for students and their families facing the soaring cost of a college degree.

To pay for higher education, most Americans had come to rely on a range of financial products born of the Wall Street boom. Nearly all of these shrank or disappeared in the storm that engulfed the stock and debt markets.

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A National Survey on Mothers' Attitude on Fathering

National Fatherhood Initiative:

On December 1, 2009, National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) released Mama Says: A National Survey of Mothers' Attitudes on Fathering, the first-ever national survey taking an in-depth look at how today's mothers view fathers and fatherhood.
Conducted online by the University of Texas Office of Survey Research, Mama Says surveyed 1,533 mothers over the age of 18 with at least one child in the home under the age of 18. They were asked a series of over 80 questions dealing with a range of topics, such as their general opinions about fatherhood, views on work-family balance, and obstacles to good fathering.

The study is a companion piece to NFI's 2006 study, Pop's Culture: A National Survey of Dads' Attitudes on Fathering. The report was co-authored by Dr. Norval Glenn, PhD. and Dr. Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, PhD.

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SIDS report: Many doctors don't stress back-sleeping guidelines

Lee Bowman:

Although the practice is viewed as essential to keeping babies safe, nearly a third of all caregivers still don't regularly put infants on their backs to sleep, according to a new report published Monday.

Despite guidelines from pediatricians and a national educational campaign in place since the mid-1990s, researchers found that while there was a dramatic increase in back-sleeping during the first years of the push, the percentage of parents following the recommendations has been virtually unchanged since 2001 - holding at just over 70 percent - although that's still a substantial improvement from the 25 percent rate in 1993.

Pediatricians and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development called for the change in sleeping practices in the face of a large body of evidence that placing infants on their backs reduced the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, the leading cause of infant death in the first year of life in the United States.

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